“Right.” Nick Frost kicks off, wielding a red Sharpie.“Who’s doing the horoscopes?”
Awkward titters abound. The art team furiously jot zodiac signs in their notepads. This isn’t a guest edit. This is a takeover. And, even though he professes to “winging it”, Frost has some serious news. “As you know, print media is in the sh*t, so we’re going to have to let some of you go.”
Simon Pegg steps in. No one’s leaving. “We’ve got a magazine to put out!” Later, Britain’s foremost movie-riffing comedy duo will express concern at our appearance – “They looked under-nourished. Really pale,” says Pegg – but that can be put down to a fear for our livelihoods. Pegg and Frost’s latest, The World’s End, sees them battling the inhabitants of a home counties new town besieged by a human-body-assuming alien robot network. Our magazine is in the hands of fairly unhinged minds.
But they are the bosses, and must be respected, and so for the editorial meeting, the ShortList team has gathered to humbly ask for decisions on what goes into the issue from our glorious leaders. This involves them having to taste-test every obscuro-flavoured speciality popcorn in the land (Crispy Bacon And Maple Syrup, anyone?) for our Chosen Few section, leaf through shiny comic-book tomes in tandem for our PlayList page, test a Snoop Dogg (Lion, whatever) G-funk kung fu app for our Exec Tech page, and even sniff this summer’s fragrances directly off the body parts of our deputy news editor Joe Ellison (Or ‘NoteBook’, as they dub him, ‘mistaking’ his section for his name).
It is an office show and tell of intergalactic proportions – and, as you’ll see from the rest of this issue, it’s a task which the hilarious, knowledgeable, piss-taking, and surprisingly rigorous eds (particularly when it came to popcorn eating) had a ball with.
Collective breath is held as the pair are presented the cover options. How will the famously man-childish geeks take to looking sombre and suited across the country’s news-stands? Our art director’s ensuing sigh of relief as Frost pronounces his approval is likely audible from space. “It’s like we just stumbled out of the Politburo,” he notes. “We both look good. Let’s go with it.”
END OF DAYS
After the meeting, and a quick all-staff photo, I sit the boys down for their interview. The World’s End rounds off the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, which united Pegg, Frost and their lion-haired director compadre Edgar Wright for a holy trinity of homage-full genre-busters, each defined by a distinct flavour of the Italo-dittied dairy cone. Pegg explains, “Trilogy is a very lofty word, which is often misused, but it’s nice to have been able to finish three things. We’ll be forever haunted by the fact that we never did three seasons of Spaced.”
If 2004’s Shaun Of The Dead was a strawberry melee of zombie-munched blood and guts, and 2007’s Hot Fuzz was the original flavour, aligning a blue wrapper with the movie’s police references, then The World’s End is mint choc-chip, in reference to the little green men (in truth they’re neither green, nor men) twisting their melons in an attempt to take over Earth. “The next thing we do, it might not have any ice cream in.” Pegg predicts of his future with his buddies. “It might be sorbet,” answers Frost. “Or fro-yo.”
And the three have gone out with a trope-ticking bang. The World’s End is definitely Pegg and Wright bringing their screenplay A-game: apocalypse, alien invasion, action and antipathy. And they’ve still found time for one last garden-fence hurdling mishap.
The premise: Gary King (Pegg) – once the most popular kid in the comprehensive, now a thinning addict who can’t let go of the glory years – reunites his schoolyard gang for one final stab at Newton Haven’s legendary golden mile pub crawl. Until they unwittingly stumble into an other-worldly plot at dominating mankind, in the vein of The Day Of The Triffids or Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.
The music of The World’s End’s golden era is as central as with any of their films. Planted firmly in the ‘heyday years’ between 1988 and 1992 as much as Gary himself, expect Inspiral Carpets, The Stone Roses and… Kylie Minogue? “There were songs that I rediscovered, that at the time I would have probably turned my nose up at, which were pretty good, such as Step Back In Time,” notes DJ Pegg, swiftly switching back to a more credible, forgotten rap gem 20 Seconds To Comply by Silver Bullet as the song-choice he is “most pleased with”.
The action comes courtesy of a series of “rigorous” fight scenes, designed by one of Jackie Chan’s stunt team, in which the devil-may-care Gary and his disappointed ex-best-friend Andy (Frost) bat off face-palming intimidations from the townsfolk. After the live weaponry of Hot Fuzz, The World’s End takes the boys back to hand-to-hand combat. Pegg says he learned all he knows, not from the stunt team, but from Michael Smiley (aka Spaced’s raving bike courier Tyres), who plays drug-dealing surrender-monkey Reverend Green in the film. “He grew up in Belfast, and he taught me that if you do get in a fight, to end it as quickly as possible. So go for the eyes, or the balls, or the neck.”
Frost is equally nihilist in his thoughts on the art of war: “It’s not romantic, fighting. You see a lot in the media, and you think ‘that’s amazing’, but in reality you could kill someone with one punch. That’s why I was never a good fighter, because I always thought about that.” So would they crush an opponent with a cuddle, not a KO then? Pegg is sticking to Smiley’s law: “I’d go for a kick in the balls probably.” “The best fighters don’t give a sh*t,” says Frost. “They just kick you in the balls. Or spray them with Ralgex.” First opponents: a group of hoodies, soon identified as brain-wiping humanoid mean machines. Pegg sees parallels between this “almost parental” teen-beatdown, and similar youth stand-offs in their other screen outings. “This has been a concern of ours, right back to Spaced. We tried to do something in Hot Fuzz with it, and there’s a moment in Shaun Of The Dead. We’ve always been fascinated by the idea of being superseded by the next generation.”
The film actually works as a coming together of their generation. They had a blast, bringing middle-aged bromance to Middle England, with their ‘Five Musketeers’ including Hot Fuzz old muckers Martin Freeman and the “very naughty” Paddy Considine (“He is hot. He’s an attractive man,” observes Frost), as well as Frost’s Snow White And The Huntsman digitised-fellow dwarf, Eddie Marsan.
Bringing such an in-demand line-up together for a few pints is a challenge. “We all live in different places: Eddie in LA because he’s doing [Showtime drama] Ray Donovan. Paddy lives up-country. Martin’s in Hobbiton,” Pegg admits. “These days, making a film together is as much a way to hang out with each other as make a living.”
The flashback scenes in the film were, some might say, kind to all the men. “I did particularly well. Thomas Law is a very good looking boy,” notes Pegg on his teenage casting upgrade. So was he a perennially trench-coated cheerful goth like Gary King in his teens? “I had a leather jacket and very ripped jeans with black leggings underneath. So I was a complete goth.”
Frost however, wasn’t your average Andy by the end of the Eighties. “I was at the forefront of the rave explosion.
I used to make my own flares with denim inserts. Lot of Joe Bloggs T-shirts. Global Hypercolour.” Spaced’s white-gloved Mike Le Watt triumphantly unpins an air-grenade with his teeth somewhere in the recesses of my mind.
Recounting the making of the film, there’s the sense that perhaps they’ve not quite come to terms with this being the end of an era. “I’m a ‘move forward’ type of guy.” Frost contemplates. But they’re quick to assure us there will be more Pegg, Frost and Wright productions. “It’s not bye-bye, but now we can do something else.” Pegg notes that watching the film with an audience may bring on a tear, but admits to a “great sense of closure.”
EVERY GUY SHOULD DO IT
But even if it does mean the end of a very fun adventure, Pegg is absolute in his belief that “friendship endures”. He and Frost have been tight since their very-early-twenties, friends a good seven years before they became synonymous with their roles as best mates in Spaced. Fatefully united by casual labour at a local Mexican restaurant chain (Chiquito, Staples Corner – worth a visit), they were introduced by Pegg’s former girlfriend who waitressed there, noting a rebel humour alliance between her boyfriend and wannabe stand-up colleague Frost.
“You looked different when I first met you, though. The librarians phase,” says Frost. Pegg agrees. “I looked very staid. I’d been with that girl for like five years, and essentially I became very beige – brown DMs, cords – I lost all my flair. It wasn’t her fault.” Frost nods shamefully.
“There were lots of cardigans. And tank tops.”
Placing the moment he knew as the junction of Cricklewood Lane and Cricklewood Broadway, Pegg reminisced, “after about two weeks of seeing each other every day, I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got a new friend, someone I really like. We just got it.” Frost was sold early on, too. “It frightened me. I didn’t want to let it go. I’d never felt like that with a man before.”
Soon after, when Simon became homeless after splitting acrimoniously from their matchmaker, the pair ended up sharing a bed for a few months in Nick’s over-crowded house-share. “I slept on Nick’s floor. Then he felt guilty and was like, ‘Why don’t you just get in?’” The fact comes up regularly in interviews, and both find it odd that it’s even vaguely a talking point. “Every guy should do it. Guys need to be less uptight. What are you frightened of?”
They may not sleep top and tail any more, living on opposite sides of London with their respective wives and children, but that hasn’t stopped them resolving to make each other laugh on a regular basis.
“We tend to text every day. Something ridiculous. Lots of swearing. Nick will just send me something out of the blue and he’ll know it’ll tickle me.” “Yeah.” Answers Frost. “A picture of one of my sh*ts.”
REPORTING FOR DUTY
That they dearly love each other’s company is immediately apparent just in the way they bounce off each other in the team meeting. However, I notice that outside the meeting, when it’s just the three of us munching our way through the remainder of the popcorn, that the impetus has shifted from Frost leading the charge, to Pegg being first off the conversational blocks. They complement each other’s flow perfectly, but I pose the controversial theory that Pegg is the positive half of the duo, while Frost is the naysayer.
“I would disagree with that. I’m just voicing an opinion that wasn’t positive.” Frost answers, wryly. “We’re journalists, so do we only print the positives? Or do we see both sides? I’m a realist.” Pegg furthers the pseudo Frost nixing. “I’m a fan of that old adage, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.’”
But it turns out they do really quite like it here at ShortList HQ. “There seemed to be a happiness in the air, which makes me think this might be a good place to work,” Pegg says.
“Well,” says Frost, “one of the guys passed me a little note that said ‘Please get me out of here.’”
So if they took up a permanent position, how would we expect to see them turned out? “As I’m getting older, I’m becoming more of a fan of the sartorial elegance,” muses Pegg, relaxed in a T-shirt, slim ankle-flashing chinos and notably, nodding to a new Hollywood finesse, no socks. “I would wear a nice light suit. Maybe not a tie. If I was in a position of power, I’d want to exude power. I wouldn’t want to look like a slovenly roustabout.”
So would Frost follow suit? “I like a cardigan, with a T-shirt. You can approach me,” he offers, like an academic office-hours invitation over his half-rimmed spectacles. “No, I’d probably go for a shirt. This kind of look in the cover pictures, that’s the best way to come in to work… Morning!”
It’s unlikely the pair will be taking up an editorial role any time soon – the press element of their job “often the hardest thing of all” – but there is one take-home sure to remind them that their foray into journalism wasn’t so bad: the scent of our deputy news editor. “NoteBook smelled really lovely by the end of it.” Pegg notes. “What’s not to love? Good sense of humour, smells good: he’ll get off with someone this evening.”
Setting the magazine to rights, and getting the staff laid. Their work here is done.
The World’s End is at cinemas nationwide from Friday