We caught up with the star of Peter Chelsom’s latest film…
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS is released in Irish cinemas this week. The film stars Simon Pegg as a man in the midst of a midlife crisis, who sets out to research what makes people happy, only to discover his own happiness along the way. We grabbed Simon Pegg for a quick chat about taking risks, happiness, and whether he will work with Edgar Wright and Nick Frost again…
How did it feel to go from something with the scale of STAR TREK, and something with the familiarity of THE WORLD’S END, to HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS?
Simon Pegg: It wasn’t a terrible leap! I really got on well with Peter Chelsom, who made the movie, and it’s nice to work with different people… I like working with my friends, obviously, that’s my favourite thing to do, but it’s also fun when you branch into pastures new; life outside your comfort zone. It was really really good fun, I really enjoyed it.
What drew you to the film?
SP: I really liked the script, and I really liked the director. Really, those two things are the only things you need to have in place as an actor to say yes. I met with the casting director, when I was in Los Angeles; I was at a dinner and they sort of appeared, and we had a chat. Then they said ‘There’s film we think you might be good for, let me talk to the producers’. The next day I got a call, I went and met Peter and it all happened. It was very serendipitous, but it felt as fate-like as it gets.
The film is based on a book by Francois Lelord, did you read it before you did the film, or deliberately steer clear?
SP: I decided to just approach the screenplay, there was enough in that to keep me going, and I didn’t particularly want to read the book and then start questioning the adaptation. I wanted to put my faith in the screenplay and just do that, so I didn’t read it prior to shooting the movie. It’s often the case with adaptations, that things can get complicated if you start flipping between the two. The script, I think, was an evolution from the book anyway, it had taken things and developed certain ideas. Peter and Tinker [Lindsay] – his co-writer – took it on another step, so I didn’t read the book.
Having lived in his comfort zone for a long time, Hector takes a lot of risks throughout the film, could you identify with him?
SP: Yes and no… He’s an interesting character in that he’s very unhappy at the start of the film – he perhaps doesn’t realise it, but he is – there is a consistency in his life which is slightly dissatisfying, so he feels the need to go off and seek out happiness elsewhere. I think I have my happiness; my happiness is at home. What he learns is your happiness has to be where you start from, not where you end up. I get it, I get why he does it, and I learned a lot from actually making the film; it consolidated a few of my ideas about what happiness is and how it’s achieved. He’s probably the least like me character I have played; I often play these perennial youths who can’t grow up, and although it’s not really me anymore, it’s someone what I have been in the past, whereas Hector is someone who completely rejected his childhood self, it’s not that he won’t grow up; he just grew up too early and never looked back.
When we spoke last year for THE WORLD’S END, you said that when you turned 40 you spent a lot of time looking back over your life, was this something that made you want to play Hector?
SP: That’s something he doesn’t really do; the one thing he’s not in touch with is his inner child, and I think that it’s important to remain in contact with that aspect of oneself, because your childhood is where you set all your emotional parameters. It’s where your first reaction to love, to abandonment, to relationships… Your opinions and emotional make up is created as a child, and it’s important to just remember all of that as you get older, otherwise you could get into real trouble. It’s where all of our coping devices are born… You have to know all of that stuff in order to understand ourselves as grownups, so it’s important for me to do that. The film taught me the importance of that.
You have great co-stars in the film; Stellan Skarsgard, Toni Colette and Rosamund Pike, what was it like for you to work with such an amazing cast?
SP: It was great, I felt very safe. It was great to be surrounded by such an amazing group of supporting actors. Every one of them is a lead actor; it was incredible to have that quality of support in the movie. Every one of them was a different adventure, and they were all a pleasure to work with, it’s really a relief, as an actor, when you meet people you have admired for a long time, and you discover that they’re everything you hoped they would be. I would say that about every single one of them, not least Christopher Plummer, who’s 83 years old and still pulling amazing performances out of the hat and managing to be a very generous and likeable human being.
You worked in some incredible places in the film, was this something you relished, or did you miss home?
SP: It’s exciting, I love travelling; it’s an amazing opportunity. You see things that tourists don’t often see, we will film in places where tourists wouldn’t go and have access to things that tourists wouldn’t necessarily have access to. It’s difficult being away from my family sometimes, it’s hard when you have a young child; you miss so much, even if you are away for a couple of weeks, so I have to manage that aspect of my job, which isn’t always easy. Thankfully, there are easier ways to be in contact, rather than just the telephone; there’s Skype and FaceTime. That can certainly be a help.
What do you hope audiences take from HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS?
SP: I hope they leave with a big smile on their face! I think the film flips quite happily between greetings card wisdom and much deeper, profound thoughts about the nature of happiness. There are ones that are very personal to Hector, and there are ones that are easy, and there are ones that are very, very true; like avoiding unhappiness is not the route to happiness. For me, that’s the key message of the film; in order to be happy, you have to know what it’s like to be unhappy, you can’t just be happy, that’s a very naïve thing to think that happiness is a state that you reach and never come back from. It’s not nirvana, it’s a side effect. It’s something that you have occasionally, and you must enjoy it because in order to enjoy it you have to go through the rest of it as well.
Throughout your career you have balanced indie films like HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS, with Hollywood blockbusters. Was this something you set out to do?
SP: I found myself doing it, and I feel very lucky because I love both sides of it. It’s not like I do one for ‘them’ and one for me. I enjoy doing the big blockbusters as much as I enjoy doing the smaller, edgier indie stuff. It’s a joy to be had in both those areas and I feel very lucky that I get to do them both. It’s enormous fun to go off and be Scotty or Benji in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and just make pure entertainment for a few months, and it’s great to get your teeth into something like HECTOR, which was a real challenge for me as an actor and as a person. There’s stuff to be had from both those things, that I think are equally valuable.
Do you, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright have any plans to work together again?
SP: Yeah, absolutely! It’s funny when people ask us about reuniting, because we are never apart! We are friends, and we see each other a lot! [laughs] I speak to Edgar as much as possible, he’s in LA and if I am over there we go for dinner and talk about what we’re gonna do next… Whether we will reunite professionally is the question, and the answer is absolutely! I hope to make films with those guys for the rest of my life. That’s my most happy state; to be making films with those guys, because it just feels so comfortable, and I feel like they bring out the best in me. We’ll work together again as soon as we get the chance.
Finally, what’s next for you?
SP: Well I am just starting the training process for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 5 so I am beating people up… [laughs] Also, I have a couple of other films coming out soon; BOXTROLLS is an animation I did with Laika Studios, which I think people are going to absolutely love. Also a film called KILL ME THREE TIMES, which will be out soon, it’s an Australian thriller, which I had a huge amount of fun making. It’s a busy time at the moment!
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS is released in Irish cinemas on August 15th.
Words: Brogen Hayes