Simon Pegg & Nick Frost ('Hot Fuzz')
'May The Force Be With You!'
For fans of UK comedy, some series stand head and shoulders above their rivals. 'Fawlty Towers' was one; 'Monty Python' another. Recently, 'Spaced' joined those ranks, recognised with BAFTAs and a multitude of loyal fans. Series co-writer and star Simon Pegg, with co-star Nick Frost, used their exposure from this seminal show to leap into films in a big and gory way with 'Shaun of the Dead'.
Now, on the cusp of international glory with their second hit-to-be, 'Hot Fuzz', we sat down with the pair who were pleasingly candid in their discussion of the industry, their approaches to acting, love for comic book writer Garth Ennis and what lies ahead for their "trilogy-that-isn't."
How long have you two and Edgar Wright [Director of 'Hot Fuzz'] been working together now? Where did you first work together? Pegg - "For Edgar, he was always going to get into films. For him, I think ''Spaced'' was kind of a proving-ground. I was writing it with Jessica and Edgar was script-editing it, so he had an input and I always would consider him to be the third writer of the show. Obviously, a huge part of his personality was the aesthetic of it as well."
"My first job with Edgar with ten years ago, on a show called 'Asylum', which was on the Paramount comedy channel back at home. I was working on another show six days a week and doing 'Asylum' on Sundays - and I hated it, because it was taking up all my private time. And I was working with this guy who seemed like such a stickler for detail. And when I eventually saw 'Asylum', I kind of realised exactly why Edgar was like this; because he was just inordinately talented. When we came to write 'Spaced' a year later, Edgar was the first person I thought of. He was the only person I knew could possibly interpret what we were going to write."
"He eats and sleeps and breathes film - and has done since he was young. I think it's no surprise that he's been adopted by the likes of Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino because I think they see something of themselves in him. They're film fans who became filmmakers."
What is it like, shifting into film and out of television? Is it a totally different experience? Has it changed your perspective of the entertainment industry? Frost - "For us, it hasn't changed. It's always been the three of us and our producer; we're in the same office. It's as it has been for us for 10 years."
SP - "And we're just about to move office, actually - which will be strange - because it will feel different. We're just getting some better premises I think, but the feeling when we're all together is that it's just the same. When you walk out onto a red carpet and everyone is going a bit mad, it can be a bit overwhelming."
NF - "It's been a bit odd as well; it's happened a couple of times where we'll come out of a hotel in New York and there are people waiting for our autographs - like we're Take That or Ringo Starr or something!"
Is it surprising how well 'Shaun of the Dead' was received by American and Australian/ non-British audiences? SP - "I kind of hoped that it would travel. We were resolutely British about it because we didn't think people would appreciate being patronised. You don't want to try to be trans-Atlantic or try to appeal to everybody. It was always our rule with 'Spaced' - if you're specific, you'll find there are a lot of people who feel the same way. If you try to generalise, you'll lose everybody. It was a nice validation of that risk; that did play well abroad."
And did that success make it easier to get support behind 'Hot Fuzz'? Will it perform even better, since half the film is a straight-up Hollywood-style action flick? Albeit, with a unique twist SP - "I think they'll get it. I think the Americans will get it. What we were doing was sort of adopting an American tradition in a way. And around the world, people will get it because we all consume that tradition - but in America, I think it'll be most keenly felt."
"It's nice to think that that kind of fan-base we've built up throughout our TV stuff and 'Shaun of the Dead' will vote with their feet, if you will, to go and see 'Hot Fuzz'."
"But I'm really glad we moved away from 'The 300', because that would've killed it. It would've pushed us over a cliff! Of course, 'The 300' is amazing because the slow-motion is exactly what a fan would do with a remote control. You'd just be slowing it down and speeding it up and slowing it down, because it is spectacular visually. Frank Miller has done very well out of his adaptations - Alan Moore seems to be very unlucky."
Actually, this raises an interesting tangential question - well-known comic book author Garth Ennis, of Preacher fame, has created a character based on your likeness for his series, 'The Boys'. Were you involved there? Or is this just eerie coincidence? SP - "Darick Robertson, who's the artist on 'The Boys', he was a fan of 'Spaced'. When he was coming up with the conceptual designs for Wee Hughie he based it on me. And it was before 'Shaun of the Dead' hit and suddenly my profile went big in America and I had to sign a contract saying I wouldn't sue because of likeness rights! He copied pictures of me, and in some images I can see what photos he's taken it from."
"I love Garth Ennis - I'm a great 'Preacher' fan, so what I'm doing at the moment is I'm going to write the forward for the trade paperback of The Boys."
No kidding! And what are your thoughts on the 'Preacher' HBO miniseries? SP - "It'd be great to play Cassidy or something like that."
Have you been approached? SP - "I don't know if they're doing that - I mean, they're big comic books, I'd like to be a part of it. I think it would be a shame to have to water it down for television or film, because it is so, so over-the-top. I put the rumour out there a long time ago that I was interested in playing 'Rorschach' in 'Watchmen', just because, with Land of the Dead, me and Edgar put the rumour out that we were in, and that's how we were in it! By putting the rumour out - and it came true!"
"Well, Nick and I, we did a thing on our last American tour, decided to spread a rumour just to see how quickly it got back to us. So Nick and I and Edgar said that we were doing an adaptation of the British cartoon 'Danger Mouse' and it got back to us two days later! And then, people who were producing the DVD collector's version of 'Danger Mouse' approached us to revoice two new cartoons! Talk about self-fulfilling prophesies!"
Nick, you've played a few of the 'bumbling' sidekick roles - is this kind of your preference? Or would you like to see a bit of a role-reversal between the two of you some time? NF - "Well, my personal view on it is that I'd hate people to get bored with the dynamic. I think that's something we'd look at, yeah."
SP - "I guess the next thing we do, there will be a difference. In the same way that 'Nicholas Angel' is different to 'Shaun' and also from 'Tim' in 'Spaced'. I had that sort of criticism levelled at me after 'Shaun of the Dead' where up to that point I'd really only played slacker guys. So it was important with 'Hot Fuzz' to write a character that was so far from those."
And was this more uptight, straight-laced character harder to perform? Particularly when standing next to Nick, who's probably pulling faces? SP - "It was the hardest thing I've ever done - to act - and not pull faces and be funny and be silly like I like to. When we write, I think it's fair to say we don't write selfishly. To quote the film, me and Edgar will think of "the greater good". For the comedy to work, you have to have this character who is almost like a humourless automaton, so that his reaction to 'Danny' and 'Sandford' works really well. If that means having to occupy that character, then that's what I'll do - for the good of the film."
NF - "And it was quite a classic way of doing things, as well. The straight guy is always the central character and all the other weirdos just rotate around him."
SP - "There's an extra feature on the DVD which is just me pulling funny faces at the camera, because I would have these sort of little explosions after every take. I'd have to deliver everything like Mr. Spock, and then when Edgar would call cut, I would go "Hnnnghhh!" to rid myself of it!"
After two genre flicks under your belts, what's the next step for you both? Sci-fi? A romantic period comedy? And is it fair to say that Edgar will be intrinsically involved? SP - "We're all genre fans - and the reason we did a cop film and a zombie film is because we love those genres. It also happens that we're comedy writers, so we had to have our cake and eat it."
"Nick and I are writing something together at the moment which has a sort of Sci-Fi edge, but it's not really a take on that genre - it's a comedy within it."
Is this for film? SP - "Yeah, it is; and it's something we're gonna do and Edgar is going to be involved on a production-level - hopefully as a script-editor. Maybe not as a director; he's got other projects he wants to do in the interim."
"But Edgar and myself, we started talking about our next project, which will be the third in the run of films that started with 'Shaun'. We made a mistake with 'Hot Fuzz', in that we came up with the idea very early on after 'Shaun of the Dead' - and the name. So when people asked what we were doing, we said 'It's 'Hot Fuzz'." And it became a thing; it became an entity before it was even written."
NF - "It was 'birthed'!"
SF - "Yeah, it was birthed before we'd even started writing it. People would be going, "So where's 'Hot Fuzz'?" And I'd be, "I dunno! We haven't even started writing!" So at this point, we've decided to say nothing about our next project until we're shooting it and it becomes unavoidable. That way, we won't be hassled to finish it."
NF - "Then there's also that thing that, when we said 'Hot Fuzz' is coming out, people had to wait two years for it. If you don't say anything about it, then when you start shooting it's like, "It's called so-and-so and it's about this," and they only have to wait ten months for it."
SP - "I think, a great sort of metaphor that Nick uses is that you don't speak about a project until its had its 'three-month scan'. It's like having a baby. So with our new project, we're already writing it now and we're into it and have a story and characters and everything - and it has one of the greatest jokes we've ever written - but I can't tell you that. But we're going to keep a lid on it until we're shooting."
Well, in that case, I hope the birth goes well! SP - "Thank you, very much! Hopefully it won't be a C-section!"
NF - "See you after the first trimester!"
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