As Simon and Edgar mention in this interview, most press junkets happen in some non-descript hotel conference room. The New York leg of the Hot Fuzz tour (which would take the three geniuses behind Shaun of the Dead to a bunch of American cities where they’d show their new movie and do consistently entertaining Q&As) saw the trio meeting the press in the New York City Police Department Museum, which I had never even heard of and I was born and raised here. The location was appropriate, though, and as always the guys were funny and interesting.
And tired. Nick Frost was especially beat – I think he said more to me while hanging out before the interview looking at one of the museum exhibits (women in policing! The exhibit included City-issued lipstick from the 40s) than in the interview. I honestly don’t know how these guys power through these promotional tours, especially since this one had taken them previously throughout much of the rest of the world before hitting the USA.
Some of you have seen Hot Fuzz already as the Fuzztival passed through your town. If you have, see it again this weekend since it works even better the second time. The rest of you – buy tickets for Friday AND Saturday nights. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
The tour has been going well?
Wright: Have you read my MySpace blog? I haven’t been able to update it in a week – that’s how much fun we’re having.
Pegg: It’s been amazing. We’ve had so many standing ovations, it’s unbelievable. Obviously these are the core fans of the film, but I’ve teared up on more than one occasion at these screenings –
Wright: Most of them were at The Last Mimzy.
Pegg: Yes. They were still clapping at The Last Mimzy when we walked in. But it’s fun – the traveling and the bizarre rock n’ roll, hermetically sealed life you live on these tours. We were in San Francisco and all we saw was a conference table. Edgar managed to get out and see some cop movie locations.
Wright: These are high level problems to have. It’s not like we’re working in a coal mine. But the most frustrating thing is not being able to see any of these cities. This is different – at least this is a police museum! We’re usually in a fucking Four Seasons conference room, which looks like you could be anywhere except Austin. That’s the only downside to it – doing the Q&As is great, meeting the fans has been great.
When we had an hour in San Francisco, me and Joe, who has been videoing us and doing the blogging, I said, ‘Let’s get a list of cop locations and see how many cop locations we can do in an hour.’ So we raced around, and we found the ‘Make my day’ diner from Sudden Impact, we found Michael Douglas’ apartment in Basic Instinct – which wasn’t top of my list, but it was there – we found the park where Scorpio is sniping. Then we went to Steve McQueen’s apartment in Bullitt and the deli opposite, where he goes to. As we crossed the street we said, ‘This is where he gets the paper!’ We went into the deli and asked the guy behind the counter, ‘Sir, do you get many people coming in and asking about Bullitt?’ And he said, ‘Every day, man. That shit gets oooold.’ Underneath a big Steve McQueen picture!
But that was an hour in three and a half weeks.
Pegg: Edgar, when we were in Austin, introduced the movies and watched –
Wright: I watched half of the Fuzztival myself.
Pegg: While he did that Nick and I was on the streets of Austin. We bought cowboy shirts so we could wear them at the Q&A and went to a bar and watched the college basketball game. We indulged ourselves in a different side of Austin culture.
So you don’t watch the movie when it plays.
Wright: We tend to go off and get something to eat and come back for the last half hour.
For the action stuff.
Wright: I think you have to leave. That’s why I think premieres are always the worst screenings of films ever, because people are in this weird vibe because the makers of the film are in the room.
Pegg: I would say based on the experience Friday night here I would disagree with that.
Wright: That wasn’t the premiere.
Pegg: I suppose at the premiere there are a lot of suits.
Wright: The worst screenings of Shaun and Hot Fuzz were the premieres.
Pegg: We went to a screening of Grindhouse Friday at the Chinese and everyone was there and it was kind of the best screening of anything I had ever seen.
Speaking of Grindhouse, Nick is in Don’t, but is Simon?
Pegg: I am, but they cut me out.
Wright: Don’t say ‘they’!
Pegg: The powers that be.
Wright: A couple of seconds were cut from my trailer – not for the MPAA, but just for timing. It was the first time I had seen it, and it had been slightly cut down, just five second. Unfortunately, two of those five seconds were Simon’s bits. I rang Robert [Rodriguez] and I said, ‘Man, this sounds weird but you cut Simon’s part out.’ On the DVD and internation versions, Don’t will be restored by five seconds. I said that at least we can joke that the projectionist on the first run fucked it up. Whatever theater you’re in we could say, ‘It’s not our fault – the projectionist cut it out!’
You courted controvery on Don’t with the baby eating.
Wright: I know! That was such bullshit! That was hilarious. You could tell that was when the gossip machine had gone into overdrive when it said the trailer showed a man eating a baby. It was a doll! I emailed Eli [Roth] because they made it sound like it was in Thanksgiving, and I said, ‘You haven’t got a man eating a baby in your trailer, do you?’ He was like, ‘No, what the fuck is that about?’ I realized that was me!
Frost: It does say ‘Eat Baby’ in shit on the wall.
When you guys sat down to write Hot Fuzz – which feels like a damn long time ago – how does that process work? And at what point does Nick come in?
Wright: I suppose the first part of it, which is the longest part, is the prep. The preparation on this was much longer than Shaun, working out the plot and the characters. Especially the plot. You have to get the straight beats right before you start putting in the jokes and you have to nail down the plot, because there are two theories about the accidents that are happening. While it’s great and you can work out all the Agatha Christie logic, it’s such a headfuck and you come out with so much more respect for the authors who do that stuff. And we watched 138 films, both great and good and terrible. We interviewed a lot of police officers, and that’s a process we had never done – we never had to research anything before. That was great, because if you can’t write what you know, meet the people and get what details you can. We got hours and hours and hours of tapes – you might meet a police man and talk to him for four hours and there might be just one sentence he says that inspires you. Edward Woodward’s character was based on a guy we met for 30 seconds, the civilian liaison in the police station. He wasn’t a cop but you could tell he was as pleased as punch that he was working in a police station. He was a retired army type in a tweed jacket putting pamphlets in envelopes. We talked to him for 30 seconds and then as we walked out in the corridor we said, ‘He’s in the movie!’ It was like meeting The Wizard. Then there would be other things that people would just say that would set us off.
Once Simon and I have finished the first draft, Nick is the first person other than our producer to read it. [To Nick] You take over.
Frost: Go on.
Wright: So when we’re rehearsing, we spend a week with Simon and Nick going through – we don’t do improvise on set, so we don’t do any Talladega Nights style riffage, as Simon and I are spectacularly anal. I was going to make an anal joke there, but I couldn’t bring myself to. But we workshop it with Nick for a week and some of the improvisations from that make it into the script. Nick has an allotted four zingers per film. That’s in your contract isn’t it?
Frost: Yeah. I might go after more in the next one.
Wright: Then we rehearse with the rest of the cast, and stuff from that is written into the script, and then the script is locked down for shooting.
Pegg: Occasionally things come up on the day, but it can’t be anything that will affect the overall rhythm or the way the shots have been set up. Like the line about, ‘It’s alright Andy, it’s only Bolognese,’ [that’s hilarious in context] came up on the day, but that’s only because it felt like something was missing. But because the dialogue and the camera movements work so well together that you can’t go too far off.
You’re the straight guy in Shaun of the Dead, but you still get lots of funny lines. In this you’re much straighter. As a writer is it tough to sit down and write a role for yourself where you know you’re not getting as many laughs?
Pegg: The thing is that we always write for the big picture. The films we do aren’t really about anyone grandstanding or stealing scenes, it’s about the whole thing working as an organism, and I knew that for the comedy to work I would have to be the straight center. Also, I think it takes some comic sensibilities to do that, to play just the right pitch of straightness to make the comedy work. Although he’s not a particularly funny character, his reactions to need to be to facilitate a lot of the humor. We did write it that way, and it kind of felt like the right thing to do. As a writer, and I’m sure this is the same for Edgar, at that point in time you are a writer. You are thinking about the big picture.
Wright: Simon is ridiculously generous. This was the case even with Spaced – I remember at the end of Spaced he said, ‘I’ve given the funny lines to everybody else!’ Simon is actually going to rectify the situation and be called Simon Pegg’s Great Big Goof-Off and have all this backed-up mugging.
Pegg: That’s on the DVD! But I will do something that’s completely selfish. I’ll do The Ricky Gervaise Story.
Wright: If Rowan Atkinson dies in a car crash, you can play Mr. Bean.
One of the great things in Hot Fuzz is the not-so-subtle homoeroticism. You and Nick were roommates for a while, Simon –
Pegg: What are you getting at, Devin?
Well, was there ever a night where you came home a little too drunk and things got very close?
Pegg: I think we had to go through a sort of test where we could get to a point where we could play that convincingly. And that was that poverty forced us into bed together – not in a prostitutional sense, but that we shared a bed for a long time.
Wright: But you did let people watch.
Pegg: We got very comfortable with the proximity and realized it’s not awful if you touch legs in the middle of the night. I think some guys are so fucking homophobic, so terrified that they might be gay, that they’ve never been able to show affection to another man, and Nick and I never had a problem with that. We used it in the film. It’s funny that these films are always about two guys who are always struggling with their love for each other, or at least their undying respect.
Frost: It’s baffling that straight men think that being gay is the worst thing that can happen to them. Like it’s catching cancer.
Wright: If Hot Fuzz was a more frat boy-ish comedy, that scene on the sofa [when Nick and Simon seem about to kiss] would have ended with them jumping back and going ‘Hey! Whoa!’
A lot of films now do seem to have a lot of gay jokes, but they’re gay panic jokes.
Wright: That Adam Sandler movie.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. You guys take another approach – it’s there, it’s funny, but it’s not horrifying.
Pegg: It’s also kind of sweet.
You buy him flowers!
Wright: It’s an unrequited love story.
Frost: Is it unrequited?
Wright: What I mean is that they never seal the deal.
Pegg: It’s easy to reduce it to being homosexual, and we’re riffing on that slightly because that’s part of these films – almost comically so, sometimes the way the guys relate to each other – but also it’s guys trying to come to terms with having a great affection for each other when they’re not gay. It’s that impenetrable heterosexual aloofness that breaks down and where they learn it’s OK to care about another guy.
There are a ton of great actors in this role, in cameos and in larger roles. Are you turning people away at this point? Is being in one of your films a very popular choice for British actors?
Wright: What’s great is that you get to write parts for actors you really admire, or who haven’t worked in a long time. I mean, Billie Whitelaw was retired, and the reason we kept persevering was that my note to the casting director was, ‘A Billie Whitelaw type.’
That’s just a gift, really. And the most exciting thing about it isn’t just to work with these actors who are legends, but to pair them with younger actors in their scenes. To talk about Grindhouse again, I was talking to Quentin and Rovert – Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez –
Pegg: He’s changed so much.
Wright: What they’ve done and what I hope we’ve done with Hot Fuzz is that part of Grindhouse is that they’ve given parts to actors Hollywood has moved away from. It’s not that they’ve gotten worse – you see Michael Biehn on screen and he’s fucking great, why doesn’t he get used more often? These guys are amazing, and it’s a treat to give Timothy Dalton something he can really sink his teeth into.
I know when you guys come to New York you take advantage of some of our video stores. What are you watching these days?
Wright: I bought The Manitou. It’s not going to have a great effect on the next film.
Have you watched it?
Wright: It’s crazy. I had watched it on TV when I was a kid, and it feels like the kind of film you watch when you have the flu. It’s a bit of a fever dream. It’s about an Indian who grows out of a woman’s neck.
He’s an evil midget 400 year old medicine man.
Pegg: The last thing I bought was Idiocracy at Kim’s.
I bought that on Edgar’s recommendation, and I loved it.
Wright: You mentioned it in the review, I appreciate that.
Pegg: There was the weirdest conspiracy about that. Was it by Fox?
They didn’t even release it in New York at all.
Wright: They had no poster, no trailer, and even on MovieFone it didn’t have the title. It said, ‘Luke Wilson Comedy.’
Are you afraid of ever pissing off the studio and having them dump a movie like that?
Wright: Every filmmaker has that nightmare story. I think you have to protect yourself. Studios want to work with directors and writers who have quirks and idiosyncrasies, and then don’t want what they get. They buy into talent then it’s like, ‘Oh this is kind of quirky, this Mike Judge comedy.’ Of course it is, it’s a fucking Mike Judge comedy! What did you think you were buying into?
Pegg: If Hot Fuzz does well internationally, you would hope that after doing two films where we were left on our own and they did well, that people would trust us. We’re very happy in the relationship we have at the moment with Working Title and Universal – certainly with our execs. We hope to have that relationship everywhere in the future.
Wright: And that comes with keeping things reasonably modest. If you do that, you can get carte blanche. If you do a 200 million dollar film, everyone is going to put their oar in.
Does this film doing so well in the UK change things for you next time?
Wright: I would hope so. The fact that it’s already more than doubled its production costs in the UK is great. That’s in one territory.
Pegg: There was a point where it was number three on the world chart, and it was only out in the UK. Obviously that’s great news for the people who we’re going to make films with.
What’s happening with you guys next?
Pegg: I’m going to take a back seat. I think we’ve all realized who the star is in this set up.
Frost: Right here!
Wright: Simon and Nick are writing something together, and then me and Simon have an idea for ‘The Next One’ with all three of us. And then we’re kind of working on separate projects as well. What is the next one, I’m not sure.
I talked to Mike White last week and he said he thought Them was next.
Wright: Then he has to write it! That was something where both of us were working on it and then he did his directorial debut and I did this and it got back-burnered.
Pegg: It’s strange – the more we do stuff together the more we appear to be a team, which we are undoubtedly, but in a way that almost comes with a price, which is that now you get seen as ‘that team.’ Nick and I are getting referred to as a double act, and we never meant to be, it’s simply that we love working together and with Edgar. Who knows what happens to the fourth or the sixth film we do together? We’re just making the films we’d like to see – there’s no game plan in terms of our collective identity.
Wright: I think we have plans for another six films, three of which come after and three that come before and we’ll never get to the final three.
Pegg: Three prequels to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and Untitled Third Project.
Wright: We’ll talk about the last three, but it’s bullshit and they’ll never exist.
Simon, when you’re doing work for hire as an actor, how satisfying is that after writing and starring in your own movie?
Pegg: It’s different, isn’t it? You invest yourself entirely, but it feels like a holiday.
Frost: It’s never as good. At least it isn’t at the moment.
Wright: Why have McDonalds when you can have steak at home?
Frost: I look at some stuff that I’ve done and think, ‘It’s not as good as Spaced, is it?’ I’m very critical about my own stuff and I turn down a lot of things that aren’t half as good as what these fuckheads pump out.
Wright: Simon likes it as an actor, because he can get out of the writing room.
Pegg: By the time we finished writing Hot Fuzz both Edgar and I were itching to do our other jobs. I hadn’t acted in a while and I wanted to be on my game for Hot Fuzz, which I knew would be the most difficult thing I ever did, so I went out and did The Good Night, which is coming out in the fall and The Big Nothing, which got a lukewarm reception in the UK but was great fun, and MI3 and then coming back to Hot Fuzz. There’s a wonderful feeling of ‘This isn’t mine!’ and you can focus on acting. While I feel most satisfied and fulfilled working with Edgar and Nick and our little gang, it’s nice occasionally to just go and be a jobbing actor.
What do you guys think happened with Grindhouse?
Wright: I hate this culture of the three day weekend anyway, and it’s the same thing that happened to King Kong. How can the fate of a film for all time be judged by what it did on a Saturday and a Sunday? And beside that, what I love is that in the trades people crowing on about it and you’re thinking, he film is called Grindhouse and is a tribute to the dregs of cinema, it’s three hours long and is released on Easter weekend against kid films, and it’s the kind of film you’re not going to see in the morning or afternoon, you want to see it in the evening. It’s a weird thing to read in the trades when you’re in the Mann’s Chinese at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, a thousand seater crammed to the rafters –
Pegg: With people going nuts.
Wright: It’s the culture of hit or miss by Sunday morning, and in a couple of years nobody’s going to give a shit. Does anyone look at John Carpenter’s The Thing and go, ‘Ooh, flop though’?
Pegg: Shawshank Redemption, even.
Wright: Who’s going to remember [how much money it made] in 25 years except for the guy at Box Office Mojo?
Looking back, what is your favorite episode of Spaced?
Wright: I’m going to beat Simon to it and say the Camden episode, episode five of series two with the slow motion finger gun fight.
Frost: I haven’t seen it.
Wright: The clubbing episode?
Frost: Yeah, the clubbing episode. Because I look good in that pink top.
Pegg: If I can’t have episode five, then I might venture to episode four of season one, with the paint ball, but I would like to fly the flag for episode six of season two with the dissolution of all the characters and the Empire Strikes Back ending, which I really, really like. The big realization that the fundamental hook of the series was not true, the whole ‘Professional Couples Only’ façade was needless, and I liked undoing all that. And of course we got David Brent before The Office.