Ansel Elgort is ready to ride. With his latest feature film Baby Driver and an upstart music career, the 23-year-old actor/dancer/musician is firmly hunkered down in Hollywood’s driver’s seat, testing the limits of both what he can do and shifting gears before getting too comfortable.
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he comes from a line of artistic provenance. His father, Arthur Elgort, is a legendary fashion photographer whose work has lined the pages of Vogue for the past 45 years, and his mother, Grethe Barrett Holby, is a highly respected opera director and choreographer. Watching Elgort on screen transports you to a bygone era of the matinee idol: his deliberate, low voice and classically handsome looks are reminiscent of old Hollywood.
Elgort jumped onto the screen and into our teen-girl fantasies with starring roles in the Divergent franchise and The Fault in Our Stars. Calling him a “heartthrob” is no understatement. The actor is so beloved, the wooden bench that he kissed The Fault in Our Stars co-star Shailene Woodley on in Amsterdam went missing after the film, presumably stolen by Ansølo-crazed fans (his track-spinning pseudonym). With only a handful of feature films under his belt, Elgort has quickly risen to the top. While he’s known for his work in the Young Adult genre, he’s dovetailing that with meatier, more serious roles where he can really flex his muscles, both literally and figuratively.
Swerving out of the YA lane is his role in Baby Driver, a high- speed, car chase movie that lands somewhere between action and crime genres with a musical twist. Sounds unique? It sure is. Directed by Edgar Wright, also behind the cult-classic Shaun of the Dead, the film casts Elgort as Baby, a “strong but silent type” getaway driver. Although Baby is a man of few words, he is never without a pair of headphones—listening to a personal soundtrack at all times in order to drown out the tinnitus he developed as a child, caused by a fatal car crash that took his parents’ lives. “What makes him an interesting character is that you see him in a lot of different situations,” reasons Elgort. “You don’t just see him with the crime crew, you see him at home, with his foster dad, you see him in the diner with [love interest] Deborah. That’s where you really get to know who he is.”
Jumper and jacket STUSSY
Along for the ride is a rotating trio of criminals (played by Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm), robbing banks in Atlanta in elaborate hold-up schemes. “He’s a guy who’s the baby in the room, who’s scared of all the criminals,” Elgort says. “He really just likes to drive.”
All “pedal to the metal” puns aside, the actor hasn’t forgotten his musical roots in the wake of his recent success. “It’s great that I have music, because I’m able to stay artistic. It’s my favourite thing. If I’m not doing something or creating something, I feel empty,” he says. Defying the stereotypical acting career move of adding a “slash musician” to his title, Elgort has released two singles—“Home Alone” and “Thief”—as a proper pop singer.
The musical avenues don’t end there. Elgort is making the music for a basketball-themed opera called Bounce, created by his mother. “The opera’s really dope,” he tells me. “The show actually takes place on basketball courts in inner cities. I thought the basketball games should have really modern sounding music. It’s high-energy, electronic, hip-hop-oriented music.” Sports, crime and music? If it seems like a common theme in the multi- talented performer’s work, perhaps Elgort’s ultimate fantasy is one he is currently living out.
(LEFT) Top LOUIS VUITTON, jeans TOMMY JEANS
(CENTRE) Jumper JUNYA WATANABE
(RIGHT) Jacket and jeans XB OFCL by BRANDON SUN, vest NUMBER N(I)NE
Baby Driver blends genres you don’t see together quite often—the film is almost a musical that’s masked as an action movie, with a comic book sense of irony. What was it like working with so many elements?
Probably the reason why I was able to get the role in the first place is because [of] my background in musical theatre and theatre. Being theatrical and moving to music and learning choreography was not foreign to me. And that’s something that came across in the audition and why [director Edgar Wright] probably wanted to go with me for the role. In terms of doing the movie, it was really cool. I didn’t feel uncomfortable doing it, it felt natural. I love moving to music and I love choreography.
One of the things that stands out most in Baby Driver is the soundtrack. It’s so interesting to see music play such an integral role in the narrative, did you get to have any input?
Edgar had all the music written into it. When I first read the script, I was able to listen to the entire soundtrack that the audience listens to now, because the music is so important to the storytelling. In one of the final auditions, Edgar asked me if there were any songs that were meaningful to me: that I knew every sort of lyric, beat, guitar lick, drum fill to. “Easy” by The Commodores was that song to me, and we did it in the audition. Edgar liked it so much that he ended up using it in the film. It became an integral part of the movie because Baby’s mother (played by Sky Ferreira) sings a cover as well, so it was really cool to get that song in, it reminds me of childhood.
You get into a lot of elaborate car chase and stunt scenes. How did you prepare for something risky like that?
I had 10 sessions of four hours of driving training so I learned how to drift a car and how to drive stickshift. I also did sign language coaching, vocal coaching for my accent and choreography with Ryan Heffington, who was actually the choreographer for SIA’s “Chandelier” video. He’s dope! A few weeks before, I started doing boot camp for Baby, learning all these fun skills. I also did parkour training so I could do all my stunt work and practised jumping over shit. It was a blast. The actual character development process is less black and white than learning sign language or learning how to drift a car. In a movie like this, I’m really Edgar’s vision because he’s the writer and director.
After playing a role that focuses so much on driving, did you develop a ‘need for speed’ after the film?
No! It’s all about the need for control. That’s what I learned from stunt drivers, it’s less about being fast and it’s more about being in control. That’s what was sexy to me, being able to make the car do whatever you want to do.
Ok, so no wild driving, that’s reassuring to hear. Were there any pearls of wisdom you were able to take away from working with Edgar or the cast?
They’re not the kind of people who will sit you down and give you advice. Kevin [Spacey] is a little more like that. I really look at Kevin as a mentor. Regardless, you sort of take things from them anyway. From Edgar, I realised how important it is to be specific and really know what you want as an artist and as a director. It sounds simple but I’ve never seen someone so prepared on everything and so particular.
Speaking of Kevin, the film has quite the comedic cast. Did any funny moments go down while filming?
Yes! Jamie [Foxx] is very funny. People can make me crack up very easily, so once Jon [Hamm], Jamie and Kevin realised that, they took advantage of me and made me laugh whenever they felt like it. Jamie improvs constantly and he’d yell ridiculous shit at me. Inappropriate stuff, comedic stuff. It’s all in character, which is why it’s so much funnier. He started calling me Snowflake and Wonderbread and every funny thing that his character would say to Baby.
(LEFT) Jacket and blazer TOMMY JEANS
(RIGHT) Briefs TOMMY HILFIGER, Jeans TOMMY JEANS
It was such a pleasant surprise to see the ATL Twins appear as a cameo after their debut in Spring Breakers. What are they like?
They don’t drink water. They drink Sprite instead. They don’t like water and they don’t like food either. They just like eating chips and stuff. They’re definitely… I’ve never met guys like that before, you know what I mean?
I’ve read in interviews with them that they do everything together, they even sleep with the same women…
You know what was also funny about them? They didn’t care about not being able to tell them apart. It didn’t really matter to them. Like, ‘We’re the ATL Twins, but it doesn’t really matter if you know our names.’ They were like one person. They were funny. They said if one of them died, the other would immediately kill themselves too because they wouldn’t want to live without the other.
Heavy stuff! Let’s get back to you… Does your music allow you to express yourself in a more personal way than acting?
I think music is very genuine to me because it’s mine, I write the songs and I come up with the stories. It’s a way of expressing myself; on a movie set, sometimes there are days when you’re doing great scenes and you’re getting to really work and be artistic and there are days where you’re doing stunts for the whole week and while it’s very enjoyable, it gets less artistic for an actor at that point.
Your single “Thief” is about stealing away feelings from a love interest. Was it based on anyone in particular?
It was written from a character. It wasn’t me. I love the idea of that point of view from a guy. There are certain people who will do the whole ‘player’ thing and sleep around and not be very nice to women, or vice versa. I think those people usually start to feel guilty about it, realise that they’re hurting people. I wanted to write about that. Somebody who’s numb and heartless on the surface, but he’s really not. He really feels like maybe he should be locked up and that maybe he’s wrong to do it, but he can’t stop himself. What kind of a guy steals girls’ hearts? The kind of guy that sleeps around and is a player, so it came from that character. It’s not about myself, but I love playing characters. I hope to play many different ones.
Baby Driver is out now.
Taken from the Summer 17 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.