Simon Pegg interview: Burke And Hare, working with John Landis, The Boys and Ronnie Barker for Trading Places

We sat down to talk to Simon Pegg about Burke and Hare. We ended up talking about John Landis for ages...

It’s early summer. Simon Pegg is doing advanced interviews for his incoming film, Burke And Hare. The proviso? We’re not allowed to run it until now.

However, it worked out surprising well. We caught up with Simon on the morning of day one of his interview schedule, and found him chatty, engaging and clearly passionate about the film. And, in particular, working with director John Landis. Here’s what happened…

John Landis! The fact that he’s doing a new comedy is exciting for starters, and that must have been one of the big appeals here for you?

Yeah, absolutely! I’d read the script before I realised John was doing the film, and I liked it. It was one of those things, because I write a lot of my own stuff. I prioritise that, but this came up and I though that’s good.

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And then I was in L.A. last year, and I was working on Paul, and I got a message from John saying, “Do you want to go out to dinner?” I said yes, of course.

We met when he came to the Spaced screening in L.A. He and Edgar [Wright] have become friends, and he’s always been very supportive of us. And so we went out to see Terminator: Salvation together…

This is an insane, name dropping story, you know…

[Laughs] It’s ridiculous, but it’s what happened! I’m as amazed by all of this. He called, and said, ?” “Do you want to go out and do something?”, and I said, “Okay. ” It sounds like a date, dinner and a movie. So, we saw Terminator and went to the amazing diner in L.A. where we filmed Heat, and he said, “I’m doing a movie in the UK next year. Do you want to be in it?”And I said, “Yes, please.”

So, who was De Niro and who was Pacino?

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I think he was definitely Pacino. Or maybe both.

He was in pursuit of you, then?

Yeah. He was definitely Pacino.

When you sit opposite him, there must be an urge to drag out stories from his earlier films? What was yours that you asked about?

You know what, I can honestly say that, with John, there is no need. You never have to ask John to tell you a story. He is a story machine. His career is so varied. In Towering Inferno, he is the guy who jumps out of the window on fire. He was a stuntman on one of the Planet Of The Apes movies. His stories go from there, right through his career, through Michael Jackson, you know. Everything reminds him of something else. He’s like “Did I ever tell you…?”

So, we had this amazing dinner. I asked him all about Michael Jackson, I asked him all about American Werewolf, as that was important to me, and obviously it was a big influence on Shaun Of The Dead.

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He tells great stories about Trading Places. But you never have to prompt him. He would hold up shooting! He’d stop shooting and tell a story or a joke. His jokes are legendary. Now I just get e-mails from him with bad jokes.

How do you sit round with him, Andy Serkis and yourself, preparing to play graverobbers?

That’s what’s great about John. He’s very much an actor’s director. He has ideas. He’s got very definite ideas as well. He’ll get your input, and then go, “No.” He’s very collaborative, and wants to take time to get things right.

But at the same time, he works very fast. We’d get together, talk about the scene, and we’d just do it. When he’s happy, he’d say “Brilliant, ” and then we’d move on.

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And from your perception of the film, do you see it as a macabre buddy movie?

That’s exactly what it is. You’re absolutely right. It’s a comedy. John’s very cautious about people calling it a horror comedy. It’s not a horror. It’s not even a horror comedy. It’s a comedy, if anything a romantic comedy. It just so happens to be about two mass murderers. And I think it’s important that it’s seen like that.

It’s a black comedy, and there’s a lot of sweetness in it. You root for these guys in a way. That’s the clever thing about it. You catch yourself sympathising with two murderers.

It’s the tagline missing from the poster, isn’t it? A comedy about two mass murderers.

Yeah, yeah! I always thought it should be a really bleak picture, and then bubble writing saying “Burke and Hare”!

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Obviously, it’s got one hell of a cast list too. Ronnie Corbett, for starters.

Ronnie’s in it, yeah!

The stuff you’ve done in Britain has been very ensemble led. Was the thinking here to fuse that with John’s experience of American comedy?

Well, I’ve got to say that he’s got a great sensibility, John, generally. He’s been over here many times. He knows the culture, he knows the country.

He offered Ronnie Barker the role of Coleman in Trading Places originally [the role that went to Denholm Elliott], and Ronnie Barker didn’t do it because he was very happy in the UK, and didn’t want to leave. John’s been a fan of The Two Ronnies since the early 80s.

So, it was entirely him, you know? He wanted a good ensemble. He wanted to gather together a great British cast. He’s an insatiable consumer of stuff. So, when he hired Reece Shearsmith, he watched all of The League Of Gentlemen. He’s got a cameo in the new series of Psychoville!

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So, he knows his onions. For me, it was great to be someone like-minded.

Can you talk about working with Andy Serkis?

Andy’s great fun, but he’s very concentrated. He takes the job very seriously, which is great as an actor. He’s exactly the kind of person you want to act opposite, for the film to be good. He’s incredibly personablE and great fun, and we had a terrific time on set. We got a chemistry very quickly.

Burke and Hare are best friends, and there’s a sweetness to who they are. They were desperate men, but they were humans, not monsters.

Just time, then, to ask about one of your future projects: The Boys?

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Ah! I thought you were going to go with Star Trek!

I don’t know. I was very flattered to be in The Boys, without realising I was! Darick Robertson drew me as Wee Hughie, and I later found out about it. And DC had a panic attack, and thought I was going to sue them for image rights. Which, of course, I wasn’t. I’m in a comic! Cool!

I don’t know. I know Adam McKay’s attached to it. I personally would be very happy to disagree with me, but I may be a bit old for Wee Hughie now. But it’s a great story and it would be lovely to be part of it, but it’s all up in the air. I’m in it, because I’m in the comic. But the movie? It’s about the character. If they’re happy for me to play it, I’ll definitely consider it!

[We should point out that, since this interview was conducted, Adam McKay has gone on record saying that he’s want Simon Pegg for the role of Wee Hughie if he makes the film of The Boys.]

Burke And Hare is on general release now.

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