When Edgar Wright has an idea for a new film, she consumes it until he can finally make it. As he recently said, “There is a certain point when a movie chooses you – it haunts you.”
Wright said it was then that he felt compelled to “train that cardio and banish it like William Friedkin.”
It’s fitting, then, that his latest film, Last Night in Soho, is a ghost story. Coming on October 29th, this thriller tells the story of Eloise (Thomasin Mackenzie), a young woman living today who is obsessed with the music and style of 1960s London, who travels there to study fashion.
Once there, she discovers that her dreams are filled with the antics of another woman, Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), who left for London in the 60s in search of romance and fame.
But as Eloise tries to find out what happened to Sandy, dreams turn into nightmares, revealing the vile underside of the city in an era she once imagined to be glamorous, and solving crimes from a decade ago with unearthly victims that still claim justice.
This is a pivotal moment for 47-year-old Wright, a British writer and director who has made his mark on a host of action comedy films. Last Night in Soho follows his 2017 car chase thriller Baby Driver, the biggest commercial hit of his career, and will be his second film released this year after the Sparks Brothers rock documentary.
In Wright’s new film, he escapes the comedic landscape and into a darker and more terrifying realm. Instead of focusing on characters played by his longtime friends like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, he used female roles for the first time.
Like the zombie-apocalypse comedy Sean from the Dead by Wright and the video game novel Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Last Night in Soho offers a mixture of genres and a generous dose of nostalgia.
This time, however, the director’s goal is not necessarily to romanticize the past, but to remind us that when we do, we can hide the toxic relationships and unacknowledged wrongdoings that continue to poison the present.
We all indulge in personal and harmless time travel dreams, which Wright readily admits. “This is something that I physically cannot do – in my life even Elon Musk will not create a machine that will take me back in time,” he said with a laugh in a video interview from Los Angeles.
But if we thought more carefully about these fantasies and their implications, ”Wright said more soberly,“ we would become aware of the pitfalls we set for ourselves. “You cannot change what happened,” he said. “You can only deal with this in the future.”
London is the metropolis that fascinated Wright the most, who lived and worked there for about 27 years. Before embarking on a career as a writer and filmmaker, he grew up in Somerset, in the Southwest, and listened with delight to his parents’ stories about coming of age in the 60s.
As Wright recalled, “My father used to say,” Oh, we saw Jimi Hendrix live. ” And my mother said: “We have not seen Jimi Hendrix, we have seen Pink Floyd.” And I said, “My God, what was Pink Floyd like?” And my mom said they were horrible… ‘”
But his mother’s memories of her time in London during that era were, according to Wright, more turbid and more elliptical.
“My mom told me literally:“ One day I went to Soho with my friend, and a man chased us and kicked us out, ”he said. “And this is the end of the story.”
By 2012, even before he directed his sci-fi comedy The End of the World, Wright was already contemplating a film that would explore the dark side of London and juxtapose the modern era with the period preserved in the sensational films of the 1960s. such as the film by John Schlesinger. Darling with Julie Christie and The Beat Girl by Edmond T. Greville with Gillian Hills.
Typically, the moral of these films, according to Wright, was: “Beware, young lady who comes to the big city – you will be chewed and spit out. Then the city becomes a villain. “
He researched the history of organized crime and unsolved murders in Soho and studied theories of the supernatural. (“I’d say I’m curious about a ghost,” Wright said. “I haven’t seen one, but I’d love to.”)
Wright also met his most important collaborator, his co-writer, Christy Wilson-Cairns (1917, Dreadful Penny), through director Sam Mendes, a mutual friend.
On the night of the 2016 Brexit vote, Wilson-Cairns said, she and Wright were in Soho “drowning our sorrows,” while she told him about the many bleak diving neighborhoods where she worked as a bartender.
Wright, in turn, told her the story of Last Night in Soho, and Wilson-Cairns was fascinated by it. “It helped me understand how dangerous nostalgia really is,” she said. “When she thinks about 1960s London,” Wilson-Cairns said. she vaguely associates it with “gorgeous hair, high hems, cool boots.”
But Wright’s story reminded her “of the fact that it was really difficult to be a woman at the time,” Wilson-Cairns said. “It remains so, but especially at that time, being silent and being persecuted is a real fear for many women, including me.”
Wright spent another year promoting Baby Drive, his first film since stepping down as director of the Marvel adventure film Ant-Man, and understandably worried about the welcome he was waiting for.
“I ditched the franchise film and basically put all my chips into Baby Driver, and this is the original film,” he said. “Obviously every film is important, but betting on everything in the original film creates additional pressure.”
The fact is that “Baby Driver” has earned more than $ 226 million worldwide. This, he said, gave him confidence and avoided what he described as “pressure from some of the other people involved to start the sequel right away.”
“The idea of doing the same thing twice in a row was just not fun,” Wright said.
Instead, he directed the movie The Sparks Brothers. He also called Wilson-Cairns, rented an office in London and wrote the script for Last Night in Soho with her in about six weeks.
Some of Wilson-Cairns’ contributions to the script include gruesome, lewd lines that depraved men throw at Eloise. “Everything she was told was told to me,” Wilson-Cairns said. “I would prefer not to experience it, or, frankly, much worse, but it was nice to at least show it on screen.”
It took Wright away from his original idea of portraying the Sandy sequences of the 1960s as musical numbers that would otherwise have no dialogue. Wilson-Cairns said she insisted on giving Sandy dramatic dialogue scenes “so you can experience her excitement and passion, her drive and her ambition,” and Wright agreed.
King’s Gambit star Taylor-Joy has been on Wright’s radar since her flamboyant performance in The Witch, the horror film by Robert Eggers that debuted at Sundance in 2015, when Wright was on the festival jury.
Although the director had planned on casting her for the role of the humble Eloise, Taylor-Joy said in an email that as more of her films and TV shows came out, he switched her to play the more outgoing Sandy. “He thought Sandy’s acting might stretch me even further, and I was very excited about the prospect,” she explained.
Taylor-Joy studied song and dance choreography for Last Night in Soho while starring in Jane Austen’s adaptation of Emma. According to Taylor-Joy, doing routines in which Sandy looks at Sandy with a grin “was difficult at times,” Taylor-Joy said, but she added that Wright and his team had succeeded in “creating an environment in which I felt safe to experience these feelings. and then I could be reminded that I was safe and supported ”.
Mackenzie, the New Zealand-born star of Leave No Trace and Jojo Rabbit, said it was easy for her to identify with Eloise as a relatively inexperienced player in an unresponsive and sometimes violent system.
“We were the same age as I was filming this film,” McKenzie said. “We were on similar journeys, although, fortunately, mine was not as psychologically scary as Ellie’s. I was not pursued by shadow people. ” She paused, then added, “Well, you could say there were a couple of modern shadow people.”
Wright was especially proud to have selected several famous veterans of 1960s British cinema, including Rita Tushingham as Eloise’s grandmother, Terence Stamp as the permanent sinister patron of Eloise’s bar, and Diane Rigg as Eloise’s protector.
Rigg died in September 2020, shortly after completing the re-recording of some of the dialogue for Last Night in Soho, and Wright shed a lot of tears when he talked about her.
He remembered the day he took her to a venue that mimicked the West End Café de Paris nightclub, and Rigg noticed that she had seen Shirley Bassey perform in the 1950s.
(Commenting on his own anecdote, Wright was surprised to say, “How could you express all this awesomeness in one sentence?”
But then Rigg continued to think about the nightclub. As Wright recalled, “She’s coming,” I remember going down those stairs. I remember how all these men with watery eyes looked at me from head to toe, feeling like a piece of meat. “
Wright said Rigg’s remark didn’t hit him right away, but he felt it deeper as he drove home from the set. “I thought Diana was just summing up the whole movie,” he said.