By A.C. Ferente and Stephen Jewell
The World’s End caps the “Three Flavours Cornetto” Trilogy for Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, but this is no swan song for the fab trio.
Few films deliver the goods as well as Shaun of the Dead, the pitch-perfect 2004 rom-zom-com that put Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg on the radar of U.S. fans eager to embrace characters who reflected their own sensibilities while celebrating genre conventions. Not since Young Frankenstein 30 years earlier had we laughed so hard at what is ostensibly a horror film. And it figures that these veterans of the smart Brit genre-flavored comedy series Spaced would accomplish such a lofty goal.
The trio returned in 2007 with the jokey police actioner Hot Fuzz, which proved they had a true formula for success and creatively expanded upon – yet did not merely exploit – the unique universe established in Shaun.
Their latest, the sci-fi comedy The World’s End, looks to the past to tell the story of Gary (Pegg), a fortysomething underachiever still pining to relive his teenage years when he did a pub crawl with his old best friends. He’s lost touch with them, but manages to reunite the crew for a midlife crisis adventure that goes horribly wrong and involves space aliens that overtake their hometown. “It’s like The Station Agent with aliens,” Nick Frost describes. “[Both Shaun and this] are love stories about relationships crumbling and also society crumbling behind that. Life goes on while the big shit happens, while you take care of the little shit.”
Even though the three films’ characters and scenarios are different, “we wanted people to see these as a series,” Pegg says. “We wanted to make a joke that worked across three disparate movies, which I don’t think has been done.”
Yet one particular joke that directly links the three pictures is that each features a character purchasing and eating a different flavor of Cornetto ice cream cone, hence, the “Three Flavours” – strawberry red for the bloody Shaun, the original blue for the cops of Hot Fuzz and mint green for the alien invaders of World’s End.
Despite the end-of-the-world scenario rumbling beneath the surface of The World’s End, the world isn’t ending for actor Simon Pegg. Rather, his new film (which he co-wrote with director Edgar Wright) actually feels like a new beginning for the actor.
For 10 years, Pegg has played numerous good-natured blokes trying to navigate through a complicated world. Whether it’s Shaun in Shaun of the Dead, who realizes he needs to grow up, or Scotty, the always-helpful engineer in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, Pegg is always the guy you root for and love to like.
Yet with The World’s End, Pegg plays a completely different bloke than he’s tackled before: class-A douchebag Gary King. “We wanted Gary to be the hero and the villain,” says Pegg, calling Geek from Shanghai while filming Hector and the Search for Happiness. “Gary is a schemer, and you like him because he’s bad. He’s a bit Machiavellian, and he’s a dick, but you kind of like him.”
As for wrapping up the Cornetto Trilogy, “it was fun to make a series of three films that are thematic sequels, but not with the same characters, but were linked by a similar approach to filmmaking,” Pegg says. “They were all set in the U.K. and they’re about being in the U.K. and affected by American culture. We grew up consuming the American zombie and action movies. We never really wanted to make comments on those movies. They weren’t parodies, but they were all about our relationship to them.”
Here, Pegg touches upon his work on his new film, his feelings on spoilers, being part of the Star Trek universe, and why he hopes this won’t be the last film he works on with Frostand Wright.
GEEK: One of the things I took away from the footage I saw of The World’s End is how tragic it actually is. Gary is perhaps one of the most sad and pathetic characters I’ve ever seen in a mainstream-esque comedy.
Pegg: Gary was extremely fun to play, because he’s very funny and there’s never a point where you realize it’s underpinned by something extremely tragic and wrong. He keeps this level of manic energy fizzing all the time, because if he stops for a second, he’ll just implode. It was a very fun character to play. It was nice to be the force of chaos for a change, as opposed to being a straight center.
GEEK: When did you realize there was a certain chemistry between you, Nick and Edgar?
Pegg: I was jobbing as a standup and Nick was working at a restaurant. He sort of expressed a vague interest in standup, so I took him out to a couple of gigs. That’s how we met. My girlfriend introduced me to him and said, “This guy is funny.” And he was the funniest person I knew. I was a comic and a lot of my friends were supposedly funny people and Nick, this waiter, was funnier than any of them. I was straight with him. I said, “You should do something,” even though he didn’t really enjoy standup. So when [the TV show] Spaced came about, I wrote a part for Nick. I worked with Edgar previously on a series called Asylum and we became friends, so when we decided we wanted him to direct Spaced, it was the best decision I ever made. I told Edgar, “There’s this guy I want to be in this show; he’s my best friend.” I think he met Nick and Edgar was like, “He’s never acted before; it’s a big part.” And I said, “I promise you it will be good.” And that’s how we all worked together. When Nick came on, he was nervous and quite embarrassed at first, briefly, but he got into it. When it came to Shaun of the Dead, we brought Nick along as well, as my best pal, because we had a natural chemistry we developed. The experience was so much fun we decided to do it again and again. There’s nothing more fun than working with people who you have a complete and utter 100% connection with and that’s the case here.
GEEK: Since Gary pines for the past, is there anything you pine for or miss that you wish you could recapture?
Pegg: I’m much more realistic than Gary. I have the ability to move on and this propulsion, I think, is necessary in life. The trouble with Gary is he was happy once, and he only focuses on that time – that’s all he has. Whereas I have personally been through a lot, I enjoy life and the pursuit of happiness and look to the future, but I never look back on old times fondly thinking, “I wish I was there.” We were shooting Shaun of the Dead almost exactly 10 years ago. Even though it was a heady time and wonderful experience, I don’t crave being there. I’m very happy with the way things have gone and the position I am in as a filmmaker. You go through the shit and get over it. I’m a very happy 40-year-old man. I love being here; I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I don’t have that awful yearning Gary has. The trouble is Gary had that one night, and the line at the beginning is so super, super tragic when he says, “I knew things would never be as good again.” He says it like it’s a terrible, terrible thing.
GEEK: The first half of The World’s End plays very much like an English comedy-drama; how science fiction-y is the rest of the film?
Pegg: Gary and the gang are desperate from stopping it from becoming a science fiction thing. Gary is still about the crawl and he has to finish it and the thing at the moment is bigger than his own obsession, and so he manages to convince the rest of the gang to continue and obviously start something that spirals into absolute chaos, and the drunker they get, the more determined they are to stay on course.