Pegg, Frost & Wright on Shaun of the Dead !

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The British television show Spaced* never really made waves here like Monty Python or The Office or even Coupling. Although American audiences will probably not be very familiar with it, the show’s writers, actor Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, loved classic George Romero zombie movies so much that they decided to make an entire zombie movie. Little did they know at the time that director Danny Boyle’s zombie influences would be showing up in 28 Days Later and that their future distributor Universal Pictures was working on a remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Undaunted, they created their own form of zombie movie, incorporating the comedy of their show into the genre with its two stars-two London slackers suddenly finding themselves having to be heroes-played by Pegg and his Spaced co-star Nick Frost. Thus was born Shaun of the Dead.

The guys were in New York recently, and they talked to ComingSoon.Net about the inspiration behind Shaun of the Dead, as well as giving a few choice words about a certain remake of their beloved classic. Despite their background in comedy, these are three guys who take their zombies very seriously.

CS!: What drove you to make a zombie comedy?
Simon Pegg: I love the original [George] Romero Dawn of the Dead, and I love the fact that he managed to create these monsters who are at times sympathetic, tragic, terrifying, and also wanting to shock all the time. It’s hilarious.
Edgar Wright: It’s called Shaun of the Dead, because we see it as a companion film to those films. If Dawn of the Dead is happening in Pittsburgh, this is what’s happening in North London. We’re so used to seeing predominantly American films in the zombie or end-of-the-world genre, and we wanted to see just how badly the Brits cope. Not very well on the evidence of this film! (laughter) But this is about the side players, not about the army or the government or the scientists trying to stop the virus. It’s about two guys-it’s not their fault that it started and it’s not their job to stop it-but they have to figure out a way to get through the weekend.

CS!: Do you consider this to be a spoof of zombie films?
Pegg: A spoof implies that you’re making fun of something, whereas in our film, the zombie element is completely true. They’re never comic. It’s like another film has crashed into a romantic comedy; if anything, we’re spoofing romantic comedies. The zombie element itself is done with reverence and good faith.
Wright: There are satirical elements about city life and people of a certain age, but it’s not a send-up of zombie films. All the comedy comes from the characters. The zombie thing is not only just a backdrop to their story, it’s an unfortunate turn of events. If you went through the script and replaced reference to the word “zombie” with “traffic jam”, it might still work as a structure. Part of the joke of the film is that even though the world is ending, the natural course of Shaun’s weekend has not changed.
Pegg: The only thing that is a spoof is that the title is obviously a bad pun. It’s the worst joke in the movie, and I apologize for it. When we started writing the film, we came up with this title, and it stuck.
Wright: We had this joke in the pitch of the film. We thought that if Dawn of the Dead is our “Hamlet” than this is our “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”.

CS!: But you do realize that it’s hard for some people to take zombies seriously, even when they’re not appearing in a comedy, right?
Pegg: The people that mistake zombies for being schlocky and an excuse to have gore don’t make the best zombie films. Zombies are a great all-purpose metaphor for humanity. They are not monsters; they’re us. There’s no moral agenda behind them. They are human beings at their most basic, feeding and breeding, and they’re terrifying for that, not just because they’re dead-which is our greatest fear—but because they show us that we’re just animals and that’s even more scary. The zombie is a far more complex, intellectual monster than anyone thinks it is.

CS!: How did you get brought onto the movie, Nick?
Nick Frost: I worked with Simon and Edgar on a show in Britain called “Spaced”. We all work very well together. I spent the last ten years sitting on a couch playing Playstation in preparation for this part, so I’d like to think that they wrote the part based on me. It was such a great character and I would have been mad to say “no”. I think Simon at one point even threatened me with physical violence if I turned it down. So how could I refuse?

CS!: So you two are obviously pretty close. Is there anything homoerotic about the relationship between Simon and Ed?
Frost: Yeah, there is. (laughter) We’ve taken it from Simon and my own relationship in the early years. We’ve been best friends for ten years and we lived together for six and seven years. At times during our relationship, we’ve both been Shaun and Ed, and we’ve been very co-dependent on each other over the years.
Pegg: We always say that the real love story is between Ed and Shaun, because they are sort of inseparable. I don’t think it would ever physically manifest itself, because they’re too uptight to start. It’s always fun to play with that kind of subtext, particularly with those kind of uptight straight guys. I love that kind of thing.
Frost: If anything, Ed is the physical embodiment of Shaun’s sloth. He just kind of appears on the couch when Shaun doesn’t want to work.

CS!: At the beginning of the movie, Shaun is quite oblivious about what is going on around him. Why do you think that is?
Pegg: We wanted for there to be quite obvious clues of what was happening, so you’re hearing sirens all the time in the background and you’re hearing snippets of newscasts. That’s about living in London. People are so self-absorbed in cities that you can walk down the street for blocks and not see a single other person or not make eye contact in anyway. That’s what we were saying about the way Shaun doesn’t spot stuff until it’s too late.

CS!: Once Shaun and Ed figure out what is going on and try to fight back, they’re not very good at it, are they?
Pegg: We don’t have guns in the UK for public use, so we liked the idea that even though these guys play these video games all the time, if they actually got a real gun they wouldn’t know what the hell to do with it.

CS!: How do you think Shaun compares to other humorous horror films like Scary Movie?
Wright: A great horror-comedy like American Werewolf in London works well because you can tell that John Landis absolutely loves those films, and it’s a really affectionate take on those films. Even something that’s a lot broader like Young Frankenstein totally works because you know that Mel Brooks is a big fan of those Universal horror films. Something like Scary Movie is literally like “Hey! What was the last big film that made $100 million? Well, let’s spoof that!” We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to do a film that totally worked within the confines of the genre and is totally reverent.

CS!: Do you think that Americans will understand the rather British humor of the movie?
Frost: We’ve been asked this quite a lot. We’ve shown the movie a lot over the last couple of weeks, and every American audience that has seen it has loved it. I think it’s easy for English people to ask whether the Americans would understand it, but it’s things like love and tragedy and trying to cope with life in a big city, thing that people everywhere know about.
Wright: Everybody knows somebody like these characters, so the themes of love and life and redemption and even the end of the world are all pretty universal things. On the other hand, one would hope that the fact that it’s pretty culturally specific is part of its interest and the charm about it in the same way that when I watch an American film, I learn about American culture and life.
Pegg: So far, the American audiences have been more vocal with their appreciation than the British audiences. In Britain, we tend to be quite reserved. They laughed a lot, but the people here would cheer and scream and laugh really loudly.

CS!: Have any of you seen the remake of the Dawn of the Dead? What did you think?
Frost: I haven’t seen it. It was released a week before our film, so it seemed like we got the quickest film to be named after another film.
Pegg: I thought the first ten minutes was very exciting, but in the mall sequence, they missed the point of the original, which was that the survivors set up this strange little bourgeois utopia in a shopping mall and live this kind of odd life there for a long time. In the remake, they’re kind of there for a little bit, and then they move on very quickly.
Wright: I also liked the first ten minutes, but I have a big problem with the fast zombies. It goes against the grain of everything that I love about the original films. We had this thing that we thought was funny: the new fast zombies are so agitated and rapid that the Dawn of the Dead remake should have been called 28 Coffees Later. (laughter)
Pegg: It felt like a MTV refit of zombies. It would have been a better film if they hadn’t called it Dawn of the Dead, because you’re talking about a very underrated but classic film, and the guy who made it can’t get his own zombie film (Land of the Dead) made, but then someone comes along and can remake his movie.

CS!: Was it very satisfying to see your movie do better in England than both the Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Days Later?
Wright: Since making the film, I’ve gotten to know both the producers of 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead remake. The latter came to see Shaun in Los Angeles. He said to me “That’s my favorite film of the yearÂ…including mine.” So that was pretty sweet, but all the rivalry is pretty playfulÂ…but we did make more money. (laughter)
Pegg: Obviously, we’re big fans of the Romero trilogy–Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead–as they are the greatest zombie films ever made. George Romero said Shaun of the Dead was his favorite zombie film ever apart from his own, which was nice. George is now getting his movie made, and we’ve already had our faces cast for it. (Simon and Nick are going to have cameos as zombies.)

If you can’t get enough of Shaun of the Dead, look for more from our interview with Simon, Nick and Edgar early next week.

Shaun of the Dead opens in most places across the nation on Friday.

*Note: The cable channel Trio has started showing Spaced this week.