Edgar Wright couldn’t stop thinking about the ghosts that must occupy the age-old buildings in London’s Soho district. So he turned that thought into Last Night in Soho, his first foray into psychological horror/giallo. The film stars Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, as McKenzie’s Eloise begins having vivid dreams involving Taylor-Joy’s Sandie, a 1960s singer who endures the downside of the Swinging Sixties. For Wright, shooting on the real streets of Soho was a must, especially since the look of the era is still present for the most part.
“Well, with London, like a lot of old cities, the ground floor has changed, but if you just look up, the next couple of stories look like they did in the ’60s,” Wright tells The Hollywood Reporter. “A lot of those buildings in Soho, the ones that are still there, have been the same for hundreds of years. So when we were recreating the ’60s in Soho, we had to change all the ground floors and take out modern stuff.”
In Wright’s last film, Baby Driver, Apple EarPods were a defining characteristic of the film since the lead character wore them throughout most of the film. As a result, Wright changed course during Last Night in Soho‘s present-day scenes.
“I thought, ‘We can’t do Apple earphones after Baby Driver,’” Wright admits regarding the choice to have McKenzie’s character use Beats over-ear headphones. “So that was one of the considerations, yes.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Wright also discusses Taylor-Joy’s role change and the last-minute addition of celebrated DP, Chung-hoon Chung.
So when your actors read the Baby Driver script, it was a unique experience that you paired with each needle drop. Did you complement the reading of Last Night in Soho with anything along those lines?
Yeah, I hadn’t written a lot of the songs that are in the movie in the script. I had given a playlist to the actors who were reading it. Even when I started working with Krysty Wilson-Cairns on the first draft of the screenplay, before we even wrote a word, I was like, “Here’s the outline. Here’s this massive, phonebook-sized tome of research that was brilliantly done by Lucy Pardee. And here’s the soundtrack!” Writing and music go hand in hand because a lot of the time, I find that the music inspires me. Particularly with this movie, there was a certain type of ’60s song, from a sense of period, that was very key and felt like it really locked in, tonally. The female singers of the mid-’60s — and these massive, emotive ballads that are stained with tears — seemed to me to tie in with the movie in a big way.
How much of 1960s London remained intact to some degree and needed very little dressing?
Well, with London, like a lot of old cities, the ground floor has changed, but if you just look up, the next couple of stories look like they did in the ’60s. A lot of those buildings in Soho, the ones that are still there, have been the same for hundreds of years. That’s a big thing that inspired the movie to me. I couldn’t spend time in Soho without thinking of the ghosts of these buildings. So when we were recreating the ’60s in Soho, we had to change all the ground floors and take out modern stuff. This is a combination of amazing production design by Marcus Rowland and then some clever background work by the digital effects team as well. But they’re the real streets. So it was a great thing to really be in Soho and make it look like the ’60s. From the times that we were shooting, you can see a lot of Instagrams of people wandering around and taking photos of the set, without realizing what exactly was happening.
Were you blown away by Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace like the rest of us? Did you immediately start casting Thomasin in your mind?
What actually happened was that I had talked to Anya first about doing Eloise. This was like three years before I’d written the first draft. I’d met Anya Taylor-Joy after she was in The Witch, and even though I hadn’t written a word of the screenplay, I told her the entire plot of Last Night in Soho. And she said, “Oh, I want to be a part of that. ” And then, over the years, I’d seen Anya do other parts and grow up on camera, and as I started writing with Krysty, the Sandie part started to expand. So I started to think, “I think Anya should play Sandie, the ’60 part.” And luckily, when I sent her the script, she agreed and said, “I’d love to play Sandie.” So with Eloise, the brief was open. And one of the first people that came up was Thomasin McKenzie. Nira Park, my producer, was the first person to mention her. I’d seen Leave No Trace, but the thing is when you watch Leave No Trace, it’s such a lived-in, naturalistic performance that I wasn’t sure whether she was even an actor, or a non-actor, or who she was or where she was from. I just knew that whoever was the daughter in Leave No Trace was very special. So when I met Thomasin, it was obviously clear to everybody that this is the person who should play Eloise. She shot the role when she was 18, and I think it’s just an incredible performance.
Did Thomasin enjoy being in her character’s pajamas while everybody else was dressed to the nines in ’60s London?
(Laughs.) You’ll have to ask her that, but it must be a very surreal thing walking through Central London in your pajamas.
Thomsin’s character wears over-ear headphones at the beginning of the film, and they make sense given Ellie’s tendency to drift off. But was the choice also made in response to Baby Driver? Did you feel like you had to put Apple EarPods on ice for a little bit?
It’s absolutely true. I thought, “We can’t do Apple earphones after Baby Driver.” So that was one of the considerations, yes. Well spotted.
You hired a new DP on this film, Chung-hoon Chung, and together, you achieved some incredible shots like that bedsheet pull-out shot. How was your collaboration?
It was amazing. Chung came on to the film quite late, actually, because my original DP, Bill Pope, had to sadly drop out at the last minute. So it was astonishing in a way because I’d been a huge fan of Chung’s, but it was something where he was available and this was happening. He came straight off another movie and came to London, and I just tried to download him on the movie as quickly as I could. I’m somebody who’s very transparent in the way that I work. I want to share materials with everybody, so I say to all of the crew, “I can give you as much to read, watch, listen to and look at as you could possibly want, if you want to.” And what was great was Chung locked in to what Soho was very quickly. The work that he’d done with Park Chan-Wook always has this dark opulence about it, and so we were just excited about the idea that the guy who shot The Handmaiden would be shooting this movie. And Chung was amazing — not just as a genius, but also as a fun person to have on set. He’s more funny and goofy than his filmography would lead you to believe.
Last Night in Soho is now playing in movie theaters.