Action blockbusters, sci-fi behemoths, apocalyptic pub crawls. Simon Pegg takes time out from saving the world to talk Tom Cruise and Twitter with Jimi Famurewa
For someone who made his name in Spaced as a spliff-rolling, arse-scratching slacker, Simon Pegg has a startling work ethic. Last year might have been spent picking up stray extraterrestrials in Paul, slipping on a motion-capture suit for The Adventures Of Tintin and stomping around Dubai for Mission: Impossible –Ghost Protocol but there’s no let-up in the 42-year-old’s workload.
He’s currently finishing work as Scotty on JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek sequel (“I’ve not really been home this year,” he admits wearily), but we’re primarily speaking to him about another new project – inventive low-budget Brit flick A Fantastic Fear Of Everything. Pegg plays the protagonist Jack, an author whose research into Victorian murderers has left him handicapped by paranoia. And that’s before we’ve even touched on the tantalising final instalment of the ‘Blood & Ice-Cream Trilogy’. Frankly, Tim Bisley would be disgusted.
Your new film is co-directed and written by Kula Shaker’s Crispian Mills. How the hell did that happen?
I know Crispian through my wife because she used to work with Kula Shaker at Sony. So I’d known him for quite a long time and he’d mentioned an adaptation he wanted to do of this Bruce Robinson story, Paranoia In The Launderette. He asked me to take a look at it and it was a really good adaptation. I was quite surprised by his writing as I knew him as an axe man [laughs] rather than a scriptwriter. Then it grew into this whole thing about a children’s author and these demons that haunt him and take the form of his own characters.
It’s been compared to The League Of Gentlemen and Michel Gondry’s work. How would you describe it?
The phrase we came up with was that it’s a ‘psycho-comedy’, as opposed to a psycho-drama, because it’s not a comedy in a broad sense. It’ll make you laugh, but there are no fart jokes, put it that way. It has the spirit of Bruce Robinson in it. It’s British and about an eccentric man. It’s kind of like Withnail stuck in a house on his own, going mad.
Do you have any irrational fears to rival your character Jack’s various phobias?
Probably not. Just the normal ones. In the movie, Jack is projecting his childhood trauma on to other things. He’s this terrified little animal, but I’m better at dealing with those things. I used to be frightened of spiders, but you have to man up. Since I’ve had kids I’ve realised there’s no room for irrational fear because you have to be the first line of defence. I’m the spider-catcher in the house now, the alpha male, so I can’t be running around screaming at these many-legged things.
You’ve talked about unsuccessfully trying to pilfer stuff from film sets before. Did you have any luck this time?
Yes, I got hold of a stuffed jackdaw that now has pride of place in my home. We call him Snowy. The set on this film was filled with amazing things, including loads of stuffed animals, so I grabbed one of them.
We know you’re sworn to secrecy on Star Trek 2, but are we right to assume it’ll be bigger than the first film?
I’d love to share it all with you, but I’ve signed something and they’ll kill me if I even hint at a stunt.
It must have been great to reunite with all the other members of the cast, though.
Yeah, it was lovely to see everyone and we all get on well. For good-looking, young Hollywood types, they’re actually all nice [laughs]. Also, Peter Weller’s working on this one and he was f*cking Robocop, man.
Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the villain. Have you been quizzing him about Sherlock secrets between takes?
I’ve told him my theories [about how Sherlock survived the last series]. I was like, “OK, don’t react in any way, but this is what I think happened…” [Laughs]. But I honestly don’t like having things spoiled for me. I had Benedict sitting next to me most days, so I could have asked him and he would have told me, but I just don’t want to figure it out. The trouble is that these days, because information is disseminated so totally and instantly, it’s hard to keep secrets. Back in the day, it was easy to just make a film with no one knowing what was going on.
How intense is the security on set? Are there bouncers flushing photographers out of the bushes?
Oh yeah. We shot a lot of the film at Sony, so we can keep things locked down. But when we shot on the huge sets at this big group of hangars, it was effectively in the middle of a valley – so if the paps got up on a hill with long lenses they could see everything.
Do you enjoy the celebrity attention?
I don’t know. If you want to be that person you can make sure you’re in all the right places at the right times. If you just go home, go to bed at nine o’clock and read The Hunger Games no one gives a sh*t.
Is it true that Tom Cruise liked to sit in an ice bath after stunts on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol?
He had this special suit. You put it around the muscles that you’ve been working out and it ices everything. I mean, he’s 49 now, and he was working out so intensively that it was important for him to be able to actually move the next day. So we’d be in the make-up chairs and he’d have this little jacket thing on that would go “pffft” every now and then to ice his muscles. One day I was like, “I want to do your regime.” So he explained it to me and I think my reaction when he’d finished telling me exactly what it takes was, “F*ck that, Tom.” [Laughs.]
Were you impressed by his drive?
Yeah, there’s a reason he is where he is. He approaches his job with 100 per cent intensity and it’s inspiring. And it’s strange for me, because all the people with negative opinions of him are people who have never met him. Anyone who has met him gets it. People who don’t just think, “Oh yeah, he’s that weird, short, religious nutcase.” He’s none of those things [laughs].
Were you worried that the rumours about him would be true before first meeting him?
No, I went in there with an open mind. So I was really happy to have every one of the myths I’ve heard about him evaporate when I met him. He’s just a really cool, charismatic guy. Honestly. There were no Scientology tents on set, there was no weirdness, I mean, he’s not even particularly short.
How were your nerves on set during the Burj Khalifa stunt?
I went up there to see him and, again, I had the, “F*ck that, Tom” response. The safety precautions were vigorous. He was held by 30 guys, but nevertheless he was still dangling over the Earth higher than an aeroplane.
You took to Twitter recently to voice your, erm, robust opposition to the Star Wars re-releases. Are you still disappointed with George Lucas’s tinkering?
Well, it’s funny actually, because I did a voice in the Clone Wars animation. It was one of the characters from The Empire Strikes Back, so I thought, OK, I’ll do this and get to officially inhabit another fantasy universe. It’s like I’m annexing them all… Narnia, Star Trek and Doctor Who. I haven’t done anything in the Tolkien world yet so I’ll have to have a go at getting into that before they finish shooting. But anyway yeah, I got a lot of sh*t for doing that voice because I carp on about how much I hate new Star Wars. But it was like, “Well, f*ck you. I don’t like the prequels at all, but it doesn’t diminish my love for the original films.”
Are there any things you’d like to alter, George Lucas-style, in your old films?
I think so. Edgar did a screening of Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim in LA recently and I went along as a surprise guest. We watched the movies together and there were things in both of the first two that we thought we could have done differently. But I’d never, ever go back and change it because it isn’t mine any more. That’s just the product of what we did, it exists and it’s not to be tampered with. Yes, we could probably cut about five minutes out of Hot Fuzz to bring it under two hours, but that wasn’t what we wanted to do at the time.
Away from films, is it true that Nick Frost has been trying to get you into golf?
He’s taken it up and I’ve considered taking it up. I want to, but I’m wary because I don’t have the patience for anything I’m not good at immediately. And you need patience to play golf. But I’m game. We just haven’t had the chance, but hopefully we’re going to be making The World’s End [the follow-up to Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead] before the end of the year, so we might retire to the golf course at the weekends.
Are you both competitive?
Oh yeah, always. I’ve bitten controllers in half playing computer games with him. We try not to play competitive sports with each other because we always fall out. We never go bowling with each other or anything like that.
What’s the latest on The World’s End, then?
We’ve completed the second draft, so we’re just waiting for the green light. I’ve just finished a thing for [director] Frank Darabont, a pilot for a US TV show called LA Noir, so we’ll move on to it after that.
The World’s End is reportedly about an epic pub crawl and a threat to humanity. Has the idea changed much since you first announced it in 2008?
When we initially announced The World’s End it was an idea and now it’s a script. It’s evolved since we’ve written it and we’ve finessed the idea and come up with all the jokes. What we had was a concept and now it’s a screenplay. It definitely feels like the end of that cycle. It makes the three films a trilogy. Thematically and stylistically it makes those films a threesome. It develops what we started with Hot Fuzz and actually ties Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead together.
Speaking of long-planned projects, what happened to La Triviata, your sitcom with Nick Frost about a pub quiz team? Did you get bored of the idea?
[Laughs] Yeah, pretty much. We developed it a little bit. Things changed direction for us because it was for Channel 4, and there were a few sticking points in terms of casting. Then Hot Fuzz came along and we realised we didn’t want to work in television at that moment, but it’s an idea I still like. I’m not against doing television shows, this Frank Darabont LA Noir thing is for television. It’s just that with TV you usually have to commit to playing the same character for a long time because it’s a series, but with film you get to play different characters. And at the moment I prefer that as a profession. I don’t want to do another series of Spaced or anything like that. I’m happy where I am.
Finally, as a veteran of comic-book conventions, have you had any memorably strange encounters with fans in full costume?
There have been quite a few with people dressed as me. But I think that’s always more weird for them than it is for me. There was a guy who came to my door on Halloween dressed as me and he was slightly surprised when I opened the door. But then that was our fault for creating what is essentially the easiest Halloween costume ever with Shaun Of The Dead. You just need a short-sleeved white shirt and a red tie and you’re off.
A Fantastic Fear Of Everything is at cinemas nationwide from 8 June