If you have not seen Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ Last Night in Soho yet, don’t sleep on it! It is a profound, and beautifully constructed indictment of toxic masculinity that features fantastic performances, and stunning imagery and music. Recently, we were given the opportunity to attend a roundtable with the duo behind the film, along with other members of the press as well.
And being a huge fan of it, as well as Wright, given he’s one of my favorite filmmakers working today (my love for the Cornetto Trilogy, Scott Pilgrim, and Baby Driver know no bounds), it was a tremendous honor for me to speak with him, and Oscar-nominated writer, Wilson-Cairns.
Here’s what they had to say about making this fantastic flick:
What was it like to deconstruct the ’60s, an the idealistic period in British history, for this movie?
WRIGHT: I guess the ’60s is probably the most — still to this day — the most discussed decade of the 20th century to me on a cultural level at least… In the UK I think the shadow of the ’60s hangs very large over London itself, and Soho specifically, because there was a moment in the ’60s when we were the world leaders in culture. It sort of traveled around which city was the epicenter of cool, and in the mid-’60s, it was London. And it’s never really sort of gone away, and it creates that feeling — we both love London and Soho — it creates that feeling that you missed out on the best time, and you missed out on the glory days. But the danger there is that you use the idea of the good old days as a term, because there is no decade where everything is great and nothing is bad. And I think that’s the thing. If you romanticize the past it’s disingenuous and there’s dangers in doing that.
WILSON-CAIRNS: I think for women in particular, the ’60s is one of those seminal decades. You have the rise of feminism, fashion, mini-skirts, birth control, you name it. It’s one of those decades that constantly recurs in the makeup and the hair. Every five years there’s a ’60s revival. And that’s all I sort of knew about the ’60s until I came on to this project and got the research, and started to dig in. And then you start to find, oh wow, it really isn’t all rose tinted. And that to me is the real heart and the real theme of the film. The dangers of nostalgia. The dangers of looking back and glossing over. And not realizing how difficult it is. And that’s what the whole film blossoms into.
Can you talk about how you blended your personal experiences moving to London to create the story of Ellie moving to London?
WRIGHT: London, like a lot of big cities, when you first get there, and you feel completely kind of at sea, and then you’re at a struggle with yourself. Do you try to be an individual in the city or fold into what everyone else is doing? And I think that’s the struggle a lot of people go through. So, for my part, it was that, and also I knew it from my mother’s perspective in terms of that she’d gone to art college and studied dress making. And my sister-in-law had come from Cornwall, the same area as Eloise, and come to London and studied fashion at college as well. So it’s an amalgamation of my experiences, and Krysty has her own as well
WILSON-CAIRNS: So I moved down to London for film school, when I was about 21. And I remember thinking I was a big fish in a small pond in Glasgow, and then suddenly in London, I was desperately uncool. Didn’t have any friends. Nowhere to go. Don’t know where all the cool places are. And although Edgar and I have our own individual experiences there, I think it is very universal. This idea of when you, on the cusp of adulthood, move and try on a new persona, and try to work out who you’re going to be for the rest of your life. Yes we use our individual experiences, but we’re trying to create something that everyone can relate to. And that’s the basis for it. So pour your own feelings into your characters.
What drew you to telling the story from Ellie’s perspective?
WRIGHT: I think for my part, Rita Tushingham, who plays Ellie’s grandmother, is the same age as my mom. Exactly the same age. And so there was an element where I thought Eloise, who’s grown up with her grandmother, is that she’d be into her grandmother’s taste in music, or listen to those records. I was always like that growing up because my parents had a very small record collection. It was just one box, and it was all ’60s albums. And they seemed to stop buying albums when me and my brother were born, so there were no ’70s albums. So I was like, because my parents used to work a lot and work two jobs, so I just remember being left alone with the record player and the ’60s records, and playing them over and over again. So that’s where it starts. What might be a strange obsession with a decade you never lived in. And that would be something I would love disappearing back into that time, through the music, and films, and art. But the longer that goes on you question why you’re doing that. And then start to worry, is nostalgia a retreat? Is it a failure to deal with modern life?
WILSON-CAIRNS: For me, my mom was born 1961, so she was obsessed with the ’60s. Because she never got to experience them as a very young child. And I always was very close with my grandmother and my grandfather. I remember looking at pictures of them and trying to work out, ‘who were they in the ’60s?’ And I sometimes think that nostalgia, to be somewhere you’re not, is also to know the people that you came from and learn about them. And I suppose some of that’s tied up in Ellie’s closeness with her grandmother. And with fashion, Edgar’s mom worked in fashion. My gran was a seamstress. She used to put newspaper dresses on my mom and we’d look at pictures of that. So you’re just pulling these interesting facets and the things that catch your eye, and presenting them and filtering them through character.
The recurring theme of toxic masculinity is prominent in the film. Was that something at the forefront of your minds when writing this?
WRIGHT: The sad truth of it is it was always there. And actually when Krysty and I first talked about it, it was before the events of four years ago. The bleak truth of it is it certainly wasn’t intended to be jumping on any sort of bandwagon. The sad, bleak truth of it is it’s been going on forever. It’s been show business. It’s been going back hundreds of years. And what’s great that’s happened more recently is that victims have had a forum to speak themselves. In terms of the stories from the ’60s, the sort of real bleak truth is that some of those stories will never be heard. So that’s something that’s preyed on me and Krysty’s minds a lot. And we had to research every part of the story before we started writing. And Lucy Pardee did this amazing research into Soho and its history, and the darker side. And it was incredibly harrowing, disturbing stuff. And it wasn’t something to take anything from anyone’s particular life story. But grounding this movie in the dark truths.
WILSON-CAIRNS: With horror, you should write about something that does really scare you. And toxic masculinity and the exploitation of women really scares me. And it’s a current present fear and danger. And so I think trying to distill that into a horror movie is a really good endeavor. Hopefully other people find it scary.
Were the references to classic ’60s films consciously built in?
WRIGHT: I guess some of them just came up organically. I mean a lot of the movies, in the sense of genre movies; psychological thrillers and horrors, were the things I imbibed before we started writing. During writing, it was a lot of social dramas of the time. British dramas that were really great ones, and sensationalistic exploitative ones. It was the grounding of the time and seeing how social issues were tackled, and not always so sensitively. And some things just come up a bit of kismet. There’s a couple of locations in the movie that are in the film Peeping Tom, but they’re also around the corner from my house, so it’s something I literally cannot escape. I think about that film every day because I walk past it every day. So when something comes up, where it’s like, ‘We need a news agent,’ I’m like ‘I know exactly which news agent we should shoot in!’ Because it’s one I walk past every day, and it happens to feature into Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom so that should be the news agent. So some of them come up like that.
WILSON-CAIRNS: I got sent a bunch of DVDs — about a stack of them as tall as I am. But it wasn’t really for inspiration. It was to soak up that era. And the thing I really found most inspiring was the Pathe newsreel footage — which is like a car with a camera mounted on it, just driving around the streets of Soho. I think that for me, because I lived and worked in Soho, whilst I was watching that, I was recognizing places and feeling a familiarity in a decade and time I’ve never been. And that to me was sort of getting into the core of what Ellie was experiencing.
This is your first time working with Chung-hoon Chung as cinematographer. What was that like?
WRIGHT: It was an absolute gift and a joy to work with Chung! Who not only is such a gifted cinematography, but also one of the funniest men I’ve worked with. I wouldn’t have necessarily expected that from the films he’s shot, like Oldboy and The Handmaiden. But he had the uncanny knack to make me laugh even if I was extremely stressed out. When I think of him I just smile because he’s a funny man who makes me laugh. The thing that’s great with him is that he came into the project quite late. Because Bill Pope was originally supposed to shoot it but had to sadly drop out. So we needed to find a new DP two months before we started. So Chung was available and interested, and when I saw his name as one of the potential people… all of those movies he’s done with Park Chan-wook have this dark opulence, so I guess it was a match made in Heaven in a way. But what was amazing was that he came straight from the set of another movie, came straight to London, and dive head-first into what we had already come up with. And the great thing was he just locked into what we wanted to do immediately and elevated it from that as well.
Did you have the actors already in mind to play Ellie and Sandy, or did that just happen in the casting process?
WRIGHT: Well in the case of this, bizarrely, I had met Anya Taylor-Joy before I had met Krysty. And so even though not a word of the screenplay had been written, I’d met her after The Witch was at Sundance, and I had coffee with her in Los Angeles. And I ended up just telling her the entire plot of Last Night in Soho over coffee. And I wasn’t planning to. It just sort of happened. And she goes, ‘oh wow! I want to be in that movie.’ So I think when we first started writing, for a long time… I had been thinking about her playing Eloise. And then over the years I’d seen her in other movies, and seeing her grow up on screen, and started to think, as me and Krysty started writing the screenplay, the Sandy part began to expand. And then it occurred to me that Anya should be playing that part instead. And lucky she agreed. And then in other cases, sometimes you’re writing a script and you think aloud, ‘hey wouldn’t it be great if Terrance Stamp played that part?’ And then you get Terrance Stamp, and that’s always a good feeling.
Can you talk about the challenges of switching between Anya and Thomasin in the middle of scenes?
WRIGHT: I think that during the movie we end up using every single trick in the book. But I think the ones where what you’re seeing on screen is what’s really happening on set are both the most magical, because you’re basically not breaking a spell, but it’s also better for the actors. So in a lot of scenes where they’re like, Anya’s there and Thomasin’s in the reflection, what you’re looking at is the actresses sitting next to each other on set. Where the clever, clever stuff comes in are like double sets, or shooting one half with a mirror or one half without a mirror, but it was all kind of designed like that to sort of a.) create this effect where the audience wouldn’t quite know exactly what they’re looking at, but b.) on a practical level just making it easier for the actresses to immerse themselves in the scene. Particularly Thomasin. Because Anya is usually playing a scene with someone else and Thomasin is present. But it worked better to have her actually there, rather than shoot her separately. I think some people are trying to figure out how it’s done. And usually the answers are simpler than you think!
Simple, and yet exquisite! What Wright and Wilson-Cairns have achieved with this film, along with Taylor-Joy and McKenzie and the entire crew, is pure movie magic!
Make sure you check out Last Night in Soho, now playing in theaters!