Ansel Elgort is excitedly drawing an abstract self-portrait of himself, explaining the different parts in the drawing that relate to the different things he loves - “These are music notes and these are the acting faces and then here is a basketball hoop, because I love basketball too.” Not a bad effort for a jet-lagged 23-year-old who is currently on the most hectic trip of his life, flying around the world in support of the phenomenal Edgar Wright directed car heist / thriller / romance, ‘Baby Driver’, which is swiftly becoming 2017's most beloved success story.
From his beginnings as the loveable Augustus in ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ (preceded by roles in ‘Carrie’ and ‘The Divergent Series’), to his DJ turned songwriter career which has seen even Frank Ocean become a fan, Elgort is a true modern creative, exploring himself through as many different artistic outlets as possible. When we speak to him, he’s even sad that he can’t be in the studio working on his upcoming EP right at that moment - which will include the already released ‘All I Think About Is You’.
We spoke to Ansel while he was in New Zealand on a whirlwind press tour about ‘Baby Driver’, his love of music, and his upcoming EP…
COUP DE MAIN: Baby’s character is really multi-dimensional, and I feel like the audience really goes on a journey with him when he falls in love with Deborah. Do you think that love, and falling in love, has the ability to save people from a version of themselves that might not be where they want to end up?
ANSEL ELGORT: Yes, definitely. I think that love is very pure and it can allow you to really care about somebody, and a lot of people have trouble caring about anything, when they get in a whirlwind of whatever is going on in their life. While I think Baby in this movie cares about Joseph in the start of the film, it is more of a parental chore, and while he does love Jospeh of course, it’s a chore. He has to take care of his foster dad, he has to make him his sandwich, make sure he’s fed, and make sure he is all taken care of. But when he meets Debora, I think that is when he really realises, ‘I can change my life and maybe I can get away - as long as I can get away with this person that would be cool.'
CDM: What really touched me in the film was the relationship and communication between yourself and CJ Jones, your foster father. Did you know how to sign prior to the film? Or was it another skill you learnt specifically for this film?
ANSEL: No, I didn’t know how to sign, but I learnt and it was a great experience. Sorry, I’m taking a long time drawing, I’m really enjoying drawing this. Drawing is very therapeutic and it’s very cool.
CDM: It’s rad that you learnt all the hand movements for the car scenes - where to move your hands for each stunt etc. That attention to detail is really incredible. Did you feel overwhelmed during filming, to learn all these new skills? I know you did about 4-5 car stunts too...
ANSEL: No, it was great. We spent a lot of time doing prep for the film and that prep was important - it was definitely important.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT ‘BABY DRIVER’…
CDM: Before signing onto the film, you had a lunch with Edgar where you guys just spoke about music. It’s really cool that even before collaborating and you signing onto the film, you were both aware that you shared this mutual love of music. Was that the main driving factor in you becoming part of the film?
ANSEL: Yes, I think that really helped. See even in my self-portrait, <shows self-portrait> I made a clef, and these are music notes and these are the acting faces and then here is a basketball hoop, because I love basketball too. I wanted to make the notes my eyes and then I drew a smiley face, but then I also drew a sad face.
CDM: It’s very Pablo Picasso.
ANSEL: Oh wow, thank you. It’s abstract but it’s also very kindergarten, where you sort of just draw whatever you feel like. I’m jet-lagged and tired enough now that I just don’t care; I just draw whatever I feel like drawing.
MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT EDGAR WRIGHT…
CDM: Edgar has mentioned that Sony are interested in a ‘Baby Driver’ sequel - is this something you’d be keen to be a part of? To see where Baby goes next?
ANSEL: Oh yeah, but mostly because-- I mean, I love playing Baby and I loved doing this movie and I love how this one turned out, so if #2 is anywhere near as cool as this one then that’ll be a plus. Working with Edgar was awesome and I really would like to do that again, I learned a lot from working with him and I’m sure I’d learn more the second time.
CDM: You worked with Ryan Heffington for the choreography of ‘Baby Driver’ - on both the action and the non-action scenes. Did that experience make you more conscious of the choreography of everyday life, e.g. the way you walk and carry yourself in general?
ANSEL: Well, firstly I’ll just say working with Ryan was really great - but did it make me more conscious? I don’t think so. I was already pretty conscious of that kind of stuff because movement and physicality is something that I study in myself and others. I love to study it in others and I think it’s a big part of who somebody is - you can tell from their physicality and energy. 'Why do they hold themselves this way? Why do they walk this way? Why do they talk this way? Why are their ticks this way?' I already pay attention to that, but I’ve had moments like Baby where I walk down the street in happiness listening to a song, or skip down a street or run down a street or dance down a street.
MY FAVOURITE SONG FROM ‘BABY DRIVER’ IS…
CDM: If anyone sees you dancing around New York, they should not be alarmed.
ANSEL: No, don’t be alarmed at all. The thing is that it’s like, the same way with Baby on the street… it almost doesn’t make sense because at first you’re like, ‘Wait is he really shy? He’s dancing around on the street he’s clearly not that shy.’ But the second he gets in the coffee shop he’s like <imitates being shy> with the guy. I feel like a sidewalk is a very private place, it’s obviously so public, but it’s very private. It’s one reason I love taking the subway. The only time that people recognising me is annoying, is when I feel as though that private place has become public. Usually no matter who you are on the subway, no one listens or cares and no-one looks. You could be yelling at the top of your lungs and no-one is listening, which is kind of great, it’s a private place.
CDM: In an interview with Billboard, you said: “Eventually, I hope I can have a career that’s uncategorizable.” In this day and age of celebrity culture (so much of which is based on non-talent), is it important for you to learn and express yourself in a range of creative outlets?
ANSEL: That question has a few different parts to it, whether or not whatever the celebrity landscape is; I think that has always been a part of pop-culture for years and years. You had people who were socialites or famous for whatever reason in the short term, we’ve always had that, but artists are people who people are always connected to and people who last and people who study or become huge fans of. I’m a big fan of a lot of those artists, but there is no one person that I would do anything to be that person or trade for their career. I love different things people have done and for different reasons. It’s funny you said Picasso. You know what I love about Picasso? I like his work of course, but it’s how prolific he was. It was like he didn’t care, it seemed like he never stopped drawing, and it was never such a big deal to him. He was just going to draw and that was that, whatever happened happened. Being an artist, it is important to do that; being prolific is really important. I want to be prolific in whatever I feel like doing. So if I want to be a musician I’m going to be a musician and I’m not doing it for, ‘Oh I need to show everybody that I’m special because I can do this,’ I need to do this for myself. Yesterday when I first came here, I should be so so happy, but my girlfriend kept being like, ‘What’s wrong? Why are you stressed out?’, and it’s because I really want to work on my EP right now. The night before I flew to New Zealand, I was in the studio working on my EP and I’m really into it. I really just want to keep working on it, so I wish I was in a music studio right now.
CDM: Do you have an estimated time of when the EP will be out?
ANSEL: Yeah, it shouldn’t be too long actually, it is pretty much done. I do have to be a businessman about it though and figure out the best way to release it and the best way to make sure that as many people can hear it as possible.
CDM: The last thing I saw was that you were wanting to release one song per month, is that something you want to keep doing?
ANSEL: Yeah, that will happen sort of indirectly through the EP because I’ll be putting out three singles from the EP, but it might be more than a month between ‘All I Think About Is You’ and the next single. It will be, actually. I’ve got to stop making those kinds of promises.
CDM: It’s okay, we won’t hold you to it.
ANSEL: At least you won’t. Some people will! <laughs>
CDM: You’re a recently retired DJ, instead working on songwriting and your own solo music. Why did you decide to start pursuing singing on your own songs more?
ANSEL: Well when I was DJ-ing, I still produced records and wrote records, but as a dance music DJ you are playing certain kinds of festivals and you are creating a certain brand and a certain sound. I enjoyed the sound that I had sort of made for myself, but when I wanted to change my sound I couldn't really do that. It’s weird, as a dance-artist you can’t do that. So I figured what would be easier for me to allow myself to continue to be creative - I don’t want to make a record that is 128 beats a minute and makes everyone jump up and down - was to change my artist name to Ansel Elgort and to have my voice glue it all together. I could make any kind of record I wanted and put it all together, and then different records would find themselves a spot in a bigger show. I still love to DJ though, but I don’t want to just DJ, I want to sing and I want to dance and I want to move around on-stage.
‘Baby Driver’ is out in New Zealand cinemas from this Thursday July 20th - watch the trailer below…