Greg Williams / Focus Features
Director Edgar wright has never seen a ghost, but he believes in them – or at least the ghostly attraction of the past.
“I believe in – if not the kind of traditional sense of ghosts being souls left on Earth in torment – I really believe [in] … the idea of some sort of psychic residue left behind by an event, ”he says.
Wright’s credits include Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead and the documentary The Sparks Brothers. His latest film, Last night in Soho, is takes place in the present and tells the story of a young woman named Eloise who is transported in her dreams to the swinging London of the 60s, where she lives the life of another woman.
Throughout the film, the shadow of the past lurks. Wright, who was born in 1974, says he grew up obsessed with the London scene that came before him – and haunted by the nagging feeling that he had missed something.
“There was a time in the mid-1960s when London was the world leader in culture, music, fashion, art, film and photography,” he says. “The movie is kind of about nostalgia for a decade you never lived in.”
But in the film, the nostalgia is tinged with threat as Eloise’s dreams turn into nightmares that haunt her waking hours. “It’s tempting to think of [the ’60s] as being the most exciting moment, “says Wright.” But sort of what the movie is about is you can’t have the good without the bad. “
On the inspiration for the film
I had a ’60s obsession that started with my parents’ record collection because I remember they had a record box … it was just records from the’ 60s. And I guess ‘it occurred to me later that they stopped buying albums when my older brother was born, so there weren’t any albums from the 70s. … My parents had two jobs. Most of the time I was often left alone, in the days before the internet and even having a portable TV in my room I listened to these records a lot and almost disappeared in this decade through music.
On the set in Soho in London and how essential he was to the creation of this film
Soho is a square mile in the middle of central London. It’s right between the West End, which is our theater district, and across is Oxford Street, which is the main shopping thoroughfare. And Soho is sort of a tradition in itself because for hundreds of years it’s been a place where artists and, I guess, the underworld mingle. And that has been the center of show business, and indeed it is the center of the film and television industry. And it’s a major nightlife area and probably the only part of London that’s really open 24/7. But there is a darker side to Soho.
Historically this has been sort of seen as a lair of inequity in terms of the criminal world and the sex industry, and I guess since the time I’ve been there it’s all been kind of gentrified, but not quite. So it’s still kind of a place where the darker side is right there and sort of in plain sight. And I’ve always found it very convincing, that these two worlds somehow coexist.
On avoiding the clichés the innocent goes to the big city to follow his dreams
One of the inspirations for the movie was these kind of movies from the 60s, because I watched a lot of those movies and there were some really good ones, and there are a lot of other B movies that are very sensational and moralizing. This kind of “girl comes to London to be a star and has the audacity to want to succeed and will be severely punished for her efforts!” And at this point, it’s almost like the city is getting the bad guy. It’s like London is here to chew and spit you out. And I watched a lot of these movies, and I thought it was interesting because the majority of them are written by men and directed by men, and you start to feel like these movies were the old guard slapping the wrist of the younger generation, so it was like a rebuke to the progressive movement. I thought it was really interesting. So part of the conception of the film was how to turn that around by sharing the story of a modern girl coming to London and having the experience of a 60s starlet coming to London.
How music helps shape the tone of the film
The singers of the mid 60s, it was obviously an amazing time for artists like Cilla Black, Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw. I’ve always been very impressed with these songs in terms of how emotional and kind of teary-eyed they are. Even the fastest. It might just be me, but I can find the melancholy in Petula Clark’s “Downtown”. … I always found those songs to sound so lyrical, and it really seemed to help me find the tone of the movie.
On working with the British actor Diana rigg, ends his dialogue, until Rigg’s death (Last night in Soho was his last movie)
It was important for her to finish the job, which I found extraordinary because obviously if something had happened, we would have said: “Look, we can manage”. But she said, “No, I want to finish my job.” So I worked with her in her daughter’s house. But even that experience was something that made me smile because even the last time I saw her, and it was clear that she was getting sick and fragile, and she was so funny and so fierce and fabulous that I even came to to walk down the garden path after spending 90 minutes with her, doing work, but also chatting. And also, very crucially, should I say, having a Campari and a soda at his suggestion. So I will keep this memory forever: the last time I saw Lady Diana Rigg, she made me laugh so much and I was able to have a Campari and a soda with her.
Sometimes when someone dies, either the last memory is really sad or you couldn’t say goodbye to them. And not only did I have a good time with her the last time I saw her, but I also spoke to her on the phone after that and she kind of said “goodbye” to me and everything. So it’s terribly moving for me, and obviously we’re dedicating the movie to her and I’m so proud of her in the movie. But you can choose to be sad about something like this, or you can just thank your lucky stars for having the chance to work with and know her – and that’s what I chose to do. to do.
Lauren Krenzel and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Natalie Escobar adapted it for the web.