Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright Talk THE WORLD'S END
I interviewed Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright at the end of a very long day several years ago for Hot Fuzz . They had had the long day, not me. I was thrilled beyond belief to have the chance to chat with all three of them and was sure it would never come up again. They were talking to journalist number 666 (me) and fighting some serious sleep deprivation. They were in fact, sorta zombie-ish and wanted to talk about anything except zombies, which they graciously did anyway.
Talk to them again? I cheered! I triumphantly raised my fist into the air. I went out and bought a cricket bat. I told all my friends who clapped me on the back and told me they hated me in the same moment. Best of all I sat through two Q and A's, took my son to his first screening of Hot Fuzz and watched the entire Cornetto trilogy on the big screen over the course of a weekend. The actual sit down found them refreshed in great humor and full of insight into their process and decades long friendships.
TWITCH: The three films you've made together, and even SPACED (1999-2001) are strongly thematically linked by the idea becoming self-aware and growing up. But THE WORLD'S END also tackles middle-age and search for some sort of...I'm not sure, is it redemption?
SIMON: Personally I'm not really sure Gary is looking for redemption. He might be beyond redemption. I think what he really wants is closure. All he really wants is to complete this pub crawl and he wants it so badly he's willing to sacrifice his own personal safety and his friends to get it. He'll even sacrifice the planet if he has to. He doesn't value his life enough to think he really needs redemption.
EDGAR: He wants to means something again. Even if it's only for one night.
SIMON: To himself, as well, you know. But he's on a suicide mission.
NICK: Yeah, his friends are his unwilling enablers really.
SIMON: He realizes with some glee that it isn't that he's getting older, or that the town has changed. It's that this really weird thing is happening.The crawl is over by that point but he's so bent on it that he lies to himself and his friends that finishing it is the only way they can make it.
EDGAR: Not to give too much away but we really love the idea that the film is about a guy who runs away from one intervention straight into a cosmic one.
TWITCH: So science fiction as a way of not giving up on desperately messed up people.
EDGAR: Well with Gary there's the idea of the people you've had to cut off or leave behind and how much you want redemption or closure or some sort of help for them before they hit rock bottom.
TWITCH: We all know people like that. We've been people like that I think.
EDGAR: I think too many comedies write characters without any empathy for them. The Gary King character in a different movie would just be a supporting character who's the butt of all jokes.
SIMON: Or in the tradition of great characters like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused (1993)
NICK: Or the Fonz, or Paul Le Mat in American Graffiti (1973).
EDGAR: Well, Paul Le Mat in American Graffiti is The Fonz. But of course the interesting thing about Happy Days is that the character who should be least happy because he peaked at 18 slowly becomes the focal point of everything and everyone and eventually gets his own Saturday Morning cartoon series where he goes time traveling with a cartoon dog.
SIMON Which is an obvious progression.
EDGAR: The important thing is to always have empathy for the characters. Look at Nicholas Angel from Hot Fuzz (2007). He's this humorless stuffed shirt but we feel sympathy for him partly because he's been unfairly treated. We don't have cool cop characters in the UK. There are no Dirty Harry (1971) or Lethal Weapon (1987-1998) type movies. A cop is already the least likely British hero.
In Shaun of the Dead (2004) you follow this schlub, this sort of sad sack who's already a kind of a zombie himself. But the point is that, even though he's never going to be a DJ, and he screws things up, he winds up making an effort, he tries. That's the most important thing about Shaun. Gary does get a chance to try in The World's End.
NICK: With all friendships you make a decision about whether it's worth it or not in the long term and I'm from a generation where friends were more important to me than my family. I never really had great family relationships. But Simon and Edgar, they are my family along with a few other people. I'm very lucky. I've known Simon for over 20 years, I've known Edgar for 16 or 17 years. Apart from the fact that we all live in giant mansions [Simon and Edgar burst into laughter] our lives are really the same, our friends are the same. We've hung in there.
EDGAR: For the record we don't live in Downtown Abbey.
SIMON: I live in Hartfordhsire. I don't have to worry about going down to the shop to get a paper because nobody cares. That's a decision I've made as an actor who's been in some....popular things.
NICK: I was in Kinky Boots.
TWITCH: I saw that.
NICK: You were the one!
NICK: I've been in lots of things no one even knows about. It would be nice to be noticed more but there's acting and there's real life. My mates are my mates. That only changes if you let it.
SIMON: There aren't a lot of big celebrity things going on where we're from. It's up to me if I wanna go to that launch for Hugo Boss' new suit. It's up to me how insular I become.
EDGAR: The thing about celebrity is the way it sustains itself which is through self-importance. Now it's more important what you do before the awards than whether you win an award. They have people whose job it is to talk to people as they walk into awards shows.
SIMON: Why aren't there medical awards?! Best cure for cancer!
EDGAR In a way the best thing about writing these films has been staying in touch with what we do know about. We don't really know much about fighting robots but we do know about being each other's friends. And we love the robots and the zombies and the aliens and blowing things up but when it comes to the emotional arcs of the story, that's personal, it has to do with our history.
SIMON: That said, I would like to win an Oscar by the way.
EDGAR: The best comedy comes from pain anyway. I think writing these things is therapeutic. We talk about things in the movie that we never talk about in real life.
SIMON: And those are serious things to us. The genre trappings are the fun part. That's no different for us either. It's amazing to get to show up on set and fight a robot, or pretend to beat the tar out of each other or clobber monsters. We are fans. But we're also sharing more than just those trappings or we're trying to. I think comedy can be a force for change as long as it doesn't restore everything at the end. Comedy is reactionary if it doesn't follow through with its threats.
Photo credit: Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune.