In the first chapter of Simon Pegg's new memoir, Nerd Do Well, the actor and writer claims that he didn't think his life was interesting enough for an autobiography, and would have preferred to write fiction about a superhero and his robot butler: "Geeky boy comes good? I didn't see the appeal." An encouraging editor convinced him that his coming-of-age was just as compelling as the spawn of Rosie, and the result is a charming collection of stories about Pegg's happy youth in Gloucester, what it's like to be living the geek dream by playing Scotty in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot, his collaborations with best friends Edgar Wright and Nick Frost on the movies Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Paul, and his first sexual experience with a girl he calls Meredith Catsanus.
Slate: At the beginning of your book, you emphasize how reluctant you were to write an autobiography. Were you really so reluctant?
Simon Pegg: I resisted actually doing it initially and decided to try to put together some kind of production diary, something less personal. But it was just boring. You go to work, you do your job, and that's it. I realized the really interesting stuff was the more relatable stuff about being younger. So then I had to kind of like, wrestle with the idea of talking about personal things. And I realized my biggest problem with that was usually you have to do it. You're asked questions in interviews by journalists who want to get into your private life. And the reason I resist that is because then it's theirs to disseminate, then they can interpret it, or it can be spun. But if it comes from you, you have complete control over what's said and you are the horse's mouth. I kind of figured, OK, I'll relinquish some stuff that I'm not precious about or I don't feel threatens me or my privacy. And once I got into it, I had a brilliant time. Because you realize your memory is like a zip file on a computer. There's so much stuff you just compress.
Slate: You're particularly vivid when you talk about your early romances with the girlfriends you call "Meredith Catsanus" and "Eggy Helen." Though you talk about wanting privacy, was it easier to talk about your first sexual experience with Ms. Catsanus because it happened so long ago or because it no longer impacts your life?
Simon Pegg: I think a bit of both of those things. My relationship with Meredith—and I got in touch with the real girl and told her about this, and she thought it was hilarious—a certain amount of time has passed so it's OK, it's history. My relationship with my wife now is private because it's still ongoing.
Slate: I'm not a total nerd, so can you explain to me why you and so many other comedians are still so angry about the Star Wars prequels? You describe your relationship with the franchise in the book as "comparable, symbolically at least, to living with an abusive partner." The stand-up comic Brian Posehn compares what he calls the "Revenge of the Shit" to being molested by an uncle as an adult. Patton Oswalt, another standup, said if he had a time machine, he would go back to 1993 or 1994 and kill George Lucas with a shovel to prevent the prequels from happening. Why was the failure of these movies earth shattering?
Simon Pegg: They were just terrible. They weren't very good films. I say in the book, it's something to be let down by someone, but it's something else to be let down by someone you respect. It meant a lot to us as children, obviously all three of us—Patton, Brian, and me—and of course millions of other thirty- and fortysomething adults. And [the prequels] just didn't measure up. It's been something we've played on slightly, because it's amusing to be upset by something so trivial, and ultimately it means nothing. But I like the fact that people got upset about it, because in some respects it does matter, it could have been great, it could have carried it on, and could have evolved and been sophisticated and smart, but it is just sort of a mess.
Slate: You do end the chapter about your Star Wars disappointment on a happy note, when you describe meeting George Lucas, and he tells you, "Just don't suddenly find yourself making the same film you made thirty years ago." It's like he is admitting he knew the prequels weren't up to snuff.
Pegg: And also the idea that it happened because he doesn't trust anybody, by the sounds of it. That's my take on it. That back in the day, he was forced to collaborate, whereas when he was a superrich walking studio, he could just make all these decisions without deferring to anyone. And that's when it all went wrong. Not because he's not smart, but because it's just better to collaborate. I dread the day that my friends stop saying, "Wait a minute, that's bad!"
Slate: You write a lot in the book about collaborating with your closest friends, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, on many projects. You co-wrote Paul with your best friend, Nick Frost. What's that working relationship like?
Pegg: It's loads of fun. I love writing with Nick because it's silly. When Edgar and me write together, it's slightly more studious. When Nick and I write together I just laugh so much around him, we'll be in tears virtually every day, we'll be laughing at something so much we're weeping. It's a really nice way to go to work.
Slate: Your movies seem to privilege your friendship with Nick—or whatever character he's playing—over romantic love. Why do you think that is?
Pegg: Nick and I always talk about it, it's always played up, this idea of bromance, when really, when women are like that with each other, it's not commented on. Whereas with guys, it's still weird if guys are kind of affectionate with each other, and I just find that really interesting because it comes from guys being very uptight and homophobic. With Hot Fuzz, there was definitely a homoerotic subtext, when the guys are fighting in the rain with their tops off. With Paul it was kind of more the fact that they'd become almost co-dependent and couldn't function outside their own relationship. But if Nick and I are doing the film together, it has to be about that. There was a female character in Hot Fuzz initially called Victoria who ran the local bed and breakfast and who Angel had a relationship with. But it felt really tacked on, like we were only doing it to play lip service to that, when really, what that film is about is the romance between Danny and Nick.
Slate: Not to be your therapist, but do you think your parents' divorce has something to do with the importance of male friendship in your life? In the book you describe the divorce as a good thing, because it galvanized your relationship with both of them—"forming a powerful bond with my mother and facilitating the removal of the kind of male tension that causes rival stags to lock antlers." Did this lack of tension make it easier to be extremely close with your collaborators?
Pegg: Maybe, maybe because my relationship with my dad has always been more like pals, we've all been very affectionate with each other and there's never been any kind of weirdness there. He was never standoffish, he never played that stoic patriarch. That certainly informed my relationship with guys.
Slate: Much of your work seems to pivot off of pop culture you consumed. Why do you think that is?