The second most-anticipated trilogy capper of the past nine years (editor’s note: “Before Midnight” 4 lyfe!!!), “The World’s End” reunites “Shaun of the Dead” director Edgar Wright with “Hot Fuzz” stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for the final installment of their informal “Blood & Ice Cream” trilogy. All three sat down with us in Austin, TX, to discuss matters of cake flushing, role reversal, stunt work, the perils of nostalgia and the perks of playing their films abroad.
FILM.COM For the record, how many cakes have been flushed on this tour?
EDGAR WRIGHT: None!
SIMON PEGG: We did actually consider flushing some cake pops…
NICK FROST: I flush one every day and I just don’t tell ‘em.
PEGG: We got some cake pops in Australia that we nearly flushed, but none yet. We’ve grown up a bit since then.
WRIGHT: We were men enough to match “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” with “The World’s End,” but we realized that we would never ever top “Cake Flushing 3.” It’s pointless to even try.
FROST: This is our second trilogy, essentially… [laughs] We finished the “Cake Flushing” trilogy first. I’m really proud of that, you know? It was like a movement.
PEGG: It was across his birthday as well, which is why we kept getting cakes. There’s no reason to give us cakes this time.
Along the lines of all this promotional travel, with the staggered release dates, how does it feel to push something that’s new to every audience and yet deal with the cushy burden of going on these tours, doing all these interviews?
PEGG: I’m not sure about “cushy.”
WRIGHT: I mean, any time you do an audience Q&A, it’s always fun because the thing is, big blockbusters come out day-and-date, they don’t have the time or people that are passionate enough. They have maybe two weeks with the cast, max. Because I directed it, we [Pegg & Wright] co-wrote it, they [Pegg & Frost] star in it, and we’re all producers on the movie, so it’s our baby. It’s unusual to get the chance to go to twelve cities in the U.S.
FROST: Also, I don’t think we take it for granted that a lot of British filmmakers don’t get the chance to do this. We’re very lucky. And you can do it either one of two ways. You can come on this tour and be miserable, because you have to rush around and you don’t get to see anything and it’s hot and we miss our families, and you’re gonna have a shit time. Or you can come and you believe what you’re selling and you have faith in it, and you work hard for it, and you enjoy it. We all enjoy doing this press. A lot of actors hate doing it… If we simply sat on our laurels and and say, “We did ‘Hot Fuzz’ and ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ and Edgar did ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ and we did ‘Paul,’ so Americans will go and see it, right?” They might not. We’re essentially a foreign film, so we’re not just going to take that for granted, that these films did relatively well and now we don’t have to do any work. This is really important.
How do you feel about traveling the world and seeing how the humor translates outside of England, with the pub culture and such?
PEGG: I think the grand themes are slightly more inclusive. Not only do we use broad metaphors from cinema, but we use smaller reference points from our own sort of parochial lives. At the same time, these films are about friendship, they’re about personal change, they’re about things that everyone can sort of relate to, and we’d like to assume that our audience is smart enough to decipher some of the more prosaic ideas and fun enough to enjoy the genre aspects. We’ve always kind of trusted our instincts in that respect, haven’t we, Edgar?
WRIGHT: Yeah. I think when we first came to the States with “Shaun,” we were pleasantly surprised by how well it played, and it actually gave us the confidence to keep it British, because, in other countries, people enjoyed that aspect. Watering it down would just be false. There’s no reason to change it for this one.
PEGG: We didn’t know if “Shaun of the Dead” would get seen over here. As Nick said, I think we’re the only British comedy writing unit that actually gets to do this. We just made a film that we wanted to get seen at home, so we didn’t really make any concessions in terms of making it transatlantic because we didn’t really have to, and then we found that the audience really took to it here. It’s probably because they understood the language of it in terms of being a zombie film… and with all the metaphors in place and everything else, people were smart enough to figure out. So we didn’t do it the second time, and we didn’t do it the third time, and it seems that, who knew, the global audience is smart. Everyone thinks they’re dumb. All the people that make the big movies assume that we’re thick kids who just like watching things go bang. [laughs]
WRIGHT: And we ain’t! Yeah!
Regarding the themes of nostalgia, where was the line for you in terms of evoking the era in which the film starts without overdoing it, without being “Guess what? The ‘90s were great!” in the case that that isn’t necessarily a healthy perspective?
WRIGHT: I guess what the film is saying is, apart from some of the tunes on the stereo, is that the ‘90s weren’t great! [laughs] Because it’s not a time-travel movie and they don’t go back in time, that great period is in Gary’s head. You see it through his eyes at the start, for the opening sequence…
PEGG: The whole of the first three minutes is from the point of view of a serial reminiscer, which is why it’s in 16mm and slightly hazy, because it’s essentially a story of Gary relating how much he loves alcohol in an addiction encounter group. That’s how he thinks of the past, and that’s the whole point of the film: was it really better then, or is it just because it’s ‘then’ and not now, and ‘now’ is f**king awful for you?
WRIGHT: It’s a cautionary tale of turning back the clock and the moral of the story is spoken aloud by Rosamund Pike’s character when she says you have to go forward, not backwards. The first two movies are definitely playing on genres that we’ve loved since we were kids, whether it be zombie films or cop films, and with this one, we love sci-fi, but it was nice to do something about getting older and having to let go of childish things.
Do you think that you [Edgar] could have done the fights in this movie before making a film like “Scott Pilgrim,” or that you [Nick and Simon] could have done these back at the time that you made “Shaun” or “Fuzz”?
WRIGHT: No, I think that making that movie definitely gave me the confidence to know how far I could push it, and part of that is working with new collaborators like [cinematographer] Bill Pope and [stunt coordinator] Brad Allan… It’s kind of ironic in a way, because we’re obviously older than we were when we made “Shaun,” but the action scenes are the most punishing of the three. But what’s great is that these guys can do it, and so can Paddy [Considine] and Martin [Freeman] and Eddie [Marsan] and Roz [Pike].
FROST: Technically, I think that we could have done fight scenes then, but for this one, I was lucky that I’d just done a dance film, so that wrapped a week before rehearsals started. In terms of learning these very beautiful choreographies, the only difference between this and “Cuban Fury” is, in this, I was punching people and not dancing with lovely women. [laughs] It felt the same, though. I have a theory about actors, and I’m not talking about me necessarily -- (whispers) I am -- but certain actors are good at learning stuff very quickly, because you have to be that person, whether it’s phonetically learning German or looking like you’ve worked in this paper mill all your life or knowing how to load and unload a rifle. They have something in their brains that makes them pick up these things very quickly and look proficient at it.
PEGG: We couldn’t have done those fight scenes on “Shaun” or “Fuzz” because Edgar hadn’t met Brad Allan. That’s all part of our journey to this point, that we’ve gone away, met people and learned things. I’ve learned on “Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek” that you have to work out for f**kin’ six months before starting some of these films. You can’t go out drinking the night before you shoot this stuff. You have to be in really good physical shape. I feel like our whole careers have prepared us for these fight scenes, and in that respect, we couldn’t have done them earlier because we wouldn’t have known just what goes into it.
WRIGHT: And beyond the stunts, there’s also the special effects. We have lots of practical and digital effects going on at the same time as the fights. I worked with the same effects company on “Shaun,” “Fuzz,” “Don’t!,” “Scott Pilgrim” and this, so in that kind of relationship, you have an idea and the technology has caught up to it. In a weird way, the shooting of the bathroom scene, for instance, was much easier than shooting the garden scene in “Shaun of the Dead” because some of the special effects have become sophisticated enough where it does not impede the shooting of the scene, which is great.
PEGG: They would enable stuff as well. Double Negative did the effects, and I’ve learned stuff on not just our films, but all the films they’ve done. I think the VFX on “The World’s End” had come on some since we did “Paul,” and that was just a couple of years before. Doing stuff without having to get a green screen out sometimes is great, when you hit a guy and [special effects technician Andy] Frazer goes, “Yeah, his head’ll come off.” [laughs] They just do it afterwards and it looks fantastic.
Nick, what was it like for you playing the straight man for a change?FROST: I’ve been getting asked this quite a lot. The answer always seems a bit flippant, but I’m an actor, you know, and any chance to play any character is a challenge and a joy and a treat, and to do something different. I’m always really aware that -- we tried to do it in “Paul” slightly -- I wouldn’t want people to get bored of “here’s the driven straight man and his stoned, sloppy, underachieving mate” or whatever it may be. It’s important to change things, because I want people to be excited when a film comes out and for it to not necessarily be the same in terms of Simon and I’s relationship. If that means I have to be the buttoned-down guy for a certain portion of the film, that’s great. It’s great to be something else, and to become the Pink Hulk. [laughs]
PEGG: It’s more of a dynamic change as well, because if you look at how different Danny is to Ed, Danny is this obnoxious slob while Ed is this very enthusiastic, puppy-like guy, very, very different, as different as Andy is to both of those characters. What we’ve done is swap it around so my character is the more proactive comedic driving force and Andy is, at first, a more reactive character, which is what I’d always been to Nick’s antics. It was less about Nick suddenly playing a different character; it was more of a dynamics thing.
FROST: There’s also this kind of connotation with the term “straight man” that it can’t be funny, that you’re not the funny one, but that’s not the case. It’s about being a foil to Simon’s character.
PEGG: A lot of your comedic moments in this are when you’re trying to hold your anger at Gary in, which is what I used to as Shaun would react to Ed. It was kind of fun to flip it around a bit.
For your character, Simon, compared to Shaun who was a slacker, this character is so deeply self-destructive. What was it like dipping into something more emotionally pronounced, where it’s still funny but with that certain sadness to it?
PEGG: It was fun to play a character who was so driven. Gary is extremely motivated as an addict, and it’s funny at first because he has to finish this pub crawl, even when it becomes apparent that the world is in danger. He actually uses that as an excuse to keep going. Just when the crawl seems to have failed, the whole thing is given new life by this turn of events, and Gary completely hijacks that so everyone falls in line behind him. He sees that as a joyous way to carry on when really he’s on a suicide mission. We also had this idea that Gary’s wearing these clothes that he’s wearing in 1990, not because he’s worn them for twenty years. It’s because he’s put them on especially for tonight, like a U.S. general who’s gonna kill himself putting on his medals and everything. That’s what Gary’s done, and I really loved playing him because I think he’s very, very funny, and the test was to try the audience’s patience with him so at the very end, when they find out the truth about him, they go, “Oh, shit. Maybe I should’ve been nicer to him. Maybe I should’ve liked him a bit more.”
To wrap this up, I did want to ask you about your upcoming projects, but was hoping that I could ask each of you to discuss one another’s projects. [laughs]
WRIGHT: I can tell you that Nick has a dance comedy coming out called “Cuban Fury” on January 10th in the U.K.
PEGG: Who’s in it?
WRIGHT: Nick Frost is in it, Chris O’Dowd, Rashida Jones, Ian McShane, Olivia Colman. I haven’t seen it yet, but I hear great things. Nick’s apparently very fast on his feet, and he’s going to get a whole new legion of lady admirers after this.
FROST: Oh, I’m going to get so much poon tang. [all laugh] Simon is doing the “EastEnders” movie in Australia with Wim Wenders. He’s got another “Star Trek” hopefully, another “Mission: Impossible” and another “Tintin.” He is 43 and an Aquarius. [laughs]
PEGG: It’s an Australian filmmaker called Kriv Stenders, for the record.
Simon, what can you say about “Ant-Man”?
PEGG: Well, I’m very excited that Nick’s playing Ant-Man... [all laugh] Edgar is about to start pre-production on a film he’s been involved with for probably five, six years now and he’s thoroughly relieved about it. We can’t say too much right now, there will be announcements in the future, but he’s really looking forward to it. He also enjoys long walks in the country and non-smoking preferred.
FROST: And then we’ll get to do our fourth film in the “Blood and Ice Cream” quadrilogy. [laughs]
EW: The fourth one’s gonna be a Russ Meyer movie.
"The World's End" opens in theaters this Friday.