Edgar Wright interview: The World's End, Ant-Man, Statham
Edgar Wright looks back at The World's End, and talks The Godfather Part II, Crank and moviemaking too...
Out now on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK is the final part of the Cornetto trilogy, The World's End. We spoke to Simon Pegg about the film earlier in the way, but we've since also sat down with its director and co-writer, Edgar Wright. And here's how the chat went...
The interesting thing about the response to The World's End, and I've seen this with Hot Fuzz to an extent too, is that the second reaction to the film tends to be different to the first. That the first watch is quite a broad one, but the second uncovers what's under the surface. Themes such as lonliness, and the destructiveness of Gary.
So how closely do you follow that? Does the first reaction bother you per se, or do you get the most satisfaction from people going back?
I think there's an element, moreso with Shaun and The World's End, a little bit of Hot Fuzz, that I think as we've written three of them now we've begun to realise more of the Trojan horse effect. That what you're actually selling and what it is may be slightly different things.
That said, if you want to just watch it and say this is a sci-fi comedy that's loaded with laughs - as it says on the poster! - it does have that side. But there are deeper themes there, and in a way, that's something that's... genre films that we grew up watching sometimes have underlying themes or maybe an ulterior motive that wasn't initially clear or wasn't on the poster. And I think that's good. One of the reactions that I have had to this film is that it's touched a raw nerve with some people, because they know these characters. Or they've been in the situation.
I've even had people who have said it helped them come to terms with their own problems by watching the movie! And that's great. So I like that aspect. Also, I never try and make films that are deliberately dark, but just try to be more honest. The character of Gary King is somebody that most people know someone like, or they are that person. In a way, me and Simon [Pegg] wanted to show this character but also find a way to get him some redemption, in the face of the apocalypse. So that's like the idea of the end of the movie really.
We really loved those responses, and I'm always happier for people to find extra layers to a movie later. It's better than somebody watching it and saying 'that's all there is to that movie, goodbye'.
The interesting thing with this one though is that I wonder if there's a slight trade-off. That people might just like it slightly less the first time, and don't fully find it until the second. I agree with you about Trojan horses.
I came out of The World's End and I felt a little sombre, because Gary really hit me, and also Nick's character. What I find sometimes when you have stories with a really destructive character at the midst of it is that you miss the impact on the people they destroy. As I go back to it, it's the stuff like that that I pick up.
My question to you then is that first reaction: would it bother you if people liked it less first time, as a result of you deepening the film as much as you do?
I don't know. I think you write the film that you want to see, and you try and do it honestly, and you can't control people's responses really. So the fact is that the film is exactly the screenplay we wrote, and we made the movie and people's reactions to it... we've had some really great reactions where people have understood what we're going for, and if people have a slightly different reaction to it, it's fine. I don't really see a problem with that, for a film to be interpreted in more than one way.
I don't really know how to answer that, other than to say it hasn't been compromised in any way.
That wasn't my suggestion, nor was it a criticism...
No, I get that.
But you look at the films you've been involved in producing too. Something like Attack The Block, and how that was sold as a 'from the team that brought you Shaun Of The Dead', and that helps shape, for better or worse, an audience's initial expectation.
What I wonder, then, is if the movie reporting ecosystem that exists around films is doing them a slight disservice. It is an instant reaction culture to film now. The contradiction is people are watching films more often, but there's this drive to snap out a reaction to them minutes after leaving the screening.
Yeah, I think that's fair. There are plenty of movies that you need to chew on a bit. Movies that you return to and see something different in the second time around. Usually if I find a film that's challenging, that I'm intrigued by, I want to watch it again knowing what the ending is. I found that with something like The Godfather Part II. I think it took me three watches to fully experience it in the way it was intended. I'm not comparing my film to Godfather II...
... that'd be a poster!
[Laughs] But I do agree with you that there is a sort of culture of trying to review something in a Tweet immediately as soon as the credits have rolled. Sometimes, some things have to settle, and you have to think about the intention of it.
With regards The Godfather Part II, and how it took you three viewings to get the most out of it. Which viewing did you enjoy the most?
The third time. Yeah.
How does that contrast with the first time you saw it then? I remember reading Joseph Conrad's book The Secret Agent at school, and hating it the first time, then read it again and loved it. But with The Godfather Part II, I was blown away first time. We're talking gradations and deepening?
I think also I watched The Godfather Part II for the first time when I was 14, so I didn't fully get what as going on. [Laughs]
In the UK now, there are 15 films or so going into UK cinemas every week. And each of those films is - fag packet maths here - at least two years of someone's life. And a lot of the time most of those are being instantly dismissed, as if there's another 15 coming along next week.
That's the thing, though. The films will last longer than the Tweets. People won't be reading those Tweets in ten years time, but the films will still be around.
Can we look at Martin Freeman's character briefly in the film. You've talked about how he's based on a person you know, and your films have been based on people you know, places you know and worlds that you know. Two questions, then: what's your writing room - both physically, and what yours and Simon's working mechanic is - and then where's the boundary in digging into your own background and the places that you know?
There are two different questions there. Firstly, the writing room. Me and Simon write the film together. We've always been in the same room, and I don't think we've ever done it separately from each other, unless it's been tiny tweaks. But from Shaun we shared an office. The only minor innovation that makes a big deal to us is the new thing of being able to just plug the laptop into the TV, and now the glorious thing of just having a big TV with Final Draft on it! So one person can type and the other can see what the other is doing. Before that, it was always Battleships: two laptops looking at each other!
In terms of drawing from our own lives, I think we love doing that, and it's impossible not to do that. But I think on the flip side that you're the hardest on yourself. The characters that are the most flawed are the ones that are based on you. Shaun is based on myself and Simon, and elements of Gary are as well. In the case of [Martin Freeman's] Oliver character, there's more than one kid at school who was destined to be a great business. And I think I was ever so slightly jealous of them because them seemed to have it all figured out, even at the age of 16. They know what they're doing, they understand finance and business. They've gone on to be very successful. So there's an element of me feeling like a little kid next to these guys. In fact one of them, just like the movie, was the first person I ever saw with a mobile phone. This was in 1991, and I was like what is that thing that kid has got?
They sell those old brick phones now as novelty Christmas presents.
What, the old ones?
But this was at school! I was 16! And Oliver was very slightly based on him.
Appreciating we're nearly out of time, I don't really want to do specific Ant-Man questions, not least because I can't imagine there's much you can say. I do have to ask are you putting The Statham in it?
[Laughs] There's no Statham in the movie.
There's my exclusive.
And that's no disrespect to Statham!
The thing about Ant-Man that I do want to ask you is around the sides a little. Because the mechanic changes for you here, doesn't it? You've made a series of popular, really well made and well-budgeted films, at a price that you can have a lot of control over. You look at Thor 2, for instance, and there are four directors who worked on that in the end: Tim Miller did the opening sequence, someone else did the mid-credits stuff, Joss Whedon came in and did a bit of writing, and Alan Taylor directed the bulk. So how, in the midst, of such a huge enterprise as that, can you keep control? Is there a little bit of you that's accepting you're going to have to surrender a bit of that?
I don't know. I haven't made the movie yet, so...
... that's a fair point.
[Laughs] Well, I've written the movie as well, so maybe that's a slightly different thing. I like to think I've got a good handle on what I want it to be. I think bigger movies, in some respects, do become more of a team effort. I think what they've done very well is create their own sort-of-like mini-genre, much like the Marvel comics themselves have editors. They have writers, pencillers and inkers, and you also have a story editor and the editor of the comics. That's not a million miles away from the studio system so it'd kind of like a team effort anyway. I know that they want me to make the movie that I've written.
I wish you all the best with it. Just for the record, then: your favourite Jason Statham movie?
Oh, Crank, right? And I like Crank 2 as well!
Edgar Wright, thank you very much.
The World's End is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.
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