Wright & Wilson-Cairns spend Last Night in Soho

October 30, 2021 Jeff Goldsmith

For your reading pleasure, please enjoy this free excerpt from our nearly 2,700 word article interviewing screenwriter/director Edgar Wright and screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns about Last Night in Soho a preview from Backstory Magazine’s upcoming issue 45 – now available to read in issue #44!
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Current Cinema
Last Night in Soho
Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns dream of times gone by
By David Somerset
(This article is spoiler free)
If you were wondering about the differences between the writing processes of 1917 director Sam Mendes and Last Night in Soho filmmaker Edgar Wright, screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns has an unexpected answer. “Edgar likes chocolate, and Sam likes Haribo (gummies). Tangfastics for Sam Mendes, orange Revels for Edgar Wright,” says the writer, who co-wrote both Mendes’ Oscar-winning one-take World War I drama and Wright’s new hypnotic horror thriller. For her, the two directors’ choice of snack during the scripting process is indicative in itself.
But that’s jumping too far ahead in time. Like the film itself, we need to step back and consider the earlier days of Last Night in Soho. Though it has changed somewhat since Edgar Wright first conceived of the idea around 2007, the movie’s narrative follows young fashion student Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), freshly arrived in London and looking to forge a future for herself away from the ghosts of her past—literally, in Eloise’s case. She has the ability to see visions of the dead, and while her mother is always a supporting presence, the shadow of her suicide still haunts Eloise. Yet big-city life is also not the whirlwind of style and fun she’d hoped for either. An outsider unable to connect with her peers, she dives into visceral dreams of glitzy 1960s Soho, full of beautiful people and smoky, sexy jazz clubs. But going deeper into that world, and particularly the story of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), who had her own experiences as a newcomer to London, Eloise discovers the dark heart of the famous neighborhood and Sandie’s ’60s world. Soon she finds herself struggling to juggle the two worlds and even keep them straight in her head.
Wright’s own experiences as a younger man arriving in London from small-town Somerset were in no way as harrowing as Eloise’s, but they still fueled his idea for Soho. “I’ve lived in London for 27 years and spent more time in Soho than any other neighborhood in the city,” he says. “And more recently in the last five years I’ve started living very close to Soho—and Fitzrovia, where the movie is set. But I guess the first time I said out loud about doing it was in 2011 to Nira Park, my producer.” This was shortly after Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and before he’d go on to shoot the final Cornetto Trilogy title, The World’s End, and musical crime thriller Baby Driver. In many ways, Wright knows he wasn’t ready to make it at the time. “I think there was an element of building up to doing it. Because people had always asked me whether I would make a straight-up horror film, and I’d always say, ‘Yes, but I’d have to find a subject matter that genuinely disturbs me,’ and that was a reason to make the movie. I think you have to make something that scares you.” Soho, with its story of past nightmares and murder, certainly aims to unsettle you, even as it wraps you in the beguiling glamour of Swinging 1960s London. Yet before embarking on the frightening new challenge, and long before finding a co-writer, Wright made sure he was fully prepared. “What I did do initially was employ a researcher, Lucy Pardee, who did an enormous tome of research, where she tackled every facet of the story, everything from testimonials of people who lived in Soho back then, live and work in Soho now, every element. And also interviews with students who are coming to London now.”
Flash-forward to 2016, when Wright was starting to consider his next project after Baby Driver. A fortuitous meeting with another well-known British filmmaker led to a vital element of this new movie. “I was still thinking about making Last Night in Soho,” he says. “I was editing Baby Diver and met Sam Mendes for lunch. He said, apropos of nothing, ‘Have you ever met Krysty Wilson-Cairns?’ Turns out, Mendes was working with Wilson-Cairns on 1917, the World War I film that would go on to score win three Oscars and 10 nominations, including a nod for its original screenplay, co-written by Mendes and Wilson-Cairns. “We met, and I think the first time we went out for a drink in Soho, we were on Dean Street and she pointed at Sunset Strip, the strip club, and said she used to live above it for five years when she was a barmaid at the Toucan around the corner, an Irish pub that’s in the movie. As soon as she said that, I said, ‘On another night, can we go out and I can tell you the idea I have for this movie about Soho?’ ”
That led to their second night out in Soho. “I took him to all the less fancy establishments!” Wilson-Cairns recalls. “We ended up in this basement bar called Trisha’s, where all the bartenders and some of the criminals of the area drink. He told me the story, the twists, everything, and I was totally riveted.” Initially, Wright wasn’t seeking a writing partner, though he soon realized Wilson-Cairns was the ideal person to work on this new script with him. He went off to finish work on Baby Driver, and when he was ready to get back into the Soho world, Wilson-Cairns was among his first phone calls. “About nine months later, he phoned me and asked if I remembered that night, which I obviously did. And he asked if I’d like to write it with him. Knowing the story, my life experience and exactly what I could bring to it, it was a very easy yes.”
At that point, Last Night in Soho existed primarily as an extensive outline and treatment, the weighty tome of research and a lot of index cards. “We had the cards on the wall, and I remember thinking that it looked like John Doe’s apartment in Se7en,” Wright says. “I worried that she’d come into the room and think, Oh, my God. It looks like Edgar’s trying to find the Zodiac killer.” Wright needn’t have worried, though, because he’d clearly found a creative twin. “He was worried that I’d come in and say, ‘He’s a serial killer!’ ” says Wilson-Cairns. “But that’s my aesthetic. My house looks like I’m definitely a mad conspiracy theorist—weird scribbles, writing on windows, notes to self. I wasn’t asking if there were baskets with lotion in them. I wasn’t concerned. I was, ‘Oh, a kindred spirit, excellent! I wonder who we’ll kill together.’ That’s our next project, by the way. Spoiler!”
Murderous intent aside, the pair dove into the writing process. Wright supplied Wilson-Cairns with the copious amounts of research and other material designed to help set the mood. “He sent me a stack of DVDs that was about as tall as I am,” she says. “There were a lot of Pathé Newsreels from the era. It was just cameras traveling through Soho or through Piccadilly Circus, interviews, stuff like that. And a lot of very British, judgmental films of the 1960s, in which a young woman moves to London with the dream of being a star and of course is punished for her daring ambition and then falls from grace.” Not forgetting one other important element, which has been key to Wright’s work since day one. “Lots of music. Music was the prime mover in every stage of this. I was given the playlist before I started writing the film, which is very rare. I would ride into the office listening to the music we’d write to that day, so that was influential.”
While Wright has famously employed flipchart outlines and story breakdowns when working with Cornetto co-conspirator Simon Pegg on films like Shaun of the Dead, he recalls his time with Wilson-Cairns as more straightforward chewing through the story: “It was a lot of talking about scenes and brainstorming on them. Usually what we’d do is talk and talk a lot and then kind of go off and write. Or she’d say, ‘Let me take a crack at this and you rewrite.’ Sometimes it was writing together, sometimes taking a pass at different scenes and then sometimes writing out how I saw something and her tweaking it—a combo of everything.” For Wilson-Cairns, it was, as with Mendes, a case of finding another writing partner with whom to gel. “Essentially you’re looking for what you’d want in a husband!” she says. “Someone you can really build a partnership with. And one of the key components of a good writing partnership is you can say really stupid, dumb things to each other and you don’t then look at each other and go, ‘That person’s a dummy…’ ‘My God, she’s an idiot.’ You need to be able to be incredibly vulnerable with them.”
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