Actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright were in Boston recently to promote their latest film The World’s End. The film is the unofficial third film in their Cornetto Trilogy following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The British trio talked about the film, how it relates to their other work and overall fun stuff you expect from three personal favorites of mine.
Mentioned that the film reminded someone of The Big Chill meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the trio was asked where the idea for the film came from, Edgar Wright, “Unlike Hot Fuzz where I watched hundreds of cop movies before, the only movies me and Simon watched before we started writing were The Big Chill and the Gene Kelly movie It’s Always Fair Weather. When we made Shaun of the Dead we wanted to make a zombie film and we wanted to put ourselves within that movie. Hot Fuzz was about the difference between the reality of British police and the fancy of Hollywood cops. Then this one came about through taking something in our lives and the sci-fi element being a metaphor for something that obsesses us, which is the idea of your hometown changing without you. In a way it wasn’t so much us picking the genre out of a hat in terms of doing sci-fi, it was more an expression of that feeling. I go back to my hometown every Christmas, lots of things that happen in the movie happened. The chains taking over, the thing with the bully not recognizing someone, that happened to me. I remember saying to a friend of mine that it changes without you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I remember saying that every time I go home it feels like Body Snatchers. Like a lot of horror and sci-fi movies we grew up on, it’s using that genre element as an amplification of that bitter sweet feeling.”
I called the film an unofficial third film to a trilogy because none of the three films are connected, none of the characters are the same, none of the stories interconnect, but it is a trilogy of sorts. I asked them why it was important to not only them, but the fans to make the third leg of the trilogy. Simon Pegg, “It was more because we sort of realized around Hot Fuzz time that we could make it a thematic trilogy. People were always asking if we going to make a sequel to Shaun of the Dead and we kinda maintained that Hot Fuzz was the sequel. The way that evolved was that the films became sort of thematic relatives. When it became apparent we could make a third one, we felt that we could really wrap up all three films and really consolidate them as a piece by sort of developing things we started in the first two and bring it all together. It felt like something we wanted to do for ourselves as much as everyone else. It’s interesting as well to re-evaluate ideas and develop them and evolve them and not just the idea that a joke can work across three films. Like the fence, the fence is kinda like a superficial binding element same as the ice cream, the Cornetto. There are other things going on as well. Each film is about someone having to make a personal change in their life in the face of an onslaught by a large force. Shaun has to grow up and Angel has to grown down and Gary has to let go. That felt like quite a nice thematic wrap up. And also it would make a nice box set.” Nick Frost (joking), “It’s not over though. It’s just the end of this trilogy. There are two more trilogies to come.” Edgar Wright, “Imagine if you do the most boring prequels of all time. Shaun before the zombies. Angel before he becomes a police officer and this one, like Gary in a psychiatric hospital.”
The film leans heavy on the concept of old friendships and hierarchy and those who peaked in high school and close friends that moved on. Edgar, “I think that’s what happens to Gary King in the movie. Everyone knows somebody that peaked at 18 because when you’re in school, you’re sort of the master of your domain for some people. Some people hate high school. Some people love it because they’ve never been cooler and usually what happens to those people is they have to get a proper job or they’re unemployed and their status goes rapidly down. What you see in the movie is five friends and four of them progress on the Monopoly board and Gary King gets left behind. The fact that he’s 40 and still thinking about a night in 1990 is his problem he has to fix. That’s what the movie is about, he’s going to forcibly take his friends back. Even though it’s not a time travel movie, it is in a way in that alcohol is a time machine. The characters regress in the course of the movie and start acting more like kids as soon as they start to get drunk. They revert to that hierarchy they were as teenagers.”
Pegg on the nostalgia feeling of the film, “The film is about nostalgia and the dangers of nostalgia. You have to experience a degree of nostalgia for it to work so we did that with music. Music is timeless, but it also evokes the period it came from. I’m not nostalgic at all. I look back and say that was fun, but I’ve learned since I’ve gotten older that it’s important to be happy in the now. Too much nostalgia means you’re not (happy in the now). I had fun in the 90’s, but I don’t want to f*cking go back there (laughing).” Nick, “We really enjoy what we‘re doing. I think I’m happiest now than I’ve ever been. There was a time when I was 18 and I lived in Israel for two years, that was like my university and that was the time if I have to think back, I think of that time. Apart from that, right now is when I’m happiest which is a really nice, lucky place to be.” Edgar, “I get attacks of nostalgia and I don’t know why I do.” Nick looking at Edgar, “That’s because you’re quite unhappy.” They laugh. Edgar, “I do feel happy in my life and yet I want to go back to school and do it better. I do have those fantasies of going back and doing it better. I didn’t know until I was 21 that I was actually, what do you call it over here, nearsighted? We call it shortsighted. I was nearsighted for all of school. I needed glasses and I was actually quite slow in my classes because I couldn’t read the board. I went through the whole of school without having my eyes tested. I constantly think wow I’d like to do school again with glasses.” Simon, “That’s not nostalgia, that’s retroactive narcissism. That’s a different thing.” All 3 start laughing. Edgar, “Wearing glasses to school isn’t narcissism.” Simon, “I have those dreams of wanting to go back and prove to those people around you that you are somehow better so that’s not nostalgia.” Edgar, “I would only go back to school if I could wear contact lenses.” Nick, “When I think about school I think about the good times. I think about great triumphs in school, in a rugby match, hitting Simon Hunter on the nose because he was bullying me. It felt amazing.”
The film is co-written by Pegg and Wright who also wrote the first two films together. They talked about their writing process then and now. Pegg, “We sort of developed our process on Shaun of the Dead because on Spaced, Jessica (Hynes) and I wrote it predominantly and Edgar came in and provided a visual landscape. So we had a different process then, we’d take the scripts to Edgar and he’d give them notes and give them back to us. With these ones we did a lot of sitting around and talking initially and coming up with the ideas and writing them out in big, broad strokes. Then we get smaller and smaller and smaller. We create the structure then we fill in the dialogue and then finesse everything until we’re literally down to punctuation. That takes place over a period of time whether it’s a concentrated period of time like World’s End was because we were able to get it done relatively quick. Or with Hot Fuzz it was a bit broken up and we kept coming back to it. It wasn’t quite as satisfying to write because our time was a little bitty.” Edgar, “I think because we hadn’t written together for like 5 years, when we came together for The World’s End, this was really important to us so we cleared the desk and didn’t do anything else for the month we wrote it.” Simon, “Apart from Star Trek.” Edgar, “That was just wrapping up as I recall.” Simon, “No we wrote the majority while I was doing Star Trek (Into Darkness). We managed to work around it quite effectively because Star Trek was a big ensemble and I wasn’t needed every day. Every day I wasn’t working I’d meet Edgar and we were able to work quite a few days a week. It was great because it meant we didn’t have to go away from it and come back. Then we showed the script to Nick. Nick is always the first person in the cast to see it. Then he’ll give it a pass and make notes on his own character. We’ll take those on board or discuss them with him. Then we bring the rest of the cast in and work with the cast, we do rehearsal so any little idiosyncrasies they want to bring to their characters, we can discuss. Then we hit the set when the script is absolutely finished. There’s very little improvisation if any on set.” Nick, “We all have jobs to do on set as well. We are all producers as well so along with being actors, we have to block for Edgar to make sure he has enough mental space to get on with what he needs to do which is a very difficult job.”
In the film Nick Frost plays the more reserved, straight man character with Simon Pegg the more manic one which is usually the opposite in past films. They talked about changing up their roles. Simon, “I rather selfishly wanted to be the funny one. I felt like I’ve been rather generous over the years with the funniness.” Nick, “It was great just because, there is the term ‘straight man’ but I never for a moment thought oh I’m not going to be funny in this. But even that it doesn’t really bother me. I’m an actor and as an actor you want to find the most complex, meaty roles you can possibly perform in. This was a treat and to have something written for you, it’s a great honor. It’s easy because it’s written for me, such a lucky position.” Edgar, “If anything they got to grow up with the characters, the way they all got older with each film. That’s the nice thing about doing three stand alone movies, you can tackle different things. Nick was probably closer to Ed when we made Shaun of the Dead, now he is closer to Andy because he’s a husband and a father. I gave him this one note though, I wanted him to play Andy the way I see him on the phone to tech support. I wanted to see the pissed off Nick on the phone to the bank or something.” Nick, “I think the one thing that will guarantee to make me angry is to be on a call for an hour and have someone tell me there is nothing they can do. I once, and this is true, snapped a telephone in half.”
In the film the characters do a pub crawl trying to have a beer at 12 pubs with the final one being The World’s End. They talked about the symbolism of the names of the pubs and what they represented. Edgar, “What we did was we had this idea that there would literally be twelve steps to the end for Gary. The last bar we knew would be The World’s End. The World’s End is the name of a real bar somewhere we all used to frequent in North London. Then we wrote the story and we attributed the names to the scenes, based on what happens in the scenes. So we had this book of pub names and some of them are quite common place ones, some of them there were only one or two of them like The Famous Cock which is around the corner of my house in London. I assumed it was a very common pub name and as it turns out, that’s the only one. Then we had to get permission from them. I was always fascinated by pub names because they sound so flowery and descriptive even when the actual pub is shitty. Some of them have history and some of them just like a stock name like The King’s Head. Even the signs themselves had images that were clues to what will happen.”
The World’s End is one of the funniest films of the year. It opens in the US on August 23rd. As someone who has worked on films, interviewed and worked with tons of actors and directors, getting to talk with Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg is definitely a highlight. I’m a huge fan of all three men and absolutely love the Cornetto Trilogy. See The World’s End and complete the trilogy yourself.
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