Film School Rejects recently had time to sit down and catch up with international comedy star Simon Pegg in regards to his upcoming film How To Lose Friends and Alienate People (starring Kirsten Dunst, Megan Fox, and Jeff Bridges). Pegg also opened up about the new Star Trek film, his film he’s written with comedic collaborator Nick Frost (Paul), and how he feels making “foreign” films.
When did you first come to America?
Funny enough, my first experience of America was New York. It was about 1994 I guess. It’s strange because it was at once familiar and foreign. Obviously I grew up conceiving American culture and had seen that city many times. I think the real differences are deeper down, I’ve experienced them on press tours, and stuff for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, particularly because they were so extensive. Just, you realize that you ARE a foreigner, because we speak the same language. It’s very good for us as friends as countries because we have ethnicity, we have the benefit of speaking the same language, so we can share things and it’s easier to access each other’s culture. And sometimes you may think that we’re from the same place, but you realize that you’re not. It’s fascinating, and it’s not a bad thing. And in many ways we are trying to sell foreign films, especially when you get into the interior and discover that New York and London are very similar. New York is more similar to London than New York and LA. Once you get into the heartland, you realize just how foreign you are.
In your preparation for the role, did you get to meet Toby Young, work closely with him?
I was emailing Toby today, actually. I made sure I hung out with Toby, go to dinner with him. He’s mellowed enormously. I knew the book. When I met him I was expecting something else. He’s not a complete idiot, he has a work-ethic which means he doesn’t care what a lot of people think. He makes a lot of enemies just by being tenacious. I didn’t want to do an impression of him for the movie. Nobody really knows what he looks or sounds like, like they do in the U.K. and even there it’s very few. He kind of moves his head like this [furrows his brow, sways] and talks like this [in a low, scratchy voice], and I kind of thought that would be distracting [laughs]. I didn’t want people to think, “Who is this weird guy?” But I did want to get under his skin, see what motivates him. What it is that enables him to conduct himself like that. But now, he’s married, had some kids.
This movie takes aim at how the media idolizes movie stars and celebrities. Describe a time when you FELT like a movie star.
Funnily enough, I never really do. I really try to stay grounded and regard everything with suspicion. As an actor you get treated particularly well, that’s just because you’re very trustworthy. They need you to be certain places at certain times so they drive you everywhere. They make you very comfortable so you’re in a good mood, that sort of thing [laughs]. That’s what they’re doing, just handling you. It’s not because you deserve it, you know what I mean [laughs]? You’re just being manipulated.
But, I went to the Iron Man premiere in LA. I don’t usually frequent those kind of events, but of course sometimes it’s fun to go to these things. Obviously, Jeff (Bridges) is in it, I saw him at the Four Seasons before the premiere. He’s such a nice man. Really generous, friendly, he’s what you’d HOPE he’d be. “Come find me at the party, we’ll have a chat” and stuff. So, he went off; I went off. I saw him at the party, I thought “I’ll go and say hello.” And he was talking to Jon Voight, and he had Beau Bridges to the side of him. I was leaving and I thought “I can’t just leave, that would be rude.” So I sidle up and kinda go [whisper] “Jeff, Jeff. I’m gonna go.” He goes “HEY” and he put his arm around me, because he’s quite tactile and just sort of stood there. So I just stood there looking at Jeff Bridges, listening to Jon Voight tell an anecdote. It’s fucking Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges, ME, and Jon Voight, HAVING A LAUGH AND CHATTING. That moment I did have that self-awareness come crashing in on me.
This is a similar question. I read that Megan Fox attached herself to the project just to work with you, and you got the role in Mission: Impossible because J.J. Abrams loves Shaun. Since you are a pop culture expert, how would you assess the cult of Simon Pegg?
[Laughs] I’m trying to get as many followers as possible, we’re all gonna go up to space. [laughs] You realize that now the film industry is sort of populated by film fans, by people that appreciate the medium. I think J.J. Abrams is a fan. If you look at the directors now, the current generation, you look at people like Tarantino, Sam Raimi, Edgar (Wright), you know, they’re all film geeks who are now making films. They were all people who grew up with cinema through the video boom and are now making films themselves. J.J. saw Shaun, liked it, and said “let’s work with that guy.” Literally, called me at my office (for Mission: Impossible 3) and one of the weirdest phone calls, WHICH he only piqued with the email that said “Would you like to play Scotty?” That’s the way it kind of is now, that kind of enthusiasm in collaboration, and I’m so glad that I’ve done something that’s sort of engendered that reaction.
Plus, everyone will be given one of these [holds up a water bottle with his face on it]. Full of cyanide.
Do you worry that someday you might become one of those people that (Toby Jones) wants to take a stab at in the movie?
Yeah. The minute you enter this business you become that person. There’s always someone out there that doesn’t think you deserve it. I mean, look at someone like Jeff, he’s got it right. He’s managed to navigate that world. Or someone like Harrison Ford, who is one of the biggest movie stars in the world and yet you rarely see him. That kind of thing where you’re an actor, you do your job. You don’t get seduced by the trapping which are very tempting I’m sure.
Megan Fox is actually pretty funny in the film, I don’t think that’s something many people will expect.
Did she have much coaching from (director) Robert Weide or is she just generally funny?
Megan’s great. Her looks are almost a kind of burden in a way. She is mind-bogglingly beautiful. She walks into the room and you kind of have to look away a little bit. She does sort of look like a princess in a fairy tale, but she’s really capable. The telling night was when we shot the stuff by the pool together. There’s that one moment when you realize that Sophie might not be a two-dimensional character. Everyone in the movie gets a moment like that, you hear what they really want to do. When Bob called cut there was a palpable sense among the crew of “She can fucking act?” [laughs] “You know, who knew?” And she’s great, she’s really, really good. With Kirsten (Dunst) you kind of expect it because she’s been in the business such a long time. She’s been in it way longer than me, and I felt the experience was brilliant. I had such a good time, we clicked really nicely. But Megan coming into it, as someone who’s only really done Transformers and is very new, people have assumptions about her, because of the way she looks. She’ll blow those away. She’s like Angelina Jolie, she can act as well.
Ok, now give me the entire plot of Star Trek right now.
Oh, shit! [laughs] What if that worked?
What did you do studying James Doohan’s Scotty that you took in your characterization and how do you tribute him in the film?
I’m a fan of Star Trek, and I have all the home DVDs. I specifically stayed away from trying to do James, I tried to do Scotty. Because I figured, the film is not a parody in any way, we’re trying to be those characters, not those actors. Those actors picked up the script and said “Ok, he’s James [Tiberius] Kirk” or “He’s Montgomery Scott, born in Lithgow”–that’s how we had to approach the roles, because the story is not about the actors. James Doohan beautifully created a legendary character, a real sci-fi icon. He’s sort of sensitive and funny, tough, resilient, and clever. Sure, he thinks he’s the real captain of the ship, because he does all the dirty work. He’s where it matters. Kirk’s up there swingin’ around in his yellow top and Scotty’s down in the engine room with oily hands.
I got in touch with Chris Doohan, James’ son. In fact, he got in touch with me first, which was a relief because I was trying to find a way. And all I said was, “look, I’m just trying to give a performance that would make your dad proud.” Not to do James, but to do Scotty. And Chris is my assistant in one of the rooms on the ship. He was telling me that he’d been on set of “The Trouble with Tribbles” and dislodged, you know at the end where all the tribbles fall of Kirk. He and his brother and just knocked it open before they shot and FILLED the set with tribbles.
Do you prefer acting over writing or vice versa?
I think I prefer acting. I love writing, it’s only a fraction in it, because acting is just generally fun. By the time you’re acting all the hard stuff’s done. But the beginning of writing a project is always, it’s like pushing a really heavy object over a cliff. That first bit is very strenuous, and after word it’s all just (easy). I’ve just written this movie with Nick (Frost) and we had a really good time writing it. It happened very organically, I’m very proud of Paul. Writing that was really good fun. But, the REAL fun thing will be when we start shooting.
IMDb says that the Cornetto Trilogy (Simon’s films he wrights with Edgar Wright) will be completed by 2010. What can you tell us?
IMDb says I’m 5’9″. [laughs]
Is there anything you can tell us? Are you and Edgar done with a script?
We haven’t even sat down and typed a word. We know kind of what we’re doing with it, but we’re just trying to find the time. Preferably by the end of the year we can hash-out a pre-first draft.
Quickly, now that you’re part of zombie pop, are you and George Romero part of a secret government advisory committee in case of the rising of the undead?
Yes. Yes we are. I can’t say anything more than that. [laughs] It’s all about getting people used to the idea…it’s in the back of their minds. You’ll all know what to do. It’s instruction videos we’ve been making. [laughs] I think the reason the “zombie” thing is so popular is because you do have a chance. That’s why the fast zombie spoiled everything, because didn’t have a chance. With the slow zombies it was like “I…I could make it.” A shop-worker could survive the attack, IF he was careful. [laugh]
With “Spaced” finally making it overseas, were you involved in that, was it a pain?
It took a long time. The first time we ever came to Comic Con the first question was “When can we buy ‘Spaced’ here?” A lot of people had already gotten modified DVDs, so they could play the British disc. We we first made the show, we didn’t have too much money, so when we were clearing music, the issue of North America came up and we said “OK, just clear it for Europe.” So when we wanted to take it to the United States, there were all these tracks we hadn’t cleared, so we had to go through a very long process of clearing all the music and making sure there was a demand for it. Fortunately, because of the success of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, there was a grand-swell of interest and that went along with us clearing the tracks. I think it was the right time to release it this year, 8 years after it was on.
Meeting Simon Pegg was truly unique. Although most celebrities will put on nice faces and answer your questions with a smile on their face, Pegg is a real treat. He showed up in jeans and a t-shirt and was very genuine with us.
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People comes out this Friday.