Edgar Wright’s Galactic Intervention with a British Bent
British writer-director Edgar Wright teamed up with actors Simon Pegg and David Frost prior to their latest endeavor, The World’s End. Not only were all three involved with the cult TV show Spaced, but the trio joined forces to make the campy zombie flick Shaun of the Dead and the comic crime caper Hot Fuzz. The World’s End pokes at the sci-fi genre. Wright spoke about the new movie for a roundtable of reporters in New York. Here’s what he had to say.
Any experience being abducted?
Maybe later in my life. Maybe I’ll be activated at a later age. When Simon’s character realizes something otherworldly might be afoot, he’s happy . . . it’s easier for him to accept that than to think that his old town might not be all it has cracked up to be. In a way, the whole alien invasion bit is a coping mechanism for people like me and Simon who are from small towns. That feeling of coming home to find that your hometown has changed is bittersweet. We’ve both had that experience. The sci-fi element is an amplification of that feeling.
Gary is a child, like Peter Pan who doesn’t grow up. Talk about the archetypal interplay between Peter Pan and the old man, played by Nick Frost. The abduction thing is like getting into adulthood.
In all the movies we’ve done, there is a character who is a perpetual adolescent. This movie is about the dangers of not growing up. Rosamund Pike at one point says you need to go forwards and not backwards. The concept of the arrested adolescent gets older and older. It used to be that 30 is the new 20. And then it’s 40, that’s the new 30. When does it stop? The movie was that you have five friends. Four are grown up and one wants to be 18. Alcohol is the time machine. It’s the thing that’s going to make you more juvenile. He wants to get his friends drunk so they can be teenagers again. I had written a script when I was 21 about teenagers going on a pub crawl that I have never done anything with. It was way later after Hot Fuzz that I realized there was something about trying to recreate that night. Nick Frost becomes the hero in the second half. He’s the moral compass. He can’t let Simon Pegg’s character destroy himself. It’s an apocalypse movie but it’s also about self-destruction.
What makes Pegg and Frost tick?
They’re great actors and get better as well. They’ve known each other for 20 years. And there’s an honesty there. To get performances like that from actors who don’t know each other, you could get there but it could take a long time. These guys are all good friends. I feel like these guys have known each other forever when I watch the film. With Simon and Nick, there’s chemistry you can’t manufacture.
Talk about the influence of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
There are lots of movies I grew up that were influences. I used to watch sci-fi movies on British TV when I was a kid, like Village of the Damned, Invaders from Mars, Dr. Who, The Avengers and The Prisoner. Also, in the UK there are whole bunch of Hammer films that ripped off lots of other movies. I watched them before I was even aware of genre. One of the things we wanted to tap into were the sci-fi films from the ‘50s and ‘60s we watched as kids. It’s another element of trying to throw those characters back to being kids.
[British author] John Christopher was also a reference. What were you conscious about in terms of creating a hero who isn’t a hero?
It’s not so much about John Christopher. It’s more like from people we know and what we are like. That’s from personal experience. Somebody said something to me the other day that they saw a lot of John Hughes stuff in the film. All the John Hughes stuff has already happened. The thing with the teacher in the pub and the scene with the bully is something that happened. Gary is somebody we know. There are elements of Simon and me in him. We have compassion for him even though he continually does bad things. He genuinely wants his friends back together and when he realizes he can’t have that, he becomes more self-destructive. That’s when Nick realizes he has to take care of him and can’t let him destroy himself.
Do you feel you have grown up?
I guess so. Maybe the film is therapeutic for me. I’m the only one in the cast about to turn 40. They were jealous of me because they’re older than 40.
Do you feel like your options have opened at this age?
Since Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are husbands and fathers. I see a lot of movies with the man-child, where people pretend to be 26. It seems forced to me because in reality they have wives and kids. Seems like the right thing. We can get older doing these movies. They’re not the same characters because they’re ten years older. Shaun of the Dead is a film about being in your 20s and this is about being in your 40s.
The rapid-fire dialogue is so great. What was it like to create that scenario?
One of the things people always ask us is how much is improvised. It’s zero percent. Because this film is an ensemble it’s like a play. We had at least two weeks of rehearsal. By the time we got to set, everybody knew what they were doing. On top of that, we would do a thing in some takes where I would have them do it at Marx Brothers speed. There’s one scene in which Rosamund Pike and Simon Pegg are in a bathroom. I would tell them to do it at Marx Brothers speed. It’s like Mach 4.
What was the inspiration for the names of the pubs?
All of the pubs are real pub names. There are many World’s Ends in the UK. There’s one specific one in North London near a cinemas that me and Simon used to meet at in North London. Simon went on his first date with his wife at the World’s End. Nick Frost fell off the wagon at the World’s End after two years of not drinking. It always struck me as a weird thing to say, “I’ll see you at the World’s End.” When we came up with the story, we knew that’s what it had to be. Once we worked out the plot and knew it was 12 bars, or 12 steps, we took real pub names and attributed them to different scenes. The names are like Tarot cards and tell you something about what’s happening in the scene. I found pub names quite fascinating. Some of the names have history to them, but most of them [are just putting] a fancy name on a shitty bar. I found that funny—even the Famous Cock is a real bar in the UK.
There’s been some gentrification.
Yes. In London there are ten pubs within two minutes of my house and 80 percent look the same. It makes me feel like I’m in a MC Escher nightmare. All the places look the same. My pet hate is that fake chalk writing that’s supposed to look handwritten but it was made in a factory. The signage is the same in every single bar. The only thing that changes is the name of the pub. It’s that fake folksiness. Some of the buildings are historic, in London in particular. Lots of pubs escaped the blitz. You know why the pub survived? They would tell the firefighters if they save the pub first they would give them free drinks. It’s actually true.
What’s the difference between British and American humor?
When Shaun of the Dead came out in this country, we were pleasantly surprised people got on board. As a result, we haven’t changed anything. If you try to make things more transatlantic, audiences on both side of the pond will smell a rat. I’m proud that with the three films we have kept it very British. Plus, the response here has been great. I think with the Internet [things] have leveled things out. I think the exposure is different. Before the late-’90s, it seemed like the only British shows were one of the dumbest and one of the smartest. There’s a big gulf between Monty Python and Benny Hill. You’re literally seeing the smartest and dumbest show. The fact that Monty Python would be successful is amazing. It’s the most British show of all time.
Is there a veiled message in the film?
The movie is about a man running away from therapy and triggering two interventions. By bringing his friends together, he triggers his own intervention. The scene where they turn on him is like an intervention. At the end, there’s a cosmic intervention. Man runs away from therapy and ends up in a galactic tribunal.