Simon Pegg interview: Man Up, Tintin 2, rom coms, directing

Simon Pegg chats to us about rom coms, Man Up, writing, Tintin 2, visiting Andy Serkis on The Jungle Book set, directing, and more...

Before he heads off to make the next Star Trek film, Simon Pegg is back in UK cinemas this weekend for the really rather good romantic comedy, Man Up. He co-stars with Lake Bell in the movie, and ahead of its release, he spared us some time to chat about the film, and what he’s up to next…

It’s an interesting sign of the times that BBC Films, which started out making movies that couldn’t be made really, back with Truly Madly Deeply….

Another South Bank movie!

True. Back then, BBC Films was making niche films that were struggling to get made anywhere else. And here, with Man Up, a rom com seems to have become one of those niche films.

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Absolutely, yeah. You make a very good point. Studios aren’t making them anymore, and I guess they’ve either fallen out of fashion, or because of the importance of drawing people into the cinematic environment, studios are more concerned with making bigger films. Films that might appeal more commercially to a cinema-going audience. Films like this, which are more of a risk, are being made by essentially niche independent producers.

It reminds me, not for the first time, of something Jerry Bruckheimer said. That he can get a very cheap or a very expensive movie made, but pretty much nothing in between.

The flip side of being more independent here is that what this allows you to do is make a rom com with grown-ups. It seems unfortunately strange to have a 40-year old and a 34-year old as a protagonist in a rom com. Was that part of your way into it?

I read it when we were making The World’s End, and Nira Park, our longtime producer, gave me the script and said read this. It was written by Tess Morris for Big Talk, our production company, and [Nira said] you should really look at it.

The thing that appealed to me first of all was that it was shooting in London, and for me, as a family person, if I can make a film at home it’s always nicer. I thought okay, I’ll read this. I read it with that motivation, but then quickly got caught up with Tess’ quickfire dialogue. The modernness of it, that it was unashamedly romantic, it embraced the criteria that those films have without trying to undercut them by being postmodern. A lot of recent rom coms are about trying to kick against the traditions of the genre, while all the time trying to distance themselves from being a rom com. When it’s trying to be one. It doesn’t really work, I don’t think.

I just got drawn into this really fun tale. I like the fact it takes place in one night, it was based on a very screwball concept, it just seem to tick a lot of boxes, and made me realize I was missing something that I didn’t know I’d been missing.

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I saw Crazy Stupid Love, and I got to the end of that film and suddenly remembered how great rom coms can be. I really like that movie, and I thought that’s the best rom com I’ve seen since When Harry Met Sally.

It says a lot that that’s the only one in that time… well, Four Weddings and stuff, brilliant and up there. But it just struck me that I hadn’t seen a great rom com for a long time.

When Harry Met Sally and Man Up were both written by women, from the perspective of a woman in part too. Do you think that’s a defining factor here?

I like the female perspective. One of the things that drew me to the script was there was a really good part for a woman of that age. I felt like I wanted to get behind it because of that. There aren’t enough female voices in cinema, we all know that.

But I think women probably write – it’s a generalization – men better than men write women. It’s because men are simpler to understand I think. Whereas we constantly seem to spend our time trying to figure women out. It’s mine and Edgar’s [Wright] Achilles heel: we couldn’t write good women. We fought to do it in Shaun Of The Dead. We wrote the female character out of Hot Fuzz because we realized the romance was between Nick and I. In The World’s End, Rosamund’s [Pike] character is kind of on the sidelines. But I think women just understand men better, and can write men better as characters. They don’t write their fantasy men. They write a slightly more realistic take on men.

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Men who write rom coms tend to write female fantasies. The sort-of ditzy woman, a character that he is trying to get. Some regular guy who wouldn’t stand a hope in hell in the real world somehow manages to win her. And that’s a kind of male fantasy. The female perspective I think is less of a fantasy, more of an appraisal. That really appealed to me. Tess’ voice is so fun and truthful and raw, and a bit unflattering in a way.

And of course you get the romantic role here. It’s one of a few little things Man Up does to play with the formula, without shouting and screaming that it’s doing so.

Absolutely.

I think the interesting thing as well is that he starts out as a bit of a female fantasy when he first arrives on the scene, to counterpoint her exasperated, end of the road dating attitude. He turns up as this dashing, sweeps her off her feet character. Charming, but in a nervous way. But as the film goes on you realize that he is equally guilty of pretending to be somebody else. She does a very literal thing, of taking someone else’s identity. But Jack [Pegg’s character] walks in pretending to be this female fantasy, then very quickly unravels and you find this flawed, hurt, insecure childish guy, who’s equally trying to meet his mate in the modern world.

There isn’t one who’s the unobtainable one and one who’s the go-getter. They’re both flawed, and beset by their own insecurities. I love playing characters where there’s one thing happening on the outside, and another on the inside.

The World’s End.

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Yeah, exactly. Gary King is a great example of that. There’s a war going on inside him. Jack was such a multi-layered character it felt like too much of an opportunity to not go with.

A basic question, perhaps, but was this a fun film to make?

It was a very enjoyable shoot. Very quick, six weeks. But it was a very sociable atmosphere on set. It was Tess’ first feature script, so she was on set a lot, which was nice. We could always then defer to her, and if we improvised we could make sure we could be on point with her. The director, Ben [Palmer], was a great presence on set, in terms of his affability. And I got on very well with Lake [Bell]. It was a happy set.

One by-product of a lot of films where the budget is limited is they don’t often look like films. This does, and it feels part and parcel of the fact that so much is shot outside. How much of Man Up was location work?

We did everything on location with the exception of the bathroom scenes! It was hilarious to me being back in Elstree, doing another bathroom scene having done The World’s End. And then I was back shooting the interior of the bar for this one. Otherwise, it was all location. The houses, the bowling alley…  

And obviously the South Bank, and Waterloo. The all had their own set of challenges. You can’t lock a station down when it’s in use. You have to shoot at a time when there’s the least amount of people there, but there’s still a lot of real people around there.

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Plus, the skateboarders on the South Bank will not stop skating for anything, other than beer. We found out we could bribe them with beer.

All billable to the production?

Absolutely. It was a production expense. They’re doing their thing! I felt bad asking them to shut up!

But it was lovely to be shooting in my neighborhood, and in a way that was once, wilfully, showing London as a destination. The South Bank, it’s almost a joke that it’s in the film. We’ve seen it in Four Weddings, we’ve seen it in Truly Madly Deeply, and numerous other movies. But it’s a way of showcasing London as well as showing Ealing, and the places where people live. The slightly less known.

You should do a rom com in Birmingham. Lots of slightly less known locations for rom coms there.

The Bull Ring! Raging Bull Ring!

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Ah, but The Bull Ring has gone posh these days. What changes for you when you executive produce, then? Executive Producer is a credit that means lots of different things, but what did it mean in this instance?

It means I’m more involved, in terms of creative involvement. Rather than just being an actor, I’m helping get the film made. All the important stuff I defer to the real producers. Nira Park and Rachel Prior, they do the hard work. I worked with Tess just a little bit on the script, as a sounding board really for her. She doesn’t need collaborators, she has such a singular voice. But sometimes objectivity is hard to get when you write alone. Sometimes it’s good to have someone say, you know what, it’d be funny if we did this at this point. So it was a more hands on, creative producing role.

You said when you wrote your book, Nerd Do Well, that you regimented yourself into working hours, as that was the best way you found to write by yourself. But looking at your film writing credits, there’s a range of collaborators there. Is writing with someone else your favored approach?

100%.

So how do you get going on a new collaboration? And what’s the appeal?

With someone like Edgar [Wright], who I first collaborated with … and I do love collaboration, because it enables you to see the big picture more, you get a different perspective. You get very attached to things when you’re on your own, and you lose focus. I think collaboration is key.

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With Edgar, we knew each other really well, and we went into writing Shaun Of The Dead as friends. We’d done Spaced together, and had a sort-of collaboration there writing-wise. Edgar was definitely the third writer on that series. With someone like Doug Jung [on the next Star Trek film], we hadn’t met before. We found a way to get to know each other during the process.

It’s been interesting, and fruitful. But it’s always in at the deep end. You can’t really spend time faffing around, you have to get on with the work. And find your relationship through the work, if you haven’t already got one.

Can we quickly touch on Tintin. Have you heard any more about the next film?

No. Peter [Jackson]’s obviously been tied up with The Hobbit for the last few years.

So selfish.

I know! But we asked him when we did The World’s End what’s happening. And it’s always been yes it’s going to happen, but I haven’t heard anything since we saw him at the end of 2012, early 2013. So I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s been too long now, or whether it’s on Peter’s to-do list. Obviously if it is, we’d be very happy.

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Performance capture has moved on so much since the first one. I went to the set of The Jungle Book to see Andy Serkis. I took my daughter to the set. I’d been working at Leavesden, and next door to us on Mission: Impossible they’d been building literally a jungle in one of the soundstages. Live flora! They created a jungle! It was one of the most extraordinary things I’ve seen.

I chatted with Andy, as I hadn’t really spoken to him about that technology since we did Tintin. And just seeing how it’s come on in terms of what the volume used to be [the performance capture area]. Now it’s changed so much. It’ll be interesting to see what Tintin would look like now.

Eyes work much better now in performance capture.

Yeah. That’s always been the thing, hasn’t it? But I was very, very impressed by what he was doing, and the thought of doing that again in its new evolved form would be appealing.

Outside of Star Trek, where’s your future writing? You were working with Crispian Mills on a project?

We still are. Crispian’s directing something at the moment, and because of our respective commitments, we have it on the back burner. We’ve written it, and it can always be refined.

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Plus there’s some stuff I’d like to adapt from literature. I’d like to direct. I think that’s something I’m ready to do now.

Have you isolated material that interests you?

Yeah. I’m pursuing a couple of things, to get the rights to do it. I feel like I’d love to squirrel myself away, direct something, and be a mad auteur for a while!

Finally, last time I interviewed you, I got told off for not asking what your favorite Jason Statham film was. The problem being I’d asked you before, and you said Crank. So can I ask you this instead? What’s your second favorite Jason Statham movie?     

[Laughs] Crank 2!

Simon Pegg, thank you very much.

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