Simon Pegg Interview, Run Fatboy RunPosted by: Sheila Roberts
Five years ago Dennis (Pegg) was at the altar about to marry Libby (Thandie Newton), his pregnant fiancée. He got cold feet and ran for the hills and he’s been going in circles ever since. When Dennis discovers Libby’s hooked up with high-flying-go-getter Whit (Hank Azaria), he realizes it’s now or never. He enters a marathon to show he’s more than a quitter but then finds out just how much sweat, strain and tears it takes to run for 26 miles. Nobody gives him a chance but Dennis knows this is his only hope to more than a running joke.
Pegg has gained massive critical and commercial success with his debut written feature film, Shaun of the Dead, which he also starred in as the eponymous lead character. Produced by Working Title, the film went to number one in the U.K. box office and top five in the U.S. box office. A brilliant debut feature, it was nominated for Best Film awards at the 2005 BAFTAs; the London Critics Circle Awards (also nominated for Best Screenplay); the Empire Film Awards; the South Bank Show Awards; the NME Awards and the British Comedy Awards. It won the Best Screenplay at the 2004/05 British Independent Film Awards and Best British Film at the 2005 Empire Film Awards.
In the past year, Simon has filmed lead roles in features such as Hot Fuzz (which he also co-wrote), The Good Night (directed by Jake Paltrow and co-starring Penelope Cruz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Martin Freeman, and Danny Devito), and Big Nothing, starring alongside David Schwimmer. He recently wrapped filming J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek in which he plays Scotty, the iconic role made famous by veteran actor James Doohan.
An accomplished and skilled writer, Pegg recently provided the script polish for the major animation feature film Free Jimmy and is currently in discussions with both U.S. and U.K. feature film companies for writing projects.
Simon Pegg is a fabulous guy and we really appreciated his time. Sporting a UCLA Bruins T-shirt for our interview, here’s what the award winning actor, comedian, and writer had to tell us about Run, Fat Boy, Run, working with J.J. Abrams on Star Trek, and doing a possible sequel to Hot Fuzz:
MoviesOnline: So did you beam yourself here today from the Star Trek set?
SIMON PEGG: [laughs] I’m not allowed to use any of the technology when I leave Paramount Studios.
MoviesOnline: The script for Run, Fat Boy, Run was American but the film was produced in England. What do you think is the difference between American and British humor?
SIMON PEGG: I don’t think there is much of a difference. I think where the difference lies and is most often mistaken for a difference is the cultural minutiae of what we talk about in comedies. So a joke about a celebrity who’s very famous here might not work in Britain because we don’t know that celebrity. But the structure of the joke is the same and will work in England with a different celebrity that we do know. I think our tendencies in comedy socially may be a little different. In the U.K., we’re perhaps a little more prone to using cynicism and irony in social situations because we’re slightly more emotionally guarded than Americans. Americans tend to be pretty free with their emotions. They’re less repressed. They’re more inclined to express emotions than British people are. So here, if someone uses irony in a conversation, they’ll immediately go “Just kidding” because it’s not often wielded as a weapon. When we do it, we say “Hey, you guys are all really horrible” and then don’t qualify it as a joke because we don’t feel the need to. You’re not horrible. Obviously I’m kidding. That’s the way it is. But otherwise the bigger things, the human things are the same.
MoviesOnline: Isn’t the self-deprecating thing a big part of it?
SIMON PEGG: Yeah, there’s an element of that. That comes from being an islander. That comes from being isolated. That element of comedy obviously exists in the U.K. But I think you get that as much here. If you watch a show like The Simpsons, it can be incredibly self-deprecating nationally for a country as big and as robust as America that can still have a level of self criticism which is very funny. But again, maybe these things occur slightly more in different places. I think ultimately a guy running around in tiny shorts is funny no matter where you are. [laughs] That’s funny on the moon.
MoviesOnline: How did you find working with David as a director? Did it help that he’s also an actor?
SIMON PEGG: Definitely. I think it helped him enormously. The best thing you can have as a director is empathy with your cast and he certainly has that in spades because he’s been there and he knows what it’s like to be an actor. We felt very comforted by the fact that he would always know where we were in terms of our emotions and he was able to pick up on our moods and reassure us or give us direction when we needed it or let us get on with it in other places. So he was great like that. He’s directed before obviously so he wasn’t entirely green to the process. It was nice to have him there because you knew fully well that he got where you were at and what your position was as an actor. It really helps I think.
MoviesOnline: So how much actual running did you have to do for this film and are you a runner?
SIMON PEGG: All in, I would say probably aboutâ€¦ At the time actually I was running a lot then. I don’t do so much now because I got bored of it. I probably ran about a marathon over the course of 8 weeks which is a terrible time for a marathon runner. [laughs] Obviously you want to do it in about 2 hours. It all builds up and we did several takes of everything. But I wasn’t like a sprinter. I was just like a hobbler. It’s not terribly taxing to hobble around for 8 weeks.
MoviesOnline: Did you get injured at all while shooting?
SIMON PEGG: I hurt my foot. I kicked the wall and hurt my foot. I couldn’t walk for a week which was hard because I had to do a lot of running.
MoviesOnline: Did you have to put on weight for the role?
SIMON PEGG: I couldn’t really because I’d come off the back of something I’d done that I was very fit for – Hot Fuzz, the police movie that we did. I couldn’t actually sensibly gain the weight for the film. I only had like a month and a half before we started shooting and after I got back after the holiday. So I had a little suit underneath my clothes which padded me out in the requisite areas. I had a bum and tum and boob suit which changed in accordance with where Dennis was in his training program. We wanted to kind of stress that the film is not a joke about weight or anything. It’s a joke about being fat of mind, if anything else. It’s kind of like being inert and not becoming slothful in your attitude towards life. So Dennis’ girth is not as relevant as are his actions.
MoviesOnline: Did you keep the suit anyway?
SIMON PEGG: I didn’t want it. Believe me. It was not nice. It was awkward and it kept me warm in the winter months which was nice because we were shooting in December. But, believe me, when it came to going to the loo, it was a pain in the ass.
MoviesOnline: What attracted you to this character in particular?
SIMON PEGG: The fat suit. [laughs] One thing we’re all fans of in America and the U.K. is the underdog, the character who’s on the back foot straight away, because seeing ordinary people triumph is always vicariously thrilling for us because that’s what we want to do. I just like the fact that he was a complete loser. I just like the idea that he does the most heinous thing. The idea of trying to make him sympathetic -- he jilts his pregnant wife, his beautiful pregnant wife, at the alter -- is “Alright, bring it on. I want to try this.” Because it seemed like an impossible task. He does an awful, awful thing and so we kind of decided to try and write it so that his actions were entirely due to such terrible self esteem that he felt to marry her would be to do a disservice. He felt like “I can’t do this to this woman.” He couldn’t quite believe, and rightly so, that she’d chosen him and trusted him and he bottled out as we say in the U.K. and five years later realized what an idiotic thing that was to do.
MoviesOnline: Apparently Thandie (Newton) pulled some pranks on you on set?
SIMON PEGG: She was relentless. You know, there’s another word for it: bully. I’d come back to my trailer. I became like Kato and Inspector Clouseau really. I’d creep into my trailer waiting for something to jump out on me or to find some discarded underwear. She bought a pair of old man’s underpants and smeared them with chocolate sauce and put them on the floor of my trailer so that the facilities men, the guys who run the trailers, would come in and go, “Christ, Pegg’s really unhygienic.” [laughs] I was constantly coming across these classics. She’d put Saran wrap over my toilet bowl which I just managed to spot at the last moment. She sewed up my sweater, the arms and neck of my sweater, so I couldn’t put it on. Six months later at the junket in the U.K., she replaced all the water in my room with Vodka which sounds like fun, but at 10 in the morning is not.
MoviesOnline: What did you do to her to get back?
SIMON PEGG: I didn’t react. That’s what I did. I just didn’t react. And she hated it. I’d go into my trailer and be back there watching, knowing that I was walking intoâ€¦there’d be vegetable soup all over the floor or a poo sculpting out of snickers in the loo and I would just come out like “Hey, how’s it going?” Finally, after the joke with the sweater incident, I came out of my trailer furious like “Did you do this to my sweater?” and she said, “Yeah.” “My Mom gave me this.” And I kept her going until there were tears in her eyes and then I went, “Ha ha!” But that was the only way I could fight her. She’s tenacious, absolutely tenacious. I admit we had a lot of fun on set. It meant that when she finally said goodbye on her last day, it was a terribly sad day because we became firm friends.
MoviesOnline: Have you checked your room here?
SIMON PEGG: I’ve been careful today. [laughs] I’ve looked around everywhere. I know I’ve probably just drunk laxative or something. Yeah, she’s funny. She’d come from doing films like Crash and Pursuit of Happiness which were quite intense films and I think she wanted to let her hair down and she bloody did [laughs] all over me which was unfortunate.
MoviesOnline: What are you working on now?
SIMON PEGG: I finished Star Trek on Monday and now I’m going to have a break. I’m maybe thinking of producing something back in the U.K. I finished a screenplay with Nick Frost who is my collaborator on Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead which will shoot here maybe towards the end of the year and I just want to have some time with my wife and my dog now. I just want to kick back and do nothing.
MoviesOnline: Are you still living in the U.K.?
SIMON PEGG: Yes. I don’t intend to move here. As much as I love it here, and I do love it hear, I think these days you can beâ€¦ If you’re working in serial TV, you do have to be here. I was talking to Eddie Izzard yesterday. He’s doing The Riches and he’s having a wonderful time, but he does need to be here. I don’t really. I can come and go and I don’t want to be away from my family. And I also want to make films in the U.K. because we have a great industry there and great technical people. It’s no surprise to me that on the set of Star Trek, the first AD was Scottish, all the camera crew were English. We have good people over there but they have to come here to get work. It’d be nice if we would all work and go home to our own beds.
MoviesOnline: How are you playing Scotty? How are you doing James Doohan’s part?
SIMON PEGG: I’m trying to do him proud. My biggest thing was not to go in there and do an impression of James Doohan. I wanted to go in there and play Scotty like he did. He went in there and just came up with the character so I decided to start from scratch and play a Scottish physics genius and engineer. I kind of did that as a tribute to James Doohan because he owns that role. There’s no point in trying toâ€¦ and also, I don’t want anyone to think I’m making fun or parodying him. That’s the biggest mistake. And no one’s doing that on set. It’s all about the characters and being true to them.
MoviesOnline: What’s the Enterprise set like?
SIMON PEGG: I can’t tell you. [laughs] Seeing the set on that film was amazing. Stepping onto those sets and knowing what they meant and what they were, as a fan of the show, you know, it was never lost on me. My first time in certain environments I was really just geeking out completely. It was great. I wanted to just keep everything. “Can I please take my ‘this’ home and my ‘that’ home.” “No, you can’t.” [laughs]
MoviesOnline: They didn’t let you take anything?
SIMON PEGG: Nooooo! I think I took one picture of myself in my trailer in the mirror and then felt guilty and erased it in case they checked my cell phone on the way out.
MoviesOnline: Is it that secret that you can’t talk about it?
SIMON PEGG: Yeah. Well J.J. wants it to be a surprise and people out there are so clever and if you get enough tidbits from everybody, you’ll be able to start piecing together something of the plot. If Anton gives something away and then I give something away and then Zach or Chris give something away, suddenly you start to see patterns, so the blanket idea is say nothing.
MoviesOnline: I’ll bet you’re signed for 2 or 3 of them?
SIMON PEGG: That’s kind of standard practice. Yeah. That was my original sort of worry in taking the role was did I want to be tied to something even if it’s Star Trek, even if it’s the ultimate. And J.J. said, “Well, if that is the case, then the worst thing that will happen is that we get to hang out every 3 years and have a lot of fun.” And I couldn’t see that that was a bad idea soâ€¦
MoviesOnline: What was J.J. Abrams like?
SIMON PEGG: He’s fantastic. He’s one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. He’s a fantastic director – I mean seriously energized by enthusiasm. He’s so driven by his enthusiasm which is enormous. And I can’t think of a better person for this franchise to be in the hands of. As I’ve said before, if I was not in the film and I was the most rabid Star Trek fan – you know, I love it very much but not as much as some people – the person I would want to make the film is a fan of Star Trek and that is most certainly J.J.
MoviesOnline: So besides Star Trek, what are your other influences. What were you inspired by?
SIMON PEGG: Well, when I was a kid, I was a huge Star Wars fan. I’m a big sort of sci fi geek. I was a kid in the 70s so I was at an age when that hit. I’m a big fan of film and horror obviously. Shaun of the Dead was the result of me being a big fan of Romero’s work and it’s a joy to have gone on and worked with him a couple of times as well. That’s been a real dream come true. I guess I’m like a fan boy who is living out his dreams. I’ve been in Dr. Who and Star Trek and Romero’s films and I’ve got to make a zombie film of my own and be an action hero. It’s like I’m all about wish fulfillment. If your dreams don’t come true, then you write them.
MoviesOnline: Run, Fat Boy, Run has already debuted in quite a few countries. How has the reception been so far?
SIMON PEGG: Fantastic. It was #1 for 4 weeks in the U.K. when it came out. And it was great for me because it was my second #1 film in a year which was incredibly exciting and gave me a great sense of accomplishment. It’s been received as it should be, you know. It’s very funny, very warm, slightly broader than I’ve done before. It perhaps will appeal to a wider audience. It’s not as satirical as stuff I’ve done before. It’s a romantic comedy and that’s what we wanted to make. Romantic comedies do follow a certain criteria for them to work as such, so we kind of specifically wrote it as being a romantic comedy, but hopefully undercut a little bit along the way just for shits and giggles.
MoviesOnline: Is there any difference between doing comedy for TV and doing comedy for film?
SIMON PEGG: Film you realize you’re going to be on a massive screen and you’ve got to remember you’re going to be 70 feet tall, but at the same time with television as well, you are being scrutinized more than you are on a theater stage. Theater you have to be slightly bigger. I guess the smallest you are is for film because you can still be quite large on TV too, particularly in a studio situation. Film requires you to dial it down unless you’re like Jim Carrey who is a master of being large and making it work. It takes a lot of skill.
MoviesOnline: Do you ever think of doing sequels or is that a very American thing?
SIMON PEGG: We kind of see Hot Fuzz as the sequel to Shaun of the Dead really even though it’s not like a continuation of that narrative or those characters. It’s a sequel in tone and sort of theme. We made a film that was aboutâ€¦ We wanted to make a horror film and also a romantic comedy so we did both and then we wanted to make a filmâ€¦ We were interested in making the films that don’t get made in the U.K. and that is what inspired us. I think we’re going to do another one together and that will be the third part in what is essentially a trilogy. To do another Shaun of the Dead would be weird because we ended that story. That story came to an end. To pick it up again would be just for the bucks.
MoviesOnline: Hot Fuzz could be made into a sequel.
SIMON PEGG: I think so. I think Hot Fuzz probably lends itself more because Hot Fuzz is a genesis story. It’s how they become Hot Fuzz. They aren’t Hot Fuzz until the end of the film and so from that beginning you could take them anywhere and have like Danny and â€¦ We were talking today about doing a Bad Boys Hot Fuzz cross over with Martin Lawrence and Will Smith and me.and Nick going off to Bago for like months on end and just filming some film because it’s hot there and nice.
MoviesOnline: What would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
SIMON PEGG: There’s so much it’d be silly to single one thing out. There are so many people I’d love to work with. I was very lucky to meet Steven Spielberg this week and to see him and see his variety of work, the stuff he’s done. He’s made joyously fantastic films for children. He’s made incredibly serious films for adults. I’d love to have that variety in my career. To work with him would be a dream come true. So there’s a lot. I’ve hardly done anything so everything but what I’ve [already] done.
MoviesOnline: [noticing his tattoo] What do the stars mean on your arm?
SIMON PEGG: They’re just an old little thing between me and my wife and they’re mine. [laughs]
MoviesOnline: Are you a fan of the UCLA Bruins?
SIMON PEGG: Everyone keeps saying that. I was in New York this year. I was in Bloomingdales and I was walking through the clothes section and said “Well that’s a lovely bear. I’ll have a bear on my T-shirt.” And then I noticed it said UCLA. Everyone this morning said, “Hey! Go Bruins, man!” and I’m like, “What? What are you talking about?” Bruins is a Scottish team too where I’m from. But I am now a fan of the Bruins absolutely and good luck to them in the college basketball.
“Run, Fat Boy, Run” opens in theaters on March 28th