After doing journeyman work on the short-lived Channel 4 cult comedy Spaced, pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost teamed up with their director Edgar Wright to make the modestly-budgeted, genre-smashing, Shaun of the Dead. What happened next is the stuff of movie geek fantasy. That film, with its blend of snappy comedy and surprising horror, became a cult classic, and cemented the trio as Britain’s new movie brats and made them instant hot properties in Hollywood. Their follow-up to Shaun, part two of what Wright dubbed the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” (after the UK’s equivalent to the Drumstick), was Hot Fuzz, a send-up of the strained buddy cop genre. In The World’s End, out next Friday and the trilogy’s finale, Pegg and Frost reunite as part of a group of childhood friends who reunite in their hometown to complete the epic pub crawl they never finished as young lads. Of course, things are not what they seem, and what initially begins as a love letter to pints and pubs, quickly descends into the chaos Wright and Pegg’s scripts have become known for. We caught up with the trio in a San Francisco hotel room to discuss their unique friendship, their drinking habits, and the ‘Britishness’ of their films.
You just came from Comic-Con. It’s quite the consumer orgy down there these days. How was it?
Edgar: It was fun actually. It felt a lot more relaxed, this one, than the other ones. The panel felt relaxing in a nice way. It didn’t feel like there was any sort of studio mandated agenda.
Nick: We were first up too, and I think there’s kind of like that thing where you say “Oh, I hope it’s full.” Then we got up there and it was rammed. It was like, “Oh this is great!” It’s a bit less dangerous than the first time.
E: It was actually our first time together at Comic-Con. I think people assumed that we’d been there before and we’d actually never been on stage together.
N: We did our first appearance in Ballroom 20.
A friend of mine was eating a Magnum ice cream bar a few days ago and she asked if I’d had a Cornetto, so naturally I though of you three. What flavor was the Cornetto in The World’s End?
E: Mint! It used to be my favorite one.
N: The last remaining of the original flavors.
The World’s End is all about nostalgia and how hard it is to move forward in life. Why move forward when you could just stay where you are?
E: When you could be back in the dark ages. Enjoy the mist! Enjoy the endless winters!
Can you ever imagine a future where you three wouldn’t be friends?
S: I can imagine it, but it would be a horrible thing.
N: I can imagine it, yeah, sh*t happens, innit. Human beings are idiots, so, yeah.
E: We’ve never made that much money to fall out over.
S: It’s a key ingredient.
E: That would be the key thing in any bad partnership. It’s always going to be money.
N: Money or women. [looks at Simon]
E: We’ve never fallen out over a woman.
N: We’ve actually fallen out over a woman. [To Simon] I liked her and then you got with her.
What kind of woman was she?
N: She was a very beautiful Alabaster-skinned Australian girl with red hair, and I fancied her, but she didn’t fancy me and he got with her.
Then what happened?
N: We had a bit of a falling out over it, and then, we got over it.
The film is about a pub crawl, on the surface at least, so there’s a lot of drinking in it. Simon, are you still off the sauce? You look good.
S: Yeah, I haven’t had a drink in three years. I got married and I had a kid and I turned 40 and I thought, “I’d like to subtract this from my life.” The experiment went very, very well, and I’m still with it. I’m enjoying it thoroughly.
How about you two?
E: I still drink, but luckily I’m a massive lightweight, so the idea of drinking 12 beers would be medically impossible. That idea is where the film becomes a fantasy. I couldn’t drink 12 pints of anything.
N: You’d have to have an overflow valve where it would come pouring out.
E: That’s where we get into pure fantasy. I think the thing is: I attempted to do a pub crawl when I was 19, and it went sort of enjoyably wrong, and the fact that I never did it always gnawed at me. Then later with Simon and Nick, I tried to do it again, but it was pathetic. That’s when it struck me that there was rich comic potential.
So in a way it’s your unrealized fantasy to complete the pub crawl to The World’s End.
S: I think for my character, it’s the only thing that will bring him happiness. I think the terminal goal is that he’s never done anything that would amount to anything when he was young. This pub crawl becomes the entire focus of his existence because it will give him some meaning, some purpose, and he has none of that in his life. To the detriment of himself, and all his friends, and even when his life is falling down he keeps going, he’s so determined. That’s very much the behavior of someone driven by an addiction, and that’s what Gary is.
Does the film have anything to do with your unrealized pub trivia short La Triviatta?
S: No no, that was another pub-based thing. Nick and I, in the same pub that spawned The Winchester [from Shaun of the Dead], we used to do a pub quiz there, and we had an idea to do a series that kind of took place in real time, on Thursday night at 9:30, that was like half hour slices of a pub quiz. We got down to about where we were about to cast it and we weren’t particular happy with how it was developing and then we did Hot Fuzz and forgot about it.
Do you think The World’s End is the most stereotypically ‘British’ of the trilogy?
E: More British than Shaun of the Dead? How’s that possible?
S: I think it’s because the zombie film is traditionally an American genre. The modern zombie film was created by George Romero. The action film is a huge American tradition, whereas science fiction isn’t necessarily such an American thing. We have a great tradition of science fiction in the UK, and we drew on our own science fiction history; you’ll see as much John Wyndham as Invasion of the Body Snatchers in this one. I disagree in terms of the preoccupation with Britishness, I think there’s a more American slant on the two, but this one, perhaps, is more [British] even in terms of genre.
The music also spoke to the secret Anglophile that I thought I left behind in high school. There are so many familiar songs from the Britpop explosion in the early ‘90s. It’s almost a period piece. Was the song choice part of the process of creating the film or something that happened along the way?
E: That was something that drove the writing of the piece. Some of the songs are written into the script and become very key.
I think I heard Simon quote the intro to a Happy Mondays song in there somewhere.
E: We even used it in a bit of the fighting. We liked the idea that Gary’s brain is so drug-and drink-addled that starts to think that he came up with the lyrics himself. Like at some point he starts quoting The Soup Dragons as if he made it up. Then later, in the middle of a fight–I’m not sure anybody noticed this one–but he actually quotes a Happy Mondays lyric as advice. He says “Twist the melon man!” He quotes the lyrics of “Step On” by the Happy Monday as fighting advice!
Gary seems to be obsessed in particular with the Sisters of Mercy, so much so that he has their logo tattooed on his chest. Why did you make Gary such a huge Sisters fan?
S: Because I was a big Sisters of Mercy fan when I was Gary’s age. And I wanted Gary to be like I was—a big goth. I wanted to pay tribute to them because Andrew Eldritch was my hero.