If you’re a geek, then odds are actor/writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and writer/director Edgar Wright are superstars in your world. Pegg’s face is known to geeks and mundanes alike as the comic relief Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” movies and the similarly amusing techie, Benji Dunn, in the “Mission: Impossible” films, but to many of us, that’s merely a footnote.
The now legendary Wright/Frost/Pegg collaboration began with the very funny 1999 U.K. sitcom, “Spaced.” It went worldwide with 2004’s horrifically delightful ur-zombie comedy, “Shaun of the Dead,” and the even more gleefully bloody buddy cop homage, “Hot Fuzz,” in 2007. Co-written by Pegg and Wright, the films’ sharp and hyper-imaginative direction and well-crafted, sincere screenplays gave us all hope that the ancient art of dramatic comedy was undead, at least.
While the trio remained best pals, their professional lives inevitably diverted. Frost and Pegg collaborated on the 2011 science-fiction comedy, “Paul,” with director Greg Mottola, while Wright took on “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”
Now, it’s time for the inevitable reunion. The third film in what is being called The Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy, a sly nod to the late auteur Krzysztof Kieślowski and a popular brand of ice cream cone, “The World’s End” might lack zombies and buckets of blood, but it’s easily the darkest of the three films. It’s also pretty clearly influenced by such wry post coming-of-age comedies as “Diner,” “The Big Chill” and, believe it not, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s great 1955 noir musical, “It’s Always Fair Weather.” (The latter two films played together at a recent film series curated by Edgar Wright at L.A.’s New Beverly Theater.)
“The World’s End” bring us a leather-jacketed Simon Pegg as Gary King, a bad boy well past his sell-by date who goads four old chums into recreating a 12 pint hometown pub crawl. As the film rolls on, the depth of Gary’s estrangement from his pals, especially his embittered, teetotaling ex-best friend Andrew Knightley (Frost), becomes increasingly clear. The fact that the boys’ old digs are the apparent seat of the imminent destruction of humanity via an alien invasion of mechanical humanoids actually lightens the mood.
“The World’s End” features UK acting stalwarts Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan as the rest of the gang, and Rosamund Pike as the girl who got away, all grown up. Critics, like our own Jason Zingale, are upbeat about the film’s quality, but the more downbeat tone of the tale it tells is inescapable.
We caught up with an intense and very tired Pegg, a laidback but slightly shagged-out Frost, and an ever enthusiastic but clearly exhausted Wright, whose next film will be the long discussed “Ant Man,” at, where else, Comic-Con.
Simon Pegg on the gestation period of “The World’s End.”
We came up with idea a long time ago, on the “Hot Fuzz” press tour. It percolated for a long time. I don’t think we could have written it when we did come up with it because we were six years younger. I think we needed to be past 40 to truly get the nitty gritty of this movie and have been through certain things in order to get that.
It was always about going home. That bizarre sense of ennui you feel in the surroundings you grew up in, where its immediately familiar but, at the same time, very, very different. You feel alienated, and it’s because you’ve changed, not necessarily because the place has changed. Even though a Starbucks might have popped up or this pub’s different now, or whatever… We thought the funny thing to do was to take the notion of alienation to its literal extreme and have [the antagonists] be aliens.
Nick Frost on whether Simon Pegg’s frequently obnoxious, emotionally troubled, drug-addled would-be Peter Pan, Gary King, is based on someone he and Pegg actually know.
I think everyone knows a Gary King. I think we’ve said it a few times, but if you don’t know a Gary King, you’re probably Gary King.
Simon Pegg on whether the part of Gary King could possibly have gone to another actor.
No, I wrote it for myself. I wanted to be the funny one this time!
Edgar Wright on his background with real-life pub crawls
This movie is sort of inspired by two disastrous pub crawls. One even more pathetic than the first one. The first one was when I was 19 in my hometown – which is the same town that’s in “Hot Fuzz,” I attempted to drink a pint in every pub. There were 15 – 12 in the movie, 15 in real life. I got through six and completely flaked out. I was the person who came up with the idea. So, it’s not like they carried on without me. It just stopped dead at six.
In my drunken state, there was this girl I was seeing at the time and I thought, “Ah, I might go and, like, call on her.” Forgetting that she wasn’t in town. Waking up her mother. Her mother not knowing who I was and being kind of concerned about who was this drunken teenager on her doorstep. And then trying to find my way back to my friends, running through somebody’s garden and clotheslining myself, on a clothesline, and knocking myself out briefly and waking up with a thin purple bruise, and eventually getting back to my friends at 2:30 a.m., and them saying “Where have you been?”… Then I had to apologize to the mum the next day.
That was pub crawl Number 1. Number 2 was even worse.
Me, and Simon and Nick, before “Shaun of the Dead” and after “Spaced,” went back to my hometown and tried to do it again. This time I was out after four pubs. It was at that point I realized that there was something truly pathetic in trying to recapture your teenage years. That became the seed for the movie.
Nick Frost on real-life pub crawls
I like to sit down at the pub and [have the drinks] come to me. I don’t see the point of walking between pubs. I think you’re either drinking or doing cardio; why would you do both?
Me and Edgar and Simon tried to do this pub crawl about eight years ago. Edgar had written this script called “Crawl,” which was the basis of [“The World’s End”]… Me and Edgar went down to try and do some work on that original script. We did nothing. We did no work at all. We hired this really beautiful soft-top Mercedes and we just drove around for a week, listening to Jon Spencer like we owned the place. It was terrible.
Simon turned up. Edgar said, “Let’s try and do the pub crawl.” Edgar – I’m sure if you ask him he will tell you – is the worst drinker in the world. We got to pub #3, and we had to carry him home. You look at you’re watch. “It’s 10 to 8! What are we going to do for the rest of the night.” It’s really annoying.
Simon Pegg on any apocalyptic pub crawl experiences he might have had.
My stag night in Belgium in 2005. Nick was there, Martin was there, Edgar was there, Michael Smiley was there, there were a few members of “The World’s End” crew. I remember very clearly we went out and we felt like, because we were boys together, we should go to a strip club. We tried to find a strip club. We did, but we didn’t feel very comfortable inside. We thought, “Oh, we’re doing what we think we should do.” So, we went to bar that was called The Cock. It struck as hugely ironic that we went out looking for boobs and wound up at The Cock. That was my stag night. I don’t drink anymore, so I don’t really have any good alcohol stories.
Simon Pegg on the most likely actual apocalypse, in his opinion, and what makes them so scary.
I think there have been six [mass] extinctions and they’ve all been fairly natural. It’ll probably be environmental. It might be caused by us; we’re not doing the planet any good by being here. I don’t think the world will end; the world will keep going until the sun explodes, but I doubt very much God will have anything to do with it.
I think losing the people around you, specifically your family and your loved ones [is the definition of an apocalypse]. The idea of being alone. I have a wonderful family and a great set of friends. They really make me happy. I think the most apocalyptic thing that can happen to you is that your happiness is taken away in some way. That’s the point, in a way, of Gary. He was happy once and he’s never been happy since. His apocalypse is his own life, really.
Edgar Wright, on a certain ambivalence in “The World’s End” about the whole issue of maturity.
It doesn’t paint a good picture of somebody trying to recapture their glory years, but then, in a strange way, they get an epic adventure through the magic power of alcohol. So we have this idea that, as things start to get more sort of grave and serious they’re getting more and more hammered. So they get increasingly kind of like boisterous and courageous. We just like the idea that it’s kind of a cautionary tale about looking back.
We wanted to make it slightly complex. It doesn’t glorify drinking, but at the same time, some of those fight scenes look pretty fun. I like the idea that it’s not completely black and white… Even the aliens in it see themselves as pretty benevolent and think the humans are the sort of walking fuck-ups. It’s like we are the drunken apes and maybe they’ve got the better idea.
Simon Pegg on whether, if you’re pulled over in England, you actually can do as Gary King does to evade arrest, and simply give a friend’s address in lieu of showing I.D.
I think you can probably do that but I wouldn’t say its definite. I wouldn’t guarantee it. If you’re in the UK and driving badly, don’t just assume you can get away with it. I get away with a lot because of “Hot Fuzz.” The cops really like “Hot Fuzz”; I’ve been caught up a couple of times and they go, “Oh, it’s you. On you go.”
Nick Frost, on the fake beer drunk in great quantities by the cast of “The World’s End.”
It was water with burnt sugar to give it that beautiful lager effect. We had a guy whose only job was to make foam. He had a jug and one of those aerators you make home cappuccino with. He’d come ’round before we’d have a take and he’d spoon it on. It was delicious.
We tried it with [more conventional “near beer”], but with those pints, you have a weird placebo effect and you kind of feel a bit drunk. If you want to try apple juice and stuff like that, we were having problems with the fact that it was just pints of sugar, essentially. The shots I do were Sambuca [however].
Edgar Wright, on the oddly malleable nature of the “blanks,” the unnamed mechanized alien menace of “The World’s End.”
I always found androids scary as a kid. Things like “Westworld,” “The Stepford Wives” and the autons from “Dr. Who” used to really creep me out. Also, as a kid, if you ever did this with action figures, Action Man [the British G.I. Joe] or Star Wars figures, even Barbie dolls – it’s easy to take the heads off and take the arms off. I always found that, whatever action figures I would have, they would at some point have lost arms and legs and heads. So there’s this great image of seeing dolls without heads and arms, but they still won’t stop fighting. I thought it would be extremely creepy and vivid to have these fighting dolls.
Nick Frost, on the more challenging aspects of making an elaborate science fiction action-comedy on a relatively short 12-week schedule.
We spent weeks, for 11 hours a day, day after day after day, just fighting. I came straight off a dance film [“Cuban Fury,” costarring Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd and Ian McShane.] I trained for seven months to be a dancer, and then danced for three months. Then I had a week and did this. So I think that helped my fighting ability.
These fights had to be beautiful and balletic, but there’s a terrible fear that you’re going to get injured and they would have to put the film on hold. I think that’s fine if you’re the lead in a giant $200 million picture where they can put the movie on hold for three months and you get fixed and then you’re back. We haven’t got that luxury. If you’re injured, we have a problem.
We did get hurt. Simon broke his hand. We were constantly niggled and tweaked and having sports massages every day. It felt like you were being patched up and thrown back into battle.
Simon Pegg on the writing process for “The World’s End.”
I would say you have no idea how complex “The World’s End” script is until you’ve seen the film maybe five times, just because it’s so, so meticulously structured. We start with an idea of timing. We wanted to make the film 105 minutes, which it is without the credits. Then we decided what needed to happen during the first five minute, the first 10 minutes, so on and so on throughout the whole film… We start to break it down and get more and more specific. So, we can start from the beginning chronologically and we can start to foreshadow what we know is going to happen later on, then we can call back to what we know has happened before… You get more and more specific until it’s commas.
Edgar Wright, on his choice of director of photography, Bill Pope, known for his work on American action films.
I thought I’d bring an American cinematographer to shoot 12 pubs, because pubs, by their very nature, are not very cinematic. I was thinking, “Let’s get the guy from ‘The Matrix’ to shoot a pub. Let’s make this shitty boozer look cinematic!”
Nick Frost, on whether there’s a relationship between the fact that there was general agreement that making “The World’s End” was the most fun film “Three Flavors” film to make “in terms of having a laugh” and the substantially darker emotional tone.
Of course they’re related. I always say it’s like “putting the ‘fun’ back into ‘funeral’.” I’ve often had the most fun, ever, being at funerals because it’s that fine line that, if you don’t laugh, you’re going to cry. That’s often where the most honest comedy comes from.
This is going to sound like I’m the biggest dick in the world but, in terms of the comedy, it’s kind of the easiest thing we do. Me and Simon have always made each other laugh and been the idiots at school and been the funny ones. The chance to play out of type and to act is a treat.
We have [respected serious master thespians] Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan in this film. There were a bunch of times when we were acting… like acting… where you just think, “This is fucking amazing.” You can feel it… When you’re acting and you can feel something in the room, it’s quite rare. It’s beautiful.
Simon Pegg on whether “The World’s End” is truly the end for the Pegg/Wright/Frost creative partnership.
No. We will do it again, and again, and again and again. The reason this is called a trilogy is that it’s three films that exist in a sort of relative state. There’s connective tissue between the three. Not just the jokes about the fence [which gets knocked down in all three films] and the ice cream, but there’s also big ideas about the individual versus the collective, about friendship, about growing up.
I kind of jokingly said in an interview that it was about “evolution, devolution, and revolution” in the three films. Shaun has to evolve to be a man; Nicholas Angel has to devolve to be a hero; and Gary and his friends have to revolt against the network in order to win the day. By that very dialectic, it has to be a trilogy, but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to work together again. It’s just that one’s different.
Simon Pegg on possible real-life connections to the broken friendships of “The World’s End.”’
The thing about my friendship with Nick and Edgar, for instance, is that we always move forward. The minute you have a friendship that only relies on reminiscing, that friendship’s dead, really. It’s just echoing out all the time; that gets boring.