In Love With the Past

It was Nira Park to the rescue. The producer has worked on Wright’s films since Shaun of the Dead, but she, Wright and Pegg collaborated even before that on the British comedy show Spaced, which ran from 1999 to 2001.

“Nira Park was the first person who mentioned Thomasin out loud,” Wright recalls.

Last Night in Soho is Wright’s first film with a female protagonist, but creating well-rounded female characters has always been central to his filmmaking.

“Even before Krysty Wilson-Cairns came on board, all of my team were women. And so I didn’t make this film in a male vacuum — in the sense of even approaching the story in a film with two female leads and with the subject matter,” Wright says. “The first people that I talked to were Nira Park and Rachael Prior, my producers.

“And as far back as 2013, we’d employed the amazing Lucy Pardee, who’s both a casting director and a researcher, and just won a BAFTA for casting. She did a lot of research. There are a lot of elements of the story that I wanted to research because, you know, you come up with an original story, and then you want to validate it with facts and real interviews from a huge range.”

Sam Mendes, one of Wright’s many director friends, introduced him to Wilson-Cairns. Mendes and Wilson-Cairns wrote 1917 together after Wilson-Cairns was a writer on the TV series Penny Dreadful, which Mendes produced.

“In 2016, when I was editing Baby Driver, Sam Mendes introduced me to Krysty in terms of like, you guys should meet, because you’d become fast friends. And he was totally right,” Wright says.

Wilson-Cairns remembers well the first night they met for dinner — because it was the night the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

“I love Europe. I voted ‘Remain.’ And so did Edgar. We all voted Remain because we’re not idiots,” she laughs. “So we ended up meeting and being just overwhelmed with sadness. So we had this first meeting, and then we drowned our sorrows a little bit. And the bar we actually drank in was opposite my old apartment, which was above a strip club in Soho. And I said to Edgar, ‘Oh, I lived above here for five years.’ And he was like, ‘I’ve got this idea about this young girl that moves to Soho. Can I tell you about it?’ So I’m glad we went to the Dean Street Townhouse to have a drink.”

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Last Night in Soho writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns on set. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus

Wright picks up the story: “Cut to another 18 months later, when I finished promoting Baby Driver. I was sitting in L.A., and I decided that Last Night in Soho was going to be the next film. And part of that was because I wanted to challenge myself. I thought it would be a good thing to do a film that didn’t have another young male in the lead, and to do my first film with a female protagonist.

“And then, you know, but to be honest, then sitting there with like the blank, Final Draft document, I think probably about 15 minutes after staring at the cursor, I called up Krysty and said, ‘Hey, remember, that Soho film I told you about? Why don’t we write that screenplay together?’ Because I just knew it would be a better film with her voice.”

She said yes, and he flew back to London to get to work.

“We hired an office in Soho. I put all of the index cards on the wall of the film as I saw it at that point. And then she came in, and we got to work.”

One of her first and biggest contributions: realizing that the 1960s characters needed to speak.

“I had originally conceived the idea that the ’60s scenes should be like silent, or they should just be the music and not have any dialogue — that they should be like dreams. And then Krysty made a very good point. She said, ‘You know, we have to fall in love with Sandie. And I think it’s difficult to fall in love with Sandie if she doesn’t say anything.’ And I said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’ And it’s amazing. Just one note like that radically changed the screenplay.”

“I think I maybe pushed to have the ’60s be really expanded, because for me, female obsession is a very specific thing,’’ adds Wilson-Cairns. “It’s not just about how a woman looks. Like I find the women I’m, for lack of a better term, attracted to, or drawn to, it’s not just that they’re beautiful. And sometimes they’re not. It’s more about their intelligence or their personality, or even just how they carry themselves, or their ambition. And I thought, you know, this is a film about a young girl having a girl crush that bond on someone from the past. And is the most important thing in the whole film. And for that to work, we expanded Sandie’s character together.”

Part of Edgar Wright and Wilson-Cairns’ lives made their way into the script: Wilson-Cairns used to work at The Toucan, the bar where Eloise gets a job in the film. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and Wright is from small towns in southwestern England — so both came to London as outsiders. Wilson-Cairns remembers her film-school experience being similar to Eloise’s experience at fashion school in the film. And both screenwriters were close to loved ones with strong memories of the ’60s.

A specific moment that influenced Last Night in Soho, Wilson-Cairns says, is when a 16-year-old Edgar Wright went to a party at the home of a girl he had a crush on. Hoping to impress her, he put on a Kinks record. And then someone loudly asked — to Wright’s humiliation — “Who the fuck plays this granny shit?”

How Last Night in Soho Got Its Name

Directors Quentin Tarantino and Allison Anders also made indirect, music-related contributions. In his 2007 Death Proof, Tarantino prominently used a song called “Hold Tight” by the British beat band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. (Death Proof explained that Pete Townshend almost joined the band, which would have made them Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, Tich & Pete.) When Wright commented on the song, Tarantino played him another Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich track, “Last Night in Soho.” Tarantino called it the best title music for a film that hasn’t been made.

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Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung and Thomasin McKenzie on the set of Last Night in Soho, from director Edgar Wright. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus

When Tarantino learned Wright was using the title, he informed him that Anders had been the first to call “Last Night in Soho” the best title music for a film that hadn’t been made. So both Tarantino and Anders are thanked in the Soho credits.

To maintain secrecy around the script, McKenzie only had a few hours to read it — then had to circle back with her team to make a decision about whether to play the heroine.

“I knew I liked kind of slow-burner, very quiet films,” she says. “To have the responsibility of reading the scripts being sent to me by an incredible director who is known for style… it was quite a big, informative challenge for me. … Just because it was at the beginning of my career and I didn’t really know what to look out for in a good script yet. I was more going on instinct, rather than actually having a checklist of This is what a good script needs. So yeah, it was like quite a really big responsibility for me to maintain as an 18-year-old.”

Also read: No Time to Die Cinematographer Linus Sandgren on Finding the Soul of James Bond

She adds: “So much happens in the script, and it really is like a journey of self-discovery for the character, and kind of like dealing with her on a lot of personal, mental struggles and then going out into the world with all these obstacles coming at her… I think Edgar and Krysty were effective in keeping the story grounded with Ellie and her mentality, with all of these insane things going on around her.”

“With a really good collaboration,” Wilson-Cairns says, “you don’t quite know where your work ends and their work begins.”

Edgar Wright and director of photography Chung-hoon Chung on the set of Last Night in Soho. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus

After years of dreaming about Soho, Edgar Wright finally lives there — almost.

“I can walk into Soho in like 60 seconds. And obviously it’s where I work a lot,” he says. “One of the strangest things about making this movie is I’ve seen the entire pandemic and lockdown through Soho, because not only do I live right nearby, but also our edit suite was in Soho. Then we’re grading and mixing the film there. And it was really sort of spooky, just kind of poignant.”

He is confident nightlife will come roaring back. Including movie theaters.

“I don’t necessarily agree with the doomsayers,” he says. “Because I always feel like when you read articles about streaming streaming streaming, I feel like a lot of times the people who are writing that have vested interests in streaming. But I think the bottom line is people want to get out of the house. The idea that at the end of the pandemic, that I’d say, What I really need after this lockdown is I need to spend more time on the sofa watching TV: No! Anything but. I need to get out.”

Last Night in Soho, directed by Edgar Wright and starring Thomasin McKenzie, is now in theaters, from Focus Features. This story was originally published on October 13 and has been updated to include the podcast interview with Last Night in Soho screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns, among other changes.

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