Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, with more SXSW Film Festival fun, this time talking to the stars and writers of PAUL, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
I don't want to spend too much time talking about them, when talking to them is so much more fun. But I should mention that it's been fun over the years talking to them, getting to them, and watch them go from guys who merely reflected and chronicled geek culture to become a part of the culture they have beheld for much of their lives. It's been fun watching them branch out into project outside their comfort zone of each other and writer-director Edgar Wright and do such things as ATTACK THE BLOCK, a Wright-produced UK film Nick stars in that also played at SXSW, as well as Simon's jumps into big-time Hollywood projects like the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and STAR TREK series.
I think they'll always find ways of coming back together--Nick and Simon have key roles in Steven Spielberg's THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (co-written by Wright, so maybe they aren't really breaking free as much as I thought). But they stick together because they bring out the best in each other. PAUL marks the first time Pegg and Frost have written a film together, and it's a magnificent road trip movie that just happens to include an alien.
Our interview took place at SXSW aboard the actual RV that they boys drove through the American Southwest in search of various alien hotspots. The cushions were ugly, the windshield was cracked (as it become in the movie), but the hospitality and company was top notch. We cover a lot of ground here, both about the movie, their personal histories with the films of Steven Spielberg, and a few tidbits about what's coming up for both. Please enjoy my talk with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, which begins with a brief tour of the RV. By the way, there are mild spoilers scattered throughout the interview, so be warned.
Simon Pegg: This is why we learned to drive this thing.…
Capone: With the cracked windshield and everything…
SP: Then we did a lot of acting here. This is where Kristen Wiig went to sleep.
Nick Frost: "Acting!"
Capone: So, I didn’t realize when I sat down to watch this, this was going to be your Spielberg tribute movie.
SP: Is it ever.
NF: And sort of our geek tribute, our tribute to Comic Con goers.
Capone: That’s true too, but the Spielberg moments really stand out. And not just his alien-related films, but all of them.
SP: And he’s in it, as well. [Laughs]
Capone: That’s true. I’m talking references to SUGARLAND EXPRESS and DUEL, as well as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, E.T., JAWS, the Indiana Jones movies.
SP: That’s as much Greg [Mottola] as it is us, because we said to Greg going into this, “This is what we are doing,” and he was on the same page as us, which is why we immediately decided to work with him. He just ran with the idea, and a lot of those SUGARLAND EXPRESS references… That was one of the films that set him on the course to being a director, so he had great fun incorporating some of those stylistic beats.
Capone: He hasn’t done a science-fiction film before and he hasn’t done something quite this action-filled with this many special effects. Was it really just about being of the same mind with picking him?
NF: “Yes” is the short answer, because I watched SUPERBAD at Comic Con when it previewed at Comic Con like five years ago or something like that, and then I really liked it and we kind of spoke about him and about SUPERBAD. We had a screener of SUPERBAD in London, which just the two of us watched, which we loved and straight away we kind of said, “We really want this guy,” and then you went to meet Greg in New York…
NF: …and from that meeting, it was just clear that he was it.
SP: And we knew from the off that this wasn’t going to involve Edgar [Wright], and that was partly because this was mine and Nick’s sort of baby from the off, and also because Edgar’s style didn’t really match with what we wanted to do. We didn’t want such a kind of overt stylistic approach to the shooting of it, because we wanted it to be more naturalistic, more subtle in terms of the way the camera features as a character in the film. I mean, Edgar really makes a statement with his camera work to a beautiful effect, but that didn’t suit this film, because the more fantastic the camerawork became, the less fantastic Paul would seem. We needed the context for Paul to be almost still in way, you know?
Capone: Almost fitting in with the landscape.
SP: Right. If you watch the movie, the scenes with Paul in them are shot more like it’s a conversational character piece, and the scenes with the agents are shot more like an action movie, so that was what we wanted.
Capone: I know you’ve been writing this over many years in between things, but did you take sort of a similar approach that you do with Edgar when you watch a bunch of movies and then come up with general ideas before you start mapping out a story? How was it? How was the writing process for you two?
SP: The big thing that we did for this was we did the trip.
Capone: That was another question I had, “Had you taken this trip before?”
SP: We watched a couple of films like when we were writing just to chill out if we got a bit stuck, but we didn’t really watch films for research.
NF: We did the research. We did the trip, so we got an RV. We had a very nice man called Steve Weinmuller, who is a transportation coordinator for Universal, and he drove this RV--not this very one. We had like a really luxury, brand new thing. It was nice, but we really destroyed it in 10 days, and the official diagnosis from the shot was that we had destroyed his brain. That’s what he told us.
But yeah, we did the route, you know? We drove from L.A. to Vegas and then up to Area 51 and then all the way up through Nevada crossing into Utah and then right up to northeastern Wyoming. We couldn’t have done it without that. We had a rich pallet when it came to science fiction and we knew CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and E.T. really well, but we didn’t know about America apart from what we watched on TV and in films and we knew the east and the west, but we had no idea what was in the interior. I think, we were going to write it originally. We were going to kind of sit at this table [points to the RV's small kitchen table] and write it as we went along, but I think within two hours of doing the trip and missing loads of neat stuff, we just abandoned it. We realized it was about watching America just drift by, because we were doing a road movie, so it made sense to just look and absorb America as we drove across it, I think.
SP: We wanted to learn it. And a lot of what we experienced on the way fed into the movie. We were slightly intimidated by some scary types at the Little Aleinn, we hit a bird, we racked up in an RV park, and spent the night and had a little barbeque. A lot of the culture of our trip fed into the eventual movie.
Capone: So will the Special Edition of the DVD show the inside of the ship showing the human that gets aboard looking at the bright lights?
SP: [laughs] I think what we might do is do a really cheap on-video sort of looking around. That would be really funny.
NF: And have them floating up…
Capone: All that was ringing in my head was, “I don’t want to see the inside."
SP: It was actually Double Negative’s idea that said, “What if the ship went up and just went into a bigger ship and then we kind of out star destroyered the star destroy at the beginning of STAR WARS?”
NF: Then didn’t we bullshit for a second that then mothership then went into another ship, which was about the size of the moon? [laughs]
Capone: Shooting a road trip movie, is it a road trip in and of itself?
NF: Well the romantic answer is “Yes, we shot the whole thing on the rue and we had a cameras stationed along the route.
Capone: Shot chronologically.
NF: I’m going to say it isn’t. We didn’t, but for us and the whole cast and the crew to get to stay in Santa Fe for three-and-a-half months, and we all hung out together. It kind of was a bit romantic.
SP: It was a trip for us, because we were away from home.
NF: Yeah, and the thing about being in Santa Fe is it has so many diverse geographical locations that one day we'd be on an incredibly vast plain where you couldn’t see anything but horizons and then we would be in a big pine forest and then we would be in a desert clearing, so it did have that feel, you didn’t know where you would be or what geographical location you would be at from one week to the next. There was a certain romance there with shooting it the way we shot it you know.
SP: And we were out on kind of amazing desert highways and in these wonderful settings, which for us were amazing. We'd never been in a place where you could see the horizon in every direction ever. I have never seen a sky that big in my life.
NF: We had never been to a place where there was lightening and storms so dangerous that we had to run for cover.
SP: I 'd never been to a place where I could buy so much turquoise.
NF: Dreamcatchers? Bang, it’s there.
SP: Like hot and cold running dreamcatchers. But the majority of the stuff we did whilst driving, we were in a replica of this RV. There were three of these, there was the stripped-out stunt one, this one which we used practically, and the one on a gimbal in the studio surrounded by green.
Capone: I think it was in the HOT FUZZ DVD where you have that documentary about your promotional tour…
SP: The Fuzzball Rally?
Capone: Yeah. Had you ever, in promoting anything over the years, taken a trip in the states like this one?
NF: I did. I did with my wife, before PAUL actually we drove out the Sequoia, and we spent a few days there and we drove from Sequoia to Vegas and then Vegas into Arizona and then down into Santa F. So we drove from L.A. to there and then once we wrapped then I drove myself from Santa Fe back to Los Angeles again. I know it sounds like I’m blowing smoke up America’s asshole, but it is an amazing country. Geographically speaking, it’s amazing going from Sequoia to the desert in the same day. You can’t do that at home, you go from housing estate to scrubby heathland and then to hills and small pond; it’s not like this. We had a day on the RV trip called “Wow Day,” and we must have said “Wow” 80 times within the course of a day. Ever peak you cross or every corner you went around, there was some thing so breath taking that we kind of stopped and it was like “Wow, this is incredible.”
SP: The fact that you can go east to west, west to east, it takes you literally over a week to drive. How long would it take to go all the way across? Two weeks?
NF: Here? In this?
NF: Oh fucking hell, we did 1,800 miles in nine days, so it’s what 3,500 miles across?
SP: It’s vast.
NF: So it would take you almost a month.
SP: You could get across the neck of England in about three hours.
NF: Three hours at its thinnest. Twelve hours top to bottom.
Capone: In Britain?
SP: Yeah, in Britain.
NF: That’s why we have no road trip culture in our homeland. In England, it’s probably six hours top to bottom. That would fit into Rhode Island, wouldn’t it?
SP: Lake Michigan.
Capone: That’s right. Obviously, you have this incredible supporting cast, but I did want to talk specifically about Seth Rogen. Was he always Paul for you?
SP: No. I mean it’s funny actually, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Trulio, Seth Rogen, have all been Paul. Who else played Paul? Who played Paul when we did the English read through, was it Kevin Eldon?
NF: It could have been Kevin Eldon actually, the actor Kevin Eldon who was in HOT FUZZ. We had an older actor in mind, or an older character in mind originally. You know, because he had been on earth for 60 years, so we figured he must be about 140 years old and his species lives to about 300, so we were thinking somebody like Rip Torn or Kurt Russell at the youngest. But as the character kind of evolved we kind of felt like he needed to perhaps be a little bit less cantankerous, a bit younger. The studio were quite keen for us to employ someone who had comedy chops who was relevant to the comedy audience as well. We were big fans of Seth and we had been talking about working together for a long time, and he just seemed like the perfect choice, because he’s got the voice of a much older man, but he’s got the kind of laid-back vitality of what we wanted the character to have.
Capone: And I wondered if like his personality, the way you had written it, changed once Seth came onboard or maybe he became more or less of a stoner.
SP: No, he was always a stoner.
NF: He was always a bit of a stoner. If anything we had cut back on it, didn’t we?
NF: I think when we were thinking about angry Paul and cantankerous Paul, it’s fine on the page, but then when you start thinking about it being a film for two hours, you realize quite quickly that it’s unsustainable and people would not be sympathetic towards him, and it would be a bit boring, just that one-dimensional anger and smart mouth. We also had two weeks with Seth before we even started shooting his preproduction stuff, so we all sat around a big table everyday and we just went through the script line by line, and Seth did his stuff and you know we altered it and he had good ideas, and this was nice for me to see actually, because obviously this is the first feature I’ve written. It was nice to see how it evolves and how it’s never finished really until tonight when people see if for the first time.
Capone: I love that idea that the image… I think there’s that explanation he gives about how the government, in order to keep him hidden from the public has put him out there, hiding him in plain sight and putting out these images so that people will think it’s fun and cute and silly.
SP: It’s called subliminal assimilation; it's this process that by which they basically just wanted to acclimatize us to his appearance and also not only that, he’s had a subtle obviously influence on popular culture over the years, so we got the idea that maybe he took in a bit of sci-fi in the early '50s and thought “This sucks. This is bullshit.” So, all of the stuff that we were very familiar with, the PREDATOR thing, the healing, it’s all come from him, he’s like the source of all science-fiction mythology.
NF: I always think there was a more insidious thing at play there with the government. Like if his people ever invaded, we wouldn’t struggle, we'd think “Oh, they are quite nice aren’t they?” “Hey, it’s the guy on the t-shirt [Makes death ray sounds].”
SP: Yah, but there was a whole big speech in the script about how Paul had invented that poster, “Take me to your dealer” and never got cent for it.
NF: And he was really bitter about it.
SP: Yeah, he was angry about it.
Capone: I'm not sure when they're going to pull the plug on me, but other than ATTACK THE BLOCK, what do you guys have? I can’t wait to see TINTIN. Have you seen any of it, yet?
SP: Only stills. We are going back to do stuff in a couple of weeks, so hopefully we will see some more.
NF: It could be amazing. I think Edgar said he had seen like five minutes and said it’s like a living painting. He said it’s beautiful.
Capone: So then beyond that, Simon, you still have MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.
SP: Yeah, I’m just finishing that. That’s been a great fun, and I think it’s going to be awesome. [Director] Brad Bird is the key to this film.
Capone: I can’t wait to see what he does with live action.
SP: He’s such a great guy, and I think he’s bringing his A game to this movie, and then I got STAR TREK in the next sort of six months or so.
Capone: That's got a schedule now?
SP: Yeah, as far as I know. I mean, the plan is for us to do it August or September.
NF: I’m writing a graphic novel right now, and I’ve also written a film about an English wrestler, so I’m going to try and get that off the ground. And also I’m going to be working--touch wood, because it’s 50/50--with Ben Wheatley, who is here with KILL LIST.
Capone: Yeah, I just saw it this morning actually.
NF: Oh, brilliant.
Capone: It’s great. He was here at Fantastic Fest with DOWN TERRACE, and I was on the jury that picked it as the best film of the Festival.
NF: It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Capone: I’m talking to him tomorrow.
NF: Oh, cool. So yeah, I mean hopefully we are going to get the film up later on this year, and we'll be shooting later on this year.
Capone: That’s cool. That's something you are just acting in?
NF: Just acting. Ben sent me the script about six months ago, and he wrote the character with me in mind, and I hate reading scripts, but I read the first page on my phone and then an hour later I finished it on my phone and just sent Nira [Park, producer of "Spaced," SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, SCOTT PILGRIM, and PAUL] the script and in the email I said ,“We have to do this,” and I really think it’s possible that we can do it because it could be amazing.
Capone: Let's talk a bit more specifically about Steven Spielberg, because seeing a film like this is just such a love letter to him reminded me that I’m a child of the late '70s and early '80s, so obviously he’s had a huge influence in my life. But you two have gotten to work with him on a couple of different things, tell me about what his movies meant to you growing up.
SP: I guess growing up as a kid, unless you are a geek you don’t really know directors and such, if you are sort of regular, normal person, then you go see films and you don’t really know who they are directed by. I always knew who Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were even as a little kid, because they were such visible forces in terms of their work. And if it was the new Steven Spielberg film, you just went. E.T., particularly for me E.T., was a massive influence for me as a kid, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS in a more adult way. As I got sort of 10, 11, 12, I saw CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and loved that movie, because it was more grown up than say STAR WARS or something. And with RAIDERS, his name was the reason why I would go and see a film as a kid, it was automatically going to be great.
Capone: And maybe even more than Lucas, in my mind, because Lucas was a creator, but not much of a director like Spielberg was, so I think you’re right. I think he probably was the first director whose name I ever learned as a kid.
SP: Yeah, and it’s so funny that the whole thing in the film is that we were on set doing TINTIN, and I showed Steven…I flashed him a picture on my phone, not to tease him, but to kind of confuse him of like an alien head that we had taken on the roundtrip with us. It was a picture of the alien head with Devil’s Tower in the background, which we drove to, and he looked at it like “What the hell is that?” The last time he had seen an alien at Devil’s Tower was probably 1976, whenever they were shooting…
Capone: When Truffaut was there.
SP: Yeah, it was like “What is that?” It was like “Well…,” and we told him about PAUL and we said, “Look, we’ve got this idea that Paul has quietly had your ear, or you’ve had his ear over the years.” He was like “Oh, I love that idea.” He said “Maybe I could be in it.”
Capone: I was going to ask if that scene was shot later.
SP: Yeah, well it’s his idea. He said, “Maybe I can call Paul.”…
NF: We ran off really quickly and wrote it. [Laughs]
SP: Thinking “Did you hear that? Did he just say that? Did that just happen?”
NF: From my point of view, I don’t really have any memories about going to high school, but I remember exactly watching CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and how it made me feel, and E.T., and that never left me and I still feel exactly the same now as when I did then. It’s like going in an emotional time machine, watching CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, and to have that feeling about a film and about the director behind it and then you find yourself doing TINTIN, and you realize that he isn’t an alien, he’s a person and he’s enthusiastic and he loves to shoot movies. It’s infectious, you know? You want to be around it. A lot of people use the word “genius” for everyone these days, but I think within five minutes of him coming on and directing us, we kind of looked at each other and said “Okay, this guy does it.” It’s an obvious thing to say, but we had never witnessed it first hand with him directing us.
SP: Yeah, and I think also in a weird way, this film kind of reflects our experience on a subconscious level maybe in terms of coming to America and meeting our heroes, particularly Steven, because we have spent our lives looking at this fabled land from afar and this place where all of these amazing films are made, and we finally got there, and this guy finally stepped out of the shadows in front of us and he was just an ordinary guy. He wasn’t some super being, you know, he was a lovely, normal, down to earth, prodigiously gifted man, but nevertheless it was like when Paul appears. You think, "Gasp," but then you're like "Oh."
NF: Us laughing and collapsing in the film was our reaction to Steven saying, “Well, maybe I can be in it.”
Capone: Had you ever been to Devil's Tower before?
NF: Yeah, we went on our trip.
Capone: But before that you hadn’t seen it?
Capone: I remember as a kid seeing CLOSE ENCOUNTERS with my parents, and we used to do driving trips across the country all of the time--I lived on the east coast. And after I saw it, that was the only place I wanted to go. “I don’t want anymore of your driving trips unless that’s where we are going,” and we did.
NF: That’s a schlep, right, the east coast to eastern Wyoming?
Capone: It is.
SP: I felt exactly the same. It felt like we were doing a pilgrimage. We had our iPod on with the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS soundtrack on when we were getting towards it, and it has that wonderful, even though it’s relatively massive, considering everything else is so flat, it hides. You don’t see it until you are 10 miles away.
NF: The music was just right, wasn’t it?
[The two hum the score for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.]
NF: We were like, “Oh my God, there it is!” You can hear it on the video, “There it is!” Then we got to it, and it was a little smaller than we remember in the film. In the film it’s gargantuan, but in actual fact it’s not huge, it’s kind of…
SP: It’s funny that you can see facets of it though that are in our film. You see the bit where they scramble up to get over the top before the cropduster comes over and stuff.
Capone: Yeah. Guys, it was great to see you again.
NF: Good to see you. You too as always.
SP: Good to see you, Steve.
-- Capone firstname.lastname@example.org
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