Pegg & Frost: Together through ‘The World’s End’ and beyond
Nerds everywhere are excited that dynamic duo Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are back together again (along with writer/director Edgar Wright) for the final installment of their Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. The World’s End, the story of five friends who reunite to complete a pub crawl that ends up being out of this world, opens in the US on August 23. Frost and Pegg spoke about sci-fi, their friendship and the new movie for a roundtable of reporters in New York. Here’s what they had to say.
When you filmed Shaun of the Dead, did you know you were setting up a trilogy?
Pegg: No, not at all. We wouldn’t ever have been so arrogant to assume we would be given the opportunity. We made a film in the United Kingdom and we were very lucky it got a release on the British cinematic circuit, let alone the world one. When we came to Hot Fuzz we realized what we’d done is create two films that were tonally sequential. Though not direct sequels, they were thematically linked. Then we thought maybe if we can make a third one [we’ll have] a series of three films which could conceivably be regarded as a trilogy. You could watch all three [back-to-back] and see that we were developing and refining certain ideas over time in the same way that a filmmaker like Woody Allen will often return to similar preoccupations that he has. We thought if we did it succinctly over three films it would be quite a nice thing to do, and something that perhaps hadn’t been seen before. Even to the point of having a joke which takes place over three films; the fence gag is a three-part gag. Comedy is often constructed by the Hegelian thesis/antithesis/synthesis thing, so we kinda figured that would be good. It sounds lofty, but really it was an accident.
Have you had a lot of martial arts training?
Frost: I played rugby from the age of 7 until I was 21. I kickboxed when I was 30 for 4 or 5 years. And then before this film I did a dance film [Cuban Fury] with Rashida Jones and Chris O’Dowd. So I practiced seven hours a day for seven months to become a dancer to do this film. Go ahead and laugh. But in terms of learning vast choreographies, I was good. The kicking and punching, it was like a dream role for me in terms of the action.
Did you help Simon along the way with his kicking and punching?
Frost: He’s good, he’s got nice punching. His muscles need a bit of work to get some more uplift, but he’s beautiful to watch.
Pegg: We trained with a guy called Brad Allan, who’s one of Jackie Chan’s stunt team. Jackie Chan does all of his own stunts and it enables the character to be maintained throughout all the action sequences. Often in cinema, when you cut to an action sequence it will then be handed over to the stunt performers. You’ll get a lot of close-ups, cutaways and quick cutting to hide the fact that’s it’s not the actors. By that, you lose the characters that the actors have created. Like when you see Jackie fight, we wanted that it be us and that we do everything and, so, we trained with Brad Allan and Damien Walters, who’s an incredible athlete, gymnast and a stunt performer. You can find him on YouTube.
Frost (laughing): Also he’s handsome, really nice and horrible…
Pegg: It enabled us to shoot the fight scenes in wides and in longer takes so you see more of the action and it feels more fluid. Edgar, Brad and Damien designed these incredible sort of sequences whereby the camera just sort of seemed to drift around the fight rather than cut in.
Frost: There are only two things we didn’t do in the whole thing and they involved diving through plate glass.
Is there a lot of input and discussion from Nick on a film?
Frost: I’m always the first to get the script then I have my chance to completely note the whole thing. Then we go through the whole thing together. So in terms of my input in the process, it’s always been the same way and I’m fine with that. It’s a nice way to do business. I said before in an interview, it’s like you have a suit made for you with a really good tailor. It kind of fits beautifully straight away and then I just say, ‘Can we, maybe…I’d like the lining to be a different color. Can we move this ticket pocket?’ It’s only just tiny little refinements.
Pegg: Because we’re friends, we’ve been friends for 20 years, Edgar and I know Nick very well and we know how brilliant he is and how we can write unselfishly for Nick. We’re totally aware of his strengths and we always use them. It’s fun to write for someone who you know so well. We wrote for everybody in this film this time, to a lesser degree. We’ve always [written for specific actors], and none more so than Nick, who is a family member.
Frost: But make no mistake about it–it’s about the film at the end of the day. We’re not ego-driven people. It’s not about who has the funny lines. There’s not a funny line count. We don’t get jealous when the other one gets a laugh. Quite the opposite.
Pegg: But, just for the record, I had the most funny lines.
Frost: Seriously, it’s about the finished thing. You can’t be antsy about it.
Pegg: We write a very tight script which we bring to set and film. We don’t do any improvisation on set because improvisation can often be about the individual and not the big picture. Improvisation can often happen at the end of scenes that are written. Then you lose the segue into the next moment and often it will become an argument. Improvisation draws everyone into a certain level of selfishness. Sometimes, not always. We do a little bit in rehearsal to get everyone comfortable with their lines and if anyone has something to bring to it, we’ll feed it into the script. But on the day of shooting, there’s no improvisation.
Frost: With improv, too, you can literally hear the money pissing out of the camera, while people are improvising for two minutes and you’ll never use it.
How was your research on alien abduction?
Frost: We got abducted. Well, we did the road trip. The trip you see the guys doing in Paul? We did that in a big RV.
Pegg: With this film we didn’t want this film to be a comment on science fiction cinema in any way. We wanted to use science fiction as the genre trope to get our point across. It seemed like the obvious thing to adopt when we were talking about the alienation you feel in your hometown when your return. ‘Alienation’ we simply took to its literal conclusion. If it draws it’s DNA from anything it’s probably science fiction literature, the kind of cozy catastrophes of John Wyndham, the sort of British post-war paranoia films, and also from American cinema—Invasion of The Body Snatchers, or The Stepford Wives or Invaders From Mars—these sort of quiet invasions where people were gradually replaced. We weren’t trying to make a comment on science fiction, so we didn’t watch many films before. We watched a musical called It’s Always Fair Weather, a Gene Kelly fantastic musical about three guys reuniting after the war and finding that they have nothing in common. It’s a film about nostalgia and about not liking your friends anymore. We watched The Big Chill because we thought it would be funny to make a film like The Big Chill, but where the corpse came along to the party. So Gary is basically Kevin Costner.
Why do you think there is such interest in sci-fi, extraterrestrials and that sort of thing?
Pegg: It’s a great metaphor. It’s poetry. It’s using the non-real to describe the real. Science fiction has always been a great metaphor. That’s where I think science fiction to some degree has lost its way in the last 30 years or so, because it’s become more about the spectacle and not about the poetry of it. Science fiction has always been a great way of looking at our futures, or our relationships with technology or each other, or outer space or knowledge or God or whatever. But since special effects have become so good it’s become about fighting and robots.
How do you fit Star Trek into all that?
Pegg: Since the space race ended science fiction has become very insular. Star Trek, which has recently been reborn, is still related to a hopeful spirit of exploration. I think JJ [Abrams] is a very intelligent filmmaker so Star Trek is still very metaphorical. You know, Star Trek Into The Darkness is a gigantic exciting space thing but really it’s about friendship and being friends, ultimately. That’s what that film’s about.
Do the two of you plan to work together again?
Frost: Yeah, absolutely.
Pegg: I can’t really envisage a time when we don’t work together. We inspire each other creatively. We’re both married with children now and we live in separate parts of the country, so the only time we really get to hang out and have fun is when we make films. For that reason alone we’ll work together.
Frost: Our wives think we’re working right now.