In 2019, Krysty Wilson-Cairns co-wrote 1917 with Sam Mendes (who directed), a sprawling World War I movie that all takes place in “one take” (with the help of movie magic). It was her first credited feature film screenplay, and the film would go on to be nominated for ten Academy Awards, including a nomination of her own for the screenplay.
For her second film, Last Night in Soho, from the outside looking in, it does look like a similar situation. This time she co-wrote the script with another revered director, Edgar Wright. And Wilson-Cairns admits there are some similarities to the two collaborations, mainly that she genuinely likes both writing partners and would never work with anyone she wouldn’t go to dinner with. (This seems like good advice in general.)
Last Night in Soho is a tough movie to talk about because the filmmakers are a bit concerned about spoilers. Wilson-Cairns describes it as a horror movie, and that’s at least partially true, but there’s a lot more going on that we can’t really get into, but we do get close to broaching some of the topics.
In Last Night in Soho, Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is moving to London to study to become a fashion designer. Low on money, she takes whatever apartment she can get and winds up renting a room from a mysterious woman (Diana Rigg, in her final role) who has a lot of rules about this room, which includes strict rules about both refunds and men. Ellie starts seeing visions of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) a young singer trying to make it in London in the 1960s. Lines start to get blurred between who is Sandie and who is Ellie, as the movie takes a more and more sinister tone.
It’s interesting Wilson-Cairns describes Last Night in Soho as a Trojan Horse. She’s not wrong, at least in that if people are expecting a more typical Edgar Wright movie, that’s not exactly what they are going to get.
How similar was the collaboration with Edgar as to working with Sam Mendes on 1917? From the outside looking in, you’re co-writing a script with two very popular directors.
Well, with Sam, we did the story together. With Edgar, he very much had the story. He had the story ten years before we’d ever even met. But there’s a lot of similarities. I mean, working with a director, especially of that ilk, is always very welcomed and very good fun, because they know exactly what they want. And the one thing about Sam and Edgar is none of them are that precious. And they’re quite happy to hear your ideas and be involved. They really love to collaborate. And I think that they share that lovely quality is that they’re both fantastic collaborators and they’re both welcome your input and want to listen to you.
Is that something you’re worried about? If they would listen to you or not?
No, not really. I mean, with Sam, 1917 was our third project together. So we had a long working relationship and a lovely friendship. And the same with Edgar. I mean, I was friends with Edgar for about nine months before he ever asked to work together. So I knew them both as humans first, as opposed to just wonderful kind of magnificent authors. I knew them as people. And so I knew what I was getting into. And I very much try not to work with people that I think won’t listen to me. Call me crazy!
It almost sounds like you have a vetting process? Because I’m sure a lot of people do find themselves in situations where they think someone’s going to listen to them and that doesn’t happen.
Yeah, I have a really good vetting process. It’s my gut. And also, I just have a rule that I wouldn’t work with anyone that I wouldn’t go to dinner with.
That’s usually a good rule for life in general.
It’s a very subtle but important role that you can incorporate into your daily life.
So Edgar has had this idea in mind for some time. So how do you get in there and say, “Here’s what we need to do”?
He told me the story. And when you tell someone the story, it’s like, “This happens and this happens, and this happens.” So there’s loads to do. There’s loads to kind of build on. You need to create characters. You need to create structure, create elements. And then also, even within the story, you give notes. So originally the ’60s scenes were all going to be silent, just musical. One of the very first things I said to Edgar was, “I think we need to hear Sandy’s speech. She needs to be a fully formed character.” If Ellie’s going to fall in love with her and we want the audience to fall in love with her, I need to hear talk. And Edgar was like, “Of course. Let’s do it.”
Oh, that’s interesting. Based on that, obviously, the main two characters we’re following are women. Was there anything you were adament did not work?
No. I mean, the one thing I’ll say about Edgar, and the same with Sam in fact, is they’re both very empathetic humans and understand people’s experiences. Both of them have teams of producers that are mainly female. And so, I suppose I wasn’t used because I have a vagina, for lack of a better term. I think I was used because I’m quite a good writer and I could bring my own experience to it. I lived in Soho above a strip club. I worked in a bar in Soho. I came to London from somewhere outside of London, and I felt lost, and I felt adrift. And I studied there at film school. And it was a lot like fashion school. So it’s more about those shared experiences and your skill as opposed to like, you know what it’s like to be a woman.
Right, Edgar is empathetic. But, what you said, I don’t think anyone thinks that. But at the same time, if I’m him, with this kind of story, I want someone with a little more shared experiences from that side of things to look at this as well.
No, no. I understand. I mean, I think really, I suppose the time where that really came into play was – what it’s like to be a young woman in London – in the taxi driver scene, for instance, is everything’s been said to me in the back of taxis and worse. One of the times we were writing a scene and he said, “What’s the worst pickup line that’s ever been said to you?” And that’s the line in the film. So it’s like those kinds of tangential experiences that you can then be like, “Oh, that’s quite a funny, I’ll cannibalize my life and put that sort of stuff in.”
And what’s tough about this movie, there are themes I’d love to get into with you. But it’s really hard to do without…
Spoiling the movie.
Right. So the reason I ask questions like that, it’s not because the two main characters are women. It’s because there are some pretty heavy themes by the end of this movie. And I know we can’t get into them without ruining it for everyone, but it’s not just a movie about someone moving to London and going on some adventures. It gets really heavy.
Well, I mean, it is a horror film. And I think good horror, you should write about something that truly scares you. And toxic masculinity, the way women are treated, you only have to look at the news in the UK and over here to see that there are huge issues. And that truly scares me. And that was already in the story when I came to it. But getting to crystallize that, getting to work in that strand and with that spine, I think was great. I also think it’s really important that genre does lean into these kinds of things. A lot of people maybe wouldn’t go and see a drama about those topics. But a lot will go and see a horror or psychological thriller about those subjects. And it’s almost like a Trojan horse thing.
That’s interesting you said Trojan horse. In the marketing we’re seeing a lot of pretty lights and fantastical imagery. And the fact Edgar’s involved, if I don’t know any better, I’d probably assume it’s not what it actually is. Trojan horse does make it sound sinister…
It’s a sinister film, you know?
I mean, the whole point of like the thematic build from nostalgia is this idea of like, oh, the good old days. So, I’d love to live in that time. Or I’d love to visit there. I’d love to experience what it was like in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. You name it, everybody’s got a decade. They’re like, “Oh, that’s when I should have been born. And that’s how I should have lived.” And I think that nostalgia can be used as a weapon against you. “The good old days,” was said a lot before people voted for Brexit. “The good old days,” was said a lot before people voting…
It was literally his slogan.
I think having nostalgia just be nostalgia and just be this thing, “Oh, rose-tinted glasses. I’d love to go to the ’60s. Women had mini skirts and cool boots and the music was great.” And then when you actually do research, when you actually dig onto the surface of it, you realize, no, it wasn’t good at all. There’s so many problems, so many issues. And catalyzing that through women, what it was like to be a young female in the ’60s wasn’t all rosy at all. And that’s what this film leans into. And I think the really horrific part of it is that a lot of the issues that women facing in the ’60s, they still face today. And it’s partly because people don’t talk about it or people don’t think about it. And only in the last ten years have we had any sort of reckoning on that. And I think this film very much builds on that idea of like, hey, don’t look back with your rose-tinted glasses. Look back with your eyes open. And all the time you want to spend in the past, because you think it was great, actually concentrate on the future and build a better world.
Do you want to direct next?
I mean, I love what I do. I love collaborating. I love the people that I work with. I think if the right project came along and I felt that I really had a version and I could really bring something different then, yeah, absolutely. But I love not having to get up before 10:00 AM and only writing.
That’s the thing. If you’re a director, you’re going to get up before 10:00 AM.
Really early. Late nights. Not for me.
As someone who writes on the internet for a living, I understand what you are saying. So I’m on your side on that.
Thank you. I hope you understand it’s crucial that anything that I do in the future probably have night shoots.
So that’s the big scoop, if you direct a movie, there will be a lot of scenes at night.
A lot of scenes at night. 3:00 PM call time.
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