There’s a sea of difference when Hollywood actors Jon Hamm and Ansel Elgort walk into a room and claim attention.
The Mad Men star, 46, who played the suave adman in the hit TV series, goes on an intense sales pitch about his spill-proof coffee mug that’s lockable and life-transforming. If the roguish actor could, he would have gifted the mug to all the journalists gathered from across the globe for Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver press junket in Los Angeles.
The star had to be steered back to the topic of Baby Driver constantly, but the younger actor, Elgort, who made us weep in the romantic hit A Fault In Our Stars, needed no such nudging. The charming star discussed his role as danger-courting getaway driver Baby who suffers from tinnitus, a constant ringing in his ears that can be alleviated by listening to music.
Also starring Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey and out in the UAE on July 20, Baby Driver is described as a high speed car heist thriller studded with high-octane stunts, pulsating music, a manipulative crime boss (Spacey) and a dishy gang of robbers (Jamie Foxx and Hamm). It’s also been heralded as the most stylish film of 2017, by one critic.
For Hamm, it was the prospect of playing a conflicted individual that was the biggest draw.
“It is fun to be the bad guy,” said Hamm, about his role as Buddy, a tattooed cocaine-snorting guy who thinks he has it all figured out when it comes to robbing banks. But he isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, claims Hamm.
“He is full-on [expletive] crazy. His thing is that other guys are playing a part and I am the real deal. It doesn’t end well with him either,” says Hamm. And who would turn down the chance to say cool lines like: “You guys rob banks to support a drug habit, I do drugs to support a robbery habit.”
Lily James and Ansel Elgort.
For Elgort, what drew him to Baby Driver was the realisation that it would be one of those brag-worthy films that he could watch over and over again with his friends.
“I really love the movie because it isn’t like you are watching yourself,” says Elgort.
The actor took ten five-hour driving lessons to prepare for his role.
“James Fry was the stunt driver and coordinator who did all the stunts. He was the genius behind it and he was a great teacher too. Now he has got me into cars. Now I drive a stick-shift Mustang. I know it’s ridiculous to drive that in New York, but I love it,” says Elgort, who usually takes subways and trains.
And it’s not every day that DJ Ansolo (Elgort’s musical alter-ego), who has travelled to music festivals and headlined the Pacha nightclub in New York, gets to play a character who uses an incredible playlist to help him with his tinnitus, the result of a childhood car accident.
“Baby loves driving and it’s something he’s good at and it gives him purpose. The story is that when he was seven he lost both his parents to a car crash. And then he developed tinnitus. So he used to listen to music all the time and drive it out. After the car crash, he became infatuated with cars and driving became a way to overcome the fact that his parents died in a car crash,” says Elgort.
His character also stole cars for the fun of it, but things go awry when he ends up stealing an important guy’s car and is compelled to work for him. He wants out of the world of crime when he falls in love with a waitress (Lily James) at a diner, but his exit is complicated.
His favourite scene in Baby Driver is the opening one in which he pulls off the perfect heist and is getting coffee as he returns to the crime headquarters wearing headphones.
“Watching that scene reminded of that same feeling I got when I got the call for my first movie. I was walking down the Madison Avenue and I had music in my headphones, and after that call I was so happy that no one else mattered to me. I was in my own rhythm and that is Baby at that moment. He just pulled off a perfect heist and he’s the man, and feels like a million bucks,” says Elgort.
So who were Hamm and Elgort star-struck by?
Hamm says observing Kevin Spacey in action was impressive, while Elgort claims that working with such a talented group was a privilege. But there was no denying that he was star-struck by Oscar-winner Foxx, who carried a boom box with him on set and was the life on the party.
“On the first day of the rehearsal, he walked in with such swag. I was shy, but he was immediately the warmest guy. Actors can be weird sometimes. They can be stand-offish and very professional. But he was immediately straight up and said we are going to be homies and that’s it. He invited me to his house, after the rehearsal we played basketball,” says Elgort.
While Foxx was a hit, Hamm and Elgort found director Wright’s long-burning passion for Baby Driver, an idea that sprung up in the Shaun of the Dead filmmaker’s mind more than two decades ago, impressive.
Hamm claims he has only said yes to a movie instantly twice in his career, once for Bridesmaid and then for Baby Driver, because he knew that it was rare to find filmmakers who persevered to make their passionate project a reality. It was a relationship that he ventured into with his eyes open and didn’t regret for a second.
For Elgort, Wright was “not just a movie guy, but also a music guy”.
Baby Driver has several musician cameos including Sky Ferreira, Paul Williams and Killer Mike.
Barring Hamm, who doesn’t have a musical bone in his body, the majority of the cast including Elgort, Eiza Gonzales and Lily James were musically inclined.
“You will see the power of music in Baby Driver and how the movie’s musical elements work. There’s a beautiful moment in the film where Ansel establishes his relationship to music and that it informs him of his relationship with the people he loves,” Hamm says.
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Baby Driver releases in the UAE on July 20.
“It is difficult to give reference for a film like Baby Driver. This is no La La Land. There are musical elements that’s important for the story telling and the music itself becomes the character of the movie because it helps the audience to plug in and plug out of characters and their point of views,” said Eiza Gonzles about Baby Driver.
“It’s fun to play someone living in the present time and not to be in a corset. It was fun to be American. It was a breath of fresh air, a much needed change,” said British actress Lily James of Downtown Abbey fame, who plays a waitress in Baby Driver.