Reuniting the comedy duo of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, Paul, coming to DVD, Blu-ray and On Demand this week, also throws a state-of-the art CGI extraterrestrial into the mix. Back in March, ComingSoon.net traveled all the way to Area 51 in Rachel, Nevada to speak with Frost, Pegg and director Greg Mottola for the film’s theatrical release (check out the video interviews here). Recently, we were lucky enough to again catch up with Pegg and Mottola for a dinner conversation in Los Angeles.
The film, which features Frost and Pegg as a pair of British science fiction fans who, on a post-Comic-Con road trip, wind up meeting and befriending an actual fugitive alien, Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). Conceived of by the pair, the origins of Paul go back to Frost and Pegg’s first theatrical collaboration.
“We kept having to re-do the record-throwing scene in ‘Shaun of the Dead’ because the weather was so bad,” Pegg recalls, “Nira [Park] said to us, ‘Why can’t you make a film somewhere where it doesn’t rain?’ Nick and Me were like, ‘Sure! It’s this: There’s two guys and they’re in the desert and they bump into an alien and he’s a normal guy and he’s really friendly and his name is Paul.’ We pitched this idea like it was a joke pitch… [It was that] it’s like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ with Gollum in it. We wanted a road movie feel but, within that, for there to be this insanely impressive special effect.”
After locking down the idea, Frost and Pegg embarked on a real-life road trip to many of the same locations that their characters, Graham and Clive, visit in the film. Though they didn’t run into an alien, many of the supporting characters were inspired by actual people that they met on their journey.
With the script locked, the trick was to find someone to pull it all together. Though the duo’s comedy was synonymous with writer/director Edgar Wright, their friend had to sit Paul out because he was busy working on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Luckily, a kindred spirit was found in Mottola who was, at the time, just coming off the tremendous success of Superbad.
“When we met Greg,” says Pegg, “it was like meeting someone that we already knew.”
There was an instant bond between the three talents over their shared love of all things nerd. At the dinner table, Mottola passes around the image of a decades-old drawing that proves he was the perfect man for the job.
“I was an art student and my assignment was to represent yourself with your hero,” he laughs, “I drew myself with George Lucas.”
One of the first big decisions for the production was how the character of Paul was going to be represented on-screen. Included in the home video release is a feature called “The Evolution of Paul” that shows off some of the earliest test footage with Bill Hader providing the alien voice.
“In a perfect world, we probably would have made this a much lower budget film,” Mottola admits, “The reality of making an alien today is that you can either do a puppet and save a lot of money or do we make him CG and have a funny CG character? And once we made him CG, the cost of putting all that in the movie is one third of the budget.”
“I think people these days demand so much,” adds Pegg, “When we first saw the cantina sequence from ‘Star Wars’ — you look at it now and some of those masks are pretty ropey — but they were certainly not in the day. They were amazing and they were fantastic. Any kind of artificiality we detected, we just let it go because we were prepared to meet them in the middle. We’re not now. If CG doesn’t look absolutely f–ing super-real, we say it’s rubbish.”
Paul wasn’t the only one to go through some evolutions before hitting the big screen, either. The test footage also includes a very different Graham and Clive.
“[They] were much more outlandish,” says Pegg, “They were more strange looking. Clive was a bit [goth]. He had a Red Dwarf T-shirt and a leather thong around his neck… He looked like Brian May from Queen if he had eaten more. If he had eaten the Queen. I looked like a pedophile.”
Balancing Graham and Clive’s then over-the-top personalities became an important task so that the film wouldn’t be taken over entirely by inside jokes and pop culture references.
“The film itself is a reference in some respects, because it accepts the existence of its progenitors,” says Pegg, “[But] we had to invite everyone to the party this time… We couldn’t rely on everybody being as into s–t as we are.”
One of the film’s “everyone” gags references Paul‘s big influence, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. with the suggestion that, during Paul’s time on Earth, he actually conversed with and inspired the director to make his 1982 film. Because of Frost and Pegg’s involvement in the upcoming The Adventures of Tintin, Spielberg himself offered to cameo as his own voice.
We couldn’t resist asking Pegg one important question, though; if Paul was responsible for the origins of E.T., is he also behind the aliens in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
“That’s a good question,” he laughs, “I think maybe Steven went at it alone on that one.”
Hardcore genre fans shouldn’t be too disappointed, though, as a couple of extremely obscure gags did make the final cut.
“There are jokes in there that only one or two people will get,” Pegg adds, “…I like to think of those two people getting it and just being orgasmic with self-pride.”
The home video release, too, provides a forum for jokes that didn’t make the theatrical version, though Motolla admits that he had mixed feelings in assembling an extended cut.
“It’s something that, quite honestly, there’s always a debate, artistically, about whether to do or not do,” he says, “It’s weird. It’s weird to do a cut and work so hard on something and then do a longer cut. But at the end of the day, I felt it was more satisfying than doing cut scenes because there was so much stuff that we liked but felt was indulgent to keep in the theatrical version.”
As for the future, both talents half-joke that they’d like to do a sequel with the planned title of Pauls. What’s most important for Pegg, though, is that it and any future projects remain as positive a personal experience as Paul turned out to be.
“I read something online the other day that was like ‘Edgar and Simon promise about ‘World’s End’ AGAIN!'” he laments, “F–k you! I don’t make films for that guy. We make films for ourselves and we’ll do it when we can do it… We’re not keeping this guy waiting who’s angry about it.”
What Paul meant for Pegg in the end was time spent with his best friend and many other like minds, a tour of some of the more incredible locations that the United States have to offer and the birth of his daughter.
“I know, artistically it’s not a good reason to make a film so that you can hang out with people,” he smiles, “but if you can do both, that’s great.”
Paul hits DVD, Blu-ray and On Demand this Tuesday, August 9th.