In fact, as Wright and his Soho co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns told us, Anya Taylor-Joy was first attached years ago as Ellie, the film’s struggling fashion student. As time passed, though, Taylor-Joy became a more obvious choice for swinging ’60s bombshell Sandy and Jojo Rabbit’s Thomasin McKenzie nabbed the part of Ellie.
There’s more from Wright and Wilson-Cairns in the chat below, including why we’ll never hear “that’s a beautiful name” the same way again and a fun digression about director Rian Johnson and L.A.’s famed “Murder House.”
The A.V. Club: You two have never worked together before. How did you link up and decide to tackle Last Night In Soho’s script in tandem?
Edgar Wright: I had been developing [Soho] for quite a long time. I wanted to do [it] for 10 years and I’d actually pitched to my producers, Nira Park and Rachael Prior, the idea of doing it. But because I was about to go off and do something else, the first thing that I did was hire a researcher to look into every aspect of the story because I wanted to ground my perception of the story in some actual real research. And so that was done by Lucy Pardee, who does amazing research. She just won a BAFTA for Rocks.
So, whilst I was away off doing other movies for a long time, I had the research and the story and the sense of some of the songs and and the desire to make the movie. But I hadn’t written a word of it. Although weirdly, I had met Anya Taylor-Joy and pitched the entire plot over coffee as far back as six years ago.
But then in late 2016, I was having lunch with Sam Mendes while I was editing Baby Driver, and he just said, apropos of nothing, “Have you ever met Krysty Wilson-Cairns?” And I said no. And he says, “Oh, I think you guys would get on like a house on fire,” and then this is where you come in.
Krysty Wilson-Cairns: So we went for drinks just to meet up. We happened to be drinking in Soho opposite the strip club I used to live above, and so I happened to mention to Edgar, “Oh, that was my old apartment. It was really loud and there was a bar in the corner that I worked in,” which is The Toucan, and that’s actually in the film.
Edgar was like, “Oh, you’re a Soho person, too.” He said, “Listen, I have this idea, and it’s kind of set in the darker parts of the world. Can we go on like a night out and be voyeurs?” And I was like, “For sure.” And so after a few gins on my part, we ended up in this dank basement bar in which Edgar told me the entire story of Last Night In Soho. I remember being totally and utterly and completely taken by it.
Then nine months later, he phoned me up and he said, “Do you remember that idea?” And was like, “I think about it literally every day that I’m in Soho.” He was like, “Do you want to collaborate with me?” and it was a very easy yes. And then very quickly, a research pack and a playlist and an address arrived and I went there.
AVC: Edgar, since you mentioned Anya Taylor-Joy, were you always envisioning her in the Sandy role or had you thought of her for Ellie?
EW: Originally I thought of her for Ellie because I was on the Sundance jury in 2015 when The Witch won Best Director and I saw Anya in that, strangely playing a character called Thomasin! Maybe this was the kismet. It was like a riddle for me to unlock.
Back in 2015, I hadn’t met Krysty and I hadn’t written a word of the screenplay, but I thought, “[Anya] should be the leader of my Soho movie.” So I had a coffee with her in Los Angeles, and I didn’t plan to, but I ended up telling her the entire plot of the movie, and she said, “Oh wow, I want to be part of that film.” So for a long time, she was sort of, kind of attached to it.
In the three years that passed where I was making Baby Driver, occasionally I’d see Anya and I’d start to feel a little bit like the boy who cried wolf with this kind of project that didn’t exist. Then, by the time that me and Krysty started writing, I had seen Anya in a number of other movies, and was sort of seeing her grow up on screen and go on similar journeys in other movies like Split or Thoroughbreds.
When Krysty came on board to write the screenplay with me, one of her suggestions was to make the Sandy part bigger, which I thought was a great idea. Around that point, I started to think Anya should play Sandy instead.
When I sent her the script, I was a little nervous that she might react badly to the idea of not playing the part that I’d originally talked to her about, but she read it and said, “I love it. I want to do it. I’d love to play Sandy.” So it all kind of worked out. And then, it was already staring us in the face: Thomasin McKenzie.
AVC: Edgar, on an episode of Comedy Bang Bang, you mentioned that there was originally a different name for the movie. Do names shape movies? Do you have the name first and then you write the script or how do those play into each other?
EW: Something like Baby Driver, that was always the title of the movie. That was because, I think maybe as a child, I’d always tried to figure out what the song was actually about. The film is a sort of an exploration of that sort of song.
But in this case, the story existed for a long time, and [the title] was sort of staring me in the face. It’s such a great title because obviously there’s two ways to read that sentence. So it was that thing where I played the song many, many times before it suddenly clicked with me that I was looking at the title of the movie.
AVC: In the movie, there’s a bit where a bartender is talking about her bar, and she said in that area of London everything’s been there for 100 years, if not more. Millions of people have lived, breathed, had fun, not had fun, whatever, in her place. In America, sometimes that’s a very foreign concept to us because a lot of buildings haven’t been up for a hundred years, particularly in L.A., for instance. Could Last Night In Soho exist anywhere else? Obviously it’s set in a specific neighborhood, but could it be set in any seedy location, really?
EW: I guess you only need one generation back to have ghosts. Whether you think the Amityville House has made that story up or not, the actual haunting, you only need to go one generation back to have the potential.
I think the thing with buildings that are hundreds of years old, there’s lots of opportunities to think about it in terms of not necessarily just like, “Has a murder happened in this room?” but, “Who has lived in this room?”
I’m somebody who’s very open to the idea of ghosts and that comes from growing up with a mother that has seen ghosts or felt presences. I am not skeptical that she didn’t. I either believe her or I want to believe her, and maybe there’s part of me that was envious when I was a young horror fan that my mum had seen a ghost and I hadn’t.
I do believe the idea that if something has happened in a room, an event, that something is left behind. I think a lot of people would say that about murder.
There are apartments in London where serial killers have killed so many, many people, like, infamously, Dennis Nilsen, who was an early ’80s serial killer. Those apartments are still available to rent. I guess the rents are low.
I want to be a fly on the wall and watch the estate agent taking people around those flats and see what they say, or if they ever have to talk around it or if somebody finds out later. I’m sure lots of stuff like that has happened. I love the idea that real estate trumps murder.
KWC: “A unique opportunity to acquire an unusual historical investment.”
AVC: There’s a house in L.A. that sat empty for years and years because…
EW: Oh, I know all about that house. The Murder House! I know exactly what you’re talking about.
The story with that house is that somebody bought it after the murders and never moved in. I’m fascinated by this house.
I’m sure I didn’t even answer your question. I think it could. I mean, as long as you know, yes… Are you in L.A. or somewhere else?
AVC: I’m in L.A.
EW: There’s plenty of ghosts in Los Angeles.
AVC: One thing the movie did really well, Krysty, is touch on the micro-aggressions that are directed at women. For instance, for the rest of my life I probably won’t be able to hear the phrase “that’s a lovely name” without cringing. How did you hone in on those as a writing team?
KWC: I think with with horror films, you should write something that does genuinely scare you and toxic masculinity and the exploitation of women and micro-aggressions, they all genuinely scare me. That was in the very DNA of the story from way before I got there.
I suppose it was just like always getting the title act, like having just enough of it that it felt real. There’s our experience with the taxi driver in London, and I’m sure we’ve both been in those taxis and if you said, “That’s creepy,” He’d be like, “You can’t take a compliment, love. Oh, I’m only joking, I’m only joking. Why are you so uptight?” There’s all that [stuff] that’s filtered into our lives from 34 years of existence.
We had a bit of fun. I found it quite cathartic. It was like, “What’s the worst pickup line that’s ever been said to you?” And that’s in the film. “My dick just died. Can I bury it in your arse?”
It’s like getting to expunge some of those ghosts from my life. But also, like I said, it’s something that does really frighten me, and I think it’s something that frightens a lot of people, and so I think it has resonance.
As a writing team and working with Edgar, he’s an incredibly empathetic, intelligent filmmaker who understands what it’s like, and not just from his point of view. That was just very much a shared experience of building on that, walking that tight rope, and making it feel like a real and present danger to our characters.