Simon Pegg’s life is one big adventure
Blockbuster hero Simon Pegg remarks that he doesn’t usually get recognised. In big, black-framed specs, jeans and khaki cap, he could, frankly, be anybody.
He tells me in his deep voice that he actually hasn’t appeared in the newspapers for ages until about a week ago when one of the tabloids ran a picture of him in a Crouch End park picking up a dropping deposited by his schnauzer, Minnie, with the caption “Pegg in the Poo” or something equally tasteless.
“How can they possibly have known it was me,” he chortles. “It was a picture of what looks like a builder’s bum and a dog in a park.”
Pegg, 41 on Valentine’s Day when his latest film, Paul, is released, is a very funny man.
Far from the hapless or lovelorn image he portrays on screen in his films like Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, he and his best buddies, actor/writer Nick Frost and director/writer Edgar Wright, have created an entire genre of British quirky adventure humour which has put his local Crouch End pub on the international map (as in zombie film Shaun Of The Dead) and the West Country on the American tourist trail (as in cop flick Hot Fuzz set in the most crime-free village in Britain). Their films reference the quirky and revere it, rather than poking fun at it.
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His new film is Paul. Pegg and Frost play two English sci-fi and comic book geeks on a road trip which takes them to America’s UFO heartland.
There they accidentally end up on the run with an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who has been hanging out for the past 60 years at a top secret military base. In a fumbling attempt to return Paul to his mother ship, their best intentions are foiled by Sigourney Weaver, a vision in a silver evening dress who, as she puts it, “gets squished by a spaceship”.
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It all sounds a big mad but it’s actually very funny.
“We made the film in Nevada and New Mexico and were aware that, as a girl behind a caf� counter told us, ‘Folks see strange things around here,’ says Pegg.
“When a couple of guys came into the caf� and looked like they were going to kill us, we suddenly became very English and said, ‘Let’s go’, and shot out of the door. We put the men and the barmaid into the film, though.”
Pegg reckons their films are sort of love letters or homages to the Steven Spielberg and George A. Romero genre of films, from zombies to cops and aliens.
Both Pegg and Frost have just been working on Spielberg’s latest film The Adventures Of Tintin (which also stars Pegg’s Crouch End neighbour actor Andy Serkis). After listening on set to Spielberg’s stories about E.T. and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, they asked him if he’d like to do a cameo in their humble little film.
“We were amazed seeing him work and were quite in awe of him. Yet we could hardly stop him, he was so keen to have a go and he actually performed some lines with Seth (as Paul) for us!”
Pegg seems to have an ability to be at home both here and in America. He loves working over there and is currently working in Canada but is a homeboy for months on end, he says, when writing at his house in Crouch End where he lives with his wife Maureen and their little daughter.
He is also writing the third in what he calls his “blood and ice-cream trilogy”.
“I love London. But Los Angeles, which is superficial and gets a lot of flak, it is also a place where you get things done.
“Film is part of their culture and, nowadays, when you go to work on a film there you can find the director of photography and the lighting guy are British because that’s where the work is.”
He has had an interestingly chequered film career. The director J.J. Abrams saw Shaun Of The Dead and cast him in Mission Impossible III, as Benji Dunn, an IMF technician who assists Tom Cruise’s character (he will reprise the role in the next instalment) and it went from there. And, with his passion for movies and humour, he is becoming something of a Hollywood player.
“When I was small, I had fantasies about being in films, but not as an actor.
“I fantasised about being the characters. It was all about being Indiana Jones’s helper or being Tarzan or being Anakin Skywalker.”
Born in Gloucestershire, his father was a piano salesman, who wanted to be a musician, and his mother was a civil servant, who loved amateur dramatics.
When his parents divorced, the family went to live in a village where there was a trust to send talented children to art school.
He got the grant and, at 16, went to study theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon and then drama at Bristol University, where he set up a comedy club with fellow student David Walliams, of Little Britain fame.
In the 90s, he moved to London and performed on the stand-up comedy circuit and got to tour abroad. He met Frost, 38, an aspiring stand-up, working in a Mexican restaurant where Pegg’s (then) girlfriend also worked.
He penned a role for Frost in Spaced, a sitcom set in north London’s bedsit land and recruited his friends and former collaborator Wright, 36, to direct.
Shown on Channel 4, the series acquired a rabid following and, after two seasons, they decided to start work on Shaun Of The Dead.
“We’ve discovered that geek culture is pretty easy,” he says. “When we sit down to write, generally we talk a lot of rubbish but then something comes.
“If one of us feels the other hasn’t had an idea for a while, we can get a bit grumpy, but I love writing with Nick and Edgar.”
Pegg says he tries to write for five months a year because he doesn’t want to be “lured into the fun of acting” – just lured into the fun of making people laugh.
o Paul (15) is released in cinemas on February 14.