Earning sizeable cash earlier this year, the long-in-gestation Paul, written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is arriving on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from today. They sat down to chat to us about the film, and a few other things too…
I was following you guys on Twitter, around the time of the very first press show in London. And I got a sense that the two of you were hiding in the Twitter cupboard waiting, in quite a paternal way. When you go back to how long the project has been in your lives, were you particularly nervous of letting this film out?
Nick Frost: It is nerve wracking. We have spent so much time on it, and we are connected to it. So, to finish it and get it to a point where you’re going to show other people, who aren’t connected to it, who don’t care if it’s bad. In fact, some of them would quite like it to be bad. It takes a lot. You have to trust everyone around you. That Nira [producer] and Greg [director] wouldn’t let something go out which was going to be terrible.
Simon Pegg: We’ve been through it with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz before.
NF: This was my first time, though, [as a writer].
You didn’t have Twitter with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, though?
SP: Twitter has been amazing, because the response there from the ground, from the cinema-going audience, has been extraordinary and constant for about six weeks. And it is a broader film than Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, and I sometimes got annoyed when someone said it wasn’t quite up to Shaun standards, because it couldn’t be that film. It had to appeal to a larger audience, and you have to mutate to survive.
We went through a version of the Paul script that was a lot edgier. But we had to mature as filmmakers when making this film, and to create a film that would appeal on a level that would make it worth making in the first place.
NF: That’s the thing, as well, when you’re dealing with a bigger budget. It’s just a fact of life, in terms of working with someone like Universal, that they have a say in how it goes.
SP: Unless you’re the Coen brothers! And you’ve proven yourself over time. Having said that, our relationship with Universal is great, and they’re lovely people to have on side, and they are very supportive. But you do realise that, okay, we have to sell some tickets now. So, we can’t linger on Paul’s philosophising too much.
NF: Yeah, and there was a lot of that in the original script.
And there are hints of that in the DVD extras. You’ve got the effects people on there, with a nice T-shirt with a C90 tape on it, and they’re talking about the original take of Paul, the character. They describe him as cantankerous.
SP: He was a little bit more like- That bit where he says, “I’m speaking English, you fucking idiot.” That was more like him most of the time. But that was a creative decision we made that we felt it’d be hard to sustain.
We wanted him to be likeable. We didn’t want him to be more human and pragmatic than the humans in the film. So, he speaks his mind a little more.
NF: For all our bluster that we wanted him to be a son of the bitch through the whole thing, it’s boring to watch a character that’s just that. We got to a point where we thought, “Let’s make him more worldly-wise and a bit nicer.” But, obviously, he just wants to get home.
SP: Also, Seth brought his own warmth to the character.
NF: That’s the thing with him, too. Because Seth is so likeable, he couldn’t do anything but make Paul likeable too.
It was the Freaks And Geeks Seth that I thought we got here.
SP: That’s right, yeah.
That pretend grumpiness?
NF: He made a decision to do that. He tried to come across as a proactive, laid back person.
We talked Twitter, but do you ever go into the depths of the comments and reviews on IMDB?
SP: No. Never go there!
I don’t blame you. I was looking through, though, and I found a guy called Elijah, who has done a college-approved thesis for his film class, assessing how your film compares to Mac And Me. He’s gone through it point by point, and I’ve got one or two of them here. I hate to be the one to deliver the news to you, but Elijah votes for Mac And Me.
So, he says, “There is a dance sequence in Paul where they dance to crappy music around a campfire. In Mac And Me there is a legendary dance scene at a McDonalds with break-dancing and awesome 80s beats. Mac + 1.”
SP: Now, that’s because Mac And Me was sponsored by McDonald’s. It was shameless, corporate takeover. In Paul, we dance to Marvin Gaye! [laughs]
I’ve got another one. “Paul has special abilities. He turns invisible, can pass knowledge to others by physical means, and can heal living beings. Mac can whistle, break-dance, stretch his limbs, roll like a ball, flatten like a pancake, put his hands into the position of a ‘big vagina’ a la Larry David, to communicate with his family, is fire-proof, and can heal living beings.”
SP: Well, we’re beaten there! [laughs]
NF: You’re never going to compete with a flat pancake and vagina hands are you? [laughs]
SP: That guy clearly isn’t wasting his education!
Back to the film! I’m a big fan of Greg Mottola, particularly Adventureland. I thought he was an interesting choice to direct this. Musically, he was a great fit, but logically, this isn’t necessarily the kind of project you’d instantly think of him for. Presumably, you went to him around the time that Superbad went out?
And that didn’t strike me as an absolutely instant fit, and yet he proved bang on for Paul.
SP: For us, it was as much that Daytrippers is a great film. We knew that he was capable of doing something that was broad and fun, but at the same time, he’s a very smart filmmaker. Our initial pitch for Paul was. “Let’s make an American indie movie, but have Gollum in it. Little Miss Sunshine with Gollum.”
With Jeffrey Tambor in the trunk?
SP: Exactly! And Greg just seemed to fit the bill. He was capable of making smart films, but had also done a great job with Superbad, which was a hilarious, broad comedy.
Are you tempted to revisit Paul? A kind of Cocoon: The Return?
NF: We did talk about Pauls. We went and did a press day in Area 51. They had all our journalists there, and kept them there for the night, and we turned up at 8am.
SP: They were just outside Area 51. You’re not allowed in!
NF: And on the drive there, a three hour drive, because, obviously, it was that road trip where we had the first idea for the film.
SP: We had an amazing brainstorming session and came up with it. The only thing that would stop us doing a sequel is that it’s a lengthy process. Greg, who is a prolific, creative director, was on that film for two years.
It was nine months just for the animation?
SP: That was all the post-production he had to do. If we started writing it now, it wouldn’t be out for probably three years.
You don’t have the ageing cast problem, though, such as Kick-Ass.
SP: No, no. Not at all. I think the thing with Paul is that he’s already 300!
You could do Attack The Paul, a hybrid sequel?
NF: Yeah! Paul vs Hoody. He comes down in a shuttle ship because his own ship got blown up. He arrives in South London…
Do I get story credit here?
SP: We’ll talk about it!
I was fascinated by some of the stuff you’ve put on the DVD about the effects guys. Because what struck me about them was they’ve got a massively laborious job, but they seem very bought into it? You were heavily involved, too, going in very regularly to see how things were going?
SP: We’d basically go in and we’d be presented with stuff. Now all those people on that amazing documentary-
NF: There were four hundred people.
SP: Yeah. On set we had a team of maybe four to five guys. But they were the main heads of department. Once it got into post-production, we had a team of four hundred people overall, who animated him.
The documentary was amazing, because I got to see loads of people I didn’t know knew Paul that well!
When we pitched it to Eamonn at Double Negative, he got so excited. He said, “We never get to animate the main character. We get the background. We get the monsters. We never get a character who is this at the forefront of the action.” They really embraced it lovingly, and that shows, I think.
NF: I don’t think that he’d have been as effective if those people didn’t give a shit, and it was just another job. You can see that they all love him.
I’m sure they got a bit tired of him at the end, so they’re allowed to not like him! They’ve looked at him for nine months!
The patience of the film struck me. If you go into a Transformers movie, you expect that this isn’t going to come together until three weeks beforehand. But when you’re directing a comedy, you need to get a flavour of how snappy this is on set, there and then. Yet, he’s waiting six or seven months really just to find out if something is going to gel?
SP: Yeah. We said that it was like going to the worst hospital in the world! But, fortunately, we had great help in Joe Lo Truglio, who played Agent O’Reilly, who was able to be an on-set presence as Paul, and do all of his lines. Even improvise with us, which we could take back to Seth, so that we had an idea, rhythmically, how it was going to work. We had to recreate that with Seth.
How many rounds of ADR did Seth do in the end? Because there’s still a slight improvisational feel to it?
SP: Oh, yeah.
NF: We did a month beforehand, and then a few weeks after we finished.
SP: Five or six sessions of coming back and tweaking stuff. Maybe more. It was a slow process, because we always wanted him to look like he was there. I know that always sounds like an obvious thing. It was important to us for people to forget he wasn’t there when we filmed it.
NF: I think we forgot a few times.
SP: When I watch it, I kind of think, “Was he there?”
There’s a bit on the disc, Nick, where they dig into the sequence where you’re fighting thin air. Do you do that often?
NF: Oh, yeah! I’m always fighting thin air! [laughs] When given half a chance. I’m eyeing some of it up right now!
How do you feel now, looking back?
NF: I’m angry with the air! Fucking angry!
$90m around the world is a good return. You’ve got a swathe of enthusiasm behind it. How do you feel all these months after the event?
SP: I think it’s set to break $100m next week.
And that’s hard.
SP: Yeah, it is. Considering it cost $43m, too, we’re just delighted. Universal are going to be very happy with us.
NF: And that’s before the DVD sales.
SP: We’re delighted.
That must be satisfying to you. When you sat down to right it, you must have been aware that there were three or four logical things you could do to broaden it out a lot more, and play to a more populist audience?
SP: Yeah. We could have toned down the language a little bit, and maybe we should have done. We could have got a bigger box office take if we’d made it a PG. But we didn’t want it to look like a children’s film. We wanted people from the off to know that it wasn’t a kids’ film. Even though they marketed it a little bit like that in certain instance. And so, we stuck to our guns, as we wanted a 15, and we wanted an R. And we got it.
NF: I think it would do people who liked Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz a disservice.
What are you up to next?
SP: Tintin is coming up.
NF: That’s what we’re doing together. And we’ve got an idea we’re going to work on. And Edgar and Simon are going to get to work on the third Cornetto.
SP: Hopefully, we’ll write that this year, before I start Star Trek, which will be in the fall.
NF: Autumn. Say autumn.
SP: I say fall because they saw fall when they call me. We’re going to go in the fall.
NF: He means autumn.
Nick and Simon, thank you very much!
Paul is out on DVD and Blu-ray today.