Beam me up Scotty! It’s the first of our Star Trek interviews…
Well, pretty much anything he wants, given that young Mr. Pegg has gone from movie fanboy to working with the likes of Spielberg and, eh, Spock in four short years.
We’ve hardly sat down in our chairs at Claridge’s Hotel in London when Simon Pegg tells me that he wants to get something off his chest.
“I don’t have red hair,” he says flatly. To be fair, I had joked that he’s only allowed on-screen for half of his latest venture, the $150m reboot that is Star Trek, because, well, he’s got red hair. And that’s a no-no in Hollywood. Unless you’re a fiery minx. Like Amy Adams. So, what colour is Simon Pegg’s hair?
“It’s kinda like dirty brown,” he answers. “I dye it a bit blonde, because it’s slightly more interesting. I’ve got a red beard. Also, when we did Shaun Of The Dead, Shaun was going to be blonde, and I went to the hairdressers to get it done, and they messed it up.
“And so, on the first day, with the grading of the film, it became very ginger. And it’s become this thing – I’ve become adopted by the gingers. I don’t mind! They’re a lovely bunch of people, but, you know, I’m just not actually one of them. If you get my drift.”
Indeed I do. Ginger-hater. It’s hard to believe that it was a little over four years ago when the very fine zombie comedy – or zomromcom, as Pegg and his co-writer/director, Edgar Wright, have dubbed it – Shaun Of The Dead propelled its leading man from self-confessed movie geek to playing a Thompson Twin alongside his longtime best bud and regular co-star, Nick Frost, in Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin: Secret Of The Unicorn.
The transformation from wide-eyed Gloucester lad to Hollywood player began with a supporting role in 2006’s Mission: Impossible III, Pegg famously having joked during the promotional tour of Shaun Of The Dead that his life was hardly going to change so much that he would, hey, end up with a role in the new Mission: Impossible movie.
The director of that little box-office behemoth, J.J. Abrams, naturally thought of his good friend Simon when it came to casting the role of Scotty in his attempt to give the Star Trek franchise the kiss of life. Abrams – the brains behind such hits as Alias, Lost and Cloverfield – pulled together a fresh young cast to play Captain James T. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and the rest of the gang on the good ship U.S.S. Enterprise as he explored their formative years. And he was determined to have a little fun in the process. And that meant calling upon a funny guy like Simon Pegg.
“Once I started working with everybody, it was like, I’ve got to step up to the plate here, because they’re all really, really good. And they’re all really young, and good-looking.”
Pegg lets out a laugh.
“I’ve really got to pull something out of the bag here. When I got to shoot my first scene, I realised that I was going to have to work really hard.”
Luckily for Pegg, Abrams and everyone else involved in the economically-titled Star Trek, the film is a winner, and the planned 2011 sequel is pretty much guaranteed. Originally airing from September 8th 1966 to September 2nd, 1969, Gene Roddenberry’s ‘Wagon Train to the stars’ was initially a flop with audiences, only building its fanbase through ten years of syndication. Since that shaky beginning, Star Trek has spawned ten movies (the first being 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture), a string of new TV series (kicking off with 1987’s The Next Generation, and continuing with Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise). By the time 2002’s Nemesis (the least successful of the big-screen outings) came around, the franchise went into hibernation. Ever the fanboy, Pegg was there, every step of the way.
“I was seven when Star Wars hit,” he says, “and I was exactly the right age for that movie. It had a seismic effect on me, and it also engendered a love of science fiction in me, which I’d kinda had before. And Star Trek, the TV series, was slightly more grown-up, and a little more cerebral – necessitated by the fact that they didn’t have much money. It became almost like a Play Of The Week in space.
“They had these crazy, amazing adventures that were far more intellectual really than Star Wars was, so, as I got older, I grew to love Star Trek. When I say older, I was nine when I was avidly watching Star Trek, on weekdays, on BBC2 at six o’clock. I remember it very clearly.”
So, getting to play the ship’s engineer, Scotty, was plainly an emotional experience for Pegg. How does one deliver such iconic lines as “Captain, the engines canna take it!” without slipping into panto though?
“I think if you say it with a knowing wink, then it’s going to be spoilt, but if you say it with one-hundred-percent conviction to the fact that ‘the engines canna take it’, or ‘it’s going to blow’, or ‘you canna defy the laws of physics’, then that line is going to hit even harder, and more spectacularly.
“I do get to say some great Scotty lines in the film, and I had a friend of mine who went to the Austin screening, where they screened it a bunch of Star Trek fans who thought they were going to see The Wrath Of Khan, and they got to see the new Star Trek instead. I heard it got a round of applause, when I got to say my line, which is great. Because you have to say it like it’s going to happen. It’s too easy to make fun of fantasy. The reason Star Trek is maligned by people who don’t understand it is because they’re not prepared to go with it, and that’s the great thing about a story like Star Trek. If you go with it, it’s great fun.”
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