After building himself a sizeable audience of fans in the UK and United States with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, actor/comedian Simon Pegg is back, starring in David Schwimmer’s directorial debut Run, Fat Boy, Run. He plays Dennis, a non-committal guy who ran out on his pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton) on their wedding day. Five years later, he realizes that he’s still in love with her, and he decides that the only way to win her back from her new boyfriend (Hank Azaria), is to get in shape and enter a prestigious marathon. While the movie was written by Michael Ian Black of “The State” and “Stella,” Pegg put his own spin on the script to help transplant the story from New York to London, creating a surprisingly pleasant addition to the Brit rom-com genre that’s been held in a stranglehold by Richard Curtis for so many years.
We spoke to Simon last September, before he had been cast as Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ relaunch of Star Trek and before the whole “McSpaced” debacle–you’ll have to read Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright’s MySpace Blog to know what that’s all about–so we mainly covered the movie and Pegg’s growing fame since we spoke to him a few months earlier and ended the interview with few worries that the fame might ever go to Pegg’s head.
ComingSoon.net: How did David convince you to come onto this project both as a writer and as the star? Did he just send you the script and ask?
Simon Pegg: Well I got the call and I read it again and I thought, “How is this going to work as a British set film?” because it very much had the spirit of New York in it. It had the New York Marathon, it was intrinsically New York, and at first I kind of resisted it. I was like, “Well, can’t we just come shoot it here and I can play an American?” The (production) company Material are all about shooting in London, and obviously we want to keep our film industry going and make sure our crews work because they’re brilliant and so I thought, “Well okay, this is a challenge then. This is going to be some hard work.” It actually was easier than I thought it was, because I think London and New York have a similar sensibility. I think they have more in common with each other than say New York and L.A. in terms of the metropolitan feel of the place, so it was just the case of taking it on as a challenge, and I always like a challenge.
CS: Did anyone have worries about David being American trying to direct a British comedy?
Pegg: No, not at all. What he was doing was directing a comedy in Britain. He wasn’t directing a Bollywood film, you know? The cultural difference wasn’t that great, and he’s a very adept comic and director.
CS: Did you actually have to create a marathon for this thing?
Pegg: Yeah, we were tied up in all sorts of nonsense. The London Marathon is sponsored by a margarine company and that entity is tied up with another film, so the rights to that event we couldn’t get, so we had to invent an event which we did with the kind help of a major sports clothing company. It became this River Run, which doesn’t really exist, so we shot it basically with about two hundred fifty people and then the magic of crowd replication, which you could do digitally, made it look like a real marathon.
CS: This was very low-budget, and I remember hearing stories about how you and Edgar did “Shaun” and “Hot Fuzz” with less money than most might expect. Did you have any tips for David in accomplishing what he wanted to do with this movie without a ton of money?
Pegg: He had his thing. I’m very conscious of when you’re working on a project that isn’t necessarily yours–I mean in terms of writing and creative level has got something to say if that’s permitted–but directorially because that’s always Edgar’s bag and Edgar is entirely his own thing. I would never dare to suggest a shot taken because it’s always in his head. My relationship with a director is always pretty much hands off.
CS: You must also be used to getting stuff done very fast from making those movies.
Pegg: Yeah, it’s different. Edgar gets a lot of coverage because “Hot Fuzz” had I think two thousand and something set-ups in it and “Run, Fat Boy, Run” had about seven hundred set-ups, so the pace is slightly different. In order to work as fast as Edgar and I do to get all the coverage that we do–because he gets a lot of coverage–we have to be able to work bam-bam-bam-bam, David and I were working on our own pace, and fortunately we’re friends anyway. David has a really canny knack at sensing what kind of mood you’re in, which I think is amazing. He really can tell if you’re happy and whether you’re in the right frame of mind to really give your best stuff, and that’s really important as a director to understand the actors, because we’re a moody, unpredictable bunch. It’s reassuring that he has that, so that was great and he’s very keen to praise you as well. It’s always nice if you know when he’s happy. I know when Edgar’s happy because I know him very well, but Edgar’s not the kind of guy that will stop and butter up anyone’s ego. He’ll just move on and you’ll know you’ve done well when he moves on.
CS: David also has a background as an actor as well.
Pegg: Of course, he knows what fragile idiots actors are, what insecure wrecks most actors are, so that really helped.
CS: David has mentioned that he didn’t think of you as this incredibly chunky fat person, so did you have to do any De Niro like weight gain for the role?
Pegg: No, I didn’t really have time. I was pretty chunky towards the end of the writing process of “Hot Fuzz” because I just sat in an office for nearly two years eating cakes.
CS: Yeah, writers tend to do that.
Pegg: Yeah, that’s what happens, and so I went into training for “Hot Fuzz” and got into shape, and then suddenly ironically the next film I had to do was “Run, Fat Boy, Run.” It kind of felt ass backwards. I should have done “Fat Boy” first and then “Hot Fuzz.”
CS: Since you both have a background in television, did you have a chance to talk about the differences between doing television and films in your respective countries?
Pegg: I’ve studied TV direction and film direction in school, at university. TV direction is like multi-camera, it’s studio based; film direction is completely different, it’s single camera and a completely different format. Video is so completely different from film. I just worked with Bob Weide who directed “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and it was his first feature, and occasionally you’d sense that the camera would just stay running in between shots and he’d be talking to actors and everyone would be looking around going, “We should cut really,” and he’s like, “Oh, sorry, I keep thinking it’s video.” Yeah, but David never did that, and I think he really has made the leap. They’re two very different things. I think it’s unfair to say that the direction of this film is anything less than filmmaking; it’s a different animal to television directing.
CS: Were you responsible for bringing Dylan Moran onboard as your friend?
Pegg: Yeah, I mean Dylan came up and I suggested him and Dylan’s great. He’s got a wonderful sort of unkempt quality to him which was just what Gordon was all about. In “Shaun of the Dead” he plays a very sort of straight-laced I mean we had to cut his hair and everything, he hated it, but Gordon is a lot closer to who Dylan is really in some respects. I really like working with Dylan. He’s a very generous sort of sensitive guy who’s also incredibly funny, a brilliant mind, so often he’ll bring a little something to it, if he has a suggestion, you’re lucky to get it.
CS: Did they have to cast his ass to make sure it would be funny?
Pegg: No, after the premiere he said, “I’m never getting my ass out again.” Because it was seventy feet wide on the screen.
CS: Well, that is one of the film’s funnier running jokes.
Pegg: Well that came in late. There was a weird thing. We got to the first cut of the movie and it was like, as this sporting metaphor takes over, the film becomes less comic and becomes more about the struggle, and more serious in a way I guess. We got a sense that at a certain point in the film there wasn’t another really big whooping laugh and we thought, “How can we leave the audience on a high, leave them coming out of the cinema not warm and fuzzy, but still tittering?” And there was talk about putting bloopers in the credits which I’m really against because I think that’s the wrong kind of laugh. Very few people laugh at those things because they’re funny for a different reason, but the worst thing you can do is have a film and the thing you laugh at the most is when people forget their lines.
CS: Funny you should mention that, because there’ve been a number of bad comedies this year where everyone’s leaving and then the blooper reel comes on and everyone stops and feels they need to stay because they know it’ll be funny.
Pegg: For me, I think it’s a bit of a cheat. Perhaps one blooper secreted among the credits is fine, but to actually use it as a way of getting more laughs I think is cheating. I don’t know who wrote the rule book on that, so we needed a big old whoop, and we’re racking our brains and I thought, “Well let’s not be sophisticated about that, let’s get Dylan to get his ass out and somehow get a callback to the line where it’ll come on up and do the reveal,” and it kind of works.
CS: In doing another romantic comedy after “Shaun,” are you at all worried about being typecast as the next Hugh Grant?
Pegg: No, I don’t think so because that’s not what I want to do. I mean he did it and has a very good career–he’s become known for that kind of thing, but has also done other stuff. I think it would be a mistake to be pigeon-holed as the guy that does that. In the same way that I don’t want to be the genre picture guy or the Nick Frost guy, in the same way that Nick doesn’t want to be the Simon Pegg guy, he wants a career of his own. I mean there’s a lot worse things to be, for me to be the Nick Frost guy–I hope to work with Nick for the rest of my career–but yeah, I suppose you just have to keep ahead of the game and keep people guessing. I think the important thing is to do roles that you want to do, do roles that please you, and maybe that does lead to you being cast as the British, foppish, romantic lead, if that’s what makes you happy then screw everybody else.
CS: This was your third number one movie in a row in England. Do you see that as a good thing because it means you’re getting a lot more scripts and bigger parts or do you think it creates too many expectations whenever you’re in a movie?
Pegg: Things come in a lot, certainly I’m sitting in a lot more offices, but you try and pick it really carefully. I’ve read really good scripts and this strike thing is a problem because there are a few things I could do that I’d really like to do, but everything seems to be bottlenecking at the beginning of next year, which is a pain. What I would ideally like to do is write my own stuff as I have been doing, working with Edgar and Nick, and then also in between those projects go off and work with other writers and directors that I like. I just did “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” which was adapted from the Toby Young novel.
CS: That was the film by the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” director?
Pegg: Yeah, adapted by a guy called Peter Straughan who is a brilliant screenwriter and directed by Bob Weide. I read that and just thought, “I have to do this.” It’s just a funny script. I actually signed on to do it first and was the only cast member for a long time, and it kind of went away, and then suddenly Kirsten Dunst was cast in it, and then Jeff Bridges, and then Megan Fox, and then Gillian Anderson, and Danny Huston, and I suddenly thought, “Jesus, I’m in a proper picture here. This is an American picture with a big star cast and I’m in it,” and it was actually just a brilliant experience. I’ve been really lucky with “Fat Boy” and that, things that I’ve done away from my comfort zone have been fun.
CS: When you’re in England, you must get recognized a lot, so it must be harder to go out, so how do you stay grounded?
Pegg: The way you stay grounded is to not take anything seriously. I mean, even if people are coming up to you on the street and telling you they love you, you have to realize it’s not you. It’s not because you deserve it in any way, it’s just because you’re in the public eye. The minute you start believing your own hype it’s not surprising that actors turn into pricks, because they’re constantly molly-coddled and puffed up and people take a fancy towards them, and it’s not because they’re worth it. It’s because you’ve got to keep them sweet, otherwise they don’t perform properly. That’s why they’re ferried around in cars and given lifts. It’s not because they’re important, it’s because nobody f**king trusts them, but actors who think it’s anything more than that, they turn into idiots.
(And now, here’s a bit of added silliness about a movie that’s already been and gone but was on the horizon when we did this interview.)
CS: I have to ask you about Jake Paltrow’s movie “The Good Night,” because the publicist asked me to. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it, so was this something you just did quickly in the summer with a low budget?
Pegg: Jake approached me to do it, and Jake Paltrow is a fantastic guy, really brilliant. I think this film is going to be great. I’ve seen it and I liked it, he’s got a wonderful eye, and I read the script and really liked it and he just said, “Look, will you play the part of Martin’s best friend?” Because of scheduling with “Mission: Impossible,” I mean it was that long ago [Martin]’s been in “Shaun” and “Hot Fuzz,” but I did all my stuff at the beginning of the shoot and then they went on and completed it so that I could go on to do “Big Nothing” and “Mission: Impossible.” It was very much the same thing. It was low budget and we were working long hours, but the crew were completely invested in the project. It’s a really good story and an interesting concept and well-executed, and a brilliant cast again. It’s Gwyneth, Penelope Cruz and Danny DeVito.
CS: Well, then I should go see it tonight.
CS: It’s either that or “Resident Evil” tonight; I’m trying to decide which one.
Pegg: I think you should go see “The Good Night”, trust me.
For the record, I went to see Resident Evil. Sorry, Simon!
Run, Fat Boy, Run opens nationwide on Friday, March 28.