So I found myself locked inside a hotel room with the three Englishmen responsible for Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and now, The World’s End. The task in front of me was daunting. Conduct a solo interview with a trio of guys whose work I’m completely gaga for without turning into a blubbering wimp.
Edgar, Nick, and Simon are proper cinemaphiles.
It was my exceedingly good luck that they had all flown in from a tour at Comic-Con that morning, and had suffered hours of miseries unmentionable at the microphones of Seattle’s crack broadcasting teams before I could get to them. By that point, they were completely nuked, and the cine-intellectual playing field was slightly leaning toward more even ground. At least I like to believe that it was.
Here’s what we talked about:
Jason Roestel: You know what? I saved something from The World’s End screening…
Edgar Wright: Oh yeah?
JR: You sent us all personal notes basically telling us to keep our mouths shut about the movie.
Edgar Wright: Nothing like a personal note from the director. I used the word “dastardly.” I tried to sort of shame the critics into not spoiling things.
Nick Frost: It’s almost like you got someone to type these notes out for you.
Edgar Wright: I wrote that! I did write that!
JR: I thought it was cool. It made it seem like The World’s End was your baby, and you cared about what happened to it.
Edgar Wright: Well, we want people to experience the movie as cold as you did, you know?
JR: So what didn’t you want spoiled – without saying what you didn’t want spoiled?
Simon Pegg: Everything really.
Edgar Wright: Everything that’s not in the trailer really. The trailer is a necessary evil in marketing. It would have been extremely ballsy, but ultimately disastrous, to do a trailer where you didn’t show any sci-fi elements. That would have been an extremely ballsy thing to do. But you’ve got to show some of your cards and say: Hey there’s some special effects and action scenes here. You can’t have a Shaun of the Dead trailer without the zombies.
Simon Pegg: The awful truth is that Shaun of the Dead, Paul, The World’s End, would be a better cinematic experience if you did not know what was happening. I think the purest version of the film is to see it without any knowledge, without any surprise spoiled. Trailers are willful spoilers to tempt people in to see if they want to find out more. The dramatic beats of many films are best served cold – if I could plagiarize that old Klingon proverb.
JR: I wanted to talk about pub crawls. Was the premise of this film based on personal experience?
Edgar Wright: I did it in my hometown, when I was 19, and it was a memorable disaster. I didn’t make it…. through. It’s not a thing like I didn’t make it but the others still carried on without me like they do in the movie. I was the one who instigated it, so when I flaked out it just stopped dead.
Simon Pegg: You’re (talking to Edgar) more of a crawler as well. You get antsy right quick. You like to move on.
Edgar Wright: It’s true.
Simon Pegg: Nick and I like to stay in one pub and have twelve pints come to us.
Nick Frost: I’ve done three pub crawls in my life. One of them was with Edgar and Simon. We tried to duplicate the original one that Edgar did.
Simon Pegg: The golden mile.
JR: So, is this where the idea for The World’s End originated?
Edgar Wright: It came from two things. I did it when I was a teenager, and I had this sort of silly, wild, disastrous night. I wrote a script about it when I was 21. Then after Spaced I think I convinced these guys – like Gary King in the film – to come to my hometown and do it again, and did even worse. We only got through three or four bars. I think the patheticness of that action – trying to recapture former glories – struck a chord. And that’s eventually what became this movie. There’s something really rich in comic potential about the idea of adults trying to do something that seemed like a fun time when they were 19.
Nick Frost: We’re not those kind of guys who hang out with big groups of guys and roam the streets getting pissed and wailing on weaker looking guys. That’s not how we roll. (everybody laughs)
JR: One thing I noticed in the movie. Simon your character is maybe the most identifiable – if you have a fringe personality, and you’re not into the routine, Simon’s character is the person you’re going to get behind. But then you’re kind of pathetic too….
Simon Pegg: (smile fades into a look of casual hostility)
JR: … because you never grew past 19, and you’re still stuck in this point in your personal history. Then as the film goes on you realize that the other guys, who have all grown up and have moved on to families and careers have their own patheticness. Then you tie in the idea of these “Blanks” (spoiler alert – The World’s End’s antagonists) as you go through life, and mature and buy into the career lifestyle, you turn into a Blank. Suddenly Simon’s character doesn’t seem as pathetic.
Simon Pegg: (smile returns)
Edgar Wright: At the start of the film, nobody’s happy. Paddy Considine’s character – who’s sleeping with a 26 year old – the fact that he feels the need to point that out all the time means that he’s unhappy. We set up this premise – in a similar vein to Shaun – that you’ve got five people who are trying to recapture something, and when the sh*t hits the fan, and a bigger galactic conspiracy is unveiled, it’s hugely dangerous, but for Gary it ignites these sparks of: Now we’re on a proper adventure. The wild night that I always promised is actually happening. So you see that Simon’s character, at least for some of it, is forging ahead with glee.
JR: How much of this character, Gary King, is you Simon? Or is it all in the script?
Simon Pegg: It’s me if I had stayed in 1990 – or 1986 would have been more my year. There was a guy in my gang that was like Gary. He was the coolest. He was really good-looking. He was going to be a musician. He was the lead singer of our band. I was the drummer. I met him again a few years later and he hadn’t changed that much. And there was something kind of strange about that. I’ve witnessed addiction, and seen people go through that thing where the only thing important to them is their next drink or whatever. That makes people very selfish and incredibly self-involved. That was something that I wanted Gary to be. That he has all this drive and all this forward momentum, but it’s because of his weaknesses and not his strengths. I also wanted to make him extremely funny. Nick said he’s like Beetle Juice – which I thought is the best compliment I’ve ever been paid really. He has that manic energy which people just get swept up in. And he’s still got it even though it’s much more desperate now that he’s older.
JR: You reminded me of something. In writing they warn you about run-on sentences. Some great writers can get away with run-on sentences, but you’re supposed to avoid them. And the tendency in comedy writing, or what they want to call “smart comedy” writing, is to pull back a bit and not put the hammer down with gags and jokes. But your movies – you seem to pack every little clever thing you can get into a movie in there. You’re not afraid to rapid fire your jokes. Which makes these movies – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End – much more re-watchable, because there’s a few hundred clever lines you probably missed during the first viewing. You have this “WTF?” joke in the movie that I haven’t been able to keep secret. That is easily the funniest thing I’ve seen this year.
Edgar Wright: I was actually going to write that joke as a Tweet. The “WTF?” joke. But then I thought: Mmmmmaybe I’ll keep that one for a movie. People are always telling me to not burn all my jokes on Twitter. But as far as the writing, we like that kind of speed of the dialog. It almost doesn’t matter if you catch every joke, because we want you to watch it a second time. We like that kind of machine gun dialog because – especially when people are in a desperate situation, they’re going to be talking really fast. Especially for a character like Gary who has usually forgotten his point by the time he’s gotten to the end of a sentence.
Simon Pegg: Who’s also probably speeding most of the time….
Edgar Wright: In the film he has taken some speed in the toilet in the service station. And that forms the next half hour of the movie.
Simon Pegg: He’s a continual whirlwind of persuasion. He’s doesn’t let anyone get a word in. He’s kind of like an emotional bully you know? That’s because if he stops for a second, his whole world will come crumbling in on itself.
Edgar Wright: He’s also that kind of character, I think, that you get those sort of people who are in denial and if there’s criticism aimed at them, it just bounces off. They don’t even hear it. He’s got his shields up so much that, even though everyone is attacking him, it almost takes all four of them to – when they sort of have an intervention later in the film – to get through. And then we get to the next phase of the film. We like this idea where Gary is almost willing his own intervention. That he’s created this situation where his friends – or something else – is going to intervene.
JR: So, without spoiling the end of the movie, was the epilogue something you added later? Or was it always in there?
Edgar Wright: No. That was always in there. In fact, the very end of the movie was one of the first ideas we had for the story. An early draft we had a slightly different third act, but not a different epilogue. The sting in the tale is that someone who is obsessed with nostalgia gets his ultimate wish fulfillment…
Simon Pegg: …And has never been happier. Again without giving too much away, where Gary is at the end – in terms of hanging out with who he’s hanging out with – initially we wanted to do some sort of time travel issue, but that caused a whole lot of problems, so that’s in a way how we ended up coming up with the idea for the Blanks. Like Shaun of the Dead, we had the idea that Shaun would end up happily living with his zombie best friend way before we had written the bulk of the movie. With this, the ending was the first thing we wrote pretty much. It was the first bit we were sure about – that the movie should end up coming through on what the title promises. I think one of the most frustrating things that cinema can do is return everything to the status quo at the end.
Edgar Wright: It’s not a sitcom.
Simon Pegg: It makes it a very anodyne experience when you go in and have your reality played with, and then it’s put back together again. So you leave and forget it immediately. It’s like watching fireworks. That’s why Annie Hall is the best rom-com ever made. Because boy doesn’t get girl back. Which is what makes you remember it forever.
Edgar Wright: It’s why there won’t be a sequel to Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. Especially Hot Fuzz. There’s nothing interesting about returning them to an old status quo to get back up to where they were at the end of the first film. At the end of Hot Fuzz, where they become the hot fuzz, that’s the end of the movie.
Simon Pegg: It’s kind of like The Matrix. You know the end of The Matrix – another Bill Pope-lensed film – when Neo has that amazing power and takes off…? THAT’S THE END OF IT. And then suddenly we have to go back to fighting people again…?
Edgar Wright: I would say that, even though they’re pretty good, I would like to forget that Back to the Future II and III happened because the end of the first one is FANTASTIC. Just promise us more – I don’t need to see more.
JR: Is this the end of you guys working together?
Simon Pegg: God no.
Edgar Wright: It’s definitely the end of this chapter in terms of what we wanted to do with this movie and with some of the themes. Especially the theme of perpetual adolescence that’s been in the other two movies and in Spaced. We wanted to find a proper close for that. And that’s what The World’s End is. It’s the final word on the man-child. If we do something together again, I think it will be something radically different.