He’s killed zombies, declared his right as a human to be a screw up, and lifted the veil on a town’s secret society Bad Boys II style, but in his latest flick, Simon Pegg is just out for blood. He goes by Charlie Wolfe, which suits him, since he spends most of his time hunting, although his prey is usually walking around on two legs. As a hit man, Charlie’s line of work isn’t the cleanest to begin with, so when Jack, a bar owner with a bad temper, tells Charlie that he wants to use his services to get rid of his cheating wife, Charlie hesitates, but only for a moment. When he’s offered enough money, he agrees, and before he knows it, Charlie’s got in a web of thieves, murders, adulterers and scammers. Charlie might have walked into Eagle’s Nest as the baddest man in town, but he’ll leave with his tail between his legs before it’s over.
I caught up with Simon Pegg a few days ago, and we chatted briefly about his time as an assassin on the set of Kill Me Three Times. In the interview, we discuss what it’s like to play a villain, the legacy and cult following of Shaun of the Dead, and his collaborative process with screenwriter Doug Jung on the upcoming Star Trek 3.
Kalyn Corrigan: How did you go about joining this project? What was the process like?
Simon Pegg: Well, I got the script sent to me and I’d had a really sort of busy year in terms of travel. I’d been all over the world, and I’d spent a long time away from home, and it was the end of the year and I didn’t really want to go away again. Particularly, not to the other side of the world because it just felt like too much and I was planning on sort of just being with my family for the rest of the year. But, I read it, and it was a great script, and it felt like something I really wanted to do, a character that I wanted to play, so I said, “I’d like to do this, but can you shoot me out in two weeks?” Because that was sort of like not saying no, because I didn’t want to say no. And they said okay! So I started talking to Kriv on the phone and email just sort of getting Charlie’s sort of look and stuff, and I went out and did all of my stuff in one specific block, which I am eternally grateful for, because it meant that they had to shoot the beginning and the end of the movie in the same week, but it meant that I could do it. Sometimes when a script comes along, it’s hard to say no if it seems that fun.
KC: I know that you’re usually known for playing sweet and endearing nice guys in your films, so how much fun was it to play the villain?
SP: Oh it was great! I liked the fact that the movie asks you to sort of side with the most evil character, in a way. It’s like Charlie is the audience’s way into Eagle’s Nest and all of the other characters are sort of seen through his eyes. It was an interesting proposition to have the bad guy be the audience’s POV. I just really liked the idea of playing such an amoral bastard. He’s fun, even though he’s horrible.
KC: Yeah, by the end of the film I would definitely say that he’s probably the most morally sound character.
SP: Probably, yeah. (Laughs) At least he has principles. They’re warped and dreadful principles, but at least he sticks to them.
KC: Definitely. So, what was your relationship like with your costars?
SP: Oh we had a great time. It was one of those where we all hit the ground running. We all sort of arrived at the same time, and we were staying at a casino in Perth and all hanging out with each other. I really, immediately bonded with Sullivan Stapleton and Alice and Teresa. It’s fortunate when you get an ensemble group if you all gel because it just makes things a lot easier and a lot happier, you know? I think I’m a big believer in a happy set, meaning better work. And also having Bryan Brown, Bryan, who’s a bit of a legend. Not just an Aussie legend, but F/X, F/X2, Cocktail, to work with an elder statesman was great, and have him be nice, as well. You can kind of forgive older actors for being a bit jaded and sort of a bit unfriendly, but he was so lovely, which was nice. It was fortunate. That’s stage one, always, is “are we going to get on?” I think being away from home, we were all staying in Perth, all staying in the same hotel. Me and Sully and Luke used to go work out together, so you know, bonding. Bonding on the weights machines.
KC: So, in both Kill Me Three Times and Hot Fuzz, you seem pretty sure handed with a gun. So, did you undergo a lot of training, or is this something that you’ve been doing for a long time?
SP: I mean, we don’t really have any access to that kind of fire power at home in the U.K., but obviously when you do a film, even a comedy like Hot Fuzz, you’re trained with a weapon. So, I did a day’s training with a weapon for Kill Me Three Times. I had to look like I knew what I was doing so, with the big range rifle and even the smaller guns you got to look like you know how to use them. So, I had a fun day just firing those off, but if you gave me one now I wouldn’t know what to do with it. (Laughs)
KC: Or so you say.
SP: Yeah. (Laughs)
KC: Looking back at the legacy of Shaun of the Dead, what does it mean to you to have such a strong cult following over the last ten years, and especially the reception in America, which has been extremely positive?
SP: Yeah, it’s lovely. I mean you do each job and you never really know what will come off of each job. You can speculate and have faith in it, but you never really know if it’s gonna be a hit or a miss or what. I think Shaun of the Dead was a handy calling card for us, it was our first movie, so for it to be embraced like it was here has meant for huge opportunities which has been great, so I’ll always have a deep affection for that movie. And I think, what we were talking about, you know in the U.K. we grow up watching a lot of American culture, you know, a lot of American television. The U.K. television buys up American T.V. so, and obviously cinema, we watch a lot of. So, for us, we were speaking a language that I think the American audiences understood. It the zombie movie, which is an American tradition, we just sort of put it through the skewer of the British point of view, and I think that’s why it kind of hit, is because people got it. It didn’t feel foreign to the American audience. It felt familiar. So, to build up a cult following has been handy, to say the least.
KC: Are you and Edgar Wright working on a new trilogy perhaps?
SP: He’s emailing me today, saying “When can we talk? Can we meet?” And I’m like, “Yeah, but I’ve got a lot of stuff to do.” Uh, absolutely. I don’t know about a trilogy. I mean, Shaun of the Dead, we never knew that it would evolve into three movies, but when we made Hot Fuzz, we realized that we were able to to sort of like do variations on a theme, and then wrap it up quite neatly into a three movie series. The next film that we do won’t have to be banned by any of the rules that the Cornetto films were. They had to be set in the U.K., in a contemporary setting. The ones that follow, whether they are in a group or single, they won’t have to do that. It’s our oyster, kind of. I hope.
KC: With shows like The X-Files and Twin Peaks making a big return to television, do you think that there might be a chance that Spaced might jump on the bandwagon and come back to life?
SP: Yeah, that’s very exciting. Um, I don’t know. I think it would be very hard to get Edgar back to television now. Although, having said that, television is a far more cinematic thing than it used to be. Television series now are more like long form films, and the kind of actors that television attracts, you know, it seems to be where a lot of serious acting is happening. But to get Edgar back into a sitcom would be very difficult. Because, when you watch Spaced, you can see that he was always going to be a film director, and now he’s in the world that he was aiming at. And we couldn’t make Spaced without Edgar. I don’t know if it would be worth doing anyway, because it was about a very specific time in our lives, and we were speaking to a specific generation of people. I’m forty-five now, you know, Tim was like twenty-seven, so I don’t know if I could ever go back. It would have to be something for like, crusty millennials it would have to be as kind of relevant for old people.
KC: Well you don’t look a day over thirty.
SP: Bless your heart.
KC: So, you’re attached to write the upcoming Star Trek 3 film. Congratulations, that’s such an honor.
SP: Yeah, it is, thank you.
KC: So I was wondering, since you and Doug Jung are writing the script together, what’s the collaborative process with him like?
SP: Doug and I met for the first time a few weeks ago in London, and we kind of hit it off, fortunately, he’s a cool guy. We’re also working with a team of Bad Robot, with Lindsey Weber and Bryan Burk, who are friends we both know, and Justin Lin, obviously, who’s directing. It’s not an ideal way to work, to be, sort of like “okay, we need to make this film in four months, write it”. You have to kind of make it backwards. The production wants stuff. They’re like, “So what are we building? What are we designing?” We’re kind of having to come up with ideas and give them to production before we’re even sure that they’re the right ideas. But so far, it’s working out alright. Necessity is the mother of invention, and we’re in a very necessity type situation at the moment. I’m hoping to get to Bad Robot while I’m here and put in a few hours over there, and then Doug will come over to the U.K. next week and we’ll keep plugging away at it.
KC: Yeah, I was going to ask, do you spend a lot of time together? Or is it mainly on the phone, or on Skype?
SP: If I’m writing collaboratively, I want to be in the room with that person, because there’s just no substitute for it. I’ve had, before, when we started, this sort of creative meetings. I was on a conference call to Bad Robot, trying to get in to the conversation and not really being able to because I wasn’t in the room, you know. We will have to do a little bit of long distance stuff, because that’s just the way it is, but hopefully, as much as we can, we’ll be together in the room.
KC: Is it like, you write a couple of pages, and then he writes a couple of pages —
SP: We haven’t gotten that far yet. At the moment we’re fleshing out the outline. We’ve arrived at a story, and started to fill in the sort of detail, but until we get more specific, then we’ll be like, “you write that scene, I’ll write this scene”. It remains to be seen exactly how we’ll do it. It’s a learning process.
KC: So what is your process like Doug like vs. your writing process with Edgar Wright?
SP: Well with Edgar, we usually have a lot more time, for starters. It’s not like the sands of time are running out as they are with Star Trek. They want Star Trek out in 2016 because it’s the fiftieth anniversary, so, we are going into production in the summer no matter what. With Edgar, we’ll sit and talk, we’ll go away for the weekend together and just come up with ideas, and then we’ll sit and maybe just watch movies, just to get ourselves in the mood. And we live, or we did live close, now he lives here, but we usually get into an office together. We’ll put the script onto a big screen, and one of us will type and keep pace, and we swap and alternate, always in the same room, though.
KC: Always in the same room?
SP: Yeah, yeah. Because otherwise, if you’re doing stuff on your own, it’ll invariably change, because the collaborative process is compromise and meeting of minds. You might write a scene on your own and then give it to the other one and then they’ll change it, and then they send it back to you, and then you have to change it again, but if you’re in the same room together, that cuts out a lot of leg work.
KC: Has your process changed over the course of time?
SP: It’s evolved, I think. When I look back at Shaun of the Dead, it’s not changed that much, we’re just better at it, I think. We’re just technically better at the whole process.
KC: Yeah, you have it down to a T now.
SP: (Laughs) Yeah, we’ve written a few, so we kind of know how to do it, kind of thing. We’re not feeling our way as much as we did in the first place.
KC: Is there anything you can tell me about Star Trek 3?
SP: God no.
KC: Doesn’t hurt to try.
SP: (Laughs) There’s not much I know about it, to be honest. No, absolutely. And you know, J.J., as a producer of this film and a director of the others, has always instilled in us the importance of protecting the audience from themselves. You know, people kind of, even people who don’t want spoilers will kind of crave knowledge about things because they just want to know something going in. I think the best way to watch any film is to go in blind. In a way, trailers are detrimental to the experience of watching film. Something J.J. gets criticized for is that all he’s doing is trying to protect the experience of the audience, so they go in and they’re genuinely surprised by it. So you’ll hear nothing from me.
KC: So, what about your other upcoming projects? I read that you’re going to be in a film called Man Up.
SP: Yes, Man Up. It’s gonna be at Tribeca Film Festival, it’s out in the U.K. on May 29th. I did that with Lake Bell who is an American actress who does a very convincing British accent in the movie, she plays a Brit in the movie. She’s an amazing actress. That’s coming out.
KC: What’s that about?
SP: It’s an unashamedly traditional romantic comedy. It’s written by a writer called Tess Morris who wrote the script on Spec for Big Talk Productions who made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, because she likes the production company. It was just a really, really fun romantic comedy that didn’t kind of apologize for what it was. In fact, it embraced what it was and as such is more honest, I think, and more enjoyable than any recent attempts at the genre where they’ve tried to undercut it or be subversive. The fact is, we know the journey of the romantic comedy, it’s the root we go to watch it for, it’s to see how they get to the end. And it was just a really appealing idea and it’s about a woman who accidentally, or purposely deceives a guy into thinking that she’s his blind date, because she is mistaken for his blind date she just thinks, “Oh, fuck it. I’m just gonna go along with it.” So they end up having this crazy night together and then the truth is out, and then, you know, love blossoms.
KC: That’s great. So, what can you tell me about Mission: Impossible 5?
SP: That we finished it.
KC: You did? Wow! (Laughs)
SP: We did, like two weeks ago, we wrapped, and the trailer just broke online, which is really exciting.
KC: It looks fantastic.
SP: Yeah, I think it’s gonna be great, I’m really excited about it. It was a real fun shoot. You know, I’ve played Benji three times now, and it’s really nice to keep coming back to him and seeing how he changes, because he’s gone on his own little journey through the last three movies, from being a schlub in the lab, to being a full on agent, and he’s still the same guy essentially. He’s still the guy who knows how to work the technical stuff, but you know, his experiences have informed his as well, so he’s not the sort of newbie that he was in Ghost Protocol. He’s been out there a little bit. He’s more of a bit more hardened, which is kind of cool to say.
KC: Yeah, a bit more of an action star.
SP: Yeah, he’s not as much of an ingenue, it doesn’t mean that he’s changed in any way.