Interview with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on The World’s End

As the much fabled Cornetto Trilogy closes its final chapter this weekend, stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost sit down to muse on the meaning of the genres, blood, life and ice cream of it all.

The works of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright can speak to any audience. Their ability to entertain anyone who doesn’t want to think too heavily on what their seeing is only outweighed by their genius in filling those same films with deep messages and a wealth of goodies for those who do want to dig further into what they watch. We sat down with these gentlemen to discuss their new film (and the final piece to their Blood and Cornetto Trilogy) The World’s End. Please enjoy the brilliant and funny insights of the film’s stars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (the latter of whom also co-wrote the script), and look out for our chat with Director/Co-Writer Edgar Wright, which will follow shortly. Can you talk about how the idea for this one came up? I understand you put something together when you were 21 called The Crawl. Simon Pegg: That was Edgar. Before we met Edgar, he was a little youth in western England, in Somerset. He 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, about a glorious night of hedonism and reckless abandonment. Nothing really came of it, so when we started thinking about our follow up to Hot Fuzz, Edgar started mentioning–Well he had for a few years, didn’t he… Nick Frost: Yeah. Pegg: You guys went away and tried to… Frost: Yeah, Edgar and I went down to the countryside and hired this cottage to write, and we wrote not a sentence. We just drove around with the top down, listening to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. This is the creative process for you? Frost: Listen, I’m sure…No. [Laughter] It was just fun to be with a mate. While we were down there, you kind of joined us and we tried the pub crawl again, the one that Edgar aborted when he was 19. I think he did 6 pubs when he was 19, with us; we did 4. He’s a terrible drinker. So if you do a pub crawl with Edgar, by the fourth pub, he’s out of it. “Great, what are we gonna; do now?” Pegg: We have to carry him home. Frost: We did have to carry him home. Pegg: It was before Shaun of the Dead, wasn’t it? Frost: Yeah. Pegg: So yeah, when it came time to think about the next film we decided; wouldn’t it be interesting to look at “going back to your home town,” and that weird sense of detachment you get when you go home and you sense that odd combination of familiarity and alienation. Then we thought, wouldn’t it be funny if we gave a very concrete reason to that very hard-to-identify feeling, and that concrete reason being an alien invasion. So the notion of alienation is taken to its literal extreme. That fit in quite nicely with Edgar’s pub crawl idea, so we kind of combined the whole thing, and that’s how 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. 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. Frost: I think also, a good idea is a good idea. Unless it’s topical then a good idea can get ruined with time, but you can just write it down and it’s there, “Yeah, that was a good idea, let’s move on that.”
 So for Gary [Simon’s character], when he finds out the world is ending, the most important thing to him is to finish the pub crawl. If you guys found out the world were ending, what would you want to do? Pegg: I just want to hug my daughter and my wife. I think Gary’s problem is that he’s an alcoholic, so 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 to get as quickly as you can to the most important thing in your life. Frost: I have some vast exit strategies for a number of different apocalyptic scenarios [Laughter]. As a species, I think it’s pretty rare to have someone who would just sit, have a couple [of beers], and wait for it to hit you. I think you try anything you can. I’ve got a lovely, big cellar, so I’d get in there, I’d fix some doors over the top of it, cover it with some mattresses. Unless there’s a tsunami, where I’ve actually worked out a route that I’d take [Laughter] to get to a place called The Hog’s Back in Surrey, which is about 300 meters. Unless it’s a mega tsunami, then we’re all fucked, but if it’s just a basic one, I’m on The Hog’s Back. Obviously when you made Shaun of the Dead, there wasn’t a plan to make a trilogy. While the first two films seemed to send up certain genres, this one seems to be sending up your previous films. Was that a purposeful attempt in tying them together in the end? Pegg: I’d argue that we’ve never sent anything up. I would never call Shaun of the Dead a parody, and 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, essentially. It might, by changing the context, make you realize how ridiculously rambunctious there films are sometimes, but we’ve always used genres as, in reference to the film’s I’ve done with Edgar, as 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 and see it, but if you put zombies in it, you can use them as a metaphor that makes everything a little more poetic. You can say the same thing about friendship and male bonding in Hot Fuzz, or alcoholism and the sense of loss when you go home in The World’s End. We always like the idea of taking the kind of cinema 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. Well, I’m talking more about the references to those movies you do love that you put into your previous films. Pegg: Nick and I, when we made Paul, one of the central jokes was that he had an influence on all popular culture, and by that, every reference in the film was by the fact that Paul had invented it; even to the point of him helping Spielberg make E.T. That film was so referential, and Edgar had gotten pissed off after Scott Pilgrim because people were like, ‘Oh Yeah, there’s a bit about some video game in there,” when there was so much invention and smart writing in that film that was his idea, and wasn’t all references; we decided [not] to make any of those types of 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 and paranoia of the writings of like, John Windham, John Christopher, and J.G. Ballard. From American things like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invaders From Mars; insidious invasions where everything changes very subtly. 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. Like the fence gag and Conetta ice-cream. Also stuff like: I’ve always been interested in loss of identity. All of our films are sort of about loss of identity, whether it be zombies literally eating you, or the NWA reshaping you, or this combination of the NWA and the zombies, which is this huge galactic force of corporate change, which is what the network is [in The World’s End]. When you take away all the kind of referential items, what you’re left with in The World’s End is, seemingly just references to us, but those references are important to bind the films as a trilogy. This thing of trilogies comes up again and again, if we’re going to use a term as lofty as that, we want it to actually be true. Like when The Hangover III came out, “The thrilling conclusion to The Hangover!” It’s not a damn trilogy! It’s two sequels because they made some money off the first one. I think the thing with this was, we wanted it to be a piece so you could one day watch all three films and see the connections. And it is a trilogy. I’m not saying we ever meant it to be when we started out, the reason it became one was after Hot Fuzz we thought we could make a third film here and we could make it bind the first two together. We could make a film where they all work separately, but if you watch them as a threesome, it’s basically creating a three-part joke that spans over all three films. I think that’s what it really is. Frost: I think it’s also smart in that we never got to make a third series of Spaced, so I think it was important that we finished something.
 Going back to creating the message you want to deliver in a popular format, a lot of people in film would say, or in film school at least, “Oh, if you’re not mature enough, you don’t get to be in this club,” of “If it’s popular, it’s not a real film that’s worth anything.” You’ve totally not had that in your mind and surpassed those ideas. Pegg: No, because any expression in art, even in poplar culture, is a reflection in how we’re all felling at the time. All of out pre-occupations bubble up to the surface in our artistic output, whether it is highbrow, the arts cinema, or fucking Jersey Shore. It all comes out in the way we express ourselves and indulge in entertainment. I think you can reach more people this way. [Chuckling] I’m thinking about the Pacific Rim Jaeger comment you made, Nick. Frost: Yeah, I think this film particularly is like a Jaeger piloted by Mike Leigh [Laugher] and Ken Loach. Pegg: It’s good to adopt and use the tools available to you to say what you want to, to as many people as you can. If you can harness popular culture in that endeavor, then you’re likely to be in a position where you’re preaching to the converted. If you make a heavy piece of art cinema, then a lot of very intelligent, cinematically literate people will go and see it, but that’s 50 people [Laughter]. Frost: Also, in terms of our output, we never try to second-guess what people want. We always just make what will make us laugh. I think we realized quite early on if you’re going to try and pander to a particular group of people and second-guess what they want, you’re in trouble. What you give them is probably not what you want, and you’ve diluted the thing they’ve liked in the first place. So, we’ve always been really firm that we are making a film our families will like, or my wife will like, or Simon’s wife, or our mate Robert; mates who we’ve always hung out with and laughed with. Pegg: …and trust there are other people out there who will like it. Do you think you were able to finance those projects because you have an established reputation? Pegg: Yeah, Shaun of the Dead gave us a calling card. The popularity of that film meant that we could sell a film on a larger scale, perhaps more internationally, here even. That gave us the chance to make Hot Fuzz, and Hot Fuzz’s success, more on DVD mainly, meant that we would get a little bit more to make this one. Shaun of the Dead was six Million, Hot Fuzz 17, this was 30. So it’s not quite double… Frost: Paul did quite well too, you know. Pegg: Yeah, I don’t know, if we’re ever going to do it again though, I think this is the last big budget comedy. Paddy [Considine], Martin [Freeman], and Eddie [Marsan] are such great actors; did you have them in mind from the beginning, how did they get involved? Pegg: There was a point where Edgar and I were writing the screenplay, and we were using their names instead of the characters. Instead of Steven it said, Paddy Considine, and it didn’t say Peter, it said Eddie Marsan; and that helped us right. We just trusted that we’d get them. We had this dream of assembling what Bill Nighy eventually referred to as…you know, I had went to see him before we started filming to talk to him about the movie and he said, “Who else is in it?” “You know, it’s me and Nick, and Paddy, Martin, and Eddie.” He said, “Ah, you’ve got a team of assassins there.” [Laughter] That was all we wanted to get: A team of assassins, and represent the very best, and I’m not including myself and Nick, we’re not in the same league with these guys… Frost: …You can include me [Laughter]. Pegg: I didn’t want to speak for you, buddy, but for me to work with Nick, Eddie, Martin and Paddy is great. We wanted to come at this, knowing we were releasing the film here in America, bringing the very best of our acting pool to the rest of the world, and those guys represent that. Frost: I’ll also say as an addendum to that, not in regards to the acting, but in regards to the commitment they put into the training, was amazing. All of us really, especially Ros [Rosamund Pike] too, she was absolutely mad if we wouldn’t let her do something. They just worked. They came in for four weeks, and trained, hit things, and kicked things… Pegg: …backwards rolls… Frost: …backwards rolls. I think you hear about a lot of successful performers these days that don’t want to do much, and they can’t be asked, “Why should I? Get somebody else to do it.” That’s just the complete opposite of what we had on this. To be fair, I think that says a lot about Simon and Edgar in terms of their draw, and that people are willing to do that for our films, for their films. I loved the last stand of Gary; I was actually kind of moved by it. Though, really I was thinking what the Network was offering is kind of attractive. I don’t know if I’d turn it down. How do you think you would react to that proposal?  Pegg: We didn’t want to have a specific stance on the subject of “Starbucking.” You know they say Starbucking the whole time. You know the coffee shop that was there before the Starbucks was shit [Laughter]. Just because it’s all new and corporate and branded doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing. Yeah there’s some individuality lost, but for the greater good; to take a phrase from Hot Fuzz, you know maybe it would be better to give yourself over to a higher power? Maybe we do need some control and someone to tell us how many guns we can own or how many “this” we can own, and maybe that will help us to not be such a neurotic, dangerous species. Maybe, that’s a good thing, but it comes at the cost of personal free will, and that is something we hold very, very dear. It does come down to just that. We wanted this whole notion of the network to be a benevolent force, if they could come in and replace two people, they would if they can. Have those two people indoctrinate the entire race of humanity over 200-300 years and then they got their nice safe planet that could interact with other planets, they could leave. They’re not War of the Worlds’ type murderers; they just want the galaxy to be a nice place. Frost: Or do they? Pegg: Yes, or do they? But it does come at a price. We love the idea that the human race is the first species they ever encountered that was such a bunch of colossal assholes [Laughter]. Aside from the moral compass of the alcoholism aspect of the film, it does seem to be saying that whatever level you do it at, everyone is conforming to something, and that’s okay.   Pegg: Yeah, there’s a very telling speech that Steven makes in the service station at the beginning of the movie where he says he had a company and they were bought out in ’08, but he likes it, it’s less stress. That really is a key line in the movie because it’s kind of about what the whole situation with Earth is; would it be less stress [if something took over]? We want people to walk away and think about what’s really important. Whether it’s a right to choose to be a cock? There’s also a lot with Gary’s illness too, there’s a reason there are 12 pubs in the film, there’s a reason why he faces off against a higher power. It’s this idea of, “Are you responsible for yourself and by that, your planet or are you prepared to let someone else take the lead?” You know we all do this, we all elect leaders to do things for us, because we don’t want to do everything ourselves. I don’t know what the answer is. I just like the idea of people coming out of the movie house and going, “Were they bad guys or good guys?” The best thing you could do is inspire debate and conversation. The worst thing you can do is a make a film people forget by the time they pay for their parking. You can laugh from the beginning to the end of a movie, you can really enjoy it, but you can wake up the next morning thinking, “What the fuck did I do last night?” That for me is a bankrupt experience. It’s a very physical film, what kind of special training did you do? Pegg: We worked with Brad Allen who was one of Jackie Chan’s boys, one of his team, and a guy named Damien Walters who’s a British stunt performer and an incredibly adept gymnast and athlete. Frost: Look him up on YouTube. Pegg: Yeah, look him up, Damien Walters, he has an incredible show reel. We were very keen that we maintained character throughout all the fights. Often in films when a fight happens, you hand it over to the stunt performers and you get a lot of cutaways. You come in, you can’t really see the fight or who’s doing it… Frost: I was saying yesterday, if you see a film where you got a real muscle bound 6 foot 4 waiter, you know at some point he’s gonna kick ass. [Laughter] Pegg: Yeah, we were really keen that the characters we created would be present through all the action sequences and that meant us doing them all. We spoke with Brad and Damien to assess what we could do physically, talked about what we were comfortable or uncomfortable with, and we had them develop fighting styles for all of us where by Nick was kind of like The Incredible Hulk. He’s so full of repressed rage that is comes back in this berserk style. You know, Gary’s always fighting one handed because he’s protecting his beloved pint. With that, we could shoot the fights in wides and not have to cut in, and do them in on continuous shot, while having the camera moving around. Basically what you do is you shoot it in pieces, so it’s all pre-visualized in the rehearsal room. The stunt team put it on video, we learn each individual piece, and each bit is connected by a whip pan or something that leaks into the next one. Then you can have a fight where it’s fucking Nick doing all of that stuff, it’s Nick punching those guys in the face with stools [Laughter]. Honestly, those scenes are ten times more entertaining than anything a movie like Pacific Rim has to offer. Pegg: I haven’t seen Pacific Rim and I’m a big fan of Guillermo, so I wouldn’t comment on that, but I would say that it’s important that it has an effect; that you see that it’s us. That’s Andy [Nick’s character] that’s Gary having that fight. It means you don’t check out of the film just to see a bit of action, which is often impressive. That’s why Jackie Chan is so entertaining; it’s always him.