You folks should get your swords sharpened because over the next week or so, we're going to be in full-bore promotion mode for THE WORLD'S END, the third and final film from director-writer Edgar Wright, actor-writer Simon Pegg, and actor Nick Frost that deals directly with friendship in the context of some sort of genre context, whether it be zombies (SHAUN OF THE DEAD), kick-ass action (HOT FUZZ), or, in this case, alien robots invading a small town. Some call them the Cornetto trilogy, but I just call them three of funniest fucking movies in the last 10 years.
What's particularly great about these movies is that they love to hit the road and support them. I remember simply being an attendee of a Q&A screening of SHAUN back in 2004, and the theater was maybe two-thirds full. Jump ahead three years later to the Chicago Q&A screening of HOT FUZZ that I hosted, and we were turning people away with a cricket bat since every single seat was taken.
In the six-year interim that Wright, Penn and Frost waited between HOT FUZZ and THE WORLD'S END, Penn and Frost kick started their film careers together (PAUL) and separately (STAR TREK, ATTACK THE BLOCK), while Wright added to his status as the maker of films that almost immediately enter the pop and cult canon by directing SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD and writing an ANT-MAN screenplay (with ATTACK THE BLOCK writer-director Joe Cornish, who also co-wrote THE ADVENTURES OF TIN-TIN with Wright and Steven Moffat) that will finally go into production next year as a part of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But not since Duran Duran split up into Power Station and Arcadia has a fan base cheered louder for the original band members to return to the stage as a single creative unit. And with the hilarious, thought-provoking science-fiction pub crawl known as THE WORLD'S END, the team (which includes a few familiar faces in the mix like Martin Freeman, Rafe Spall, and others who have been in two or three of the films) is re-energized and back doing some of the best work in their individual and collective careers.
I sat down with the lads recently just hours before I was lucky enough to host a double-feature screening of SHAUN and HOT FUZZ, and we talked a great deal about the film funniest moments as well as some of the darker more serious moments that deal with our inability to make our live better simply by going home and trying to recapture former glory. I also got Wright to spill everything about ANT-MAN…okay, not really, but it comes up.
And as I said at the beginning, this will be the first of a few interviews with these folks. Quint sat down with the group in Austin a couple of days before I did, but his interview will be a bit more spoiler-heavy, so he's holding off running it. I believe the rumor is that Mr. Beaks got a solo 1-on-1 interview with Wright as well, so chew on that when he puts it up. In the mean time, please enjoy my talk with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and consider this entire interview a SPOILER WARNING, just in case you want to remain 100 percent free from too much information…
Edgar Wright: Hello, sir.
Capone: Hello, gentlemen.
EW: How are you doing?
[Everyone says hello.]
Capone: It was very funny last night [at a Q&A screening of THE WORLD'S END].
EW: I feel bad that it started so late [a problem with the DCP forced the film to start about 30 minutes late].
Capone: Hopefully, we wont have that problem tonight.
EW: I was there at seven. That’s where the death of film is a big problem, because DCPs are not reliable at all.
Nick Frost: Oh, I see.
Capone: Surprisingly enough, not the first time that’s happened.
EW: Oh no. It happens all the time with digital. Forget it… anyway…
Capone: I know that you spoke with Quint earlier in the week, and I'll try not to repeat his questions.
Simon Pegg: He brought up barbeque.
NF: We thought you'd wheel in a deep-dish pizza
Capone: I would have, but it's two o'clock; I figured you would've eaten already.
SP: Oh god, we have. Too much deep dish.
Capone: I did want to dig a little bit into this film, because I’ve been talking to Edgar about how it’s the more serious, darker elements of this film that have stuck with me. Last night was the second time I had seen it, and it really resonated. I wanted to talk about closing out this particular chapter in your career, if not your working relationship, and talk about working that into the story. Was that there when you were writing it, or did you just realize it after you finished it?
SP: Bits of it were there initially. I’ve said as we’ve discussed this movie how the writing process wasn’t easy, because it’s never easy, but it felt smooth. That’s because I think the initial idea was the key to a really great wealth of thoughts and feelings we have on the whole thing, the idea of going home and growing older. It just unlocked a lot of preoccupations that we have right now at 40 [Wright whisper something to Pegg]. Sorry, 39. But it just let forth things that had been on our minds, and we didn’t even realize. It enabled us to say a heck of a lot I think.
EW: Yeah, I think that was always the intention in a way that the sci-fi element is something of a background for this other personal material. [The noise of women talking from another room in the suite has gotten too loud, so Frost gets up to shut the door.] When we made SHAUN OF THE DEAD, the initial idea was to put our own selves into a George Romero universe, and then we ended up making a personal film through that.
But I think in this one the sci-fi element was much like a lot of '50s, '60s, '70s sci-fi horror films, it's an amplification of a feeling. It’s that thing, like you said about going to your hometown, you have this disconnect in life.
[Suddenly the door opens again, and three women come out and leave the room.]
Capone: That's what's been going on in here.
NF: That's our deep dish leaving.
EW: It was an amplification of that emotion of feeling alienated and disconnected from your past. It’s kind of a sad thing, but you cannot stop the march of time; there’s no way of doing that. And Gary King, the main character in this, is almost the antagonist, because he's trying to drag them back into being kids in a number of ways, not just emotionally blackmailing them to all come back to their home town and do this crawl again, but also alcohol itself is a potion of regression.
I said this a bit in the Q&A last night about the ideas of bringing in themes that make them feel like kids again, like immediately when they start getting drunk, the hierarchy of the gang comes back, some of the images of the actual baddies themselves--the blue ink and the action-figure element is to make them feel like kids. Even the fighting in it… It’s interesting, the first person who asked a question last night asked, did we tone down the gore. Not consciously, but I did want to do something different and I did want to make the fights feel very different to everything else that was out there by making it much more like a school scrap.
Capone: I had a feeling that the reason that you went “blue,” so to speak, is that blood red would have gotten you in a very hard NC-17.
EW: Right, and it’s also that everybody’s done that as well. In a strange way, that kind of gore isn’t particularly shocking. I always think of that Russ Meyers' film BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS, where people bled different blood depending on what they were--the communist has pink blood, the coward has yellow blood, the rich man has green blood. I just always thought that was an interesting thing of just taking it away from red. I find it amazing that the MPAA rating doesn’t mention violence at all. I think that’s hilarious.
Capone: Nick, what do you remember responding to when they finally showed you the script? What did you latch on to and go, “Wow, that’s pretty impressive” or “That’s different.”
NF: I think because I’m there from the outset…
EW: We tipped you off.
NF: Yeah, so it’s never like a giant surprise, but just the chance to not be Ed [from SHAUN OF THE DEAD], to be something different and hopefully reflect the fact that I’ve aged slightly since I actually was Ed and just the chance to be very physical. I think people assume that as a bigger guy, you’re just going to be a lump. But it was a chance to do proper Sammo Hung action.
EW: I’m not going to spoil what it is, but the third-act revelation with Nick’s character was your idea. You suggested that.
NF: What’s that?
EW: Well I don’t want to give it away, but what we find out about your home stuff, that was your suggestion, and it was like “That’s great. That gives the reason why he would come on the crawl in the first place.”
NF: I’m very lucky that they let me hang out with them and say, “Hey, why don’t we try this?” The thing about my notes to them is they can take it or leave it. You can't be precious about it.
EW: Some of them are great, and then some of them are, “I think my character should wear an Omega watch.”
NF: “Why don’t we just contact Omega and see what they’d say?" I’m never fragile about those things, it’s all part of the business.
EW: The thing in terms of both of their parts in different ways, I feel like in a lot of American man-child comedies there are actors in their late 30s or early 40s who pretend to be 26 forever, and usually in those movies like the idea of their actual life beyond the character--whether it's significant or family stuff--gets taken out, so usually those things are a glorification of the idea of being a kid forever, and it usually ends with "It’s okay to be a big kid forever."
So it’s like TOMMY BOY or BILLY MADISON, that kind of man child comedy, has carried on for 15 years, and we wanted to do something about the idea of the perpetual adolescent and make a really cautionary tale like, “If you try to turn back the clock, something really bad could happen and something cataclysmic could happen, in this case.” But then on the flip side, we also have a lot of sympathy for Gary King, and you don’t create a character without having empathy for him and also wanting somebody who’s hit rock bottom to find some kind of triumph.
Capone: He does become the action hero that he thinks he is in his head.
EW: Yeah! It’s like, the way that he hears his surname in the end scene kind of puffs him up to be the galactic defender. But it’s also the thing where if you set up a character…everybody knows somebody like that guy who was the coolest kid in school and is now like a burnout. You see some great examples of them in American films, like Paul Le Mat in AMERICAN GRAFFITI is that character, Mathew McConaughey in DAZED AND CONFUSED is that character. The Fonz is that kind of character, although the Fonz became glorified to the point where he becomes the lead of that show, which he shouldn’t have been. The Fonz is supposed to be a sad character, actually. So we liked that idea of having that guy. It’s cool at 18 to go out and get wildly drunk or flip the bird to teacher, but not so much at 40, but then can you switch it around by cosmic intervention to put you on Gary's side. Maybe it is a good thing to be a rebel and go off the grid.
Capone: I don’t think there’s a sadder moment in one of your movies when Nick asks Gary, “Why is this so important to you?” and he says, “It’s all I have.” That's what this movie is about.
SP: It is all I have, the whole idea is that that’s the reason this night means so much to him, the reason he’s kind of cajoled into going and carrying on in the face of an alien invasion. It’s like, this is all he has. And the idea isn’t that Gary’s worn those close his whole life. He put them on especially for tonight. We all jokingly say, it’s like when Al Pacino is going to commit suicide in SCENT OF A WOMAN. He puts on his uniform, his gloves, and that was the feeling, that underneath all Gary’s bravado and craziness and comic energy is a deeply tragic figure, who in that last moment when it’s just him and And, he confesses.
EW: If you’re 18 or you’re in college and you’re going on a pub crawl, it’s like a rite of passage, a hazing ritual. If you’re doing it at 40, it’s a journey to self destruction [laughs] That’s why the last bar is “The World’s End,” like “This cannot end well if men in their 40s are setting up like, “We are going to do all of these bars in one night.” There’s not going to be a particularly happy ending for everybody.
SP: And his motivation, you realize eventually, that he never really intended on coming home. He never had made any provisions or plans for the next day, it was just about that night. That’s very much the behavior of an addict; it’s someone who can only see the next acquisition of whatever they are addicted to.
EW: Where we sympathize with Gary is we don’t think that he’s necessarily a bad person; he’s somebody who’s got that Munchausen Syndrome, where I don’t think he even thinks he’s doing anything wrong. He just will start lying to get his own way without ever thinking of the ramifications of what he’s doing, because he doesn’t think about it. There’s some lies in the film and he tells him in the movie “If you do that, you’ve got to think about what’s going to happen in 48 hours or less, when that lie becomes exposed." I think it’s that thing where some people have a genuine delusion where they don’t think they are doing anything wrong. I see that in a lot of Lindsay Lohan interviews and I’m thinking, “I don’t even think she knows that she’s done anything wrong; she just feels very entitled.”
NF: And put upon too.
EW: Absolutely. You just become so defensive to the point where it’s all barriers; it’s just like an armor.
Capone: When you were writing, how did you resist the temptation to rely on running gags and inside jokes all the way through it? Was there the temptation to do so?
SP: No, because we didn’t want to appear too self indulgent. We had to, to a degree, indulge ourselves, because we wanted the films to become what you could refer to as a piece or a trilogy. We felt like, “Hang on, we’ve gone over similar concepts and ideas in different formats. If we do something to tie them together, this can be an experience that spans over three films” And the least of those connections are the physical obvious ones like the fence gag and the Cornetto ice cream, which are ribbons and are thrown away, and the big things are like conforming and perpetual adolescence, but we didn’t want it to become flippant and we didn’t want it to be too much. There are moments in some films where filmmakers will nod back to their previous films, and it’s kind of cringe worthy.
Capone: I was about to say, you realize it’s unusual to not rely and lean on that. American comedy sequels constantly cannibalize the previous films.
EW: At the end of the day, you’ve got to make the movie that you want to do rather than the film you think you ought to do. So you can’t pander to the audience, because they might think they want that. It’s like people say, “When are you going to do SHAUN OF THE DEAD 2?” and it’s like, “You think you want SHAUN OF THE DEAD 2, but believe me, you really don’t. It would be much better to leave that alone.” There are so many films that I wish didn’t have sequels so that the end of the first one could be like “Bang! And that’s it.” End of BACK TO THE FUTURE, with the Delorean like, “Where we're going, we don’t need roads." End! And I like 2 and 3, but it’s still like if we ended with 1, what an amazing ending.
Capone: Let the audience write their own further adventures.
EW: Let the audience write the sequel in their head--same with SHAUN, same with HOT FUZZ, same with this one. People have said, “The ending seems like it could go on to future adventures.”
Capone: I will say it does seem like you’re leading into your ARMY OF DARKNESS in this one.
EW: [laughs] Like we said last night, what we lead into is the music video for Duran Duran's "Wild Boys," also produced by Eric Fellner. I really want to interview Eric Fellner and [director] Russell Mulcahy about those videos. I actually got in touch with Russell Mulcahy recently because him and Eric are still good friends. I think that’s why we wanted to do stand-alone movies. So we did try to draw back on that so it feels different. When HOT FUZZ came out, some people didn’t care for it because it wasn’t like SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but SHAUN OF THE DEAD wasn’t like "Spaced." When SHAUN OF THE DEAD initially came out, there were some people who liked "Spaced," like “It’s a bit darker than 'Spaced',” and it’s like “Well everything has to be different.” You cannot do the same thing.
SP: Also, it’s very presumptuous. I hate to assume people have seen our other films. Thy have to exist on their own. They can’t get by on self-referentiality alone, otherwise you’re just assuming way too much. Each film is completely independent of the other one, but it’s like what Nick says, you say it--it's one of my favorite metaphors, the Sankara Stones…
NF: Oh yeah, they're fine on their own, but if you put them together…[makes a troubling, vibrating sound]. The three films are like the stones, they're beautiful, lovely to hold, tactile, fine on their own, but if you put all three of them together…they'll burn a hole in somebody's bag.
Capone: I happen to think actual sequels should stand on their own.
EW: The great sequels do. That’s why MAD MAD 2 aka THE ROAD WARRIOR is the greatest, because it’s totally stand alone to the point where American audiences embraced it, whereas they hadn’t embraced the original. I’m happy when a journalist, there have been a number, says, “I loved this movie. I haven’t seen the other two” and I said, “That’s great. I love that.” Some lady the other day watched the trilogy screenings, which I’m very pleased that people seem to love watching them all together, which is nice. I think having HOT FUZZ as the main meal, and this is like the dark chocolate for desert. “Dark chocolate mousse.” Some lady the other day watched all three of them for the first time, and I was like, “That’s amazing.”
There’s always that thing where somebody in the audience comes to me and says “I haven’t seen SHAUN OF THE DEAD,” and somebody else is like “Ugh.” I’m like, “Don’t 'Ugh' them; you should envy them. It’s never too late to see a movie for god’s sake.”
Capone: You mentioned before about the fight sequences, and I thought Nick made a great action hero. You’ve done action in the other films, but this is like proper, choreographed wrestling moves and, as you said, Sammo Hung-style kung fu. But you also mentioned last night you didn’t want to use more conventional weaponry. You borrow from the kung-fu style where they turn whatever is in the room into a weapon.
EW: Yeah, that’s like classic [Jackie] Chan.
EW: Brad Allen, who’s our stunt choreographer, works with Jackie, but then Jackie goes back to Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and it’s that thing where it doesn’t have to be polished. There are also things that you have to stay away from--no guns in this movie, no broken glass, it’s improvised with things, and it’s written into the script that one of the first ideas is the barstool hands; we literally used to call them the "Hulk hands” It’s really fun to impose rules on it, so I would say to Brad Allen "The blanks are not punching; they're trying to suffocate and now work out how that’s going to work around it. So it starts to evolve into this fun mixed martial arts wrestling.
SP: The only fight that does involved weaponry you don’t get to see, which is at the very, very end with [redacted for being too spoilery].
NF: There's a pistol in that, and a broken bottle.
EW: I remember somebody said while we were shooting that last scene, “If they’ve got a gun, how is he going to do [defend himself]?” I said, “Have you never seen ZATOICHI? That gun arm is coming off immediately. The first thing to go is the gun arm.”
Capone: With this film, the STAR TREK films, and Edgar, you're about to enter this world again, where you have to keep secrets while you’re shooting and even while you’re promoting to a certain degree. Is it weird having to promote a film that you can’t talk about?
EW: It’s actually been really nice doing this premiere tour when people have seen the movie, and we can talk about it immediately after they have seen it.
Capone: In the Q&As, that’s easy.
EW: In some cases it’s kind of nice. There’s a lot of stuff that is designed for a second or third watch. You’ve seen it for the second time, so maybe some stuff is more obvious. But no it’s okay. I think the thing is, some people will say “Doesn’t the trailer spoil the whole movie?” I’m like, “No, it doesn’t, because really the surprises are all emotional, and there are other things in it as well.”
SP: That’s essentially what we do with the films anyway, we piggyback a genre type--be it zombies, sci-fi, or action--and use that to deliver a slightly more meaty message, but a story about a relationship. So the trailer is the film writ small, because you think “Oh it’s robots and fighting,” but when you watch it there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s about friendship.
NF: It's like Mike Leigh controlling a Jaeger.
EW: That’s amazing. There’s got to be two of them, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, they’ve drifted together. That's it, PACIFIC RIM with Mike Leigh and Ken Loach piloting a Jaeger.
Capone: It’s going to be on Wikipedia by the end of the day.
EW: Harry messaged me, because in Sydney somebody asked me about ANT-MAN and I said, “I’m not doing that, I’m doing a buddy comedy with Simon and Nick called ABDO-MAN AND THE MIGHTY THORAX.” I got a direct message from Harry saying, “I hear you’re leaving ANT-MAN,” and I’m like, “No, I was joking.”
Capone: I was going to ask tonight in front of the whole audience, “Which one of you is gong to play ANT-MAN?”
SP: We could have some fun with that.
EW: Both. It’s like a pantomime horse, three legs each.