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Edgar Wright takes on Hollywood

Our interview with the Scott Pilgrim director

"I’d just love the chance to keep subverting things,” says Edgar Wright, grinning through his long unruly locks, when ShortList asks if he’d ever fancy a crack at remaking Superman. He’s sitting in a cavernous London hotel room with his legs crossed underneath him like a particularly hairy yoga teacher. We’d say he’s smaller than you expect but the truth is you probably don’t know what to expect — despite being pivotal in the success of Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, the director’s not as widely known as stars Simon Pegg or Nick Frost. That’s all set to change with his terrific new coin-op-inspired comic-book film Scott Pilgrim vs The World — an expertly directed, genre-gobbling treat that surely thrusts Wright forward as Britain’s answer to Quentin Tarantino. So is he finally set for fame and fortune? He’s more interested in free ice creams.

The Scott Pilgrim comic seems a dream match with your frenetic style. Was that what attracted you to it?

Yeah, I think so. When I first read it six years ago, aside from loving the book and the central metaphor of how hard you’d fight for something you love, it did remind me of Spaced a little bit. What intrigued me about it was that although Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz were kind of ridiculous they still take place in the real world. Spaced had these kind of flights of fancy as well, but with Scott Pilgrim the whole thing is a flight of fancy. It’s a daydream that never stops.

The film is full of over-the-top visual effects, but were there any you removed?

At one point in the first draft there was a part when Jason Schwartzman [who plays villain Gideon] turned into a giant robot [which we cut]. We did that because in the wake of Transformers and Terminator Salvation people might think it was riff on that, so we ditched it.

It’s heavily influenced by retro video games, too. Are you a gamer?'

I certainly was but nowadays I’m a bit of a lapsed gamer. After Spaced I stopped playing consoles because I was aware of how much of my life was being sucked into that machine. It was like the PlayStation was a Ouija board I had to get out of my house. But what was nice about reading Scott Pilgrim was that it just made me feel very nostalgic about games, there’s something very comforting about them. In the film there are lots of sounds from Mario, Zelda and Sonic The Hedgehog.

Plus there are huge martial-arts sequences and Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim) gets hurled around a fair bit. Was he glaring at you between takes?

Laughs) No, but the stunts that are scariest are the wire stunts because you’re basically being a puppet. I really felt for (Michael) doing that because with the fighting you’re kind of in control and doing a routine you’ve worked out. But with the wire work you’re not. There’s a bit where Chris Evans drop-kicks him in the chest, and they’re not doing it at the same time, Chris is jumping up on a trampoline and Michael is running forward and getting yanked back. You’re not in control of that; you have to completely put your faith in the stunt team. All of those rigs I would try myself, partly to show solidarity, but also from never getting to do any of the fun stuff. I think in Hot Fuzz I never got to fire a gun at any point during filming. So I felt like on this one, I wanted to be involved. So I actually trained with the actors in the morning and that was amazing.

Have you ever been in a fight?

I fought my brother on a couple of occasions but that was like a brotherly scrap. I could never take him though, he’s older and he could always pummel me when he wanted. I’ve never really had a proper fight. I’ve been mugged twice so I’ve experienced being pounded into the pavement like Scott Pilgrim — I’ve been on the receiving end of a punch.

Were you tempted to give some of your famous friends a cameo?

No, people always assumed that Nick and Simon would be in it, weirdly. For me, them doing a cameo in the film would denigrate them in a way. I’d rather people were excited about us doing a film with them in a main role. I want people to be excited about us all working together properly rather than a token appearance that’s like, “Who are these bouncers?” I did actually say to the casting director that I didn’t want any British actors doing American accents at all. I banned British actors completely but one snuck through, the guy who plays Matthew Patel [the first evil ex-boyfriend Scott battles] is from Islington. He fooled me but he was great.

Is it true that you turned down Mission: Impossible 4?

I basically wasn’t available to do it. I’d met Tom Cruise before and I already knew JJ Abrams so the meeting only went as far as me going in and them trying to establish if I was available because they needed someone to start right away. But I hadn’t finished Scott Pilgrim and couldn’t do it so we spent the rest of the meeting basically geeking out about stuff.

You helped Steven Spielberg with the script for Tintin. Did you get starstruck when you met him?

It was amazing but sometimes, weirdly, you don’t get starstruck. When people are exactly in public what you see of them on screen and in making-of documentaries it’s just nicely reassuring. It’s like, “Oh, it’s like the man on the documentary, it’s exactly the same guy.” I felt like his excitable nephew. He was so sweet and he was very kind to me so it was amazing. That was a crazy experience and he even sent me a note on the first day of filming for Scott Pilgrim. He’s a gent.

Did you watch any of the instantly axed US version of Spaced?

Yeah, we did. I watched it with Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes and [producer] Nira Park. It was kind of upsetting. I don’t hold anything against the actors who were in it because it’s just a job to them. But it wasn’t just creative theft, it felt like identity theft in a weird way. It’s one thing to remake the show but they never consulted us at all. The weird thing about it all was that it brought home to us how personal the show was. It was like watching some strange, unfunny Xerox of our lives. It was a really surreal experience and not a pleasant one.

How’s The World’s End, the final instalment in your ‘Blood & Ice Cream trilogy’ coming along?

Once this is done I’m going to collapse dead, then I’m going to resurrect myself later in the year and get writing on a bunch of stuff including that, which should be fun.

Did you get any free Cornettos after they were mentioned in Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead?

We got a whole bunch of strawberry Cornettos at the Shaun Of The Dead premiere so we mentioned them again in Hot Fuzz and got nothing. Come on Wall’s.

Maybe you could change to Soleros?

(Laughs) Maybe. We’ll try to mention Cornettos again in the next one to see if we can finally get free ones.

Picture: Rex Features