Anyone who has seen Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz knows full well how funny Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are when they’re put together, which is why it made perfect sense when we talked to them on-set for their third buddy comedy (more or less), they would be paired together for the interview. Both Simon and Nick have very different looks for the movie than we’re used to, and they’re trying to take on different personalities from the norm and create a different dynamic in order to separate Paul from their earlier two films.
Q: Has it felt very different making this movie than the last two, as well as filming in America?
Nick Frost: Yeah.
Simon Pegg: Yeah. I kind of feel we’ve been hidden away. We kind of just blocked ourselves off and we’re just f*cking monkeys… Sorry to swear. It’s always interesting working in America just because the catering’s so different. In England, you get a breakfast, lunch…
Pegg: Sandwiches… Here, it’s just food all the time. It’s really hard not to just eat all the time, isn’t it?
Frost: Yeah, you’re talking to the wrong person.
Pegg: We’ve been here for like six months nearly, because we did “Tintin” at the beginning of the year and now this. I just really love working with American crews. There just seems to be… I think in England there’s no overtime, so if you go over, you have to ask nicely and they don’t particularly like it, quite rightly, because they aren’t getting paid to do it. But here, there is overtime, so nobody gives a sh*t about things running over, so everyone’s just in it to win it the whole time.
Frost: You know, we did ten night shoots back to back and it was just f*cking crippling. But then, the crews, even at 5am, were just laughing. You know, everyone’s really just enjoyed it, I think. I’d like to think so anyway.
Pegg: It’s been really good fun and working with our cast as well, who were just extraordinary. I know it always ends up sounding like a bit of a sort of lovefest when you talk to actors about their fellow actors ’cause no one really bitches. We’ve really felt like we’ve had to raise our game on this movie, just because everyone’s so f*cking good. Like Jason [Bateman] and Bill [Hader] and Joe [Lo Truglio] and Kristin [Wiig] are so, so funny. Sigourney Weaver was absolutely lovely, just so up for it. Blythe Danner is… incredible. John Carrol Lynch, who will forever be France McDormand’s husband in “Fargo” for me. It was such a laugh, you know.
Frost: And “Zodiac.”
Pegg: And “Zodiac,” of course. But yeah, a couple of times, Nick and I have had to go and think, “You better f*cking start working harder, otherwise we’re just gonna vanish in this film.” (laughter) And then Paul on top of that, with Seth doing Paul’s voice.
Frost: We’ve forgotten Seth’s in it, as well.
Pegg: I know, because he’s not on set.
Frost: We kind of did him first off. We did mo-cap in Los Angeles like four months ago and we did his bits. And then we came out here and a few times in the last couple of weeks I said to Simon, “You know, Seth Rogen is in this film as well.”
Q: Nira Park (the film’s producer) said you came up with the idea because it was raining all the time while you were making “Shaun of the Dead.”
Pegg: (laughs) Yeah that’s right. One of the biggest ironies of this shoot has been the sheer unpredictability of the New Mexican weather, in that the very motivation for doing this film was, “Let’s go somewhere hot and make a film about where something hot is. I know, let’s make it in the desert. Yeah, it’s an alien, it’s Area 51, yeah. And then these guys, and they help him get home.” That was it. And I drew a poster for Nira of Paul giving the finger and it said, “In America, everyone’s an alien.” And that was the pitch and it sat on Nira’s notice board for… it’s been sat on there since 2003. We always joked about doing it… and here we are on this incredible Comic-Con set.
Frost: We had that same feeling that you get sometimes when you go into a pitch meeting with the studio and they say, “So what have you got?” “We haven’t really got anything.” And then you have to say, “Oh… how about an alien? And he’s got attitude!”
At this point, a miniature schnauzer walks up to Simon and us, who we’re introduced to. It’s his dog Minnie!
Pegg: This is not Colin from “Spaced.” This is Minnie. She’s gonna be in it. She’s dressed as Princess Leia tomorrow. (laughter)
Q: So now that you guys have done “Tintin” and are obviously huge experts on special effects, does that make it so much easier to be playing opposite nothing in only scenes with Paul? Or is it tough to be there with that empty space?
Pegg: It is tough. We’re working with Double Negative (the VFX company), who we’ve known for a long time. They did “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” and have since done plenty of things: “Hellboy II,” “Cloverfield.” And we’ve got Spectral Motion (another VFX company) doing the puppetry that we do use and the live lighting reference puppets and animatronics. But it’s hard to talk to a red light, or Mr. Eyeballs is this pole with two ping-pong balls on the top.
Frost: We have to shoot Paul so many times. Like, we did a scene in a night shoot the other day where, because the sun was coming up, I had like ten minutes to do my single. Then we re-shot Paul’s stuff the other day and he had like an hour and a half. (laughter) Why? That’s not f*cking fair! But we’ve got a little guy in a costume and we’ve got a child at points playing Paul.
Pegg: Christoff, who’s our small actor who does reference and sometimes suits up is an amazing drummer–hasn’t acted before, but has been tirelessly present on this set.
Frost: He has been. They call him “The Anvil.”
Pegg: That’s his nickname, “The Anvil,” it’s pretty good, but we have to shoot him so many times, you know. We do it with those two guys, then we do it with no one there or then we do it with Joe Lo Truglio. Then sometimes we do it with a gray ball. Then Joe Lo Truglio, then nothing. So, you know, for each one shot we get, Paul has eight. We would have been wrapped by now. (laughs).
Frost: Paul’s a complete *sshole. (laughter)
Q: Wait, Joe’s a stand-in for Paul?
Pegg: What Joe has done, in an act of extraordinary selflessness, he’s not only playing Agent O’Reilly, but whenever Paul’s on set he does Paul’s off-lines. And sometimes stands in for him, but Joe’s been onset all the time, which has been great ’cause he’s a fantastic guy, he’s such fun. I knew him from “Superbad” and from “Pineapple Express.” I’d never seen “The State,” but just from that one little thing he does in “Superbad,” that amazing cameo where he plays that creepy little guy.
Frost: “You on Facebook?”
Pegg: (laughs) “You guys on MySpace?” (laughter)
Q: So this will be your first and last CGI movie.
Pegg: Well the very motivation for this was, we thought how cool it would be to have a film that was essentially almost like an indie pic, like a road movie, but give it the sense that this incredible–and it has to be incredible–sprite, you know, this character who is not real, he’s a CG character, and how the context of the movie would offset that character to make him look even more real, because it’s handheld… Though, having said that, Greg [Mottola, director]’s bringing some incredible flourishes to this. There’s a lot of motion in the camera… He’s really Spielberging it up, which is great.
Frost: I mean he has to be credible, but he also has to be fairly forgettable, do you know what I mean? If after ten minutes, you’re still looking at him thinking (moans), I don’t think we’ve done it right. He just needs to immediately just become a character and not some kind of amazing CG.
Pegg: So you know, it depends on how it turns out. If it doesn’t work, then yes, it is our last.
Frost: We’ve both been scanned by the way, so if anything happens to either of us…
Pegg: My problem with Jar Jar Binks was never particularly the technology, it was the idiocy of the character.
Q: That was everybody’s problem with it.
Pegg: Yeah, it wasn’t the fact that it was a CG character.
Frost: And the eyelines.
Pegg: Yeah, Ewan McGregor going, “What am I looking at?”
Q: You guys are together again, but you’re playing different characters obviously. How is the dynamic between these two characters different from what we’ve seen from you two before?
Frost: I think Clive (Frost’s character) is more of a butch this time than Danny Butterman and Ed (his characters from “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun,” respectively)
Pegg: For starters, this is a two-hander. It’s not me. The central characters in “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” were my characters, Nicholas Angel and Shaun, and Nick’s characters just stole the show, that’s what they did. Whereas this is like we’re both the lead in this film and Nick’s character is probably a little bit more confident, a little bit more assured than mine. Graham is a bit more messy, less proactive. Paul’s kind of like Ferris Bueller, you know, he kind of affects everybody around him and never really is affected himself.
Frost: It’s important that we did something slightly different. Not that we work hard at it. You know, we’ve been friends for 15 years, but the relationship that we have is, I think, quite important to me… It’s important to us.
Q: Now do your characters have much of a backstory at all or are they just two fans going to Comic-Con and hanging out?
Pegg: I don’t think we’ve gotten particularly Stanislavkian about their background.
Frost: Oh, I have!
Pegg: Have you?
Frost: You didn’t read the…
Pegg: I didn’t read “The Bible.” Yeah, we kind of know where they’re from and what they’re about, but the important thing in the movie is where we find them and where they are at that time. So they’re two British guys living sort of like… rural north London…
Frost: West London.
Pegg: West London. And have saved up for this trip, they’re going to start at Comic-Con and they’re going to go to Area 51 and they’re going to eventually go down to Roswell. They want to go to the UFO hotspots, and by sheer coincidence they meet an alien. (laughs).
Frost: It could happen.
Q: Nira Park (their producer) was talking about how she felt you guys were doing more improv on this movie than you had on the last two. I was just curious, you said that Seth had come in and already recorded a whole bunch of stuff. Have you guys shot stuff thinking, “Okay, we need Seth to come back in this scene so he can play off what we just did here?”
Pegg: Yeah, Seth will have to come back and always was gonna. What we did initially in Los Angeles was very preliminary and it was just to get a sense of the performance and what Seth would be doing. But working with people like Kristin [Wigg] and Bill [Hader] and Jason [Bateman] and Joe [Lo Truglio] as well, they’re very good at improvising, so – although, we’re pretty anal about what we write. (laughter)
Pegg: There has been room to just loosen up a little bit…
Frost: What, are you laughing at “anal” there? (laughter)
Pegg: No, we are. We’re quite nasty but we make sure that we get a take of what’s written.
Frost: You can’t have someone like Bill and Joe and Jason Bateman, it seems silly having them on set and not letting them do what they want really. Every one of them brings something into the role, you know. We’re not American, so the script that we wrote, we had to run it by Greg to make sure that all of our terminology was correct and just weird little things… Just to make sure that it all seems very naturally coming out of the mouths of American actors and it sounds like it’s an American script. We know enough about America to write a pretty damn good stab at that.
Q: Are your characters all knowledgeable and up-to-date on American pop culture and what’s going on?
Frost: God, I hope so.
Q: The attention to detail–the t-shirts you’re wearing and what’s going on at Comic-Con–I’m wondering what sort of things are hidden in the film that you guys as fans are just really excited about?
Pegg: We’ve got a great thing in here that we’re not allowed to say, obviously… No, there’s lots of stuff. The presence of Shauns and Angels and Dannys in there was Nancy [Steiner], our costume designer, who just did that for a laugh. I hope anyone who notices that will take it in good fun and not as being self-indulgent. So there’s plenty of little things in there. The notion is that Paul has been on Earth for about 60 years living in this base, just basically having an affect on popular culture. He’s in touch with a few of the creative minds in America and has helped him out in a few things. And so Paul is responsible for a lot of what we know… So he has certain abilities that you’ve seen elsewhere and the reason you’ve seen them elsewhere is because it was his idea. Which has enabled us to retroactively rip off every film ever.
Q: When we were doing the shots earlier in the theater, there was that moment where you two as fans are going bananas for somebody on stage. Who out there in pop culture would make you guys flip out like that?
Pegg: We decided we can give you an exclusive, although don’t tell anyone. We were trying to think of who it’s gonna be (on stage). We thought maybe Twiki (from “Buck Rogers) (laughter) Just a guy like waving. And you say, “Bidi-bidi-bidi.”
Q: Nick, I remember two years ago you were at the “Superbad” premiere and all this seems to have spread from there. You’ve worked with Greg, Edgar’s working with Michael Cera. Did you feel at all that maybe something happened that night where the seeds were planted for these two projects to happen?
Frost: Greg made me drink this potion that night… I don’t know, I mean I think when you watch something like “Superbad”–when we watch “Superbad”–you think, “God, that’s f*cking great.” They’re like an American us. So it just kind of makes sense that we would branch out slightly and want to kind of reach out to Greg and Michael…
Pegg: We’re fans of each others’ stuff. Of course we were going to find each other eventually, because we like the same stuff and we admire each other. You know, like Jason and Jeffrey Tambor, and I’m a massive fan of “Arrested Development,” which we were watching last night, going “Oh my God, there’s Agent Zoil and there’s, uh…!” And having picked up bit of SNL on the Internet–we don’t get it in the U.K., crazy, I don’t know why–and seeing Kristin in “Knocked Up” and various other films, you see these people and think, “God, they’re great. I wish I could work with them!” We are so f*cking lucky that we’re in a position to offer those people parts, and even luckier that they say, “Yes.” So for us, it’s a bit of a dream come true. We’re getting to work with the people we like, and I think it’s just that thing of, you know, not to be too much of a hippie, but souls kind of find each other and they gravitate towards each other, do you know what I mean? (goes into his imitation of a journalist writing) “At this point, Pegg became a bit of a hippie…” (laughter)
Q: I’ve seen a lot of “Star Wars” stuff out there on the Comic-Con set. Does this mean that George Lucas doesn’t have any hard feelings about how your character in “Spaced” reacted to the prequels?
Pegg: Wasn’t my idea. I said, “No Star Wars things.” You know, I’ve got a lot of friends at Lucasfilm because I think they all agree with me, but they just don’t tell their boss. (laughter)
Q: When you worked with Spielberg on “Tintin,” did you pick his brain at all about the aliens coming to Earth thing?
Pegg: Oh yeah, we’d sit with him between takes and he’d just tell us stories about “Close Encounters” and stuff.
Q: Did they have any ideas that substantially influenced you?
Pegg: Yeah, absolutely. The film very much draws in the tradition of films like “Close Encounters” and “E.T.,” that kind of sense of wonder… We were hoping to have a score which is, I mean, obviously John Williams would be an amazing person to get but he’s expensive. He doesn’t work for nothing. But to have that Spielbergian feel, definitely. His influence on the film is very evident, moreso than you would be surprised to find out.
Frost: A lot of the time we’d run off set really laughing, wouldn’t we? Steven would tell a story about “Close Encounters” and we’d say, “Okay, thanks!” and he’s gone off the set and we’d shut the door and go “WOO!”
Q: The movie’s called “Paul” and you’re on the road, so is there any sort of Christian theme re: Paul on the road to Damascus?
Pegg: I never thought of that, but yes there is a thread in the movie about evolution vs. faith.
Frost: It won’t go down so well in the middle states.
Pegg: Paul’s very presence represents a contradiction to certainly creationist values and Kristin Wiig’s character, Ruth, is a furious Christian and has a whole worldview rocked by the appearance of Paul and so has to question the notion of her faith and divinity in general. So there is a serious little thread going through it which we had quite fun with.
Q: Can you talk about working with Greg and not working with Edgar and how that differs?
Frost: (acting as if he doesn’t know who we’re referring to) Edgar… (laughter)
Pegg: Edgar’s been e-mailing us today. It’s just different, you know. I mean we love Edgar and we will work together again. We obviously have a third film to make in that particular other series we were involved in together. (“The Blood and Ice Cream/Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.”) Greg is more laid-back than Edgar. That’s not saying Edgar’s in any way hyper. Edgar is an intense director and he’s very concentrated. Greg seems to be a little bit more sort of serene on set, but no less involved in the artistic process of making the movie. I really like Greg… When we go into our mode with shooting with Edgar, he becomes… he’s the director and we’re the actors, and he doesn’t need to say that much to us anyway, so he’ll just come and go, “You know what I mean?” “Yeah.” “Okay.” And that’s it. And Nick, who’s known Edgar for ten years, will come up to me between takes, “Does he like me? Does he like me?” Sometimes he says, “Edgar. Edgar. Edgar!” you know, because he’s just so hung up on thinking about what the camera’s doing. But it’s been nice working with a different director and finding a different dynamic and… this is a Greg Mottola film, it’s not an Edgar Wright movie.
Q: Are you guys, in the film, eating any ice cream and are you making a point to make sure that you say it’s a different kind of ice cream than the one in “Shaun” and “Hot Fuzz”?
Pegg: No, there is no ice cream consumed. This is not a Cornetto film, this is a different thing.
Frost: This is part one of the “Pepsi and Klondike Trilogy”…
Pegg: Edgar has insisted, and quite rightly, that this film never be sold as part of the box set with our other two films, and I think Edgar’s right. This has to be seen as something different. We will be at pains to stress that this isn’t the third movie (in the “Cornetto Trilogy”) This is a different kind of film altogether. I’m not saying that “The World’s End” (the planned third film in that series) will be a similar film to the other two, but this is mine and Nick’s. We’ve written this together, it’s a different director. Same production company, but we want it to feel like it’s a different thing. Obviously, the temptation is to see it as that because it’s Nick and mine. There were a couple of little line references in the script, which we took out. I think at one point we were taking off in the RV and somebody said, “Punch that shit!”, and we realized it was a “Hot Fuzz” line, and we didn’t want anyone to think that we were trying to… You know, obviously those little references (on the set) are sweet enough, because only the people that “get” it will know what the f*ck we’re talking about. But no ice cream allowed. Certainly not Cornettos. You can’t get ’em here! What are they called here?