An Epic Pub Crawl Gone Wrong Culminates In 'World's End'
Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 2:33 pm
If you've ever participated in a miserably long pub crawl, you'll understand the plight of the characters in The World's End, the latest from Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. The film follows five old high school friends who reunite to finish a pub crawl they started 20 years earlier. But as they travel from pub to pub in their old hometown, they find strange, supernatural things start to happen.
In 2004, Pegg and Frost's zombie send-up Shaun of the Dead gave the English comedy pair a cult following that grew with their follow-up movie, Hot Fuzz, about a gung-ho London cop who's transferred to a sleepy English village. Those films were both directed by their friend Edgar Wright, who also made the visually innovative Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Wright and Pegg co-wrote the script for The World's End, and Wright directed the film. Pegg plays Gary, a heavy-drinking perpetual adolescent, and Frost plays Andy, now a respectable, teetotalling lawyer. Pegg and Frost join Fresh Air's Dave Davies to talk about their latest project.
On The World's End being about nostalgia ... and having a hard time connecting with that
Frost: "I tend to try and just look forward. I'm not a very nostalgic man, really. I think if I ever need to look back I'd do it with music, essentially, or food. I've got an amazing recipe for a beef stroganoff that my mom taught me to cook when I was 10, and so when I cook that and eat it it's kind of, for me, the ultimate time machine. I think that, and listening to Hatful of Hollow by the Smiths, that's kind of all the nostalgia a man needs."
On wanting to portray "the real England"
Pegg: "We've always been very keen to not set our films in picture-postcard England. Usually in a movie when you cut to the U.K. you'll hear a little bit of 'Rule, Britannia!' and you'll see a red bus go by, and Big Ben will strike, and it will be snowing and someone will step off the Millennium Wheel, the London Eye. It was important to us to set our films in the real England, in the real places where we grew up, the suburbs of London, not London itself."
On not talking down to American audiences
Pegg: "We don't want to be trans-Atlantic with our movies, in terms of, we don't assume the American audience have to be talked down to in any way, or soft-soaped or given some kind of chocolate-box version of what they're seeing. I think Shaun of the Dead proved to us that we could be resolutely British and it would still work [in the U.S.]. In fact, it would work because of that. A lot of films [that] want to get an American distribution deal will put stuff in specifically to try and secure that, and [it] ends up just feeling fake."
On how Frost wrote his book An Alcoholic's Guide to the Holy Land to impress a girl
Frost: "I never wanted to act. I never wanted to be an actor, but ... I'm a romantic, and I always had this weird romantic idea of being some terribly poor Soviet novelist living in like a windy garret drinking a watery potato soup ... and writing. I kind of fell in love with a girl called Cheryl, I was 25 and she was 19, and I really fell head over heels, and so I essentially wrote this novel to show off to her because I think she liked the fact that I wanted to be a writer. So I kind of did it to impress a girl. But I didn't have a table. I just had an ironing board and a typewriter."
Pegg: "I always say, looks fade but funny is forever. I tell potential wives that."
On Shaun of the Dead and their place in zombie film history
Pegg: "We wanted to make a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of the zombie world. And have this strange side story happening in the Romero universe, the great zombie films that George Romero created, and he created that whole mythology as well. The whole modern zombie was basically George's doing. He combined old voodoo stories and this cannibal fad there was in the late '60s, and he created this cannibalistic modern zombie, which is all his idea. I think shows like The Walking Dead and Shaun of the Dead, and anything, really post-George, owes him a huge debt of gratitude."
On their films as a "trilogy"
Pegg: "At the time of Shaun of the Dead we just wanted to get that film made. We didn't know if we'd ever get to make another film again, so it was just about that. When we made Hot Fuzz, and we realized we could make a thematic sequel to Shaun of the Dead, not a direct one, but one that kind of displayed similar approaches, addressed similar themes. We were dealing with protracted adolescence again, we were looking at the notion of loss of identity, the struggle of the individual against the collective. There's a deeper connection to the films that I think is really easy to trace when you watch them together."
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. If you've seen the movie "Shaun of the Dead," I probably don't have to tell you much about Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. That 2004 zombie send-up gave the English comedy pair a cult following that grew with their follow-up movie "Hot Fuzz," about a gung-ho London cop who's transferred to a sleepy English village.
Both those films were directed by their friend Edgar Wright, who also made the visually innovative film "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Now Pegg, Frost and Edgar Wright have reunited for a third time in the new movie "The World's End." All three films were co-written by Wright and Simon Pegg.
Pegg and Frost have continued to build their own careers in between their collaborations with Wright. Pegg appeared in two "Mission Impossible" films and two recent "Star Trek" movies, and Frost had roles in the films "Attack the Block" and "Snow White and the Huntsman." They also co-wrote and starred in the sci-fi comedy "Paul," which featured Seth Rogen as a pot-smoking alien.
Their new film "The World's End" is about five old high school friends who reunite to finish a pub crawl they started 20 years before. When they get to their old town, very strange things happen. Here's a scene early in the film, when Simon Pegg's character Gary, a heavy-drinking, perpetual adolescent, is trying to persuade Nick Frost's character Andy, now a respectable teetotaling lawyer, to join his old mates for another go at the pubs of their youth.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WORLD'S END")
SIMON PEGG: (As Gary) We had ourselves a little idea.
NICK FROST: (As Andy) Did you, now?
PEGG: (As Gary) Yeah, we're going to go back to Newton Haven.
FROST: (As Andy) Why?
PEGG: (As Gary) For some unfinished business.
FROST: (As Andy) That's a joke, right?
PEGG: (As Gary) Five guys, 12 pubs, 50 pints.
FROST: 60 pints.
PEGG: Woo, steady on, you alchy!
FROST: (As Andy) I haven't had a drink for 16 years, Gary.
PEGG: (As Gary) You must be thirsty, then. We can go back, see the guys, chew the fat. It'll be just like it always was, except this time, we are going to finish this thing once and for all.
FROST: (As Andy) You have a very selective memory, Gary.
PEGG: (As Gary) Thanks.
FROST: (As Andy) You remember the Friday nights. I remember the Monday mornings.
PEGG: (As Gary) Yeah, that's why we're going back on a Friday.
FROST: (As Andy) Why do you think none of us live in Newton Haven anymore? Because it is a black hole. It's boring. It always was, and it always will be.
PEGG: (As Gary) It's only boring because we're not there.
FROST: (As Andy) It's pointless arguing with you.
PEGG: (As Gary) Exactly. So come.
DAVIES: And that is Nick Frost and Simon Pegg from their new film "The World's End." Gentlemen, welcome to FRESH AIR.
FROST: Nice to meet you.
PEGG: Thank you for having us, David.
DAVIES: Simon Pegg, let's talk about your character, here. I mean, you know, you've played a lot of roles where you're really likeable. Here you're - well, why don't you describe this guy Gary? He's a little intimidating.
PEGG: Yeah. He's kind of obnoxious, and not entirely sympathetic. He's - you know, he's this guy who had the greatest night of his life in June 1990 and has never, ever matched it, which when you think about it, is rather tragic.
PEGG: He sort of says it in a sort of celebratory way at the beginning - like, it never got better than that - when, in actual fact, that is the mark of someone who has no happiness in his present. And that's why he's so desperate to get back there and recreate the night with his friends, because in a way, he's trying to recreate the circumstances in which he was last truly happy.
DAVIES: Nick, do you identify with - at all with a guy wanting to go back and relive his high school days?
FROST: I'd say no. I'm not a very - you know, I tend to just try and look forward. I'm not a very nostalgic man, really. I mean, I think if I ever need to, you know, look back, I do it with music, essentially, or food. I've got an amazing recipe for a beef stroganoff that my mom taught me to cook when I was 10. And so when I cook that and eat it, it's kind of, for me, the ultimate time machine. I think that, while listening to "Hatful of Hollow" by The Smiths, and that's kind of all the nostalgia a man needs.
DAVIES: You know, the director Edgar Wright says that this film - and the other ones that you've done together - that a lot of the fun of them is taking people's perceived stereotypes of the United Kingdom and turning them on their heads. How does that work in this film, in "The World's End"?
FROST: We've always been very keen to not set our films in picture-postcard England. You know, there is - usually, in a movie, when you cut to the U.K., you'll hear a little bit of "Rule, Britannia," and you'll see a red bus go by, and Big Ben will strike.
PEGG: It was snowing.
FROST: It'll be snowing, and someone will step off the Millennium Wheel of the London Eye. It was important to us to set our films in the real England, in the real places where we grew up, the suburbs of London, not London itself, and the little village that, you know, Edgar grew up in, and these garden cities that we created Newton Haven from.
But we also adopt certain stereotypical aspects of British life, because, you know, stereotypes, there's a reason they are stereotypes. And the big one has been the pub as a sense of - you know, as a sort of social nexus, which it very much is in the U.K. The pub is an important place in many ways, and not just to drink. It's - you know, the word pub is short for public house, and that's very much what the feel of these places is. It's a sort of communal space.
I get the feeling here in the U.S., you know, bars are places - I imagine people sitting up at the bar, talking to the barman, drinking, usually alone. They are places where you go to imbibe alcohol.
PEGG: It's a place a gumshoe might go to drink two fingers of whiskey.
FROST: Whereas the pub has - it's a different dynamic. And, you know, after we did "Hot Fuzz," and we'd shot a few scenes in pubs, Edgar actually said to our producer Nira, I never want to shoot in a pub again. And his next film featured 12.
DAVIES: Twelve pubs, yes.
FROST: What a hypocrite. So, yeah, that's kind of our thing. We don't want to be transatlantic with our movies in terms of we don't assume the America audience have to be talked down to in any way or soft-soaped or given some kind of chocolate-box version of what they're seeing, because I think "Shaun of the Dead" proved to us that we could be resolutely British, and it would still work over here. In fact, it would work because of that.
You know, a lot of films who want to get an American distribution deal will put stuff in specifically to try and secure that, and that ends up just feeling fake. And...
PEGG: It dilutes, I think, the thing that people liked about us in the first place, you know.
FROST: Yeah. So we're kind of - we don't trade on our ethnicity, but we don't - we also don't sort of lie about it.
PEGG: We don't hide it. You know, we are British. We're British filmmakers.
DAVIES: One of the fun things is that when these guys go back 20 years later to the pubs that they remembered, these distinctive pubs of their childhood, they've changed. Do you want to describe kind of what's happened to the pubs of their school days?
PEGG: Yeah, well, one of the ideas about - that came through in the writing of the film was this idea - and it's an idea that we've always sort of been interested in, this - the notion of homogenization, of losing identity to something else. That happens in "Shaun of the Dead." It happens in "Hot Fuzz," and it happens on a grand, grand scale in this.
And often, when you return to your hometown, the place where you grew up, it'll feel very similar, but very different. And one of those differences is usually that the high street has changed. And of late, you know, the high streets have all become like small Londons. You know, the big chains have moved in, your McDonald's and your Starbucks, and this is happening in - to the pubs, as well. They're being bought up by chains and sort of re-created as little folksy meeting places, when in actual fact, they're sort of, you know, brand-specific, homogenized corporate entities that don't really have any character.
DAVIES: Right. They seem sterile and identical, really. I mean, it's...
FROST: Yeah, also, you know, I mean, alcohol in pubs is so heavily taxed by the chancellor that it's - it essentially gentrifies a pub. And I think something which, you know, in a system of class like we have in Britain, I always think that a pub is a classless place. You know, you can get a laborer or a bricklayer standing next to a lord and having a pint. You know, I think that's the great thing about British pubs.
And now because it is so expensive to drink in a pub, people aren't drinking in pubs...
PEGG: Now it's just lords.
FROST: Now it's just the lords, which is very boring. The pubs stink of wax jackets and pink corduroys. You know, I think it drives the working man away from a place where we met to meet friends and, you know, family.
DAVIES: Do the two of you - I mean, since you've done so much work together, when you're doing sequences in a film like, you know, "The World's End," does it just feel like play-acting sometimes with a buddy? I mean, do you find cracking each other up with inside jokes?
PEGG: Well, we write a very tight script, Edgar and myself, in this sort of creative arrangement. Edgar and I write a very, very tight script. We give it - Nick is the first person to read it, so that he can start to bring his own touches to it. Then we rehearse with the cast. Any kind of improvisation that might occur during rehearsal is fed into the script if it works, so that when we hit the deck, we hit it running. You know, we have a specific goal at the end of each day.
But I think having a friendship, having a sort of ease of communication and similar sensibilities really does aid the creative process. It enables us to have a shorthand, which is very effective, an on set we are, you know, totally in tune with each other and with Edgar.
FROST: I mean, I'd also say to that - and, you know, that said, I'm a big fan of what Simon does. So, you know, I enjoy sitting on set acting in a scene with Simon and - because there are - I mean, I'm kind of convinced there are two parts of your brain when you're acting, one part which is kind of flicking through the dialogue Rolodex and concentrating on what to say next, and then you have another part, which is like a free-floating vapor that can look around and say God, this is really good, you know, I'm really enjoying this.
FROST: And so, you know, I...
DAVIES: Look at Martin Freeman. He's acting.
FROST: Look at Martin Freeman acting. Look at Eddie Marsan (unintelligible). You know, it's - I think it's very selfless of Simon and Edgar to, certainly in "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," for Simon to kind of be the straight man, because it's - that's not necessarily how it is in our relationship, personally. You know, we're - we are both each other's straight men, and we are both the crazy, funny ones at times.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. They star in the new film "The World's End." And we'll continue our conversation after a quick break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and our guests are actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They appeared together in "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "Paul." Their new film, directed by Edgar Wright, is "The World's End."
I want to talk a little bit about your long collaboration. But first, before you guys met, now Simon, you had a background in theater, right? You studied drama. Do you want to just tell us a little bit of how you got into the business?
PEGG: I did. I - when I was about 15, I think, I - it never occurred to me that I might be able to follow acting as a career. I lived in a part of the country that was very far from London, seemed far from everything. It was sort of the Tatooine of the United Kingdom, I call it. And it suddenly became apparent that there was a college in Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of the great William Shakespeare, that ran a course where theater studies was like a major.
And I got a grant from a local authority, a trust in my village called the Lady Dann Trust(ph). By strange coincidence, an elderly, wealthy woman had died and left a lot of money to fund potentially artistic children from the village I was from, which was, you know, I'll never not be grateful for, because it meant that I could go to this college. And I studied theater at A-level. And then I went on to study at university.
I didn't go to drama school, because I didn't necessarily want to be - drama schools will sometimes shape their graduates to what they think an actor should be, and I didn't necessarily want to endure that. So in my university education, I became interested in stand-up comedy, or I had been since I was a kid. I became re-interested in it, and really launched myself when I left, when I graduated into the real world, as a stand-up.
DAVIES: Nick, tell us - you know, you - and your parents ran a furniture business when you were young, right. And there were some hard times, I guess, when you were kind of a teenager.
FROST: Yeah. Well, my dad, he started his own office chair design company. He was kind of designing high-end office chairs. And he kind of went off on his own to do his own business, and sadly, it became slightly too successful for him on his own to make all the chairs that he had ordered. And sadly, we kind of lost our business, which meant that we lost our home and everything we had.
So, as a 15-year-old boy, I kind of found myself, and my mom and dad and our giant Alsatian Sheba, living in one room, essentially, which was - it was shattering, really, to be honest. And it - you know, my father had - you know, I don't know how to put this. He became very ill. My mother became very ill. And that was kind of that, really.
I left school at 15 to try and be the man and to try and bring some money into our family, which sounds very tragic. I mean, don't get me wrong, we still had a laugh as a family. You know, it didn't dampen that side of us.
PEGG: And then you went off to Israel.
DAVIES: Right, you went...
FROST: Yeah. Yeah. I kind of got to a point in my life where I was kind of sick of it, really, of living in London and, you know, living in this awful council estate. So I essentially ran away to the Middle East for two years.
DAVIES: Was your family Jewish, or was this just an experience you wanted to have?
FROST: No, no, instead, a friend of mine called Brendan, Brendan Heggerty(ph), who had been on a kibbutz, and he said I think it would be really good for you to run off and become a fish farmer or an apple picker for a while.
FROST: So that was it. I think I intended to go for three months at first, and then there was something about the society and living on the land and it being a very regimented kind of life that I loved. I think I would have been pretty good in the army or in prison.
PEGG: It could still happen.
FROST: It could still happen. So, yeah, I ended up staying for - I think I stayed for 19 months on my first visit. Then I came home and...
PEGG: Your first tour.
FROST: On my first tour, and then I came home and realized that I don't think I was ready to come home. So I went back again for another six months or something.
PEGG: It's like "The Hurt Locker."
FROST: It is like "The Hurt Locker."
FROST: I'm like Jeremy Renner.
DAVIES: And is true...
FROST: That's the only way in which I'm like Jeremy Renner.
DAVIES: And is it true that you wrote a novel called "The Alcoholic's Guide to the Holy Land"?
FROST: It is true, yeah. I - I mean, it's terrible. It's so bad. I still have a copy, but I...
DAVIES: It's one more novel than I've written.
FROST: Well, I never wanted to act. I never wanted to be an actor, but I was always - you know, I'm a romantic, and I always had some weird, romantic ideal of being some terribly poor Soviet novelist living in, like, a windy garret drinking, you know, a watery potato soup - that was kind of romantic to me - and writing. And I kind of fell in love with a girl called Cheryl(ph), and I was like 25 and she was 19, and I really fell head over heels.
And so I essentially wrote this novel to show off to her, because I think she liked the fact that I wanted to be a writer. So I kind of did it to impress a girl. But I didn't have a table. I just had an ironing board and a typewriter. So every morning, I'd sit at this ironing board and smash out a few pages.
But I have one, I have one of the manuscripts, and she has one, too. But I haven't seen her since I was 25, so...
PEGG: Oh, I bought it for my Kindle the other day.
DAVIES: I want to get to when you first met. Nick, you were working in a restaurant, right, and just - who wants to tell the story?
FROST: Yeah. Well, we'll both chime in, but I - yeah, I was working in a Mexican restaurant called Chiquitos in a place called Cricklewood in North London.
PEGG: Look for it. It's still there.
FROST: It's still there, yeah. And I - you know, I met this girl called Charlotte, who was Simon's girlfriend at the time. And, you know, me and her got on really, really well, and she said she had this boyfriend who was a comedian and...
PEGG: You fancied her a bit, didn't you? And you were disappointed that she had a boyfriend, which was me.
FROST: Yeah, I kind of hated you. I hated the idea of you.
FROST: Because it's always a nice, attractive thing when girls laugh at you.
PEGG: Yeah. It is. I mean, I always say, you know, looks fade, but funny is forever.
PEGG: That's what I say to potential wives.
FROST: Tell my wife that.
FROST: Yeah. So we - she arranged a kind of meeting for us, and I - it was - it coincided with a big party that I was having at my house. And so Charlotte was going to come after work and bring Simon, and...
PEGG: That was the girl.
FROST: That was the cow. I was quite nervous, actually, to meet him and - because, you know, it's that thing that a lot had been built up about the two of - oh, you guys are really going to get on. And so...
PEGG: It was like a blind date, wasn't it?
FROST: It was like a blind date.
PEGG: It really was like a blind date.
FROST: And so I remember them, I can actually see them now walking in, and me not making an effort to go over until I was ready. And then, you know, there was a time a bit later on when he was outside on my balcony, and I kind of went over. And I remember us kind of - kind of skirting around one another. And there was - like we did the impressions and stuff, didn't we?
PEGG: Basically, we hooked - we got on really well, and I took Nick out to a couple of comedy gigs, and he came to see me, and I got him ready for his - you know, I helped him get ready for his first comedy gig, and - which was a sort of open mic night at a club called the Cosmic Comedy Club in Fulham, in London, which he was great at. I think I still have it on VHS somewhere. That is going on YouTube.
PEGG: And then we hung out a lot.
FROST: Coming out with my book.
PEGG: Yeah. We hung out. I realized we'd hung out almost every day for like a month at one point, and I thought, I've only just met this guy, and I'm absolutely relishing his company. And, you know, and that sort of happened. And eventually, I broke up with Charlotte, and Nick and I - I got Nick, thank God, and our friendship endured.
DAVIES: And the story I've read is that Simon, you won him over when you did some "Star Wars" sound that Nick recognized?
PEGG: No, that was a moment we realized that we had a big shared sensibility. I made a noise - we were in a restaurant, and we always used to go there after Nick finished his shift. All the waiters at Chiquitos would go and have their after-hours drink and food at this place. And we all sat around this table eating butter chicken. And I think I probably moved a salt cellar across the table or something like a little droid, and I made a noise of one of the lesser-known robots in "Star Wars" that Nick immediately recognized.
And like no one else at the table knew what the noise was, apart from Nick, and we looked at each other, and it was, like, you know stuff. It was a very small, but hugely significant moment.
DAVIES: All right. You've got to give us the noise, if you still remember.
PEGG: Oh, it was (makes noises).
PEGG: It's that one when they're walking through the Death Star, and they've got Chewbacca...
FROST: (Makes noises)
PEGG: ...thank you - as a fake captive, and this little mouse droid - it's a moment of comedy that actually really worked. George Lucas isn't really renowned for his funnies, but I remember as a kid thinking that was enormously funny. In the midst of this hugely tense sequence, Chewbacca sort of, like, roars off a tiny little droid, and it's a tension-punctuating moment...
DAVIES: And that was your Chewbacca, Nick, right? Yeah.
FROST: Yeah. No, that was Chewbacca.
DAVIES: Oh, he's there? Good, good, good. That's wonderful.
FROST: He's in our posse these days.
DAVIES: Nick Frost and Simon Pegg star in the new film "The World's End." They'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We're speaking with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They starred in the films "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," both directed by Edgar Wright. They're all back for a third time in the new movie "The World's End," about a bunch of old friends who reunite to finish a pub crawl from their youth. Pegg and Frost have been friends since Pegg, who'd studied drama and done standup, met Frost and just had to get him into show business.
After you met, I know that you, Simon, you brought Nick Frost into the TV series you were doing called "Spaced," which has a real cult following. You want to just quickly describe what your characters were?
PEGG: Basically, Nick had a character called Mike who - Mike Watt - who was a like Reservist, what we call a Territorial Army in the U.K. - a sort of weapons nut, slightly unhinged, but a completely harmless, lovely kind of character, which he used to do for myself and Charlotte, you know, just as a bit in the pub or whatever. And I was really interested in - I felt like Nick was the funniest person I'd ever met. And I was a comic, all my friends were comedians and no one was funnier than this guy who wasn't a comic. And so I asked Nick if he wouldn't mind if I appropriated that character for the sitcom for Jessica Hynes and I who wrote "Spaced," if we could have Mike and insert him into the story and, you know, and would you play it. And Nick was sort of, you know, because he just thought might as well, he said yes. And so we took it to the network with Nick already attached and sort of said OK, we've got this sitcom, this is what we'd like to do. We have this actor, this actor, who we'd like to play these parts.
FROST: This waiter.
PEGG: I mean actor. And they went along with it. I think partly because there was another Nick Frost who was in the union - our sort of SAG, which is called Equity, and they just assumed it was him. And like by sheer ballsiness, I guess, Nick joined the cast of the sitcom in his life took a different turn. So it was amazing really, to look back. I remember Edgar even said to me, you sure this is a good idea? This guy has never acted before. And you initially weren't a huge fan of it, were you - I mean of acting?
FROST: No. Well, you know, I just wasn't, I wasn't, I had never done it before, you know, I had never acted before. So it was, you know, it was like "My Fair Lady," but with a big fat man. My fat lady.
FROST: We'd go riding on a bike and I'd sit on this crossbar.
PEGG: The first time he ever finished a scene I said, by George, I think he's got it.
FROST: Yeah. I'd like a white parasol that I'd flick out.
PEGG: But he soon became like, you know, I mean Edgar, as soon as he started working Edgar just fell in love with it was like thrilled. And so when "Shaun of the Dead" became a possibility, when we had the chance to make our own film and Nick and I had this pre-existing relationship which seemed to work very well on screen, the idea for the film seemed, it seemed the obvious thing to shape around myself and Nick as the main characters and that's how "Shaun" happened. And, you know, obviously, that film which we didn't know would get a release in the U.K., let alone in the U.S., changed everything.
DAVIES: Right. Well, why don't we move to that and let's hear a clip from "Shaun of the Dead." This was in 2004, and Simon you play a guy who is sort of adrift in London, works at a what, an appliance store, his girlfriend wants something more, breaks up with an at the beginning of the film. And Nick, you're his buddy Ed...
DAVIES: ...who is a kind of crude, fun-loving guy. And then there is a zombie attack, where if...
PEGG: A classic story, Dave.
PEGG: It's a tale as old as time.
DAVIES: Yes. And, of course, you hear on the telly that if you hit the - if you destroy the zombie's brains that will kill them. And this is a clip where the outbreak has started. Also, if a zombie bites you you're going to turn into one, so you don't want to be bitten. And Simon, your character Shaun, is in your flat - the two of you in your apartment and you're going to call your girlfriend Liz, who's just broken up with you, but instead you've accidentally dialed your mom, who lives with her husband, Philip. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHAUN OF THE DEAD")
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
PEGG: (as Shaun) Liz.
PENELOPE WILTON: (as Barbara) Shaun.
PEGG: (as Shaun) Mum. Hi. I was going to call you. Are you OK?
WILTON: (as Barbara) Yes.
PEGG: (as Shaun) Yeah. Well, are you sure?
WILTON: (as Barbara) Some men tried to get into the house.
PEGG: (as Shaun) Well, are they still there?
WILTON: (as Barbara) I'm not sure. We've shut the curtains.
PEGG: (as Shaun) Did you try the police?
WILTON: (as Barbara) Well, I thought about it.
PEGG: (as Shaun) Well, are you OK? Did they hurt you?
WILTON: (as Barbara) No, I'm fine. I'm fine.
PEGG: (as Shaun) Mum?
WILTON: (as Barbara) Well, they were a bit bitey.
PEGG: (as Shaun) Mum, have you been bitten?
WILTON: (as Barbara) No, but Philip has.
PEGG: (as Shaun) Oh, OK.
FROST: (as Ed) Has she been bitten?
PEGG: (as Shaun) No, Philip has.
FROST: (as Ed) Oh, OK.
PEGG: (as Shaun) Listen, Mum, what state is he in?
WILTON: (as Barbara) Oh, he's fine. Bit under the weather.
PEGG: (as Shaun) I see.
FROST: (as Ed) What's the deal?
PEGG: (as Shaun) We may have to kill my stepdad.
(as Shaun) Listen, Mum, sit tight, OK. You're not safe there. We're coming over.
WILTON: (as Barbara) I don't want to cause a fuss.
FROST: (as Ed) We're coming to get you, Barbara.
(SOUNDBITE OF NOISE)
DAVIES: And that is our guests, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in the Edgar Wright film "Shaun of the Dead." And we have to say that was Penelope Wilton there, the mom...
DAVIES: ...who found the men a bit bitey.
DAVIES: This is so much fun because you're just playing on - I think it was David Edelstein wrote afterward that the English have this inexhaustible wellspring of comedy, bestial urges and excellent manners. You know, we hear, you know, don't mind me, but the world is coming to an end. It's just such great fun.
PEGG: Yes. And also we had this idea that even amidst the apocalypse, the minutia of day-to-day life just doesn't change, you know, that's kind of what "Shaun of the Dead" is about. He's trying to save his relationship amidst a zombie apocalypse, despite the fact that it's happening. And he still doesn't get on with his girlfriend's friends and his relationship with his stepdad is still problematic, even though even though in some respects the zombie apocalypse sort of catalyzes a resolution that will be a tragic one.
But, yeah, that was also very interesting to us that we wanted to make the kind of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" of the zombie world. And have this strange little - this side story happening in the Romero universe, this, you know, the great zombie films that George Romero created, and he created that whole mythology as well. The whole modern zombie was basically George's doing. You know, he combined old sort of voodoo stories and this sort of slight cannibal fad that there was in the late '60s, and he created this, you know, cannibalistic modern zombie, which is all his idea. And I think shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Shaun of the Dead," and anything, really post-George, owes him a huge debt of gratitude. Because, I mean "Shaun" and "The Walking Dead" are essentially just George's idea taken on in a different direction, you know.
DAVIES: There is a lot of action here. I mean in this film you're whacking zombies all the time, you kill Bill Nighy a couple of times.
DAVIES: And this continues in the other movies. And in the new one there's a lot of action sequences. Does it get harder to do as you get older?
PEGG: It's funny. Actually, I think the amount of action in each film has increased as we've got older.
FROST: I think you just have to, you know, it's also what the role needs. You know, you know exactly what you need to do to physically and the shape you need to be into to be able to do these, you know, one of these fights in "Worlds End" took eight days to shoot, you know, and you're fighting for 11 or 12 hours a day for eight days, you know. So it's - I never made a movie, like an action movie in my 20s so I have nothing to compare it to...
FROST: ...to be honest. But it just, you know, it's always a nice thing when you go home and you're bruised and you've been punching stunt men all day. It's a kind of good, it's a good pain and it's that kind of pain where you just feel like you've perhaps spent the day digging a big hole or knocking on the wall down.
DAVIES: Well, we have to talk about "Hot Fuzz." It's the other film in the trilogy that you both did with Edgar Wright. This was in 2007. Simon, you want to just talk a little bit about the idea here? A brilliant London cop exiled to a quiet English village.
PEGG: Yeah. We - "Hot Fuzz" was Edgar's idea in the inception. He kind of liked the prospect of doing an action film in the U.K. with British police officers because they're not particularly cinematically cool. You know, they sort of wear sweaters and carry sticks. And in cinematic terms, they're not particularly romantic. And we'd had this idea about a very, very accomplished London police officer who is reassigned to a small hamlet in rural England because he's so good. He's kind of messing the figures up in London. And we wanted this clash of parochial British policing and sort of Michael Bay-style action and we wanted the film to start off very much as a sort of "Miss Marple," kind of Agatha Christie, bucolic kind of very, very English set crime thriller, and it become this extraordinary high octane action flick.
DAVIES: Let's hear a clip from "Hot Fuzz." I mean this is where the two of you, you know, Simon, you're this London cop who is in this quiet village. And Nick, you're playing his partner, Danny Butterman, who is the son of the inspector. And you're sitting in the patrol car and Nick's character Danny is munching on an ice cream. The scene begins when he asked his partner if he wants something from the snack shop. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HOT FUZZ")
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) Do you want anything from the shop?
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) You've just been to the shop.
FROST: (Danny Butterman) Thinkin' of a different shop.
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) Constable Butterman, this is not the time for personal errands.
FROST: (Danny Butterman) Well, there's nothing going on, is there?
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) There is always something going on. You have to look closer. All right. What about this guy?
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) Mr. Treacher?
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) Yeah. Why has he got that big coat on? He can't be cold. Why the extra layer? Maybe he's trying to hide something.
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) Mr. Treacher?
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) OK. What about this guy? Ask yourself, why has he got his hat pulled down like that?
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) He's (bleep) ugly.
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) Or he doesn't want you to see his face.
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) Because he's (bleep) ugly.
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) OK, what's his story?
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) Oh, that's Lurch.
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) Go on.
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) He's a trolley boy at the local supermarket.
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) Good.
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) Real name, Michael Armstrong.
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) Uh-huh.
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) Dad says he's got a child's mind.
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) OK.
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) And lives up Summer Street with his mum and his sister.
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) And are they as big as he is?
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) Who?
PEGG: (as Nicholas Angel) The mum and the sister.
FROST: (as Danny Butterman) Same person.
DAVIES: And that's our guest Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the 2007 film, "Hot Fuzz." I love that line: same person.
FROST: That's something. You've got a child's mind.
FROST: That really makes me and Simon laugh.
PEGG: I think it's the kind that it's the "Hee Haw "joke. I mean that's the...
FROST: ...classic thing, when you get to the countryside everyone's related maybe a little bit more than they should be.
PEGG: But we couldn't resist it.
DAVIES: You know, people describe "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and the new one, "The World's End," as a trilogy because it's the two of you and your director Edgar Wright. Did you conceive of it as a trilogy and is there more coming?
PEGG: No we didn't. Absolutely not. I think it would be arrogant and untruthful to say that we ever did. Arrogant, I think, at the time because it would assume that we were going to make three films. And, you know, at the time of "Shaun of the Dead" we just wanted to get that film made. We didn't know if we'd ever get to make another film again, so it was just about that. When we made "Hot Fuzz," and we realized we could make a sort of thematic sequel to "Shaun of the Dead," not a direct one, but one that at least kind of displayed similar approaches, addressed similar themes. We were dealing with protracted adolescence again. We were looking at the notion of loss of identity, the struggle of the individual against the collective. There's a deeper connection to the films that I think is really easy to trace when you watch them together. And if you watch them apart it really doesn't matter. We will make more films together, I have no doubt, but they won't necessarily have to abide by that criteria. They could be something completely different to what we've done before, which would be a nice, you know, change.
DAVIES: Well, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, it's been fun. We'll look forward to seeing what you come up with next. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
PEGG: Not at all. And thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.
FROST: Yeah. Thank you so very much for having us.
PEGG: Thanks, Dave.
DAVIES: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost started a new film "The World's End."
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Robin Thicke's new album, "Blurred Lines." This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.