Movie News & Reviews

‘Playing a bad guy is fun,’ says Jon Hamm, who co-stars as a crook in ‘Baby Driver’

In “Baby Driver,” a scruffy Jon Hamm is a criminal named Buddy, who confronts his group’s masterful driver (Ansel Elgort).
In “Baby Driver,” a scruffy Jon Hamm is a criminal named Buddy, who confronts his group’s masterful driver (Ansel Elgort). TriStar Pictures

By 2:30 p.m. on this particular Sunday, the “Baby Driver” press junket was deep into its second day, and Jon Hamm was feeling every minute of it.

He’d been through a series of roundtable discussions (that’s where a celebrity sits at a table while a half dozen journalists lob questions at him) and a handful of one-on-one interviews with representatives of big publications and websites.

Now he was working his way down a list of out-of-town journalists scheduled for 15 minutes each of telephone conversation.

By the time the St. Louis native got around to the guy from The Kansas City Star, Hamm admitted that he was sick of talking about himself.

Sick of discussing how dating “sucks” since his 2015 breakup with longtime companion Jennifer Westfeldt.

Sick of explaining how, after seven seasons of “Mad Men,” he doesn’t care if he never again dons a tight suit and skinny tie.

“Well, then, let’s talk about something else. Tell me why Edgar Wright matters.”

This was a subject that Jon Hamm was more than happy to let loose on.

Wright is the writer/director of “Baby Driver,” a music-driven crime drama, opening Wednesday, about a boyish getaway car driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) who falls for a diner waitress (Lily James) and incurs the wrath of a crime boss (Kevin Spacey) and a couple of heist-happy crooks played by Hamm and Jamie Foxx.

“Yes, yes, Edgar.” Hamm’s delivery picked up as he warmed to the subject.

“You know how everybody is excited to see a new Quentin Tarantino movie? You can say that only about a few guys. It’s because Quentin has a unique style and name recognition.

“Well, Edgar fits right into that slot, at least for me. He caught my attention with ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ and he’s impressed me with everything he’s done since: ‘Hot Fuzz,’ ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ ‘The World’s End.’ 

Hamm recalled meeting Wright in 2008 at the after-party for the actor’s debut hosting “Saturday Night Live.”

“Edgar is a friend of Bill Hader’s, and Bill introduced us. I was all over him: ‘I can’t believe I’m talking to you. I’m such a fan.’

“It was like this meeting of like-minded souls. And Edgar said: ‘I’ve got this idea for a movie, and I really want you to play a bad guy.’

“And I was like, ‘Tell me when and where.’ 

It took a decade for “Baby Driver” to go into production, but Hamm was delighted with the role Wright had in mind for him: Buddy, a holdup artist with a hot girlfriend, a heroin habit and a distinctive hair style (long on the top, buzzcut on the sides).

“Buddy, like his name suggests, is this sort of avuncular big brother figure for Baby,” Hamm explained. “Except he can turn very mean when things aren’t going his way.”

After carrying “Mad Men” as the lead performer, Hamm said, it was a pleasure to dive into character work “where you don’t have to be the best thing on the set. You can rely on your fraternity of actors to share the weight.

“Besides, playing a bad guy is fun. Nobody wants to be a bad guy in real life, but to play him … you get to engage your dark side.

“And that’s the fun of being an actor. You can be Santa Claus one day, a baseball player the next, a crook the next. If you want to get into a business to do just one thing over and over you can go work on an assembly line.”

Moviegoers, too, are looking for something different, Hamm said.

“I feel like audiences are moving away from things they’ve already seen. You can see terrific original programming on your computer. To get your butt off the couch, into the car and down to the multiplex to plunk down $10 requires something special — and that’s what Edgar gives you here.”

Hamm describes “Baby Driver” as “an action musical” with entire sequences choreographed to the pop songs always playing through Baby’s earbuds.

“Edgar and Quentin have a lot of the same DNA, especially when it comes to their encyclopedic knowledge of both film and music. They create soundtracks that often are as good as the movies themselves.”

Along with their scripts, “Baby Driver’s” cast members each received an iPad loaded with the songs that would be playing in each scene.

“That certainly helped define the kind of tone Edgar was going after,” Hamm said. “And there was always music playing on the set. We were choreographing gunshots and car door slams and punches to the beats in the music.”

As long as he keeps getting parts that push him, Hamm said, he’ll be content despite that nagging voice in his head that tells him that every role could be his last.

“OK, so I know that I’m going to find work, so I’m not literally afraid I’ll never work again. What you hope for is that you’re able to get jobs that inspire you. That’s the real fear — of becoming irrelevant. You always want to be in the cool project everyone is talking about. But it’s tough to maintain that momentum.”

And if the worst happens? If those interesting roles stop coming?

“I don’t know,” Hamm said. “Before going to Hollywood I taught theater in St. Louis, and I still have very good relationships with my drama teachers. Could I go back to teaching?

“Sure. I have an insane amount of respect for people who can inspire kids. I’d be proud to be one again.”

Read more of freelancer Robert W. Butler’s coverage at butlerscinemascene.com.

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