How the choreographer of Baby Driver got Ansel Elgort to 'dance his ass off'
Ryan Heffington is an experienced choreographer whose credits include the videos for Sia’s “Chandelier” and Arcade Fire’s “We Exist.” But a couple of years back, Heffington could never have imagined that he would wind up overseeing the movement of actors in an action movie, specifically Edgar Wright’s just-released crime thriller, Baby Driver. “Six months ago, I didn’t think I’d be doing this at all,” Heffington told Entertainment Weekly on the movie’s Atlanta set last year. “But it’s been so interesting. It’s a shoot-’em-up film — cars crashing, killing people — but it’s choreographed, but with a straight face.”
Baby Driver stars Ansel Elgort as a tinnitus-stricken getaway driver who listens to music to drown out the ringing in his ears. A huge amount of action in the film, big and small, occurs in time to the tunes chosen by Elgort’s Baby, hence the need for a choreographer on the film, which costars Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Lily James, among others. “There are certain dance elements in the film,” says Heffington. “But the timing is essential to a lot of the scenes, whether it’s a fight scene, or a car chase scene, or general street movement when it comes to extras. The whole scene tends to be timed out, so that’s been my job.”
When Heffington was first approached about working on the film, he was unfamiliar with the movies previously directed by Wright, whose credits include the comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. “I researched [Edgar] after I had my first interview,” says the choreographer. “I tend to take on projects that I haven’t done before, or are experiences I haven’t had before. I thought, ‘I don’t know what this choreography is going to be like, or how it’s going to fit into the film,’ but I was so intrigued by the script and the action, I couldn’t put it down. I was like, ‘Okay, there’s no way I’m not going to do it. It sounds like a really cool adventure.’ And it has been. Edgar is great to work with and he’s so meticulous. I mean, he knows my choreography better than I do. He knows everything. I mean, most directors do, but not to this degree.”
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Heffington found himself overseeing a particularly complicated sequence at the very start of shooting. “Our first day of production was the biggest scene for us, in terms of movement,” says the choreographer. “It’s a three-minute one-take and it involved probably 50, 60 extras. Ansel exited a building and he goes on this journey. He sees his love interest for the first time, he goes into a café, the mood kind of changes due to the activity after he comes out of the café, and everyone was in time — I mean, the bankers, the kids, the baristas. To have a three-minute one-take was challenging, but it was so fun. Everyone was jazzed, Ansel killed it, and it was such a great way to start this shooting process. It was pretty special.”
Heffington was helped by the fact that both Elgort and Foxx have dance experience. “Jamie can sing, he can dance — half the time he’s like, ‘I got this!'” said the choreographer, with a laugh. “And he does! That’s what’s so impressive. Ansel has a dance background as well. There’s a piece that we have for him, which is a solo, in his apartment, when he is alone, and it’s one of those things like, ‘Dance like no one is watching!’, in a way. He really gets to let loose. He’ll be dancing his ass off in that space. We had one rehearsal so far and he is killing it. He’s really good, and it’s really challenging, and I think that’s why he’s thriving, because he likes that challenge.”
So, on his next choreography job, will Heffington be suggesting the addition of car chases and gunplay? “…jumping off buildings, yeah,” he said. “I mean, it’s exciting to have this just on my internal resume, that I was able to work with Edgar and these actors in an action film. It’s cool. Check that one off!”
Watch the trailer for Baby Driver above.