‘Baby Driver’: Jon Bernthal on Playing the Muscle in Edgar Wright’s Criminal Crew

     June 2, 2017

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Last April, a group of fellow journalists and I visited the set of Edgar Wright‘s Baby Driver in Atlanta.  For those who are unfamiliar with the film, it follows Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young getaway driver who constantly plays music in order to drown out a hearing impairment he suffered as a child.  When he falls for a local waitress (Lily James), he must find a way to escape from crime kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) and his other criminal associates.  The film also stars Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx.

During a break in filming, we got a chance to talk with Jon Bernthal, who plays Griff.  He talked about his character, how his character relates to Baby, working with Edgar Wright, playing the “muscle” of the criminal crew, his thoughts on practical versus digital effects, and much more.

Check out the full interview below. Baby Driver opens June 28th.

So what can you tell us about Griff? We don’t really know anything about this character.

JON BERNTHAL: Um… not much, not much. I don’t know, I feel like I’m living in a world of secrets now, ’cause I’ve just been doing all this Marvel press. Yeah, man, look, he’s part of the crew, he’s part of the heist crew. He is sort of a reluctant witness to Baby’s unbelievable driving skills. I think he’s a little bit of a heavy. I think he’s got some real doubts about this fresh-faced youngster who’s got so much responsibility on his hands, and I think that’ll play out as we play more of it.

I see the teardrop tattoo.

BERNTHAL: Uh huh, uh huh.

So we know what that means.

BERNTHAL: Do you know what that means? What does that mean?

baby-driver-final-posterYou killed somebody.

BERNTHAL: I don’t know.

[General laughter] Can you tell us about the other tattoos on your neck?

BERNTHAL: You know, they’re also on my hands and stuff. Today I’m wearing gloves, so we don’t have to go through it. But I think there’s some allusion to him spending some time in prison, stuff like that.

A lot of characters are defined by a certain color scheme, right? So I’m assuming gray is your thing?

BERNTHAL: Yeah, this is the outfit for the first bank heist. Which I guess that the idea is to go in in suits to blend in, you know what I mean, with masks and then running shoes so we can get away.

What are some of the other outfits you get to wear during the film?

BERNTHAL: Right after this first heist, there’s a scene where we get into our everyday clothes. And I think with me and the designer, the way she looked at it is, you go from like douchey to more douchey. [Journalists laugh] I think my dress is pretty douchey, that’s my style. I’m a pretty douchey guy. She always reminds me of that. Griff, not Jon!

Can you talk about working with Edgar? How have you found the collaborative process?

BERNTHAL: Look, I mean, obviously, that’s why you sign on to something like this, to work with someone like that. He’s a visionary. Every director, every job is different. I think with this particular project, it’s so specific, this movie already existed in Edgar’s mind before. You know, sometimes you get called into something and even with the great directors, it’s kind of like, you all get there and you play and you sort of figure it out, what it is. I think he’s different. I think these films exist in his mind before you get there. You know, not to take the onus off myself or the other performers, I can only speak for myself, but it kind of takes all pressure off of you, you sort of just show up and be an uber marionette for what he wants. Since so much of this movie is set to music, it’s really about fitting in in the strict choreography. I think there’s a freedom in limits. But think, like I said, the movie exists in his mind, and it’s sort of, you know, when he says jump, ask him how high once you’re already in the air. It’s a long-ass answer to a short-ass question.

[General laughter] How challenging has that been for you, to stay on beat and always do everything in cue to the music?

BERNTHAL: It’s cool. Look, man, full disclosure, this isn’t a huge — for me, I’m not here that much, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think he’s asking anybody to be a dancer. We’re not shooting a music video. I think like I said before, you know, it might feel restricting to, “okay, we’ve gotta shoot this scene and it’s gotta all fit in both rhythmically and in terms of how long it is in the time of a certain song” — there’s a freedom in that. There’s a freedom to play. And there’s a freedom, I think, to explore a little bit, because it is in fact set to music. I haven’t been asked to pull any crazy dance moves, it’s not like that at all, but it’s defined character moments, within the music. And like I said, a lot of times, I mean, if you look through the history, not to act like a artsy-fartsy douche, but you look in the history of art, technique, and limitations like that can also provide opportunity for great freedom.

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Image via Sony

Where would you say Griff fits in in this crew? We know Baby is sort of the getaway guy, what about Griff? Is he the muscle, the crowd control?

BERNTHAL: Yeah, I think he’s more of the muscle. He’s sort of like the last guy you want, but you’re glad that he’s on your team, not on the others’, you know what I mean? I think in this situation, I think the idea behind him is, he’s kind of the guy who’s good to have in a pinch, but like, man he can be annoying, you know what I mean? I think he’s loud and brash and he does not keep his opinions to himself.

Is there one specific character you come into have discussions with most, like exchanges?

BERNTHAL: You know, it’s really a group. But I think he very early on keys in on Baby, and I think there’s something that just doesn’t make sense, like, “This guy doesn’t fit in with the rest of us,” yeah.

We’ve heard there’s another team of stuntmen who are like crashing the cars, chasing up other people, are there any stunts that you yourself are able to do?

BERNTHAL: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think they care much about me around here. [Journalists laugh] They sort of like throw me into the car. I’ve noticed a few times it’s been me and all stunt guys in the car, and I’m like, ‘all right,’ you know what I mean? And I have a double, too, and I’m just like, ‘You know, he could–‘ But it’s great fun, the car stuff, flying around in the cars. Throughout my career, being able to get close with the stunt community and seeing how talented these artists are and how they keep on getting better and better each year and challenging themselves to go further and further, I just think it’s sort of the most unsung talent of the business. I think they deserve so much more praise than they get, what these guys are able to do with automobiles, with fighting, with weapons. I mean, it’s incredible, and I’ve been blessed to get to know so many of them so well. But I’ve never really worked this way with stunt drivers, and man oh man, to be able to do what they do and to do it safely, and the choreography that takes. You’re really playing with life and death there, and they are phenomenal.

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