Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World filmmaker Edgar Wright has just bought out the bar for a room full of journalists. And by the bar I mean all of the Trump branded chocolate bars in his interview room’s minibar. With giddy, almost childlike glee he cracks open what has to be at least a $40 (probably more) bag of miniature gold and silver bars and proceeds to make it rain down riches like a considerably less demented Willy Wonka.
“It’s on eOne, so let’s have a good time!” He exclaims.
Seated on the couch to his left is frequent collaborator, actor Nick Frost, who can’t stop giggling at his friend’s antics. “You look like you should be walking through a favela with those.”
The duo could certainly use the sugar rush and the espresso drinks in front of them belie their tireless efforts in the promotion of their latest outing with co-conspirator, writer, and actor Simon Pegg (who has gone home for some much needed and wholly understandable R&R after promoting Star Trek: Into Darkness and his own film all summer). Doing a whirlwind tour akin to the one they undertook for Hot Fuzz, Wright and Frost have been all over the UK, Australia, good sized chunks of the United States, and the night before were in Montreal for the Canadian premiere of the film that closes out the trio’s trilogy of film’s together, The World’s End.
In a switch up between the leading actors from their previous relationships in Shaun and Fuzz, Pegg stars as the off the wall and deluded Gary King, an alcoholic and compulsive liar stuck in the early 90s who desperately tries to get his former high school mates to help him selfishly follow through on what he thinks is his biggest regret: not being able to finish the fabled 12 pint Golden Mile pub crawl in his sleepy hometown of Newton Haven. He coaxes most of the band back together (including Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, and Paddy Considine), but it’s Frost’s Andy Knightley who requires the most convincing since the former inseparable best friends had a falling out and Andy has gone sober. The pub crawl becomes insufferable thanks to Gary’s shenanigans and his remarkable ability to still act like a rock star when no one in town seems to give a shit who he is anymore, but the friends have to band together in a big way when something otherworldly seems to be afoot in Newton Haven.
For Wright and Pegg, the journey to close out their look at male friendships was a deeply personal one this time out, and Frost relished the chance to be a part of the gang once again. The duo talked to Dork Shelf about working with Simon and everyone they have grown close to one last time, what separates The World’s End from the recent glut of “manchild” moves, how nostalgia for music is a trademark of stunted adolescents, what their next plans together might be like if they ever happen, the one awkward thing that Frost always seems to have to do on his wife’s birthday, and why Wright has changed his opinion on Bad Boys 2 (somewhat).
You guys have been on the road for quite a while now with Simon and you’ve worked together for so long now, since he’s not here today do you think there’s anything left to say that you guys could never say to his face? Or to really any of the guys that you worked with across all three of these films?
Nick Frost: (laughs) Oh Simon. I mean, what do you really want me to say about him? I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve never said to him. I mean, it was horrible when he left us the other day. It’s been the three of us for a month, and it kind of split the gang up. It’s quite painful.
Edgar Wright: Yeah, and it’s like that because we actually have the most fun doing the press. The actual shooting of it as you probably can tell is really ambitious, and I think one of the reasons we can even get through these shoots is that we’re such good friends that we don’t have to communicate as much.
Simon’s amazing and all of these guys are really professional, but the good thing that comes from being really close – I’ve known Simon for 15 years and Simon and Nick have known each other for 20 years – is that you can be completely honest with each other. I think if I was doing this script and I was working with six other actors I didn’t know at all, I’m not sure I could have gotten to the same place, or certainly not as quickly.
It’s amazing doing these films and having these actors around the table that really quickly lock into feeling like they’re old friends, and that’s probably because some of them really are. Even the people who didn’t know each other, like Simon and Eddie Marsan, they very quickly became like they were old friends.
NF: I worked with Eddie on Snow White (and the Huntsman), and he and Toby Jones and I became really great friends after that. I mean, I liked all of the cast on that one, but Eddie was one of those guys who when we talked we just got each other immediately. It was like we had known each other for years. When Eddie was cast in this I knew it was perfect because if he got me I know he and Simon would get one another and he and Edgar would get one another.
EW: We also kind of wanted to have Eddie and Paddy Considine together again. Paddy had been really funny in Hot Fuzz and Eddie had been funny in a lot of Mike Leigh films, and recently they had both been in a dark film (that Paddy made) called Tyrannosaur, so we wanted to give them both funny parts after that. I think the thing that solidified my casting of Eddie was when I went to see a Q&A of Tyrannosaur and Eddie says on stage when he’s asked “What else would you like to do in your career?” And he answered, “’I’ve never had consensual sex on scree,” (laughs) I thought this man needed saving, so I wanted to give him the one movie where he gets to be the nice guy. Same with Paddy, who here is essentially the romantic lead and had the film’s romantic subplot.
You write great male relationships. Did you originally set out to discover that across three films or was that something that you found along the way?
EW: I think it’s true that we did. We put a lot of ourselves into these movies so it was kind of natural for that to come out. There’s a story about Hot Fuzz that’s actually true – because people accuse us quite rightly of not sort of writing enough for our female roles – and in that one we had written sort of a romantic foil for Simon and the script was too long and we ended up cutting her out, but we ended up giving all of her lines to Nick Frost. (laughs) And we didn’t really have to change anything.
NF: I think her name was Vikki, was it?
EW: Yeah, Victoria. Oddly enough her name was Victoria Flowers, and that was before Scott Pilgrim. I had forgotten about that.
NF: Vikki’s Cakes.
EW: Yeah, she was the owner of the cake shop. I think in this one, one of the things that we wanted to do… Well, yesterday when we were at Fantasia Fest, one of the things someone said to me was “I noticed a lot of John Hughes stuff in the movie” and I said that all of that “John Hughes stuff” is really US. All of that is really just personal anecdotes. There’s so much stuff in the film that’s just completely taken from me and Simon’s upbringing. Everything from the bully of a teacher to the ex-girlfriend character.
Rosamund Pike’s character is actually based on somebody I know. When I actually told Rosamund this story, she wanted to go and meet her. It was an ex-girlfriend of mine that I had gone out with in 1993. (laughs) I was still in touch with her on Facebook, so I put them in touch and she went to go and meet her, and she came back and said “OK, I’ve got it!” And then they were both at the premiere together and I got a picture together with the two of them and it was just amazing.
In terms of the male relationships, we just wanted to be really honest. Apart from putting in a lot of personal experience into the movie – both in terms of reuniting with old friends and putting in those personal demons and that side of it – I just felt, not only with Hollywood comedies but British ones, as well, that this kind of manchild genre only scratch the surface of things but never really go anywhere deeper. Usually those films about what it’s like to sort of go off and try to be a child forever always end up glorifying it. They never, ever show any kind of dark side. We never really made a conscious decision to be dark, but an effort to be honest. If you set something up where you have a main character who has problems, then you have to resolve it. We wanted it to resolve in very surprising ways, and it’s sort of based on people that we know and the people that we are. I think over the movies from Shaun to this one, we realized actually that writing them was quite therapeutic. That’s where we talk about things that we quite often don’t talk about in real life. That’s where that comes out.
I start to see these movies almost like these Trojan Horses. We made a zombie movie, a cop movie, and a sci-fi movie, but we smuggled in these relationship comedies along the way.
NF: We always say that friendships between men, like any relationship with anyone, have to evolve if they want to survive in the long run. I think we’re lucky that we never worked too hard to do anything to assist that evolution, and yet, it’s happened. We’ve gone from flatmates to people to work together and it has to be that way for things to work. Because if you don’t it becomes very much like meeting someone like Larry and you come back and meet them, and it’s like, (acts confused and put off) “So… (pause) How you doing? You alright?” You know, you have nothing really to say to them. Fuck that.
EW: There’s a scene in the movie where Gary has to re-explain this phrase he made up, “Let’s Boo Boo” and he has to go through the whole genesis of it. That EXACT thing was me. I used to say that, and one of my friends, the only thing we had in common at first was that he had to remind me of old running jokes from college that were completely gone until he reminded me. So the punchline to that is with those running jokes, you often can’t remember where they started. Even my friend who I made that joke with went to the cinema to see the movie and even he was going “Ohhhhhh, yeah.” He had forgotten about it himself.
So I think it’s a great thing to kind of tackle within the movies. One person put it really nicely after one of these trilogy screenings when they said Shaun was like watching a good relationship going South, Hot Fuzz was like a first date movie – because it’s like Nick and Danny’s first date – and this one was post-divorce. (laughs) The two of them have been divorced and they meet up later so it becomes a question about if they can fix that rift or not.
Do you think there’s a difference between British sensibilities when it comes to both comedy and drama? It seems like over here at least British comedies and dramas have been gaining in popularity quite rapidly, and do you think there’s still a bridge to gap and is there ever anything that you’ve been afraid was too British to be picked up by North American audiences?
EW: I guess. When we first made Shaun of the Dead, we had no idea that it was going to play internationally at all. We pretty much just made the movie that we wanted to make, and we were really pleased with the reception here and in the States in terms of people just seeming to get it. I think that just encouraged us more to just be true to ourselves and just be true to our country. To be honest, if I see an American film or a Canadian film, I don’t want it to be simplified for our audiences. There are plenty of American comedies that will come to the UK where something like sports references will just go sailing straight over. If the film is good, that doesn’t matter.
I also think that in the last 15 years, the internet had brought the world a lot closer. Things just tend to go international. Mainly, I think that when you start to simplify anything for both English and North American audiences, they can smell that something has been tampered with. I’m proud that we made three of these movies where we never had the pressure to add an American star. That was something that was definitely present there with Shaun, and even a bit on this one. If someone says something like “Why don’t you get Johnny Depp to play this part,” I think someone would smell a rat.
NF: Why would he be in Newton Haven?
Nick, for you this is a really different role for you considering you’re kind of the straight man here and Simon gets to play the one who really needs all the help he can get. What was your impression when you picked up the script and saw it was a bit more against the type the audience might be expecting?
NF: I don’t mind! I never really trained as an actor, so I don’t really think about that. I don’t think I’ve really pigeonholed myself into a type. I’m the person with these sort of person with these that hears more than really anyone else does over the course of the writing period and then I’m the first one to get the script. At that point I kind of have a chance to make notes on the script and my character and then we all sort of have a conversation. But I think as an actor you would want to do as many different roles and as many different characters as possible, and it’s just another chance to do something slightly different.
It’s kind of always assumed that the straight man is always going to be the unfunny man, you know? But I think there’s a certain thing that goes back to what you were saying before about Simon and friendships and the ensemble, and it’s that we aren’t selfish people. We aren’t selfish actors. I don’t mind if I’m the straight man who doesn’t get as many laughs as Simon because it’s about the film and it’s about Simon, too. You can’t go in thinking like that. You really need to see the big picture and say “I may be the straight man in this one, but I kick a lot of ass.” (laughs) You have to weigh the one against the other, you know?
Have YOU ever had consensual sex on camera?
NF: (perks up) YEAH! (laughs) It’s funny and kind of sad, but I always seem to film sex scenes on my wife’s birthday.
EW: (laughs) NO.
NF: There have been two. Two really rude ones.
EW: I think you should just make that, like, your annual thing.
NF: “Sorry, love.” It was the worst when I did a Martin Amis adaptation called Money. I was teamed up with this amazing 21 year old girl in the sauciest underwear. (pauses) It was awful. (laughs) This is the point where you can put in “Frost’s glasses steam.” (laughs)
The song “Loaded,” by Primal Scream, which samples The Wild Angels, plays very prominently in the film almost as a kind of thesis statement for the film. Did you ever tell or ask Roger Corman about that at all?
EW: No, I think that’s just there because it’s in the song. I was familiar with the song before I was familiar with where that sample was from. I had heard that song back in 1990 when it was sort of one of the first indie songs to really breach the Top 40.
NF: It was part of this huge crossover phase.
EW: Yeah, during the late 80s and 90s a lot of these bands like Stone Roses started to crash the charts and get into the top ten. That’s the period of music that Gary is kind of stuck with and that he has on his mixtape. I didn’t have any connection or talk with Roger Corman about it because it was all cleared within that song. There’s actually a Mudhoney song that uses the exact same sample.
But it just seemed like when we were writing this film, we made a playlist of all these songs from about 1988 to 1993, and that was the period when I was in school and Simon was in college, and it just lept out immediately that these would be the songs that would be Gary King’s bible. We kind of liked that in his sort of drink and drug addled brain he starts to think he made up all these lyrics to all these songs himself. There’s a point in the film where he just starts quoting The Soup Dragons like he made it up. It’s all so jumbled up that he just starts spouting other people’s lyrics. We thought about that quite a bit, and that’s why a lot of the songs at the start of the movie are kind of these hedonistic party anthems that never really went away.
It’s funny because when I was growing up in the 80s, you would go into a supermarket and they would be playing 60s songs. I was in Ikea the other day and I heard The Soup Dragons, and I immediately thought, “Oh my God, this has become one of those oldies.” At the start of the movie when Simon Pegg does the voiceover and announces the year, we specifically picked 1990 to make everyone feel really, really old. (laughs) I think my direction for him in that voiceover was “Say 1990 like you’re saying 1890.” (laughs) Because it’s just like “Fucking hell, that song is 23 years old!” (laughs) We’re further away from Primal Scream coming out today than the movie American Graffiti was when it was made in the 1970s and took place in the 60s. That was only ten years away back then, and we’re over 20 here. But those songs keep playing and they never go away. Look at Cochella this year where Blur and Stone Roses were among the headliners.
It seems like in Gary King’s brain he would still be the person who would play any of these songs, like, first thing in the morning because it’s his Bible. “I want the party to last forever. The party is never going to end.” Everything about his life plan comes from those songs. I mean, they’re great songs, too. I could happily listen to something like “Loaded” every day.
From Spaced to here, you always manage to bring everyone back, but how satisfying has it been for you guys to watch the group grow every time?
EW: It’s really nice to have this reparatory company that always carries over, and it’s always great to expand. With getting people like Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike, I now consider them a part of the family. With Paddy, who was really funny in Hot Fuzz, I just think “Man, I loved working with Paddy. Let’s write another role for Paddy.” Martin (Freeman) was in the other two movies, and the one rule here was that anyone who was in Shaun AND Hot Fuzz were back in this one, even if only for tiny parts. Like Rafe Spall, who I ran into at the premiere for Prometheus, and he goes, “Where’s my part?” And I just said to him “You’re too fucking YOUNG to be in this one.” (laughs)
NF: That lucky bugger. (laughs)
EW: All the characters were supposed to be in their late 30s, early 40s, so he has only one really big scene here. He actually does come back a second time, but I don’t think a lot of people notice when he does because people are paying attention to something else that’s going on. They miss his second appearance. He actually came back for free because he just wanted to hang out. (laughs)
But with Martin Freeman, after Shaun and Hot Fuzz, we knew we HAD to get him back and give him a bigger part. It’s great having these people back and giving them something to do because they’re all really talented comedians. Paddy’s part is really different from Hot Fuzz and different to anything else he’s done. It’s great to have that family.
NF: It’s so great on set, too, because we actually all hang out. No one goes back to their trailer. And all the boys were really protective of Rosamund. “Are you alright? Do you want a seat? Can we get you some tea?” (laughs) It didn’t change the dynamic at all. She was just one of the guys just hanging out.
EW: It even extended to when we would do the fight scenes in the film. She wants to do everything. If she saw a scene where her stunt double was doing something she would just look at me while we were shooting from across the room and just go, (whispers) “I can do that!” (laughs) Eventually by the third take she would be in there and doing it herself.
NF: But in terms of having that support among your fellow actors and being on that set, it was amazing. Not everyone is always so supportive of one another on everything you’re going to do, but that’s the one thing that’s great about working with a group of mates. It’s great that everyone gets that one great moment and everyone else is supporting that. If there was some great acting going on on-set, like if Eddie did a good take we would all just kind of go quiet afterwards and just (claps). It happened all the time. It was amazing.
EW: I think also when you just know people as other than just as actors, they realize there’s no such thing as a small part. There are some actors in this who have tiny roles where in other films they would have such bigger parts, but all of them just want to be a part of it. Like, Darren Boyd has a tiny part, but his little speech kills me every time because he’s so fucking creepy. (laughs) But in the UK he would be the lead in things, but here he just plays the role of the bully. Just those moments are the things I love. I love having that sense of a reparatory. Even people we didn’t have in the previous movies, like Mark Heap, who was in Spaced but hadn’t been in Shaun or Hot Fuzz… Well, he was cast for Hot Fuzz, but he actually ended up putting his back out, so it was great to finally get him in this one.
You usually screen movies during and before the filming process to get the tone of things just right. Bad Boys 2, obviously being the best…
EW: (laughs and sighs) You know, I’ve somewhat revised my opinion of Bad Boys 2.
EW: This is absolutely true and this is where Hot Fuzz mirrors real life again. When we made Hot Fuzz, I had programmed a double bill of Point Break and Bad Boys 2. Much like Simon and Nick in the movie, I fell asleep during that one. The logic of a double bill is to never put the longer movie on second. And Point Break is something like 100 minutes, and Bad Boys 2 is something like 2 and ¾ hours long. (laughs) Anyway, I digress.
There were only two films that Simon and I really watched before writing. Neither were sci-fi films. One was The Big Chill and one was the Gene Kelly musical It’s Always Fair Weather, which is about World War II Veterans meeting 20 years after V-E Day in a bar in New York and realizing they have nothing in common anymore. It’s surprisingly bittersweet for one of those MGM musicals.
This time I didn’t show the actors anything because I didn’t want them in this movie to take anything in. Like with Hot Fuzz, I gave Nick a whole lot of cop movies to watch because it made sense for his character to have watched something like Exit Wounds. (laughs)
NF: It would have only made sense for me as a MAN to have watched Exit Wounds.
EW: (laughs) For the kids and other people sort of playing the villains of the piece, I did make this tape of great kind of robotic kind of performances. Like Yul Brenner in Westworld or Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. I had this kind of reference tape I showed a lot of the younger actors who might not have seen some of these movies to just kind of get them up to speed. With some of these kids I would kind of say “Put your Robert Patrick face on” and they would totally get into it. (laughs) Some of these kids in those fight scenes and the ones that Simon fights in that bathroom are all about 15 years old. The main kid actually turned 16 on the set, and he did all his own stunts. It was just incredible.
NF: He kind of had a “stunt-mitzvah.” We just threw a big glass cake at him.
EW: The one thing I did show to the crew was the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and that one had a huge influence on Shaun, too. Philip Kaufman’s remake is so great because of all these things he does with the background extras and the feel and it’s such a great location. It’s the kind of film that would be hard to get made right now or even get made in place like San Francisco, that’s for sure. I think that’s a great film.
With this trilogy now behind you and having talked about the evolving friendships you both made, where do you see your working relationships going now?
EW: In term of where we go next, people have been asking us since Shaun what we were going to do next. This movie here was quite ambitious to try and pull off, and we just feel satisfied that for once we made good on a promise. We never made Spaced season three, but we once said we would. As much as we promised fans we would do a third film together, we promised it to ourselves that we would make a third film together. What’s been really great doing this aside from just being really pleased with the movie is that we got to do something rather personal, as well.
That said, we tried to make three stand alone movies, but they are thematically a trilogy. In a way, if we do another film together it might end up being something completely different. The things that connect these movies aside from the sillier things like ice cream and fence jumping are the overall themes. They’re all about the friendships between men, perpetual adolescence and the dangers of that, and the individual versus the collective. Then just on a level of stating the obvious, they’re all set in the UK, they’re all contemporary set, and that’s kind of important to the piece. If we do something again, it could be completely different from all of that.
NF: There’s no rush. If it means we don’t work again together for five, maybe six years, that’s just what it will be, you know? We’ll find something we like, come back, and have a blast doing it. We’re not just going to come back to make a film just for the sake of making a film.