[BD Interview] Edgar Wright On Fights, Self Destruction And ‘The World’s End’!

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I really loved The World’s End (review here), the new film from Edgar Wright which caps off the thematic trilogy he and co-writer Simon Pegg 10 started 10 years ago with Shaun Of The Dead. It has a level of emotional urgency that is new to their work, making it an excellent lens through which to view the themes they’ve explored in the past.

Last week I hopped on the phone with Wright and we discussed just how much he and Pegg relate to the film’s central character, the very troubled Gary King. We also touch on the differences between World’s End and Shaun and Hot Fuzz as well as the increasingly elaborate fights Wright has been staging in his films as of late.

In theaters this Friday August 23, “20 years after attempting an epic pub crawl, five childhood friends reunite when one of them becomes hell bent on trying the drinking marathon again. They are convinced to stage an encore by mate Gary King, a 40-year old man trapped at the cigarette end of his teens, who drags his reluctant pals to their home town and once again attempts to reach the fabled pub, The World’s End. As they attempt to reconcile the past and present, they realize the real struggle is for the future, not just theirs but humankind’s. Reaching The World’s End is the least of their worries.

Head below for the non-spoilery bits.

You and Simon don’t seem very much like Gary King. You’re successful and are moving on with your lives. Where does he come from?

It’s an amalgam of a couple of things. A lot of people know someone like that in their lives, someone that they either still know or have had to cut off. Somebody who is a liability, or the person you’re in a relationship with says, “you cannot hang around with that guy anymore.” Or he owes you money that you’re never going to see back. There’s all different manners and facets of that guy, and it’s because he has problems.

Shaun in Shaun Of The Dead is an exaggeration of ourselves, we’d both been lazy in our relationships and made a character that needs a slap in the face. Nicholas Angel (Pegg’s character in Hot Fuzz) is so work obsessed that he’s forgotten to be a human being. So you take the worst aspects of yourselves and make them into a character. And it’s the same with Gary King, even if it’s the idea of, “what if things hadn’t worked out in the same way?” Sort of a Ghosts of Christmas Past type of thing. There’s parts of us in all of our characters and even though this character is troubled Simon and I have real compassion for him and want him to pull himself out of this spiral. The film is less of an apocalypse comedy than it is a film about self destruction.

You mention that Shaun is someone who needs a bit of a slap and that you don’t want to see Gary self-destruct, but Gary is 40 which makes it darker. Shaun has more time.

Yeah, Shaun has time at 29 to turn it around. When you’re 40 and pretending to be 18 there are some serious issues going on. When we realized we could make this into a thematic trilogy, which didn’t really come together until after Hot Fuzz, it was because all three of these movies have this idea of perpetual adolescence. In Shaun it was more, “do you want to be like Pete and be a professional or do you want to be more like Ed and be a stoner on the couch?” In Hot Fuzz Nicholas is too professional and Danny is a complete fantasist and they meet in the middle to achieve some sort of balance. In this one Gary wants to be a kid again, he doesn’t want to be 40. So his misguided reaction to this is to be the leader of the gang again and force his friends to be 18.

If there’s a time travel aspect to the movie, it’s that booze is a time machine. It’s Gary’s way of making his adult friends be juveniles again. When you get drunk you get kind of silly, initially at least. If Gary can just recreate this one night, he’ll be on top again.

This has a lot less references than Shaun and Hot Fuzz, was this an intentional thing? I think it makes it more emotionally communicative.

I think so. You never want to be driven by bad reviews, but sometimes when people would completely dismiss our films… usually the most reductive slam of Shaun or Hot Fuzz is that they’re just a bunch of film references or in-jokes. They’re not. Hot Fuzz was maybe more meta because one of the characters was a film freak and wants to live his life through those moments. But with this one the threat is much more in keeping with sci-fi films and shows and books that I absorbed before I knew what “genre” meant.

In a way we wanted to, like those classic sci-fi movies, take an emotion or a fear and put it in the context of an alien threat. What do those aliens represent? It’s the loss of identity A: in terms of the town itself and B: in terms of Gary’s fear of growing up. His fear of growing up is manifested in this robot race that is more efficient.

Eternally youthful as well.

Yeah, absolutely. So we knew what the film was going to be about and it completely lended itself to what I call the “quiet invasion” genre. It’s less about aliens landing and attacking than it is about the invasion being [underway]. It’s already happening.

I appreciated the rising level of drunkenness from pub to pub. Did you have to chart that out with levels or did you shoot in sequence to keep track?

We pretty much shot the film in story order which, if you can, you want to do. Sometimes it comes down to cast and location but in this case we were very lucky, even when it comes to someone like Martin Freeman who was in the middle of the Hobbit press tour. But we went from day into night and to the depths of hell in that order.

We also had this kind of clowning class with a physical comedy expert where we would mime walking down the street on one beer, walking down the street on two beers and go on up to walking down the street on 12 beers. So we have this video on the Blu-ray which is all of the actors, both younger and older, doing these mirroring exercises copying each other being drunk and walking down the street.

There were moments where you have to say, “okay you’ve had seven beers at this point.” But the other thing is when you get an adrenaline rush, it wakes you up. So you kind of get up and then crash harder. I think some of the drunk acting in the movie is amazing.

Between this film and Scott Pilgrim did you ever see yourself getting into fight work this elaborate?

I’m always learning and I love action whether or not it’s Jackie Chan or John Woo or Sam Peckinpah. What was really fun in this one was to try and design fights with a cast that was very game and very good with choreography. The question becomes, “how long can you go without cutting?” In that bathroom scene there are only 3 or 4 shots where there are stunt doubles. And the kids are there the whole time, they’re never doubled. It was a joy designing these fights. We wanted to film to feel real and not too cutty. If you’ve got this choreography, you want the audience to feel it. I love doing those sequences.