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 Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to discuss their collaborative writing process, Hollywood’s money problem, and the perfect pub.
Simon, you must have ideas all the time for different films. How do you know when an idea is worth pursuing to completion?
SIMON PEGG: I think in the case with these films, it’s usually if Edgar and I are both on board and if it’s something that inspires us both. We’d been travelling from Wellington to Sydney, and we’d both been thinking about going home, and that odd sense of alienation and familiarity you experience almost simultaneously, these contradictory feelings that you get. And we’d been back to the west country to make Hot Fuzz, so we’d experienced that odd sense of returning home. And Edgar had this script that he had written when he was 19, which was a celebration of young guys on a night out. He’d always been slightly frustrated because he’d never made that movie.
When did they come to you with this idea, Nick?
NICK FROST: Well it’s never the case of them coming to me. We’re always together in terms of things like that. I don’t like to ask too much. They tell me what they want to tell me and I know I’m going to be the first one that gets the script. I just get it when I get it.
When you say that you two are always together, how are you together when it doesn’t involve work?
FROST: We’re best mates. We have been for 20 years. I think the hard thing about getting to a point that we are in our lives, where we both work separately…
You both have families.
FROST: We both have families. We live in different parts of the city. It gets harder to see each other. But we always try to find time when we can. We spend most holidays together. We text constantly.
It must be wild to be able to get to do this kind of thing with your best friend.
PEGG: Our relationship, and with Edgar and Nira [Park], our producer, is like family. We relate to each other like family in the same way that we can not see each other for a few months, and when you get back together there’s no period of adjustment. There’s no small talk, we just go straight back into it. I look back on the first time we worked together on Spaced, and I see that as my sort of like asking Nick to be on the show was as much me wanting him to be around as knowing that he would knock it out of the park, because he’s a very funny person. There’s always great value in collaborating with people that you’re always in tune with.
Do you go guys sometimes think that you wouldn’t be where you are if it weren’t for the luck of finding each other?
SIMON: Absolutely. I think sometimes, and it chills me to the bone, what if I hadn’t moved to Cricklewood? What if I handn’t met Nick? I find that a nightmarish thought.
FROST: No, because it happened. It’d be like thinking, God wouldn’t it have been terrible if—
PEGG: If that car had landed on my head. [Laughs]
Simon, you’ve written with Edgar and you’ve written with Nick. For most people, writing is such a singular process. How do two people collaborate on the same thing and write together?
PEGG: We have a similar process, Nick and I to Edgar and me. We’ll come into the office and sit. With Paul we did a similar thing. I learned to write films from working with Edgar on Shaun of the Dead.
Are you sitting there with two laptops?
FROST: We sit opposite each other.
PEGG: One of us types.
FROST: We started putting the screen on the wall.
PEGG: Yeah, we started with Paul where by one of us would type and you would see what was being written up on the screen. Edgar and I took that on board for writing this, because it helps you to see what’s going up there. We’re always in the same room. You can’t really write remotely, because it’s very boring.
FROST: But I literally like to go through the thing word by word.
PEGG: It’s laborious.
FROST: But it’s so important.
PEGG: Nick could send me something, and I would move a comma, and then I’d have to send it back and say, where is it? Whereas if we were in the room, I would say, Can we move that comma?
How do you know when you’ve got it? Is it someone else telling you or is it an instinct that you have?
PEGG: It’s a bit of both. You think that’s it, and then you test it on someone. We give it to someone close to us, or someone outside the organization who’s a friend, and they’ll say yay or nay.
But then do you have to bring it to a studio?
PEGG: We’ll we’ve always worked closely with Working Title, who then work with Universal or Focus Features over here, but Working Title who are essentially our parent company have always been enthusiastic about letting us do our thing. They’re happy to let us do our thing. We’ve always tried to keep it within a certain size, so that we don’t get interfered with too much. We experienced it a bit on Paul, where we were dealing with a $45 million film. Then people want to get a little more involved and you find yourself having to compromise a little more.
FROST: That taught us something though.
How do you make The World’s End at $30 million?
PEGG: We all took a bit of a pay cut. We all pitched in as hard and worked as hard we could. There were no divas on set. There were no egos. I mean there was, obviously there were five huge ones, but we kept them in check.
Do you think films today are too expensive?
PEGG: Yes. It’s like throwing money on fire.
FROST: Especially at the cost of other smarter, intelligent filmmakers that maybe aren’t getting their chance because somebody needs $300 million, when this guy only needs three.
You can make 20 great films for that kind of money.
PEGG: That’s why the film industry’s in a free-fall, because several of these huge budget, high concept movies start to fail, and people panic. They’ve got a film that instantly isn’t going to do well, but they spend so much money trying to save it, throwing bad money on top of bad money. And then they try and market it so they can save it then and they spend a fortune on marketing and it still fucking bombs.
FROST: You can spend $350 million on film, but all you need is one film to make a billion dollars and then you’ve made half a billion dollars in profit. In terms of mathematics, as a business model, why wouldn’t you do that?
PEGG: I think film has suffered a little bit in terms of its art. It’s like the spectacle of cinema has suddenly become more important than its poetic value. Science fiction is a great example. It was never about the robots. It was about us, and our relationship to the robots, and what the robots said about us. Science fiction is a metaphor, it’s not a fireworks display.
FROST: Also, there’s that kind of rude, very dangerous thing where it’s becoming more exclusive, the theater experience, in terms of we are pandering to a 16 to 28-year-old male demographic. And it’s like, well what about your parents? Where do they go? What do they go to see? Are they not allowed to go to the cinema?
Simon, you’ve been in some of those massive films, but they’ve had very intelligent filmmakers at the helm.
PEGG: Star Trek: Into Darkness, which is a bombastic, silly, fun science fiction film, it’s still ultimately about family and friendship. It’s saying something about how far you’d go to protect your family. Because, at the heart of it, thank god there’s a message, or at least something human at work. Even Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which is a gloriously silly film—I think Brad Bird did a beautiful job on because he has a great sense of fun and drama. But it’s still about four people trying to get on.
The World’s End explores themes of growing up and letting go of the past. Are you two surprised to be sitting here with families?
PEGG: Yeah, I think this film is us saying perpetual adolescence is not all it’s cracked up to be. There seems to be this culture of the moment with the manchild, where it’s like, Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to go home to our wives and we could just get a hall pass? And hookup with strippers with hearts of gold and go on these long weekends where we could just be the guys? That’s not necessarily something to be devoutly wished for. Those films, they have great value and are very funny, and often they work perfectly, but they’re not particularly critical of it. It’s like it’s a goal of guys. Making this, we kind of wanted to say, I kind of like being married with a kid and not going out.
FROST: Also, if you’re not happy, and you don’t want to be married, don’t be married, but don’t be a fucking pussy about it. Commit to it. Do it right. Be a man.
This movie is also a love letter to pubs and pints and drinking beers with your mates. What makes a great pub to you?
PEGG: The atmosphere, always.
FROST: For me, it has to have no one in it. Maybe some old guy reading a book. Just that one regular. “Hello, Alan!”
PEGG: Back in the day, when it wasn’t so difficult, we had a pub that became in Shaun of the Dead, the inspiration for the Winchester. It was called The Shepherd. And it was a very simple old London boozer. It was very basic. It had a worn carpet, and the jukebox wasn’t very good and the walls that were sort of tobacco brown. And there was a family that run it. John and Bernie, who we name-checked in Shaun of the Dead, their dog Henry, their daughters Michelle and Vanessa. And they ran it like their front room, and that’s what a pub is, it’s a public house. And it had this atmosphere everybody was just friends in there. There were loads of locals and we got on with all of them. And do you remember the key moment of when we knew when we were finally in at The Shepherd when I walked up to the bar in just my socks. I took my shoes off and walked up to the bar like I was just in my house. We had three very happy years in that pub. I don’t drink anymore, but I look back at that very fondly as the perfect pub.