Baby Driver, like many of the unique and stylish films by Edgar Wright, has been in the works – or at least in the back of the director’s mind – for many years. Since the beginning though, Jon Hamm was there, involved even in the earliest script reads. Hamm plays Buddy, one of the main criminals that Baby drives around throughout the film’s multiple heist sequences.
As for Baby himself, he’s played by Ansel Elgort. It’s Baby who listens to music all the time to cope with tinnitus (or “hum in the drum” as Kevin Spacey’s criminal boss describes in the film). It’s this music that serves as the soundtrack of the film and the way it’s structured and edited. From windshield wipers and car doors to the gunfire, much of the movie is timed with the beat, and all of it is practical.
We sat down with Ansel Elgort and Jon Hamm while visiting the Atlanta set of Baby Driver over a year ago and had a conversation about all of this in more. Enjoy:
So can you tell us a little bit about your character?
JON HAMM: You know, yeah, it’s like we decided, Edgar and I, I don’t know how much — maybe talk to Edgar, maybe he sort of kind of told you the genesis of my involvement in the project and stuff, but I’ve kind of been around for a long time on this one, I did one of the early, early, early table reads a long time ago, and I just thought it was a really cool idea, to kind of mess around with the cops and robbers movies and the heist movies and that whole thing, and Edgar’s visually such a specific and interesting filmmaker that I thought, out of all people, he could really come at this with a fresh take. So, you know, my guy, we decided he was kind of this guy who just for several reasons, most of which are his own fault, kind of wound up on the other side of good decisions, and then kind of decided he liked it and was sort of good at it, but probably thinks he’s smarter than he is, probably thinks he’s better at it than he is, and like most criminals doesn’t really get the consequence when the shit goes down. So yeah, I mean, I could get into really stupid, boring specifics, but that’s the general idea, and he’s sort of attracted to the plus sides of easy money and sort of disavows the other sides.
What was it that early on that brought you onto the project?
JON HAMM: You know, I just really liked the sort of general idea of the script, and this idea of making kind of a quasi-musical, and I don’t know how much Edgar’s sort of shared with you guys about that, but I’ve had the hardest time in kind of coming up with the bullet point version of what this movie is other than quasi-musical. It’s been really interesting to see it kind of shape up. We have these choreographers on set all the time whenever we’re doing any kind of action sequence, and that’s been a really cool challenge to kind of — you know, there’s already a million things going around at any shoot day anyway, and then you add guns or you add explosions or you add car crashes or you add any action element to it, and it gets even weirder, and then you have to realize, “Oh yeah, we’re supposed to be doing this kind of choreographed and in time,” that makes it even more difficult, but more exciting and I think more original. In an increasingly kind of crowded environment for entertainment, that’s kind of an exciting thing that’s out there that doesn’t look like everything else.
At this point, Ansel Elgort joined us for the conversation.
What’s the relationship between your characters? Is it contentious?
JON HAMM: We’re father and son. [laughs] It kind of runs the gamut, and Ansel can speak to this as well. It definitely changes over the course of the film without revealing too much, but there’s kind of a mentor/mentee relationship in the movie, sort of an older brother/younger brother relationship in the movie, if not explicit than sort of implied, and then it doesn’t go as planned. As most crime stories, you know, something goes wrong.
How much of the actual stunt work do you two get to do yourselves?
JON HAMM: Well, I try to do as little as possible because I’m 45 years old and I break easily. You know, I think especially when you’re closing down highways and when you’ve got a lot of multi-ton vehicles involved with things, I would much rather let professionals with way bigger insurance policies handle things like that, but when it scales down into smaller stuff we’ve been very involved. There’s a lot of guns, there’s a lot of jumping over things, I remember at one point Ansel had what looked like a very dangerous thing jumping over this moving thing that I was like, “Really glad I’m not doing that.” [laughs] But I mean, I think it’s a really a function of personal comfort. I used to be a lot more comfortable with doing a lot of that stuff and now I’m a lot less comfortable the day after doing a lot of that stuff.
ANSEL ELGORT: I finally got to do some driving today. I was glad. Like, at first they just wanted me to like, drive fast and then stuff, but it had an emergency break in the car, so I asked the stunt guy, I was like, “Do you mind if I skid to stop with the e-brake and slide the car a little bit?” And he was like, “Just don’t go past your mark.” And I was like, “I won’t!”
JON HAMM: Where the people are.
ANSEL ELGORT: And the cameraman was standing there and I had to slide up to him. Everyone in the car got pretty fucking nervous, I think Flea yelled, as I was driving really fast and as I was braking and sliding, I think he yelled, and he had a mask on, “Oh shit!” He was like, “I thought you were gonna take him out!” But I was so glad I got to do some driving today.
JON HAMM: We all got trained, we all had a couple days of sort of intense kind of work behind the wheel and just be comfortable in doing stuff if it comes up, and there’s a perfect example of it. Ansel knows how to do it, great, if you’re not putting a cameraman or anyone else in danger, then great, I’m sure it looked amazing. That’s another thing, we’ve been able to see a lot of the stuff kind of pieced together, and again, I don’t know how much Edgar’s shared with you about the process, but there’s a lot of kind of in time-on time editing happening on set with a guy that Edgar’s worked with several times before, and so literally by the end of the day you can go see sequences roughed together and have a really clear idea of what you have and more importantly, I think, what you don’t have. So you could push that off to second unit or add a day or we have to come back to this location and we gotta get XYZ shots. By and large, it looks pretty great.
ANSEL ELGORT: I think he has a live feed of what’s happening and he just records the feed, so it’s not actual film, it’s like a digital feed of what the film is gonna be, and literally when they say check the gate, if you walk over to his monitor he already has the shot you just shot and he’s putting it into the puzzle.
JON HAMM: Yeah. I’ve never seen it done before that fast. Because of computers!
Related: Our Baby Driver Movie Review
You said your character has a little bit of a hearing issue, can you talk about that?
ANSEL ELGORT: Yeah, Baby has tinnitus. He was in a car accident when he was seven, and that’s probably why he has such a thing with cars. But because he has tinnitus, he has to always listen to music to drown it out, and that’s sort of the explanation to why this whole movie is set to music is it’s all through Baby’s ears.
Can you tell us a little bit about your character and specifically how he gets involved in this whole crazy world?
ANSEL ELGORT: The backstory sort of goes and you learn the backstory as the film goes on that Baby was caught stealing a car from Doc, Kevin Spacey’s character, some time ago, and supposedly that car had maybe drugs or something in the back that was worth a lot of money —
JON HAMM: Contraband.
ANSEL ELGORT: And then Baby dumped the car after he stole it and Doc saw him do it but was just so intrigued by the balls on this kid that he didn’t stop him, and then he tracked the kid down and said, “Okay, well now you owe me so you work for me.” And Baby sort of got pulled into it, and I think at first he really loves it because it’s fun and he loves to drive, and they talk about this legend about this guy who used to drive the wrong way on the highway with his brake lights disengaged and his headlights off and just flying the wrong way and the cops could never catch him, and it turns out that was Baby when he was just like a teenager, and now he’s doing what he’s always liked to do and it’s like being in a movie. And that’s how he feels, it’s like he’s in a race —
JON HAMM: With his own soundtrack
ANSEL ELGORT: Yeah, with his own soundtrack in the heist movie. He doesn’t like the violence at all, but he really, I think he really loves the driving, he really does. But once it gets violent and once he meets Deborah, Lily James’ character, and he realizes that he really likes this girl and he realizes that he’s putting his foster dad in danger and everyone else in danger who he loves, he starts to want to back out of the whole thing, but like any crime gang it’s not easy to just back out.
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