Simon Pegg & Nick Frost – Hoisting Some Pints at The World’s End
by Jay S. Jacobs
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 reckoned with.
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 trilogy.
I was hearing that the whole idea behind The World’s End goes back to a pub crawl that was when you guys were young.
Simon Pegg: That 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.
Nick Frost: Yeah.
Simon Pegg: You guys went away and tried to…
Nick Frost: Yeah, 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.
Simon Pegg: You should have hired a computer.
Nick Frost: Yeah, we should have hired a computer. We didn’t do anything. Just drove around with the top down listening to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
Is this your normal creative process?
Nick Frost: No! 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?
Simon Pegg: We had to carry him home.
Nick Frost: We did have to carry him home.
Simon Pegg: This was when Shaun of the Dead was new. Wasn’t it before Hot Fuzz was done?
Nick Frost: Yeah.
Simon Pegg: 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.
Nick Frost: 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?
Simon Pegg: 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.
Nick Frost: 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?
Simon Pegg: 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.
Nick Frost: 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?
Nick Frost: 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%…
Simon Pegg: … And it’s heavy….
Nick Frost: …And it’s heavy…. And if you’re drinking 80 pints of it a day, there is a placebo effect.
Simon Pegg: Even if you like the taste of beer. I like the taste of coffee, but I wouldn’t drink 80 pints of the stuff.
Nick Frost: We drank so much liquid that we were really nicely hydrated.
Simon Pegg: A lot of bathroom breaks. There was talk of having us all catheterized.
Nick Frost: Just come out with a big bag underneath the table. I need to change my bag!
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 closure?
Simon Pegg: 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.
I mean more in terms of the references to the things that you do love.
Simon Pegg: 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…
Nick Frost: JG Ballard.
Simon Pegg: 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.
Nick Frost: Also I 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.