Ansel Elgort on ‘Baby Driver,’ Directing Ambitions and Life Under Trump

Having played a swoon-worthy boyfriend in the hit weepie, “The Fault in Our Stars,” Ansel Elgort shows off his edgier side as a music-loving crook in “Baby Driver.” The heist thriller is the perfect antidote to all those bloated, brain-dead would-be summer blockbusters. Writer and director Edgar Wright has fashioned some of the greatest chase sequences in movie history, while putting together a killer soundtrack that boasts the likes of Beck, Barry White, and T. Rex. Elgort is at the center of it all, as a mysterious, ear bud-wearing speed demon.

Baby Driver” debuts on June 28. In advance of its opening, Variety spoke with Elgort about stardom, his love of music, and why he’s become more politically involved.

What’s the key to understanding Baby?

I look at Baby as being innocent. He is younger than his years, deep down. There are a lot of shades to him. He loves music, he wants to vibe out to it, and he’s playful. In the heist crew he’s shielded and he tries to be a mystery. He’s a soft-spoken tough guy. He’s quiet and he keeps his sunglasses on and doesn’t say anything because he’s seen a lot of people be disposed of. Then, you have some moments where he’s alone and walking down the street and it’s like being in any city, it’s very anonymous. Well, it’s getting a little less anonymous for me now, but it still can be a very anonymous experience when you’re alone in this sea of strangers.

Are you able to go out in public without being mobbed by fans?

I do walk the streets of New York all the time. I don’t take cars in New York. I’m in the subway or I’m walking or maybe taking an Uber X. I’m not like with a driver guy or with a bodyguard. That sounds like a miserable lifestyle. When I’m walking around, I walk pretty fast, so people can’t catch me. Even if they do notice, it’s a flash. It’s: “who’s that?” And then I’m gone.

Why did you want to do the film?

I knew I had to do it. The script was incredible. Even on the page this movie really worked. Edgar wrote the movie around the music. It was given to me on an iPad and there was this special app where you could click a button at the top of every screen that made sure the music was synched with the scene you were reading.

The movie has some elaborate car chases. Did you do your own driving?

I did as much as I could and as much as they would let me do. I did a lot of stunt training. We did about 10 sessions with a stunt team from the movie, who were really great. In theory, I can do all the stunts from the movie. They only let me do a few because they don’t want me to harm our amazing leading actors.

Did Edgar Wright play the music he planned to use in a particular scene while he was shooting?

Always. That was very important. When you see the movie, you’ll see everything moves to the music. That’s not just in the edit. That’s done on the day. We did weeks of prep with a choreographer to plan out all the scenes where we move to the music. We were always moving to the beat.

You are also a musician. Do you prefer making music to acting?

There are moments on the set for an actor that are unbelievably incredible and remind me why this has been my passion since I was a kid, but there are also moments where you sit in a trailer for two hours and wait. Music has become a thing that I can stay creative with. Some people go in their trailer and they work out or watch movies or read. I make music in my trailer. I need to stay creative all the time. The last three days I’ve been in L.A. doing interviews all day, but then I go into the music studio and from 7 to 3 a.m. I’m making music. Then I wake up at 7 a.m. and I’ll do interviews. I would rather have a lack of sleep than a lack of creativity.

Would you ever appear in a musical?

I already have an idea for a movie where I’d be able to sing in it. Especially after working with Edgar, I’d like to write and direct as well.

How do you pick your films?

For me it’s three things when I look at a project. It’s script, character, director. Nothing else matters — the money doesn’t matter or the budget.

You were very outspoken after Donald Trump was elected. Has his presidency been as bad as you feared?

He’s a total mess. The biggest thing is him embarrassing us and cutting things that we need, cutting down social services. People need that stuff. That’s what makes us a good country. I’m not happy with his presidency, but hopefully this is a big eye-opener and we’ll be able to not allow this to happen again. At the same time, it seems as though we had a bunch of eye-openers and people never learned. I’m a little lost. Learning about humans and realizing that we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Maybe in the next 10 years we’ll have someone like Obama again and then after that it will go back to an idiot.

Have you gotten more politically involved?

I feel as though I need to do more, and I think everyone can do more. It’s hard when you have a life and things, but I would like to continue to help. Maybe I’ll subsidize the arts or the schools or things that the [Republican] party is cutting.

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