Interview: Edgar Wright Ends the Cornetto Trilogy at The World's End
August 21, 2013
Nine years ago, few Americans knew what a "Cornetto" was, but back then, they probably didn't know who Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were either. Thanks to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the first two movies in what quickly became labeled the "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy," the trio of friends and collaborators have found a fairly large audience of dedicated American fans with their combination of humor, action and genre elements.
The ersatz trilogy of stand-alone films continues into The World's End in which Pegg plays Gary King, a chronic man-child still living in the past who has become obsessed with finishing the epic pub crawl he and his childhood friends failed to achieve twenty years earlier. The problem is that his four best friends--played by Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine--have all grown up, they're all married with kids and good jobs while Gary has been left behind, happy to live in the past. Returning to the sleepy village of Newton Haven is not something that appeals to any of them, but as always, they humor Gary and once they get there, they notice things are different and people are acting strangely around them.
The World's End has all the laughs of the trio's previous movies, but it also ended up being their most personal movie to date, one that spoke about what they had all been experiencing in their lives since their Hot Fuzz but not at the sake of what ends up being a crackin' sci-fi action-comedy that should appeal to fans of the first two "Cornettos."
Having interviewed director Edgar Wright a number of times over the years, I've always found him to be someone who is truly passionate about the movies he makes and goes above and beyond probably any other filmmaker working today to get the word out and talk at length about what went into making his movies.
With that in mind, ComingSoon.net got on the phone with Edgar to talk about his latest venture with Pegg and Frost, how it differed from their previous two collaborations and some of the running themes between the three non-connected movies within the "trilogy."
(Note: There are a couple of spoilers in this interview talking about some of the twists in the movie. There's nothing that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie, but if you want to enjoy the experience of watching the movie unspoiled, then you may want to go see the movie first, enjoy it then come back and read this interview afterwards.)
ComingSoon.net: I know a lot about the origins of the movie at this point, but it's interesting to me since I remember talking to you guys for "Hot Fuzz" and back then, the title was already out there, but you kept it a fairly well-guarded secret what the movie was about. Obviously, the pub crawl was something you had experienced yourself but what about some of the other elements? Did you already know back then what the movie was going to be?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, we sort of had the whole story back in 2007. The only thing we hadn't quite figured out was the third act in a completely detailed way. We knew exactly the image we wanted to end on and we knew how we were going to deal with the Apocalypse, but we always knew what the ending was going to be, but in a way, the sci-fi element, I think some people assume that we write a half a script about a pub crawl and then pick a genre out of a hat, but the truth is that the movie was really about returning home and in a way, the alien invasion aspect of it really in a very similar way to Gary King, it's almost like a coping mechanism. It's almost easier to blame it on outside forces to accept the bittersweet notion that you're getting old or that your hometown isn't all that it's cracked up to be. But that element of it was right there from the start. I had already written a script when I was 21 about teenagers drinking that was very much like a "Dazed and Confused" or "Superbad" type film, but a very silly one. Then it sort of hit me that there was something much richer and more interesting about the idea of adults trying to recapture their youth. With that in mind, the specific style of quiet invasion by a benevolent force seemed to link perfectly into this idea of flawed heroes vs. perfect baddies. A lot of different scenes all coalesced together into this idea, which was basically touched upon a lot of obsessions that me and Simon have and a lot of personal things that we wanted to say. It's true to say that we've been thinking about it for six years. (laughs)
CS: Could you have made this movie six years ago?
Wright: No, I don't think we would have written the same script. The fact that we went away and did separate movies and came back and also got older. In that six years, both Simon and Nick are husbands and fathers, so I think that had a big impact on the script, so even though we had the story six years ago, I don't think we would have written the same screenplay.
CS: I'm torn because I like the sci-fi elements and the action, but I also like the personal story of these five friends reuniting decades later, but I still haven't been able to put the two of them together in my head yet so I'm still working on that.
Wright: I'll say one thing about that without too much of a spoiler. It's funny because somebody who liked the film said, "I really love it. It's so random how it changes." I said, "Well when you think about the line he says just before the sci-fi element comes in." The film is basically about a man running away from help who triggers two interventions: the first is he unwittingly triggers an intervention from his friends, because he's invited them all along to witness himself falling apart, so they tell him some hard truths. The second one is a cosmic intervention, but after the first one, Simon says to them when they round on him, "I think you're just jealous because I'm free and you're all slaves." And then we find out that robots means slaves so he's calling his friends "robots" for being grown-up and then he gets to meet some real ones. I hope that on repeat viewings the sub-text to become more and more clear that we're leading up to that twist. It might seem like it comes completely from left of center but there's a lot of dialogue leading up to it.
CS: That's why I always enjoy seeing movies more than once. I'm sure you've heard this before, but Gary King is a pretty dark character for Simon, but I definitely found myself relating to him way too much. I still wear black T-shirts and find myself living in the past.
Wright: I do, too. I think in a way when people say, "Oh, do you know somebody like Gary King?" we say, "Yeah, we do, but I think also in our darkest recesses there are bits of him inside us." I think when you write films, you actually try to be a better man than you are in reality so there's elements of all the characters. I think Andy, Nick's character, becomes the moral compass and is mad at his friend and desperately wants an apology, but also at the end of it, he also wants to help and save his friend. I think in all of the films, even "Scott Pilgrim," there are elements where the characters have flaws, it's usually yourself as a writer, trying to work out imperfections in yourself. I always thought that "Shaun of the Dead" was a long apology to an ex-girlfriend for being a lazy boyfriend and I think in a way in this, this is quite therapeutic for me and Simon because we get to deal with some of our hidden demons within a sci-fi comedy.
CS: You guys have been out doing the tour again like you did with "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun" so is it a very different experience with Nick and Simon being married and having kids?
Wright: One of the joys of doing these tours… and in fact, I'm not sad that we've come to the end of doing these three films, but I am sad that on Friday we do our last Q 'n' A together probably for a long time. I don't know when the three of us will be in the room together talking about the film. That's one thing that hit me, "Oh I don't know when we'll next be together doing a Q 'n' A" because it's been a really punishing press tour that we've been doing for seven weeks and it's more difficult for Simon and Nick because they have wives and kids at home. I know they're desperate to get back, but on the flip side, it's been amazing just being able to show the film to audiences and talk about it, it's been great. I don't think that they're necessarily that different. One of the nice things about working with them over the years and why we think we work in the way we do is I think we're very honest with each other.
CS: I really liked Nick's role in this movie. He's always the heart of the movies in some ways, but this time he's playing it straighter and it's a more dramatic role for him. At what point is Nick brought into the process and know what his role is going to be? Does he generally know what's going on from the beginning?
Wright: Me and Simon write the script together and Simon and Nick have written together and me and Nick have occasionally attempted to write together and I think in the future, we might try to write as a threesome. But I think because me and Simon wrote "Shaun" and "Fuzz" we wanted to keep the dynamic exactly the same, but Nick is the first person to read it and there are a couple things that we have to give credit for Nick on reading the script, he said, "I have a couple ideas" that have then become instrumental to the whole movie. He's the first person to read it. Nira Park reads it and Nick reads it and gives notes on lots of stuff beyond his character, so he's our first sounding board and he's definitely part of the process.
CS: I want to talk about the sci-fi elements because I definitely noticed a '70s "Doctor Who" influence, which I'm not sure if that was intentional or not, but especially with the nature of… I don't know if we want to call them robots… or the townsfolk…
Wright: They don't like that term. They see that as a negative term.
CS: What were some of the influences on deciding what direction to take with the science fiction aspects of the movie?
Wright: What's funny is that this time around, we didn't really rewatch anything, and I think the influences that are there are so embedded in our consciousness because they're things that we grew up with, so there's definitely a strain of British sci-fi… the irony is that a lot of the '70s "Doctor Who" episodes are in turn influenced by Nigel Kneale and John Wyndham, so quite a few of the '70s "Doctor Who" episodes have a root in the Quatermass films and TV shows and then there are great pieces of British literature like John Wyndham's work like "The Midwich Cuckoos" which then becomes "Village of the Damned." There's two types of small-town paranoia films that were both a big impact on me as a kid because I used to watch them because there was a boom of small-town paranoia movies in the '50s and '60s and early '70s. In the '70s it moved more towards TV like "Doctor Who" or in the '60s, you had "The Avengers" and "The Prisoner." A lot of the '70s earthbound ones are riffing on earlier literature and films but then in the States, you have things like "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "Invaders from Mars." Your equivalent in the States of British films set in villages would be films set in desert towns. You see, invasion movies set in the States are set in desert towns and in the UK they're set in British villages, and there's something I like about those films that would have a massive title like "The World's End" or there's an old British one from the '60s called "The Earth Dies Screaming," but it's set in a tiny village and it only has a cast of about 20 people, so I always thought that was amazing that you have this title that suggests something absolutely galactic and global and yet it's actually got a really small cast. Our idea with this was to kind of see the cataclysmic event, but through just one town and set around a friends reunion and then towards the end of the film, you start going wider and wider and wider.
CS: That's actually one of the connections between this and "Hot Fuzz" since that's also set in a small town and people trying to do stuff for the "greater good." Was it harder to make this movie since you guys are better known in England making it harder to get remote locations to shoot stuff?
Wright: I think in a strange way, it kind of helped, because "Hot Fuzz" opened a lot of doors for us in terms of some locations that probably would have been impossible if we had been first-time filmmakers that we were lucky that the person who runs the electric train station happens to be a big "Hot Fuzz" fan. "Sure, use our train station. We don't care." But I think the irony in terms of people saying, "Oh, you've done your second film in a small town." I think in a way the filming of "Hot Fuzz" influenced this story because I had the experience while making "Hot Fuzz" of going back to my hometown. It was something where it wasn't like "Hot Fuzz" influenced this movie as a story. The making of the movie influenced this film, because I went back to my hometown and had a prolonged experience of returning home and actually living at home for the first time since I left as a teenager. I think that had an effect on the movie and one of the many things that inspired the story is that when we were shooting "Hot Fuzz" there's that shot of Nicholas Angel riding up the high street on his horse and Sanford was supposed to be this idyllic rural haven and yet right in the middle of the shot was a new Starbucks that hadn't been there the previous year. I had to digitally erase it from the shot because it didn't feel like it would belong in this fictional town. I think that had a big impact on me. I kind of thought, "Okay, this is kind of interesting. I've created my mind in the screenplay for 'Hot Fuzz' a timeless beautiful village that doesn't actually exist anymore." It's got a Starbucks and a McDonald's just like everywhere else. So I think that experience of going home started to get the gears whirring for this.
CS: I have to ask about the Cornetto thing because I seem to recall back when you were doing interviews for "Shaun" and I seem to remember you mentioning there were things changed for the US release and I thought that changing "Cornetto" to "ice cream" was one of the changes.
Wright: No, they never changed it. My only regret is that we couldn't try to export Cornettos to this country for the release of this movie but you can imagine that they're a tasty treat. They're very similar to the King Cone, but just in tastier flavors.
CS: Are you going to have some time off before going into "Ant-Man" or do you have to go straight into pre-production on that one?
Wright: Yes, it starts on Sunday. (laughs) First I have to go to Paris, but I think by the end of next week, I'll be taking a complete sabbatical from the internet and going off-radio for a little bit.
CS: We first talked about "Ant-Man" seven years ago so has it changed a lot from what you and Joe (Cornish) were writing back then?
Wright: I think it's safe to say that the FX are going to be superior in the 2015 version.
CS: That's good to hear, because obviously when we first spoke, no one knew that Marvel would take off as its own studio and whether any of the characters would work in movies. There was a lot of stuff that we know now that none of us knew back then.
Wright: One reason it's never gone away and I think it's funny that some people assume it's been stuck in development hell, but the truth of the matter is that since I first talked to Kevin Feige about it, I have made three other movies and they're movies that I wanted to make. I made "Hot Fuzz," "Scott Pilgrim" and "World's End" and I even had a chance to do "Ant-Man" a few years ago and "World's End" suddenly became a priority in a very personal way because one of our executive producers got ill and I realized that if I didn't make good on my promise writing the movie, I would regret it forever, so me and Simon started writing immediately. We were pleased that a.) he's okay and he saw the film and he loves it and he has a clean bill of health, but it was something where you suddenly realize, "Oh no, we must do this right now. It's really important." Marvel were extremely kind to actually just say "Well, we'll see you in two years. Go off and do what you need to do. We totally understand and we'll see you in two years." Part of it is that Kevin Feige has always loved the screenplay, even the first draft of it, even though we've done many since, so it's a credit to them that they let me go off and do this personal project. You know, it is a sci-fi comedy and it's intended for everybody to enjoy it, but on a number of levels for me and Simon, it's a personal project.
CS: Well, good luck with the movie this weekend. I'm always pulling for you guys and hope you get a nice vacation, too, because you always push yourself pretty hard while doing press and promotion for your movies so you deserve a break.
Wright: Well, you know, the thing is that the amount of press you do is in relation to how proud you are of the movie so I wouldn't be out there as much if I wasn't into it. Me and Simon and Nick are really proud of it so we just want to get out there and tell everybody.