Exclusive: LAST NIGHT IN SOHO’s Edgar Wright Talks The Mirror Illusions And The Gary Sherman Connection

The POLTERGEIST III director's trick mirror shot served as a tutorial on the SOHO set.

By Michael Gingold · November 1, 2021, 6:34 PM EDT
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Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho is a true genre-blender, combining drama, horror, and a celebration of London in the 1960s, as well as cinematic tricks both old and new. The former involves a running motif of stars Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy appearing on either side of mirrors in numerous scenes (see examples below) that Wright explains to FANGORIA here. Part of that process involved veteran director Gary Sherman (Death Line), who got his start in late-’60s London; sharp-eyed viewers will note a thank-you to Sherman in Last Night’s end credits, though the connection actually has to do with one of his Hollywood projects.

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For Wright, a self-proclaimed “aficionado of mirror shots in films,” Last Night offered the chance to join that pantheon. “During preproduction, we became sort of obsessed with watching the great examples,” he says. “The first one I remember, though I’m sure there must have been a great one in a silent movie, is in the Fredric March Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s a great mirror shot at the start where they used a double set, that I was really struck by. There are amazing ones all the way from Orpheus, the Jean Cocteau film, through to Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married, where you really have to watch the shot twice to see what’s happening, and it’s very cleverly done. There’s a great one in La Haine, with Vincent Cassel and a double, a shot that looks somewhat impossible. We watched a lot of them; another great one is in Terminator 2, in the deleted scenes, and I showed that to Krysty [Wilson-Cairns, his co-scripter] when we were writing, as an example of how you can do a mirror shot in camera with doubles and sleight-of-hand, and almost sort of theatrical effects.”

The central idea behind these illusions was indeed to do them practically, eschewing CG FX. “I think people assume that all effects in films are achieved digitally now, but I wanted at least some of the mirror scenes to involve Thomasin and Anya actually standing opposite each other doing choreography—really sharp choreography by Jennifer White. We also designed these bits to be in long, unbroken takes, because it was important for the scenes to be immersive, in the sense that you’re seeing the film through Thomasin as Eloise’s eyes. I wanted the shots to reflect that as well, so we didn’t break the spell; when maybe an audience would start to think, ‘How the hell are they doing this?’ it would be the same as Eloise saying, ‘What the hell is happening?’

“We employed every trick in the book to design these shots to fool the eye,” Wright continues. “A big part of what you see was captured in-camera, and then there were some clever little tricks to make it a bit more sophisticated than that. I’ll break down one shot, for example: The first time you see Anya in the mirror, Thomasin walks down the stairs, and you can see the maître d’ in the mirror. But then, when the maître d’ walks in front of the camera, that mirror slides back to reveal a double set, with Anya and the maître d’s identical twin brother on the other side. That little piece of choreography was tough to pull off, but ultimately it was worth it. We were essentially filming a magic trick, and it was amazing shooting that scene, and everybody would crowd around the monitors afterward, since you could see the effect working when we finally cracked it and got the timing right.

“It’s also worth pointing out that something like that was a collaboration between all departments. The choreography by Jennifer, for instance, and Marcus Rowland, the production designer, coming up with the idea of that double set and sliding mirror. And then, the other key element was that the camera operator needed to be in exactly the right place at the right time. He became another performer, and we rehearsed those scenes with him. Usually, the camera operator isn’t necessarily at rehearsal, but we knew the only way to pull off tricky shots like that, in a shooting schedule where we had to do another couple of scenes that day, was to do a sort of dress rehearsal on camera, so we knew what we were doing, and what we could fine-tune.”

Wright and his team also got a little outside help from the aforementioned Sherman. “His film Poltergeist III is chock full of amazing mirror shots, and there were one or two where we were sitting around trying to analyze how they were done, and that we couldn’t quite figure out. And I thought, ‘Well, I know Gary Sherman,’ so I e-mailed him and said, ‘Hey, this film I’m doing has a lot of mirror shots in it. I was wondering if we could pick your brain,’ and he said, ‘Sure!’ So one afternoon, Gary, who I just saw the other night at the L.A. premiere, did a little tutorial with our crew. It was the best extended lunch break on a Friday; it was like, ‘Hey, guys, if you want to gather in the meeting room, Gary Sherman is going to talk us through the shots in Poltergeist III!’ [Laughs] It was about as geeky an extended lunch meeting as you could possibly have!”

Last Night In Soho is now in theaters, check out Edgar Wright's curated inspirational playlist.