Questions for Simon Pegg
The star of Shaun of the Dead talks about his new book, Nerd Do Well, and his romance with a girl called Meredith Catsanus.
Pegg: It's part of the postmodern condition. At the moment—it might not always be this way—because we're choosing to work in popular, and populist, culture, we're kind of just putting our hands up and admitting, it's all been done before. If you're going to do an alien movie, then, it's kind of been done a lot. Even this year it's been done a lot. Audiences will feel more included if they're regarded as being literate on that sort of stuff. You're not often regarded as smart when you go to the cinema these days. You're just someone to watch a light show or to tempt into the theater with bangs and flashes. It's not like there's any real challenge. I'm not saying Paul is a challenging movie—it's much broader than anything we've done before—but we still wanted some degree of interaction there.
Slate: I know you're on Twitter. Do you enjoy interacting with your audience in that way?
Pegg: I resisted Twitter for quite a long time. Nick was on it all through Paul, and I thought I don't want to be that available, but then I realized it might be quite smart to get on it because eventually it would become—without sounding cynical—a very effective way of reaching people, a good marketing tool. But I think you can't just assume people are going to follow you. You have to maintain it. So as long as you pepper the shameless self-promotion with some kind of entertaining stuff, it's really good.
I find it's an interesting deterrent in a way. It's like having nuclear bombs or something. Now if there's any kind of slander about you, you can immediately refute it. I've never had to do that, but it's another horse's mouth. The temptation is like, in the U.K., Paul got reviewed quite harshly by some of our critics, because they don't like us going to America. Occasionally, you just want to get on there and tell people to go fuck themselves.
Slate: In the book, you write about your dramatic training as a teen, and about how you were dying to play Hamlet. Would you still want to pursue something more serious, like a Shakespeare adaptation?
Pegg: I don't distinguish particularly between comedic and straight acting at this point. With Paul I think we were being slightly more clowny. But certainly in Shaun of the Dead, we tried to play it as straight as possible to the point where it becomes tragedy. It was more about trying to make it realistic. The next film I'm doing is kind of a semicomedy, but it's much more of an acting job than just telling gags. It's called A Fantastic Fear of Everything. It's about a writer who is paranoid, basically he's going insane. He's writing plays about murderers but he's becoming obsessed with murder and murdering. And he gets a meeting with an agent, but in order to go, he has to visit the Laundromat because his clothes are dirty and he's frightened of Laundromats. So it's this really odd but brilliant script. It's directed by Crispian Mills who is the grandson of John Mills and the son of Hayley Mills, so he's from a great acting dynasty. It's just a little low-budget British film but I'm very excited about it. *
Slate: Are you playing the writer?
Pegg: I am.
Slate: Why is he afraid of Laundromats?
Pegg: It's all about his childhood, and abandonment, and you learn that he had a traumatic experience at the Laundromat when he was very young. I've just been rehearsing it and start shooting when I get back.
Slate: Do you know when you start shooting Star Trek 2?
Pegg: They really keep us in the dark, as much as they can. I think they do it as a favor to us. It's impossible to keep secrets these days, everyone wants a scoop. There are so many movie websites, and Star Trek websites, and they all want to be able to break stories. Now it's like, you can walk into a film and know what happens. In an ideal world for me, Paul would have had the same level of secrecy that Super 8 did. You wouldn't have known it was about an alien. I would have liked people to go see Paul and think it was about two nerds in an RV, and have the moment when he steps out of the darkness be as shocking to the audience as it was to Graham and Clive.
Slate: Do you usually not have any say about what's going to be in the trailer?
Pegg: We do, but they buffer you with statistics. They say, "It tested very well in this demographic. In the fourth quadrant it played very well," and you say, "Oh, OK." So they show you a trailer that they've made, and they've put jokes in that aren't in the film. You've got to sell tickets, it's such a competitive market, and this was a bigger risk and a bigger budget, and you just have to do it. It hurts a little bit. That said, they did a great job.
Slate: Finally, what's the best thing you've seen on the Internet this week?
Pegg: It was the Captain America trailer. I first saw it in the theater, it was this amazing special effect where they put Chris Evans' hunky head on a tiny skinny man's body. I had to look at it again online, it was very strange.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
Correction, June 15, 2011: Hayley Mills' name was misspelled in the original version of this article. (Return to corrected sentence.)