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Pegg of my heart, part one

My colleague Brett Michel recently interviewed Simon Pegg, who was in town publicizing his big Hollywood breakthrough movie, “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People,” Robert Weide’s adaptation of  Toby Young’s sardonic memoir about being a successful if dissolute journalistic hack in London who tries to make the big time in New York at hoity-toity “Vanity Fair.”

A parallel to Pegg’s own  career? In fact he’s already made inroads into the American audience, establishing a cult following with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” and creating excitement with his plans to play the young Scotty in the upcoming “Star Trek” movie. Some had turned onto Pegg as far back as his “Spaced” TV series in Britain, in which he played a benighted “Star Wars” and superhero geek, something Pegg is in real life as his perennial appearances at Comicon Conventions will testify.

At any rate, Brett is a big fan, and so was willing at the last minute to fill in for me when I was unable to interview Pegg. In this first part they discuss an interview with Brett’s other [former] hero, Harrison Ford, after which they descend into the black hole of “Star Wars” and postmodern aesthetic theory, from which they emerge only after turning to the requisite discussion of Krzysztof Kieslowski.


BM: I hope this goes better than the time I interviewed Harrison Ford…

SP: I’ve heard stories. What happened?

BM: Long story short, it was the single worst interview I’ve ever conducted. truly painful. I was scheduled to speak with him for a half-hour, and the film he was promoting – “Firewall” – wasn’t very good, and didn’t provide many talking points. turns out, it didn’t really matter, since no matter what I asked him, he’d either give clipped, one-word answers – y’know, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – or he simply wouldn’t answer at all. Honestly, I had run out of topics within about 15 minutes. Plus, even though he was sitting directly across the table from me, he was turned sideways, facing the door. The only time he actually looked at me was to shoot me an icy stare as if I was an idiot, based on something I said – and it’s easy to come off as an idiot when you’re funmbling as bad as I was. Still, this was Harrison Ford, for chrissakes – one of my boyhood idols. Han Solo! Indiana Jones! and he completely emasculated me. It was fucking awful. anyway, the publicist had said she would give a ‘five-minute warning knock, indicating that we should begin to wrap things up. when that knock came, he jumped up out of his chair and exclaimed, “Saved!” – and that was it. the interview was mercifully over.

SP: Wow. I always say that the promotion side of the job is what you get paid to do and the acting you do for free. But, you do it with good grace, you know what I mean? [laughs] I think it’s important to kind of enjoy it.

BM: My readers will appreciate that. moving on… A little background: an hour and-a-half ago, i was lying on my couch in my underwear…

SP: Wow! That’s a great image to plant in my head. [laughs]

yeah. You’re welcome. I didn’t know I’d be conducting this interview until then…

BM: Congrats for getting here fully clothed.

what makes you think I’m wearing underwear? It was only an hour and-a-half ago, remember, and I hadn’t yet prepared any questions…

SP: So, did you slide down a pole and jump into a fast-moving vehicle and get here in your Brett-Mobile?

BM: Ha! Yeah -- but it was a rather ventilated ride. Before that, though, I scribbled down as many questions as I could think of and… actually, I cribbed the questions from my editor!

BM: Well, let’s get in as many as we can before the dreaded warning knock! I just finished watching “Spaced” on dvd…

SP: Oh, you did? You got the “Region 1”?

BM: Yup. At the close of the pilot episode, you were about to masturbate to Gillian Anderson’s photo. and now on your new film, you got to work with her…

SP: Which is the first thing that Bob Weide – the director – brought up when she stepped into the rehearsal room. We’ve met a couple of times before, and I think the first thing he said when Gillian sat down – with me having said, “Please don’t mention it to her” – was “So, have you seen the episode where Simon wanks to ya?” I don’t think I’ve ever been as embarrassed. But, she is such a good sport, Gillian is. She’s a boy’s girl. For someone as stunningly beautiful as she is, she’s a bit of a lad, which makes it all the more easy. You know, she could be sort of stuck-up about it, but she was so not. And we had such a good time. We’ve become good pals now, which is bizarre for me; someone who idolized her and crushed on her enormously, and still do, within the bounds of what my wife allows me to crush on. Having said that, she has certain crushes as well, which I’m fine with. But yeah, she’s super-cool. She’s great.

BM: Is she also aware that in another episode, you had her “X-Files” action figure sitting on your face as you slept?

SP: Yeah. Her husband Mark is such a sweet guy. He’s a real cool guy, and she’s having her third baby now, and it’s so safe. I can just be like: I’m out! I’m a Gillian Anderson appreciator and there’s no shame in it whatsoever, and she’s really cool with it. And it’s hilarious how when I met Piper, her first daughter, her first child – Piper’s like 13 now, and she was conceived at the beginning of the second season of “The X-Files,” and you could see how Gillian grew on screen. And the first thing I said to Piper was, “Ah, you must be the ‘bump’ from season two,” which she must have thought was half-geeky, half-hilarious.

BM: Speaking of geeky and (sadly) hilarious, my notepad, as you can see here, is the one I used while taking notes for my review of “The Clone Wars.” Have you…

SP: I haven’t seen it yet, to be honest. I um… is it a terrible thing to say that I just don’t care anymore?

BM: No. I’m completely there with you.

SP: I kind of think, if you’re going to do that – there’s no question for me about the beauty and artistry of what those animators do; it’s incredible and aesthetically, it’s a massive achievement and they should be applauded. But, if you’re going to do it, do the OLD characters! Do the sequel that we’ve always wanted to see, you know? Let’s pick up with Luke and Han and Chewie and I mean, Jesus! I would care sooo much then, you know?

BM: Yes, but then how would you reach the lucrative ‘tween girl demographic?

SP: That’s the kind of crap that... they’re not going there, are they?

BM: Yup. And they’re using cutesy nicknames. ‘Anakin’ becomes ‘Sky-Guy’…

SP: Oh, God. Have you seen Patton Oswalt’s material about the prequels? It’s sooo funny. He’s like [in a Southern accent]: “D’ya like Darth Vader? Y’get t’see him when he’s a kid!” It’s so funny. I don’t give a fuck where they come from!

BM: Well, let’s get the hell away from “Star Wars,” then.

SP: Yeah, before we get bogged down.

BM: You wrote a dissertation on “A Marxist overview of popular 70s cinema”?

SP: I did – with “Star Wars”-related works.

BM: I think we’re bogging down…

SP: It was a dismantling of consent, which was forwarded by an Italian Marxist philosopher called Antonio Gramsci. It was all about the fact that if you watch a movie without critically objectifying yourself, you consent to the inherent prejudices within the film. So, if you’re watching a film which is very sexist, if you don’t think “Hey! That’s pretty sexist,” you are being sexist by watching it. And “Star Wars” and “Raiders [of the Lost Ark]” embodied a certain amount of late-seventies neuroses: bomb fear and subjective stereotypes and it was all about that!

BM: You also had a quote in the “Guardian,” which said that “an awareness of the postmodern condition is still the intellectual bedrock” of your comedy…

SP: Did I say that? Man, I must have had a couple of cups of coffee! Yeah, I think you can’t not be aware of popular culture and what’s gone before you now; you can’t not be postmodern. The stamp of popular culture is such an important part of day-to-day life for modern human beings that it’s hard not to refer to it. You can’t just pretend that you’re starting from scratch these days. You’re part of a huge legacy of expression that is fun to refer back to.

BM: Like “Star Wars.”

SP: There I go again!

BM: I’ve actually seen you a couple of times before here in Boston, sitting in the audience during both your promotional tour for “Shaun of the Dead” and for “Hot Fuzz…”

SP: Always a pleasure to return.

BM: …and the first time I ever heard of cornetto was at that screening of  “Hot Fuzz.”

SP: Apparently, McDonalds are doing a Cornetto now. It’s coming to the States. So by the time we do the third film, it will be a known quantity.

Oh, ok. At that screening, you guys went off on a whole riff about King cone, cornetto’s american ice cream cone equivalent…

BM: That’s right. “Shaun,” “Hot Fuzz” and an upcoming film will make up the “three flavors cornetto trilogy,” I believe?

SP: We decided to call it that because “Shaun” featured a strawberry one, heavily; “Hot Fuzz” obviously features the blue original; and the last one is the mint chocolate.

BM: Why mint?

SP: We don’t know yet. We just will.

BM: You’ve already decided on a title?

SP: Well, we have a title that we’re kind of playing with and Edgar [Wright, director of  “Shaun” and “Hot Fuzz”] kind of announced it as if it’s the actual thing, and it’s not.

BM: So you’re not willing to go on record with it?

SP: We are! The working title is – they were so desperate to announce that deal with Edgar, that they pre-empted our working title for the movie – “The World’s End.”

BM: Care to elaborate on what the film might be about?

SP: We know what it’s about, but I cannot say.

BM: Ok. I think that I might be able to kind of intuit…

SP: You think? [laughs]

BM: Ok, maybe not. although, if you’re painting an ‘end of days’ type of scenario, you’ve kind of covered that ground already.  

SP: Well, our standard line at the moment is that the third one will be like the first one, times the second one. It will be the answer to that equation: “Shaun of the Dead” times “Hot Fuzz” equals The World’s End.”

BM: Is the ‘three flavors cornetto trilogy’ a reference to Kieslowski’s ‘three colors trilogy’?

SP: Yeah, but only in a very flippant way! [laughs]

BM: That’s ok.

SP: Yeah, we’ve reduced a masterful trilogy to an ice-cream snack. And isn’t that the very crux of what we do, as filmmakers. We’re reductionists. [laughs]

BM: Like George Lucas.

SP: Hey! Don’t lump me in with that guy! You started off so well… [laughs] Keep going!

BM: Better filmmaker: Kieslowski…or Lucas?

SP: I think we both know.

 Next: What movie are you promoting, by the way?


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