Thanks to Shaun of The Dead and Spaced, Simon Pegg will be forever cool. Now, he just has to live up to them. Paul Byrne pulls up a couch.
A self-confessed movie geek, when Shaun Of The Dead became the coolest big-screen bonanza of 2004, Simon Pegg pretty much hit the Lotto jackpot on Christmas Day whilst the twins of his dreams made him breakfast. His favourite breakfast.
“It was dizzying, absolutely,” says the Brockworth boy now. “To be suddenly responsible for one of those movies that you yourself would have gone nuts over, well, it was like every dream I’d ever had just all coming true at once. It didn’t take me long though to start thinking, well, how do you follow that?”
In many ways, Simon Pegg has had that Stephen’s Day feeling ever since. The creeping notion that he might have already peaked, and from hereon in, it was all going to be downhill. And leftovers. Thankfully, 2007’s Hot Fuzz – which reunited Pegg with his acting buddy Nick Frost and his directing and co-writing buddy Edgar Wright – was something of a hoot. Just not as much of a hoot as Shaun Of The Dead. Which may explain why the trio have all been busy doing other things over the last three years.
Wright went off and directed this year’s slightly too-cool-for-school Scott Pilgrim vs The World whilst Frost proved he was more than just a chubby sidekick by tackling the lead role in a recent TV adaptation of Martin Amis’ 1984 novel Money. Frost was nonetheless also content to play the chubby sidekick in Richard Curtis’ hugely unfunny Radio Caroline tribute The Boat That Rocked, amongst others.
For his part, Pegg proved himself a Hollywood fave, popping up in 2006’s Mission: Impossible III (after Ricky Gervais dropped out), making his American big-screen lead debut with 2008’s misfiring How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, getting it right as Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott in the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, and signing up for the latest installments in two major franchises, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs and The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader (out on December 10th).
Not that these old bedsit buddies have turned their back on one another entirely. The Pegg/Frost double-act reunited both for Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn (playing Thompson and Thomson, respectively) and Greg Mottola’s sci-fi comedy Paul (which the duo scripted). And then there’s the third installment of Pegg, Frost and Wright’s genre-ribbing Ice Cream Trilogy, tentatively titled World’s End. Hmm, wonder what genre that might be sending up?
PAUL BYRNE: So, I think it would be fair to say that you’ve been a busy boy of late…
SIMON PEGG: Very busy, but all for a good cause. Me, basically. There seems to be a ton of stuff coming out right now, but that’s the nature of the business. You can be burrowing away for two years, and suddenly, the four projects you worked on during all that time decide they all like the same weekend when it comes to their big debut.
This weekend you have Burke And Hare hitting cinemas, with the great John Landis – the man behind An American Werewolf In London, The Blues Brothers and Animal House – coming out of semi-retirement to direct. How was it for you?
Well, as a movie geek, having John Landis direct you in a movie about real-life grave-robbers, it was a deep and meaningful experience. And a lot of fun. I play William Burke and Andy Serkis plays William Hare, and it’s quite a dark piece really. The humour is there, buried deep – if you’ll excuse the pun. If the film is just half as good as An American Werewolf In London, well, we haven’t done our job. We should be funnier than that.
You’ve also got your debut as a novelist hitting the bookshelves, the aptly-titled autobiography Nerd Do Well. You chart your early days, being a Raleigh kid in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, the stand-up years, the breakthrough with your sublime sitcom Spaced, the Shaun Of The Dead explosion. Which is all very surprising, given how infamously private you are about your private life…
Well, if you’re going to be private about your private life, throwing a book out there that reveals all you’re happy to reveal is probably the best way to do that. I don’t want to have my life picked at, piece by piece, by journalists, as they try and jigsaw together my life story. I’d rather just present it as I remember it, without any headline twists or exclamation marks where they don’t belong.
It’s also a good money-spinner, of course – everyone who’s almost someone has got an autobiography clogging up the bookshelves these days.
Yeah, and I just thought it was time that I was up there amongst them, representing the not-so-shiny celebrity without the perfect teeth and the incredible boob job. Although I’m sure that’s coming. Give it time, give it time…
You normally throw your dog, Minnie, into the firing line, often giving out quote after quote about how she likes to eat socks rather than reveal anything about your missus or your offspring.
And that’s how it should be, don’t you think? I don’t want my wife picking up a copy of Heat to see something about her splashed across a pic of a recent supermarket visit. If you put any fuel out there, it will catch fire, and you won’t be able to put it out, because it will be recycled and rehashed right up until the day you don’t sell magazines anymore. And that will come sooner if you give out details of your private life. I’d rather, you know, fade away than burn out.
Little chance of fading away right now, given the amount of movies you have coming our way, but the one most of your hardcore fans will want to know about is your reunion with Edgar and Nick. You’re not going to tell me anything about the plot, are you?
No, I’m not. At all. It’s that old trick of living up to what’s gone before, and that’s daunting. We know that Shaun Of The Dead is loved, and that Hot Fuzz was loved too, but just not as much. Can one live up to that first kiss again, that first flush of youthful exuberance? It’s a question that every artist faces – every artist who has ever made something truly loved that is – and all you can do is do your best. In the end, if you’re laughing, hopefully the audience will be laughing too. I think that’s really all you can do in these situations – make sure that you find it funny. At least then, when you’re old, you can still chuckle away at your work…
Words – Paul Byrne
Nerd Do Well is in bookshops now/Burke And Hare is now showing in cinemas