Thanks to his work with director Edgar Wright on things like the UK series Spaced, the zombie apocalypse parody Shaun of the Dead, and their love letter to 90s-era action movies, Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg has been an actor who the film geek community have seen as one of their own for quite a while, and after getting to do things like repeatedly play the tech-oriented sidekick in a big secret agent series thanks to the Mission: Impossible movies and fly on the Starship Enterprise thanks to his casting as Scotty in the Star Trek reboots, his nerd credentials have only grown over time.
Recently there’s been some indication that Pegg is an even stronger actor than we’ve probably been giving him credit for up until this point though. We’ve known since the beginning that he’s funny, and we’ve known that he can be manic and lovable, but recent work has seen the guy showing off a range that’s impressive past funny and lovable. He really brought the pathos to his Gary King character in The World’s End in a way we’ve never seen from him before, and he’s been period-acting circles around everyone else on that new Frank Darabont gangster show, Mob City.
Just when it was looking like Pegg had found his niche, his little wheelhouse of playing supporting characters that was probably going to guarantee he had a prospering career in acting for decades to come, it’s now starting to look like he might not even have a niche at all. This guy could probably pull off doing leading man stuff on a larger scale than just heading up modestly budgeted genre spoofs, and it definitely seems like he could take on some roles that require serious dramatics. Where’s the ceiling for what Simon Pegg can accomplish in the acting world?
It’s impossible to say really, but his latest project, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, could give us a better indication. Not only is this a film where Pegg is playing the strong lead—to the point where it looks like he’s going to be appearing in every scene of the movie—but it also looks like this is a film that’s going to really challenge what he’s able to accomplish as a performer. It’s got him running around doing pratfalls and screaming, it’s got him curled up on the ground while experiencing existential angst, it’s forcing him to react to a stop-motion hedgehog of some sort—essentially it’s asking him to take on every extreme acting challenge there is, all in one movie. Well, every challenge apart from going through some sort of physical transformation, unless you count growing that ridiculous hair and running around in dirty underwear a transformation.
The real challenge here seems to be the juggling of tone that comes from the blending of humorous, serious, and just downright psychedelic content that this movie seems to be doing though. Blending comedy and tragedy is one of the most difficult things a film can do well, and largely the weight of pulling off that task comes down on the shoulders of the featured actors. Does Pegg have what it takes to take a project that looks damned intriguing, but also like it’s probably a tonal mess, and pull it all together as something that makes sense and functions as a whole?
While we in the States are just gearing up to get our chance to watch A Fantastic Fear of Everything, the film already played over in Ireland and the Uk in 2012, and the critical consensus regarding what they were able to accomplish seems to so far be mixed to negative. Is this just a case of the pool of opinions not yet being large enough to give us the whole picture, or does what’s been produced by Pegg and his first time director, former Kula Shaker frontman Crispian Mills, really play like an mess? Hopefully it’s the former, given all of the promise Pegg has been showing lately and given how potentially awesome this trailer makes the film look like it could be, but we’ll all have to wait until it gets its US release on February 7 to see for ourselves.
Still though, what’s less up in the air than whether or not A Fantastic Fear of Everything will be a complete success that gives us an even better idea of the limits of Pegg’s range as an actor is whether or not it will at least be worth our time. Even if the film proves to be a failure overall, it’s clear from all of the visual inventiveness on display in this trailer that it will be a fascinating failure. Whether or not he gets it right the first time around, it’s already obvious that Mills is going to be an interesting director to watch develop. How often do we see a debut film from someone that’s already this completely mad and utterly gorgeous to look at? Hardly ever. And even more rare is that a first time filmmaker would have a presence as complex and engaging as Pegg at the center of his work. Or underwear so gross.