British comic actors Simon Pegg
and Nick Frost have made a pretty impressive career creating what
Frost once described to me as "love letters to the genre."
Together the two have worked on
several projects together (mostly with director Edgar Wright) which
have been comic looks at romantic comedy (the BBC series Spaced),
horror films (Shaun of the Dead), action adventure (Hot
Fuzz) and science fiction (Paul).
The secret to Pegg, Frost and
Wright's success is simple: the filmmakers are paying comic tribute
to the genres, not parodying or patronizing to the source material
and their audiences.
The group's uncanny ability to
make serious examples of the movie styles, and still make them
seriously funny, has lifted the guys to a certain cult heroism.
In 2005, when Shaun of the Dead became a shock hit, the two
actors (and their writer/director friend) became a comic force to be
Even apart, the two actors have
been incredibly busy in recent years. Pegg has starred in the
Star Trek movies, the Mission: Impossible movies and
stuff like How to Lose Friends and Run Fatboy Run.
Frost has had parts in such diverse films as Pirate Radio, Kinky
Boots, Penelope and Attack the Block.
Their latest film together is
The World's End, in which a group of old friends are doing a pub
crawl in their old hometown, only to realize that the entire town
has been taken over by intergalactic robots and that they are facing
the end of the world. The new film is the final part of the
team's loose trilogy (Frost fondly called it "the Blood and Ice
Cream trilogy" to me in 2007) which started with Shaun and
continued with Hot Fuzz.
A week before The World's End
had its US premiere, we met up with Pegg and Frost at the
Waldorf Astoria Hotel to discuss the latest flavor in the Cornetto
was hearing that the whole idea behind
The World's End goes back to a pub crawl that was when you guys
was Edgar. That was before we met Edgar. He was a little itinerant
youth in Western England, in Somerset. He [later] wrote a script
called Crawl about a bunch of teenagers doing a pub crawl.
Pretty much the first three or four minutes of this film – of a kind
of glorious night of hedonism and abandon. [He] never did anything
with it. When we were starting to think of what we would do with
our follow-up to Hot Fuzz, Edgar kept mentioning this.
(to Nick Frost) He had for a few years, hadn't he? He brought
it up a couple of times.
You guys went away and tried to...
Edgar and I went down to the West Country. Hired a cottage. We
were really, really indulgent. Hired a nice Mercedes. To write.
We went down there for a week to write and wrote not a sentence.
You should have hired a computer.
we should have hired a computer. We didn't do anything. Just drove
around with the top down listening to the Jon Spencer Blues
Is this your
normal creative process?
Listen, I mean, I'm sure... (pauses, then sheepishly) No.
Not really. It was just fun to be with a mate. (to Simon Pegg)
But then while we were down there, you joined us and we tried
the pub crawl again, the one that Edgar had aborted when he was like
19. I think he did six pubs when he was 19. With us, I think we
did four. He's a terrible drinker. You do a pub crawl with Edgar
and by pub four he is literally out. It's ten to eight, what are we
going to do now for the rest of the night?
We had to carry him home.
have to carry him home.
This was when Shaun of the Dead was new. Wasn't it before
Hot Fuzz was done?
Yeah, it was. Then, when we came to think about the next
film, we decided wouldn't it be interesting to look at going back to
your hometown and that weird sense of detachment you get when you go
home? You sense that odd combination of familiarity and
alienation. Then we thought wouldn't it be funny if we gave a very
concrete reason for that hard to identify feeling and that concrete
reason being an alien invasion. The notion of alienation is taken
to it's literal extreme. That fit in quite nicely with Edgar's pub
crawl idea so we kind of combined the whole thing and it came
about. We had the idea in 2007, but we didn't write it until 2011
because we went off and did Paul and Edgar did Scott
Pilgrim. And, I don't think we could have written it in 2007.
I don't think our life experience was completely full, in terms of
what we needed to do to write this film. So I'm glad we waited.
Also, a good idea is a good idea. Unless it's topical, then you if
you wait five years you'll ruin it. You can just write it down.
It's still there. Five years later you go: that's still a good
idea. Let's use that idea.
Your character finds out that the world is ending and he wants to finish
the pub crawl. If the world was ending, what would be the thing
you'd most want to do?
I'd just want to hug my daughter and my wife. (laughs) I
think Gary's problem is that he's an alcoholic. That's the most
important thing in his life. I think the thing you want to do when
you know the world is ending is get as quickly as you can to the
most important thing in your life.
I have advanced exit strategy for a number of different apocalypse
scenarios. As a human as a species it's very rare that you'll
actually just sit and have a cuddle and wait for it to hit you. I
think you'd try anything you can. I have a lovely big cellar, so
I'd get in there. Stick some doors over the top of it. Cover it
with mattresses. Unless its a tsunami, and then I've actually
worked out a route I would take in order to get to a place called
the Hog's Back in Surrey, which is like 300 meters (about 1,000 feet
high). Unless it's a mega-tsunami. Then we're all fucked. But if
it's just a basic one, then I'm on the Hog's Back.
The film made the
beer look amazing. How was that done?
Yeah. That's Bill Pope. A fantastic cinematographer who Edgar had
worked [with] on Scott Pilgrim. [He] has lit everything from
Clueless to The Matrix. He's a very accomplished DP.
Edgar thought it would be interesting to get an American viewpoint
on a very British thing: the pub. So Bill lit those pints like it
was amber nectar.
They are the only pints that are real beer in the whole thing.
Everything else is fake, but the one at the end that Simon walks in
on, when it's lit on [pub] number twelve and then the ones at the
beginning, they are the only real ones. Because nothing quite looks
like foaming nut brown ale. You know, then lager.
What did you use
the rest of the time?
It was like a burnt sugar, slightly carbonated with a cream soda
head on top. We tried a few different things. Fake beer, even
non-alcoholic or low-alcoholic beer, is still like 0.01%...
... And it's heavy....
... And it's heavy.... And if you're drinking 80 pints of it a day,
there is a placebo effect.
Even if you like the taste of beer. I like the taste of coffee, but
I wouldn't drink 80 pints of the stuff.
We drank so much liquid that we were really nicely hydrated.
A lot of bathroom breaks. There was talk of having us all
Just come out with a big bag underneath the table. I need to change
All of your films
have paid tribute to specific genres:
Shaun of the Dead was horror films, Hot Fuzz was
action films, even Paul was sci-fi. It seems like you are
setting yourself up in this film. Was that purposely done as
I would argue that we've never set anything up. I would never call
Shaun of the Dead a parody. Hot Fuzz is not really a
parody. It draws attention to some of the formal aspects of action
cinema, but not in a way that is satirical, particularly. It might,
by changing the context, make you realize how ridiculously
rambunctious these films are sometimes. But we've always used genre
as... the films that I've made with Edgar are like Trojan horses to
say slightly more important things about life. If you want to make
a film about a guy breaking up with his girlfriend, not many people
are going to go to see it. But if you put zombies in it... You can
use them as a metaphor and make everything a little more poetic.
The same thing about friendship and male bonding in Hot Fuzz.
Or alcoholism and the sense of loss when you go home with The
World's End. We always like the idea of taking the cinema that
we love as kind of big kids and using it to say things we feel as
adults. So I would refute the notion of anything we've ever done
being a send-up.
mean more in terms of the references to the things that you do love.
We didn't really want to make any... Nick and I, because we wanted
to make Paul... one of the central jokes of Paul was
that he'd had an influence on all popular culture. By that every
reference we made in that film was to the fact that Paul had
invented it, even to the point of him helping Spielberg make ET.
That film is so referential. Edgar also got pissed off after
Scott Pilgrim came out and the people were like: "Oh, yeah,
there's a bit about some video game in there." There was a lot of
invention and smart writing that was his idea. It wasn't all
references. We decided to not make any of the references in The
World's End. You can see references in its DNA if you put it
under a microscope. You can see some of the social science fiction,
the paranoia writings of what has become known as the cozy
catastrophes of [authors] John Wyndham and John Christopher and...
JG Ballard. Or from America, things like The Body Snatchers
[a 1945 novel by Jack Finney which has been filmed several times]
and Invaders from Mars [a 1953 movie by William Cameron
Menzies]. Those insidious invasions where everything changes
very subtly. But outwardly, the only references to other films that
remain in The World's End are the connective tissue between
Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End,
which is the fence gag and Cornetto ice cream. But also stuff like
the idea of... we've always been very interested about loss of
identity. All of the films are about loss of identity in a way,
whether it be zombies literally eating you or the NWA [Hot Fuzz's
Neighbourhood Watch Alliance] reshaping you. Or this
combination of the NWA and zombies, which is this huge galactic
course of corporate change, which is what the Network is. But when
you take away all the referentiality, what you are left with in
The World's End is seemingly just references to ourselves. But
those references are important in order to bind the films as a
trilogy. This thing of trilogy has come up again and again, and it
we're going to use a term as lofty as that (laughs) we want
it to be actually true. Not like when The Hangover III came
it was like: "The thrilling conclusion of the Hangover
[trilogy]..." It's not a fucking trilogy! It's two sequels because
they made some money out of the first one. I think the thing with
this is that we wanted it to be a piece. You could one day watch
all three films and go: "Oh, yeah, I see the connections." There is
a trilogy. I'm not saying we ever meant it to be when we started
out. The reason it became one is because after Hot Fuzz, we
thought we could make a third film here. And we could make it bind
the first two together. We would make a film where they are all
separate. They all exist separately, but if you watch them as a
threesome, it's even a three-part joke. It spans all three films.
I think that's what it is.
think we were smart in that we never got to make a third season of
Spaced [a 1999 British TV show they worked on], so it was
important that we finished something.
If I may hook
onto your idea of creating the message you want in a popular format,
how do you balance serious filmmaking and accessibility?
I think any expression in art, even in popular culture, is a
reflection of how we are all feeling at the time. All our
preoccupations bubble to the surface in our artistic act, whether it
be high brow art cinema or fucking Jersey Shore. It all
comes out in the way that we express ourselves and indulge in
entertainment. I think you can reach more people. (laughs)
What was that thing about the Yeager? The Pacific Rim Yeager
[robots in the Guillermo del Toro film].
Yeah, I think our film, this film, specifically is like a Yeager
piloted by [arty British directors] Mike Leigh or Ken Loach.
It's good to adapt. You use the tools available to you to say what
you want to, to as many people as you can. If you can harness
popular culture, then you're likely to be less in the position where
you are preaching to the converted. If you make a heavy piece of
art cinema, then a lot of very intelligent cinematically literate
people will go see it.
that's 50 people. Also, in terms of our output, we never try to
second guess what people want. We always just make what will make
us laugh. I think we realized quite early on that if you are going
to try and pander to a particular group of people and second guess
what they want, you're in trouble. What you give them is probably
not what they want. And you've diluted the thing they liked in the
first place. So we've always been really firm that we are making a
film for our mate Peter, or my wife or Simon's wife, or our mate
Robert or Ira. Mates who we've always hung out with and laughed
And trust that there are other people like them.
Do you think you
were able to finance those projects because you already had a
I don't think it hurt.
Shaun of the Dead gave us a calling card. The popularity of
that film meant that we could sell a film on a larger scale.
Perhaps more internationally. Here, even. That gave us the chance
to make Hot Fuzz. Then Hot Fuzz's success, not just
theatrically but more on DVD, meant that we might even get a little
bit more money to make this one. Shaun was $6 million
[budget], Hot Fuzz was 17 and this is 30, so not quite
Paul did very well, as well.
I don't think we'll ever do it again. I think that was the last big
budget comedy we'll make. (laughs)
Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan are like a British dream
cast. Did you have them in mind from the start? What were they
like to work with?
Yeah we did, to the point where when Edgar and I were writing the
screenplay with their names in the script rather than the
characters'. It didn't say Steven, it said Paddy Considine. It
didn't say Peter, it said Eddie Marsan. That helped us write. We
just trusted that we'd get them. We had this dream of assembling
what Bill Nighy eventually referred to as... (laughs) I went
to see him before the film, just to talk about [playing] the voice
of the Network. I was at his house and we were chatting and he
said, "Who else is in it?" I said me and Nick, Paddy, Martin and
Eddie. He said, "Well, you've got a team of assassins there." That
was what we always wanted to get: a team of assassins. Represent
the very best. I'm not including myself and Nick in this. We're
lucky to work with these guys.
You can include me.
I didn't want to speak for you. But for me to work with Nick and
Eddie and Rosamund [Pike] as well. Knowing we were going to going
to be releasing the film here, we wanted to bring the very best of
our acting pool to the rest of the world. Those guys represent
I'll also say as an addendum to that, not just the acting, but the
commitment and effort they put into the training period was
amazing. All of us. Especially Ros. She got really mad if we
didn't let her do something. They just worked. They just came in
for four weeks and just hit things and kicked things...
and did awkward backwards rolls. You hear a lot about successful
performers these days who don't want to do much. They can't be
arsed. "Why should I?" "Get someone else to do it." That was the
complete opposite of what we had on this. I think, to be fair, that
says a lot about Simon and Edgar, in terms of their draw and the
fact that people are willing to do that for our films, for their
a very physical film. Was there special training?
Yeah, we did. We worked with Brad Allan, who was one of Jackie
Chan's boys. One of his team. A guy called Damien Walters, who is
a British stunt performer. He's an incredibly adept gymnast and
him up on YouTube. Damien Walters. Amazing.
He's got an incredible, incredible show reel. We were very keen
that we maintain character throughout all the fights. Often in
films, when a fight happens, you hand over to the stunt performers.
You get a lot of cutaways. You come in and you can't really see the
fight. Who is doing it. Because it's all very quick.
was saying yesterday, if you see a film where you've got a very
muscle bound 6'4" waiter, you know at some point he's going to kick
Yeah. (laughs) He's got to have a reason to be there. So
we were very keen that the characters that we created be present
through all the action sequences. That meant us doing them all. So
we had Brad and Damien access us. What we can do physically. What
we were uncomfortable with. Comfortable with. We had them develop
fighting styles for all of us, whereby Nick was kind of like The
Incredible Hulk. He's so full of repressed rage that it comes out
in this berserker style. Gary is always fighting one-handed,
because he's protecting his beloved pint. By doing that, we could
shoot the fights in wides and not have to cut in. Do them like one
continuous shot. You have the camera moving around. Basically,
what you do is you shoot it in pieces, so it's all previsited in the
rehearsal room. The stunt team put on video. We learn each
individual piece. Each bit is connected by a whip pan or something
which leads into the next moment of the fight. Then you can have a
fight where it is fucking Nick who is doing all of that stuff. It's
Nick punching those guys in the face with stools. (laughs)
It's not some guy dressed up as Nick.
It's ten times
more entertaining than any
kind of bit.
I haven't seen Pacific Rim. And I'm a big fan of
Guillermo's, so I wouldn't comment on that. I would say that it's
important, it has an effect that you see it's us. You see that
that's Andy having that fight. That's Gary with his pint. It means
you don't check out the film just to see a little bit of action, you
know? Which is often impressive. That's why Jackie Chan is such an
entertaining performer. It's always him. They don't cut away
because he can't do a back somersault, because he can do a back
somersault! He can do another back somersault.
loved Gary's last stand. Still, I was thinking, what the Network was
offering was kind of attractive. Galactic travel, eternal youth. I
don't know if I'd turn it down.
yeah, yeah. Absolutely. We didn't want to really have a stance on
this whole notion of "Starbucking." They say "Starbucking" the
whole time, but the coffee shop that was there before the Starbucks
was shit. Just because it's all new and corporate and branded
doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing. Yeah, there is some
individuality lost, but for the greater good – to take a phrase from
Hot Fuzz – maybe it would be better to give yourself over to
a higher power. We do need some control and someone to tell us how
many guns you can own or how many this we can have. Maybe that will
help us to not be such an erratic, dangerous species. Maybe that's
a good thing. But it comes at the cost of personal free will and
that is something we hold very, very dear. At the end, I hope this
is not giving anything away about the end, but it does come down to
just that. We wanted this whole notion of the Network to be a
benevolent force. If they can possibly do it, they'll replace two
people if they can. Have those two people indoctrinate the entire
planet over the period of 150, 200, 300 years. Then they've got
their nice safe planet which can interact with all the other
they leave then.
They can leave. They're not War of the Worlds type
murderers. They just want the galaxy to be a nice place.
does come at a price. We love the idea that the human race is the
first species they ever encountered that are such a bunch of
Well it seems
like the film is saying that everybody is conforming to something
and that's fine.
Yeah. There is a very telling speech Steven makes in the service
station early on in the movie. He says he had a company. He got
bought out in '08, but he likes it. It's less stress, you know?
That really is a very, very key line in the movie. It's kind of
about what the whole situation with Earth is. Would it be less
stress? We want people to go and really think about what's most
important. Whether it is the right to choose to be a cock?
(laughs) Also, with Gary's illness and stuff, there is a reason
why there were 12 pubs. There is a reason he faces off against a
higher power. It's this idea of are you responsible for yourself,
and by that your planet? Or are you prepared to let someone else
be? We all do it to some respects. We elect leaders to do things
for us, because we don't want to do everything ourselves. I don't
know what the answer is. I just like the idea of coming out of the
movie house and going: Wait a minute. Were they bad guys or good
guys? (laughs again) The best thing you can do is inspire
debate and conversation. The worst thing you can do is to make a
film that people forget before they validate their parking. You can
laugh from the beginning to the end of a movie, you can really enjoy
it, but then the next morning you can think, "What the fuck did I do
last night?" That is, for me, a bankrupt experience.
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