Inside Last Night in Soho’s Pivotal Time-Hopping Dance Scene
It takes two to tango, but it turns out it takes a village to pull off a dizzying dance scene set in a 1960s nightclub in Last Night in Soho.
The Focus Features film follows Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), a small-town girl who moves to the West End of London to study fashion. Ellie, who has always loved the style and music of the ’60s, finds herself ostracized at school and moves into a slightly creepy rented room—where, while sleeping, she’s transported back to the 1960s. She walks into the swinging nightclub Café de Paris and takes over the life of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), who flounces into the club in a light pink dress with what seems like all the confidence in the world. Sandie dreams of being a singer and is looking to get herself onstage.
This pivotal scene at the Café de Paris introduces the audiences to the premise of Edgar Wright’s film, which will find Ellie repeatedly going back in time to the 1960s to live vicariously through Sandie. The stylish scene is smartly choreographed so that the audience is bouncing back and forth between watching Sandie make her way through the club and watching Ellie watch Sandie.
“This is the beginning of everything. This scene does set the scene for the rest of the movie,” McKenzie tells Vanity Fair. “Ellie is walking into it in awe, and living her dream of entering into the ’60s.”
For Wright, who cowrote the script with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, he hoped the scene would feel familiar to most people as one of those dreams where you step into the life of someone else. “I have a lot of those dreams where I know I’m me, but I look like somebody else, or I’m in somebody else’s body…you’re half in the scene but also half an observer of the scene,” he says.
The scene begins when Ellie walks into the lobby of the nightclub, and faces a mirror. At first she sees her own reflection, and then it turns into Sandie. To create this moment, a mirror slid back to create an empty frame so that the actors could play off each other. But to do that, they had to make their movements identical. “We had to be very specific in our timing and in our placing…so it looked like a reflection,” says McKenzie. “We spent a lot of time rehearsing that movement.”
A maître d’ then comes in to take her coat. Wright enlisted identical twins James Phelps and Oliver Phelps, who previously played Fred and George Weasley in the Harry Potter film series, to play the maître d’s on both sides of the frame. “What you’re doing is essentially creating a 21st-century version of the Duck Soup shot by the Marx brothers,” says Wright.
“For the most part, where I could, I’d have the actresses together,” says Wright. “It was just so much more immersive for the actors. If you had done it separately, it would have been so much more difficult for them, particularly Thomasin because she’s usually the observer and Anya is leading.”
Ellie/Sandie walk down a long staircase into the busy nightclub. It’s there that Sandie meets Jack (Matt Smith), a manager who she hopes will sign her, and they take to the dance floor. The dance sequence, in which both Taylor-Joy’s and McKenzie’s characters dance with Smith, was one long steadicam shot using complicated choreography to switch between the actors. “There was a lot of ducking and jumping out,” says McKenzie, who says she spent weeks rehearsing the choreography ahead of shooting. “Every time if Anya was spun out of frame, I would grab Matt’s hand and spin back into frame. If Anya was twirled around Matt’s back, she would duck and I would pop up on [Matt’s] other side.”
Wright reveals that the dance scene was almost very different. While in the final version, Ellie remains in her pajamas throughout the dream, Wright had originally planned for Ellie to “jump into [Sandie’s] body,” transforming into the same ensemble that Sandie was wearing, with the blonde hair as well. “It looked really slick, but it occurred to me the day before that it didn’t look as good when it was blonde and blonde,” says Wright, who had to break it to the costume and hair teams the day before the shoot that they would be keeping McKenzie’s character in her original pajamas. “It was a good eleventh hour call because I think if we had done it with her blonde as well it might have been so slick that you wouldn’t have known what was happening.”
Wright credits the actors, choreographer Jennifer White and steadicam operator Chris Bain for pulling off the complicated dance number. “The steadicam operator becomes like the fourth dancer, and he has to be in exactly the right place at the right time for the transitions to work,” says Wright. “I’m really, really proud of that finished shot.”
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Published at Thu, 04 Nov 2021 21:17:29 +0000