When your first movie is one of the funniest movies ever made, where can you possibly go from there? In the case of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, creators of the 2004 cult zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, they already knew three years ago what they wanted to do next, a satire of police action movies called Hot Fuzz. Could it possibly be even funnier than “Shaun”?
If not, it sure comes close as it follows Simon’s Nicholas Angel, one of London’s finest police officers, as he’s foisted on the small town of Sandford where he is convinced that a series of murders others around him claim to be “accidents” might be more than they seem. Once again, Simon is partnered with long time friend Nick Frost, this time playing Danny, the eager police officer who wants to get into the type of police chases and shootouts that he imagines Nicholas must be accustomed to, coming from the big city. The movie also stars Jim Broadbent as Sandford’s police chief, Paddy Considine as a rude detective and Timothy Dalton as the prime suspect in the murders, all much funnier than they’ve ever been in the past.
Already a huge hit in UK, the movie has been touring the country as part of a series of “Fuzztivals,” but ComingSoon.net caught up with the trio before heading out on that two-week tour for a comprehensive interview that gets into the detailed makings of Hot Fuzz as well as discovering a couple in-jokes amongst the UK police. But first, the trio had a bit of fun at the expense of my microphone and we reminisce about past interviews
ComingSoon.net: Last time you three were in New York City for “Shaun,” you talked about doing this police action movie so
Edgar Wright: Here it is!
Simon Pegg: Was that in the bar at the Soho Grand?
Wright: No, it was at a bar where they had roundtables. We were noticing that yesterday, that PR people, because we’re Brits, they tend to say “They’re Brits, they like a drink stick ‘em in a bar!” And then all of the interviews have music blaring and no one can f*cking hear anything.
CS: Right, it was during the lunch rush and later, everyone realized that we could barely hear a word any of you were saying, because of all the noise. Anyway, I’ve seen “Hot Fuzz” twice now, and it’s far more complex than “Shaun.” I remember on the “Shaun” DVD, you ran through all of your original notes explaining how the plot was laid out. Did you do a similar thing for this?
Pegg: We’ve done that again for the new DVD, but weirdly, we did it after the fact. With “Shaun,” we did it a year before we started filming. With this film, I suppose it was like eight months after we finished filming or something.
Wright: Yeah, I think the flipchart on this one was a measure of how much more dense the film is, because the “Hot Fuzz” flipchart looks like John Doe’s writings from “Se7en,” it’s really dense in terms of just lots of ideas and lots of details. A lot of that kind of time is spent figuring out the plots, because the film, especially Nick Angel’s case, you have both the real deal and his theory, so it was a lot of complex stuff.
Pegg: Do you remember sometimes that there’d Nick Angel’s theory, like the whole road development stuff, and then the truth about the meaningless reasons why they were really killing, and sometimes, you’d get confused.
CS: There’s a lot of complex stuff as far as the editing, so did you have to storyboard the entire movie beforehand to make that work?
Wright: Yeah, it was all storyboarded, and there’s bits, like particularly the thing that goes backwards. The way I tend to storyboardmy brother does the finished ones, so he embellishes thembut I do them really quickly. Some of them I do really scribbly and some of them I do a bit more embellished. I did the whole backwards flashback scene. I said, “Right, I got it!” and did it all out. Sometimes when you do little scribbles, when you come back to look at it like three months later, it’s like “What the f*ck did this mean?”
CS: Kind of like my review notes
Wright: So I kind of had done it and then I had to do it all over again. That was fun doing those, but it was very dense and complicated because there were things like when he gets into the flashbacks going backwards, the whip pans and transitions all work backwards as well, so it was cool thing to add in transitions to scenes that didn’t previously have them, if that makes sense. When you shoot a scene with Timothy Dalton driving off, you just see him driving off, but what we also shot was a whip pan which you don’t see until the flashbacks. So, super super dense, incredibly dense, and there’s so many shots that we did to kind of make those things work. I suppose I was sort of inspired by styles as people as diverse as Tony Scott and Oliver Stone and Scorsese, that real use of super-dense montage.
Pegg: It was interesting as well because some of the transitions were being physically mounted on set with sodium flares, so there’d be a flash at the end of the take which would then be used, rather than do it in the edit as an effect, it was a physical event that happened on set. There was a huge flash and then that was used as an edit point.
Wright: But not necessarily in a scene with a camera. The next scene would have a camera, but we’d be in the middle of a dialogue scene and it would go like “WHOOSH!” at the end.
CS: I’ve actually worked with the real Nick Angel (Working Titles’ resident music supervisor) when he was at Island UK, so did he know that you were using his name for the main character in the movie?
Wright: Yes, he did.
Pegg: We told him.
Wright: He was funny about it because at first, he was very flattered, and then he did have a little moment when we started to do it where he sort of had a panic about it and he goes, “I’m going to get so much f*ckin’ stick from my mates!” And we were like, “But we never refer to you as ‘Nick Angel’, it’s always ‘Nicholas Angel’” But he was very chuffed I think, and he’s asked to have one of Angel’s commendation letters mounted on his office wall.
Pegg: I think it always somewhat bemuses people when the closing credits go up and they see his name as the music supervisor and say, “What the hell!?” But it was just the perfect name for a police officer, because not only is the word “nick” a euphemism for “arrest” in the UK, but also, with the whole “Nick” and “Angel”, it’s the brilliant sort of embodiment of his badass side and his good side.
CS: Kind of like when he was an A&R guy. (laughs all around) I remember when you did “Shaun,” you ended up changing some things for the American audience like the term “Cornetto” for the ice cream cone. Did you worry about that stuff as much this time?
Wright: The Cornetto thing is the only reference really. We kind of figured that since we had it in the first film, and because people over here would start quoting it without really knowing what it meant, we were like, “Well let’s not leave it out because of that.”
Pegg: Weirdly, in “Shaun of the Dead,” it was a punchline because the whole notion that Ed would want an ice cream at 8:50 in the morning; in “Hot Fuzz” it’s less of that, it’s more of a callback to people. It’s like the fence joke. The set-up’s in “Shaun of the Dead” and the pay-off’s in “Hot Fuzz.” It’s like a trans-cinematic joke.
Wright: But you shouldn’t have to have watched any other film to enjoy “Hot Fuzz.” It doesn’t matter. Even the bits we reference like “Point Break” and “Bad Boys II,” we show you the clips. The kind of people who are like 18 and maybe never seen “Point Break,” you see the set-up. Even though there are references and allusions to other things, it’s never intended to be something that people shouldn’t be able to grasp on first watch.
Pegg: Also, there’s a thing, using the devices that those kinds of movies use, you know if you see something on a television, it’s going to have significance later on. If you linger on something on the screen and you’re thinking, “Why are they doing this?” it’s because it’s going to have significance later. So the audience are waiting to see that moment recreated really, and there’s a lovely inevitability about it when it happens, because the audience just before it happens will go, “I know what’s going to happen.” There’s a real nice gratification.
CS: Yeah, that’s true. I know that the second time I watched the movie, I noticed a lot of things that seemed to be throwaway really do pay-off later. I want to get Nick into the conversation here, so Nick, what’s the biggest difference between Ed and Danny?
Nick Frost: I’m probably more like Ed and Danny is very enthusiastic. We have a saying in “The Buther’s Boy,” he’s a “junior police officer” almost. You’re not sure why he joined. He joined the police because his dad did it, so he’s the kid that’s kind of bullied at work. I play him like a big Labrador almost that has been let into the front room for the first time, his tail is constantly wagging. But he has a yearning for some big city action, so once he meets Nick, he sees in that the thing he does. I think Danny’s the kind of guy that as a younger man, he would fantasize about walking into a bank and finding it being robbed, but then he’d get shot on the way out, but just in the shoulder.
Pegg: I think post the events in the film, I think Danny would always be lifting up his shirt in the pub to show everyone where’s been shot.
CS: Do you think there are any real police officers in England like the ones in this movie?
Pegg: Absolutely. I think they’ll appreciate it as being not a pisstake of them, but more of like for once they’re being shown in a positive light. Usually, they’re bumbling idiots, particularly the uniformed cop, all they’re there for is to be violently shot or to show a detective where a crime scene is.
Wright: The thing is that the police response has been very good in the UK, mainly because even though we do show them as bumbling and idiotic, they do get to kick ass [Wright says this in the cute British way, not the American way] in the end, and the fact that they do that takes away any kind of worries about them being made to look like idiots.
Pegg: I’ve read a few things police have written about it and spoke to a few police officers, and they seem to really appreciate the fact that there is at least some representation of them. Whenever I see a police officer, I want to go up to them and say, “Hi, have you seen it?”
CS: I was going to ask you if you’ve been approached by any real police who’ve seen the movie.
Wright: Yeah, we interviewed a lot of police officers when we were researching, and we heard back from them and they loved it. They were really “cockahoop” about it, so yeah, the response has been really good. And they sort of said, “Oh, we went down to see it with everybody from the station and everybody really loved it.” Because there are a couple police in-jokes in there, like Sandford itself is the name of the theoretical town used in all police roleplays in exams. So when they’re training to graduate from constable to sergeant, you’ll be doing written essays with questions starting “In the hypothetical town of Sandford ” so Sandford in police terms is almost like their idealistic utopia town.
Pegg: And only police would get that joke. It’s really put in for them.
Wright: What’s the American equivalent for that? Is it Mayberry?
CS: Well, that was on the Andy Griffith Show, so I’m not sure they’d use that. Maybe Smalltown USA?
Wright: But Mayberry is kind of synonymous with being squeaky-clean.
CS: Yeah, sort of. What was different about making this movie having “Shaun” under your belt?
Wright: We’ve had a similar thing with everything we’ve done since the first series of “Spaced” in that when you do a next one, you kind of get given a bit more money. Say you get twice the money, but then the ideas get three times as ambitious. There’s always that thing of the ambition exceeding the budget, and that was semi the case in this. “Hot Fuzz” cost roughly like twice the amount that “Shaun of the Dead” did, which for an action film is still incredibly modest. Basically, the film cost $15 million and to put that into context, “Miami Vice” cost $130 [million].
Frost: They get Ferraris, we get Vauxhall Astro Vans that run on diesel.
Wright: Given that and how dense the script is and how much is going on, and the fact that much more was shot on location than in “Shaun of the Dead,” that made it incredibly challenging, but hopefully it pays off. For me, both the shoot and the edit were like a marathon.
Pegg: The great thing about it was, with “Shaun of the Dead” under our belt, we were able to go to actors like Timothy Dalton with a little calling card, which gave us some credibility so they at least read the script. With “Shaun of the Dead,” we came out of nowhere and nobody knew who we were. I think to an actor, just hearing the premise, they probably would be switched off by it, but because we were the guys who did “Shaun of the Dead”–without sounding conceited–and because it had done well, it gave us a little introduction into approaching these actors. Thank goodness they agreed to do the film. In fact, Jim Broadbent approached us at the BAFTAs in 2004, sort of came up to us and said, “I really enjoyed ‘Shaun of the Dead.’ I’d really love to work with you guys.” I think it was, “Would you consider putting me in a future film?” and it was, “Uh no.”
Wright: “Take a hike, Mr. Iris!” (laughs all around)
CS: So you didn’t tell Jim Broadbent to come in and audition?
Pegg: No, there are certain people you just don’t
Wright: There are certain people really big who want to read, which is very interesting. You do find a thing–and it comes from agents more than actors–where you get to the point where people won’t read, and I think that’s a really stupid thing, because you find that some really big actors want to read, because they want to hear it out loud themselves before they commit or you commit. It’s an interesting process of casting, because the reputations of all the cast are like enormous, it’s amazing.
Pegg: It does lead to great moments like obviously, Timothy Dalton just arrived, having been given the part, and when we sat down with him and started to rehearse, and when we heard him say his lines for the first time, Edgar and me just looked at each other and grinned, so happy, because he was the character we wrote. But we didn’t know that until we heard him read for us.
Frost: It happens on set as well. I know what Simon is like and Edgar and me and Kay Ashford, but then you got Jim on set and everyone holds themselves and acts differently before the camera rolls, so that’s interesting to see.
CS: And Paddy Considine was great, really brilliant. I would never expect him to be that funny.
Frost: He’s very naughty, he’s uncontrollable.
Wright: Yeah we wrote that script and he was another person that approached us. We met him ’cause “Shaun of the Dead” and “Dead Man’s Shoes” came out around the same time, and he’s very goofy in real life, he’s very sort of funny, and most of his parts have been very intense. Even though he’s shown humor in some of his parts, even the serious things, we wanted to write a full-on role for him. I think he was a bit nervous at first, to be honest, about going there, because a lot of the actors he was working with were all fully fledged comic actors, so he confessed to feeling like he was out of his league, which is so not the case, ’cause he’s brilliant.
CS: Did you have to do any sort of screening to show all these movies to the cast and crew so they would understand the references?
Wright: Yeah, I had a mood reel called what was it called? The one on “Shaun” was called “Everything You Wanted to Know about Zombies But Were Afraid to Ask” and on “Hot Fuzz” it was called what was it called? But it was an hour and a half mood reel, mainly for the crew. Simon and Nick came along, and [producer] Stuart Wilson was there, but we watched an hour and a half’s worth of trailers and clips from films. It was like the primer, and we gave out the soundtrack, which is about 80% the same as the finished soundtrack from the film.
CS: What are you guys doing next?
Pegg: Nick and I are writing something amid all the madness and then Edgar and myself have started talking about our next project, but we’re keeping our cards resolutely close to our chests this time, because last time when asked, we’d go, “Oh, it’s called ‘Hot Fuzz’ and it’s a police thing.”
Wright: That’s the thing. When we were in that restaurant in New York that was still a good nine months before we finished the first draft, so the fact we announced what we were doing became a bit of a millstone for a bit.
CS: Because then you had to make that movie.
Pegg: Yeah, but also it was like giving birth, because it was alive and it existed even though it didn’t exist yet, so we’re going to challenge ourselves to keep these ones a secret as long as we can.
CS: Are you two still going to do the TV show “La Triviata”?
Frost: No, we had a lot of “arm in an iron” by the channel and by us just before “Shaun of the Dead” hit and by the time it did, we said, “Oh, we can’t do it now,” so we’re going to harvest the jokes like an organ bank.
CS: And Edgar, are you still going to try to do “Scott Pilgrim” and “Ant-Man”?
Wright: It’s all still in development, yeah, so it’s all potentially happening. I’ve co-written an adaptation of “Scott Pilgrim” already, which is cool, so yeah, that’s all in the pipeline.
CS: So you’re not sure which of those projects you might direct next?
Wright: No, not specifically, but in the meantime, I’ve got another idea. We’ve decided to call the trilogy, the “Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy.” It’ll be the last time we mention them. I don’t know how Cornettos will crop up in the next one, but it will definitely be mint-flavored next time.
CS: Will you get some money from them, like an endorsement deal?
Wright: We never heard f*ck-all from them.
Frost: Considering how much we’ve sold their wares
Wright: Send us some free ice creams for God’s sake!
While they’re waiting for those, go see Hot Fuzz, which opens in roughly 700 of the coolest theatres in the country on April 20. Heather Newgen will have video interviews with the guys later this week, too!