A Conversation With Simon Pegg

“Not that we’ve ever fought zombies… but they grow out of our own parochial experiences in the UK, and that’s something that really defines all 3 films.”

After trekking across the universe for director J.J. Abrams and globe trotting as part of the Mission: Impossible team, British character actor and self confessed fan boy Simon Pegg retimes with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright and fellow thespian Nick Frost for the final epic chapter of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End. I was lucky enough to have 12 minutes carved out of non-stop press tour to chat with Mr. Pegg regarding his stroll down the golden mile.

Fletcher: The World’s End comes along six years after Hot Fuzz and marks the end of the Cornetto Trilogy, 9 years since its launch with Shaun of the Dead. Was there ever a plan or a timeline that Nick, Edgar and yourself were trying to work to?

Simon Pegg: We never planned to make a trilogy really; it just sort of became a trilogy when we had an opportunity to make 3 semantic sequels.

We always thought Hot Fuzz would be a semantic sequel to Shaun of the Dead, but we didn’t know we’d get a chance to make a third, and when that chance arose, it felt right that we should tie them toothier in certain ways so that they can be viewed as 3 films.

F: So when was the concept of The Worlds End first born?

SP: We had a rough idea on the Hot Fuzz press tour back in 2007. The pub-crawl, and the idea of going back to your hometown and it being a bit weird. In this case, being weird for a particular reason. But we had to film Paul and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World first, which I’m kind of glad we did in a way, because I don’t think we could’ve written this movie that well at that time. There were certain experiences we needed under our belt, and a bit of maturity we needed to attain, in order to write this movie.

F: Is it true that the Cornetto trilogy tag originated from a journalist making a passing comment about noticing a cornetto in Shaun of the Dead?

SP: In Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright thought a cornetto would make a good hangover cure so we put it in. Then someone said, “is there going to be a Cornetto in all your films?” And we jovially said “yes” and so it became the Three Colours Cornetto trilogy- like Krzystof Kieslowski- making a joke, then it kind of stuck and became a thing. And we went along with it. 

When it came time to write the third film, we realised that it was indeed a sort of unifying element, and that it would be a shame not to include it this time around. So yeah, loosely, you can bind them together with an ice cream, but there are lots of other things that bind them.

F: One of those binding elements would have to be the quintessential English DNA of the films wouldn’t it?

SP: Yeah, they’re all British films made and set in the UK and are kind of about our own lives and experiences to a degree. Not that we’ve ever fought zombies or whatever but they grow out of our own parochial experiences in the UK and that’s something that really defines all 3 films.

None of the films were made in America- we did that with Paul and Scott Pilgrim because it was a chance to work with different people, but the films in the series were always going to be UK-based.

F: And although the pub-crawl is far from being an exclusively British custom, was having it as the central premise for The World’s End a tip-of-the-hat to your youth?

SP: Yeah, at college there were pubs and there were crawls and there was a lot of drinking, so that youthful summer feeling you look back on before you move on to a different place and you’re about to lose all your friends, we kind of all know it.

And because everyone’s going to different places, you have one crazy night. I can think of a few in my youth, where I started at one place and ended up in a completely different place and wondered how the hell I got there, not because I’d blacked out, but because the difference between A and B was so far. I’d started at a little bar and ended up at the top of some hill somewhere. 

Ironically now, I don’t drink, Martin [Freeman] doesn’t drink that much. Nick’s the only one that still enjoys a few pints on the weekend, so we were all having to draw on our past, and recall what it was like to be drunk.

F: You mentioned Paul was filmed in America. You’ve done a lot of films back-to-back in the States recently including some major studio franchises. Do you find it difficult getting back into an English mentality when you return home?

SP: I’m English, so that’s my default setting. It’s where I’m from, particularly that production structure with Edgar at the helm and me and Nick- it’s where we began, so it’s like putting on a favourite pair of slippers. It’s very, very easy.

Making a film is making a film, no matter where you make it. The process is pretty much the same. There aren’t any huge changes particularly in the way films are made, it’s just a different environment. The process of making a film like The World’s End, there’s a familiarity there that’s really easy to fall back into.

F: You’re renowned for being a bit of a genre fanboy, and that fandom has obviously influenced your professional career. Is it odd being revered by today’s fanboys in the same way you yourself have revered your own personal heroes?

SP: Yes and no. I understand the mechanics of that kind of culture and we’ve made films that possess the criteria to become part of that, so inevitably it’s just been embraced by the people we are and the ones we appeal to. So it’s kinda nice, I understand it. It’s a wonderful vindication in a way, because it would’ve been awful if they hadn’t. But you just take it in your stride, really.

F: You mentioned the idea for The Worlds End was gestating during the press tour for Hot Fuzz. Now that you’re doing the press rounds for The Worlds End, have any new ideas been discussed?

SP: Nothing yet. I’m sure we will, because there’s absolutely no way that we won’t be together again. We haven’t unleashed The World’s End on the world yet. We might start discussing something during the press tour, but there’s too much to think about when you’ve got a film coming out. 

We’ve got to promote World’s End now, and there’s nothing beyond that. It’s just this big thing, which is particularly big because it’s the completion of a cycle and it feels very significant emotionally, to all of us. We’re about to go and give it to the world, which is a horrible, nerve-wracking time. So the idea of thinking about anything else is out of the question. But it will happen, absolutely.

F: Being this emotionally involved, have you been very hands-on with the post-production process?

SP: I’m there on a sort of consultancy basis. Edgar shows me stuff and I take a step back and look it over. I can’t hang around unless I’m actually actively being employed on the film. I mean, it’s like, “hey, I gotta go get another job”. But during that period Edgar consults me and he shows me cuts of the film, and we discuss things online or over email. Generally speaking, I’m happy to leave post-production to Edgar, our editor and our sound team. If there’s anything Edgar feels uncertain about, he’ll call me and we’ll get together, but the main part of my job ends when we wrap principal photography.

F: Speaking of which, this one looks like there are a lot of physical elements to it. Was that fun to do or are you finding it a bit harder to recover now that you’re getting older?

SP: It’s great, I love it. Training for the movie was really fun. We were training with Brad Allen, who’s one of Jackie Chan’s stunt team, so it was a very physical job. I was training for 6 months before I started filming because I knew I had to be in shape. Then when we started pre-production, the five of us were put through our paces and worked out, and it was excellent. I love coming home from work and feeling like I’ve put in a day of hard labour.

F: Any injuries on-set that you didn’t anticipate?

SP: Yeah, I broke my hand, which was pretty painful, but I soldiered on regardless. I think it was 6 takes I did on a broken hand because we needed this one shot. It was a really silly thing; I was jumping over a bar. It wasn’t even a dangerous thing. I caught my finger and it bent so far back that I broke my hand. Only one of our camera crew noticed that I was sweating, but you’ve got to get the shot. 

That’s the thing with me and Edgar. Our entire career- nearly 15 years of working together- was sacrifice to get the shot.

F: It’s becoming increasingly rare these days to have creative teams work together over such an extended period of time. Do the three of you still gel, do the ideas flow as easily and do you still enjoy each other’s company?

SP: Absolutely. And I don’t think it’s that rare. You look at someone like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton and Sam Rami and Bruce Campbell or De Niro and Scorsese, who were together for a very long time. And as long as you keep finding each other interesting… I have a huge respect for Edgar’s talent. I love working with him because he can do things I can’t. I love having him as part of my creative process because we bring different things to the table. It’s a really productive relationship we have and also, we’re friends. We have been for a very long time, and it’s nice to hang around with your friends when you work, and that goes for Nick as well. 

Nick and I live in very different parts of the city now, so we don’t get to see each other that much when we don’t work, so when we do work it’s an excuse to hang out with each other for 3 months, which is always welcome.

F: There are a lot of practical effects in The World’s End with very few CG exceptions. Was this a deliberate choice made by Edgar?

SP: I don’t remember any green screens on the shoot, to be honest. I could probably count the amount of times I saw green on the set on one hand. Our effects team is so good. They’re just on set all the time and it doesn’t really affect our process. We rarely have to act against something that isn’t there in some physical way, so it’s not an obtrusive process. It’s very physical and we try and use as much physical effects as we possibly can, because it creates a sense of proximity and danger that you don’t always get with CG. 

You could have massive CG set pieces, but after a few seconds of going “oh, that’s pretty”, they become kind of dull, so it was important to us to have the character and story as much in the foreground as the effects, so that there’s some jeopardy involved.

F: In regards to conceptualizing and writing the film, is there a certain understanding of your limitations gained from experience, or do you write the story as big and grand as it comes to you and then begin reshaping it so you don’t blow up your budget or production costs.

SP: We just write what we want to write. Having written a number of films now, sometimes you know that there’s no way we’ll be able to do that, but most of the time you just sort of write it then you take it our effects company Double Negative and you say, “look, we want to do this.” And they’ll say, “yeah, sure” or “no, that’s too expensive” and then you have to cut it down, so it’s best not to limit yourself by what you think can’t be done because, generally speaking, that’s left up to other people to decide. 

With effects now, you can do anything. We have an amazing special and digital effects team. We’d never second guess them by omitting something from the script because we think they might not be able to do it. Because usually they’re able to do anything.

F: While Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz both boast a brilliant support cast, The World’s End is arguably your biggest ensemble cast to date? Did you have Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine and Rosamund Pike in mind as you penned the script?

SP: Absolutely. We had this ideal cast where, at one point, we were just writing down actor’s names in the script rather than the character’s names just because it was helping us visualise performances. So we had our dream 5 and we got it, which was great. We really wanted to have a ‘team of assassins’. And that’s what we got.

It was a very nice group, and everyone brought so much to it. It’s a treat when you get to work in a group like that.

F: So now that all is said and done and your about to unleash The World’s End into the world, what should audiences expect? A bittersweet but familiar conclusion to a trilogy, or a standalone genre flick?

SP: I think that if the humour of the last 2 films appealed to them, there’ll be a synchronicity there in the style of humour. They’re films for film lovers. 

This isn’t in any way a parody of anything. It’s not a parody of sci-fi films. There are no references in it- it’s just it’s own thing. We kind of got tired of just being labeled the ‘reference-y guys’ so we were adamant about “let’s just not do that in this one.”

But if you liked the first two, I think you’ll love it. For me, it’s the culmination of everything we’ve ever done. We’ve put everything we’ve ever learnt into this film. We watched Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead before we started writing, and there were parts of both films that we really liked and we thought, “let’s try and bring a little bit of the rawness of Shaun of the Dead and a bit of Hot Fuzz and try to come up with a synthesis, and a fitting end to the trilogy. 

I’m really excited for it. I think I’m more proud of this film than I am of the other 2 by some measure, just because I feel like it’s a more accomplished film, in a way. Shaun of the Dead got by on innocence in some respects- we hardly knew what we were doing and it was all out of necessity. With Hot Fuzz, we went at it studiously. With this one, it was a very organic process that was very easy to write. Edgar and I really hit the ground running with it, and I think the years we spent together has made the birthing process a lot easier.

    J. Fletcher

    Based in Sydney, Australia. Entertainment Journalist. Critic. Photographer. Coffee Snob. Not necessarily in that order.

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