Back in the innocent days of 2004, Shaun Of The Dead caught the world by surprise. Sure, thanks to Spaced, British comedy nerds (and you know, actual British people) all knew about the uniquely reverential and genre-bending tone created when Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost got together.
For the rest of the world, it was a shock to the system. Since then the trio have become movie-making icons and fanboy favourites. In addition to slipping into Hollywood in various ways, the guys also agreed to keep getting the band back together until they’d made their own cinematic trilogy. The zombie comedy of Shaun was soon followed by the arguably superior buddy-cop action parody/homage Hot Fuzz, and now almost a decade after taking the Comic-Con community by storm, the triumphant trio have returned with The World’s End.
This time, the genre is apocalyptic sci-fi. Pegg stars once more as a pathetic drunk n’ drugged up burnout who never got over his high school days. Out of the blue, he reunites with his old friends (including Nick Frost, obviously) to recreate a pub crawl through their home town that they never completed as teens. Once back in their old stomping grounds, the gang notices something is different. Something seems to have possessed and/or replaced all of the townsfolk. So in classic Pegg/Wright/Frost fashion, the character comedy turns into a full blooded genre romp that pokes fun at conventions while still delivering genuine thrills. In advance of the film’s release, CGM got a chance to chat with director Edgar Wright and actor Nick Frost about their latest film, concluding their trilogy, the possible end of their ongoing collaboration, and of course Bad Boys II.
It must be tough to be separated from your third musketeer Simon Pegg today?
Nick Frost: (Laughs) Oh Simon. I mean, what can I say? I don’t think I’ve got anything left to say about him. It was horrible when he left us the other day. It’s been the three of us for a month, and we had to split up the gang. It’s quite painful.
Edgar Wright: Yeah, and we actually have the most fun doing press. The actual shooting as you can probably imagine is really ambitious, and I think one of the reasons we can even get through these shoots is that we’re such good friends that we don’t have to communicate as much.
It seems like you’ve developed a pretty close-knit group over the three movies and Spaced?
Edgar Wright: Oh yeah, Simon’s amazing and everyone is really professional, but the good thing that comes from being really close–I’ve known Simon for 15 years and Simon and Nick have been friends for 20 years–is that you can be completely honest. I think if I was doing this script and I was working with six other actors I didn’t know at all, I’m not sure I could have gotten to the same place. Certainly not as quickly. It’s amazing doing these films and having these actors around the table that really quickly lock into feeling like they’re old friends, and that’s probably because some of them really are. Even the people who didn’t know each other, like Simon and Eddie Marsan, they very quickly became like they were old friends.
Nick Frost: I worked with Eddie on Snow White. He and Toby Jones and I became really great friends . I mean, I liked all of the cast, but Eddie was one of those cases where we just got each other immediately. It was like we had known each other for years. When Eddie was cast in this, I knew it was perfect because if he got me, I knew he would get Simon and Edgar as well.
Edgar Wright: We also kind of wanted to have Eddie and Paddy Considine together again. Paddy had been really funny in Hot Fuzz and Eddie had been funny in a lot of Mike Leigh films, but recently they had both made a really dark film called Tyrannosaur. So we wanted to give them both funny parts after that. I think what that solidified the casting of Eddie was when I saw a Q&A after a Tyrannosaur screening. Someone asked Eddie, “What else would you like to do in your career? And he answered, “I’ve never had consensual sex on screen.” (Laughs) I thought, “this man needs saving.” So I wanted to give him the one movie where he gets to be the nice guy. Same with Paddy, who is essentially the romantic lead.
You’ve gotten very good at writing male relationships. Was that something that always interested you or something you discovered while making the films?
Edgar Wright: I think we did. We put a lot of ourselves into these movies, so it was kind of natural for that to come out. There’s a funny story about Hot Fuzz. People accuse us quite rightly of not writing enough for our female roles and in that one, we had written sort of a romantic foil for Simon. The script was too long, so we cut her out, but we ended up giving all of her lines to Nick Frost. (Laughs) And we didn’t really have to change anything.
Nick Frost: I think her name was Vicki.
Edgar Wright: Yeah, Victoria. Oddly enough her name was Victoria Flowers and that was before Scott Pilgrim. I forgot about that.
Nick Frost: Vicki’s Cakes.
Edgar Wright: Yeah, she was the owner of the cake shop. In terms of the male relationships, we just wanted to be really honest. Apart from putting in a lot of personal experience into the movie, both in terms of reuniting with old friends and the personal demons side of it, I just felt that the kind of manchild comedy genre only scratches the surface of things but never really goes deeper. Usually, those films are about what it’s like to try to be a child forever and they always end up glorifying it. They never, ever show any dark side. We never really made a conscious decision to be dark, but we did make an effort to be honest. If you set up a main character who has problems, then you have to resolve it. We wanted to resolve it in surprising ways, and it was sort of based on people that we know and the people that we are. I think over the movies from Shaun to this one, we realized that writing them was quite therapeutic. That was where we talked about things that we quite often don’t talk about in real life. It all comes out. We set them up as a zombie movie, a cop movie, and a sci-fi movie, but we smuggled in these relationship comedies along the way. One person put it really nicely after one of these trilogy screenings when they said Shaun was like watching a good relationship going South, Hot Fuzz was like a first date movie, and this one was post-divorce. (Laughs)
Do you think there’s a discernible difference between American and British sensibilities when it comes to comedy? Your movies tend to straddle a line and play for both audiences, but that’s not always the case.
Edgar Wright: I guess. When we first made Shaun of the Dead, we had no idea that it was going to play internationally at all. We pretty much just made the movie that we wanted to make, and we were really pleased with the reception here and in the States in terms of people just seeming to get it. I think that encouraged us to just be true to ourselves and be true to our country. To be honest, if I see an American film or a Canadian film, I don’t want it to be simplified for international audiences. There are plenty of American comedies that will come to the UK where something like sports references just goes sailing straight over. If the film is good, that doesn’t matter. I’m proud that we made three of these movies without ever being pressured to add an American star. If we had Johnny Depp or someone in a roll, I think the audience would smell a rat.
Nick Frost: Why would he be in Newton Haven?
Nick, this is an interesting part for you because you’re kind of the straight man for Simon this time after having the roles reversed for the last few movies. What was your first impression when you read the script?
Nick Frost: I don’t mind! I never really trained as an actor, so I don’t really think about that. I don’t think I’ve pigeonholed myself into a type. I’m the actor within these movies who hears more than anyone else does over the course of the writing period and then I’m the first one to get the script. At that point I kind of have a chance to make notes on the script and my character and then we all have a conversation. But I think as an actor you want to do as many different roles and as many different characters as possible, and it was another chance to do something slightly different. You need to see the big picture and understand, “I may be the straight man in this one, but I get to kick a lot of ass.”(Laughs)
And have you had consensual sex on camera? You know, other than privately with Simon?
Nick Frost: YEAH! (Laughs) It’s funny and kind of sad, but I always seem to film sex scenes on my wife’s birthday.
Edgar Wright: (Laughs) No!
Nick Frost: There have been two. Two really rude ones as well.
Edgar Wright: I think you should make that an annual thing.
Nick Frost: Yeah, “Sorry love, off to work.” It was the worst when I did a Martin Amis adaptation called Money. I was teamed up with this amazing 21-year-old-girl in the sauciest underwear. It was awful. (Laughs) This is the point where you can write in, “Frost’s glasses steam.”
There’s a wonderful soundtrack on this film of songs from the period when these characters were young. Were they all songs with a personal connection for you guys?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, when we were writing this film we made a playlist of all these songs from about 1988 to 1993, and that was the period when I was in high school and Simon was in college. It just leapt out immediately that these songs would be Gary King’s bible. We kind of liked that in his drink and drug addled brain, he starts to think he made up all these lyrics to these songs himself. There’s a point in the film where he starts quoting The Soup Dragons like he made it up. We thought about that quite a bit, and that’s why a lot of the songs at the start of the movie are kind of these hedonistic party anthems that never really went away.
It’s funny because when I was growing up in the 80s, you would go into a supermarket and they would be playing 60s songs. I was in Ikea the other day and I heard The Soup Dragons, and I immediately thought, “Oh my God, this has become one of those oldies.” At the start of the movie when Simon Pegg does the voiceover and announces the year, we specifically picked 1990 to make everyone feel really, really old. (Laughs) I think my direction for him in that voiceover was, “Say 1990 like you’re saying 1890.” (Laughs) Because it feels like, “Fucking hell, that song is 23 years old!” We’re further away from Primal Scream coming out today than the movie American Graffiti was when it was made in the 1970s and took place in the 60s.
I always love hearing about the movies you screen before making your own to find the tone. Bad Boys 2 obviously being the best and everything else a distant second—
Edgar Wright: (Laughs and sighs) You know, I’ve somewhat revised my opinion of Bad Boys 2.
Nick Frost: What?!
Edgar Wright: This is absolutely true and this is where Hot Fuzz mirrors real life again. When we made Hot Fuzz, I had programmed a double bill of Point Break and Bad Boys 2. Much like Simon and Nick in the movie, I fell asleep during that one. The logic of a double bill is to never put the longer movie on second. Point Break is something like 100 minutes, and Bad Boys 2 is something like 2 and 3/4 hours long. (Laughs) So that’s that.
What were the movies this time?
Edgar Wright: Actually, there were only two films that Simon and I really watched before writing and neither were sci-fi films. One was The Big Chill and the other was the Gene Kelly musical It’s Always Fair Weather, which is about World War II Veterans meeting 20 years after V-E Day in a bar in New York and realizing they have nothing in common anymore. It’s surprisingly bittersweet for one of those MGM musicals. I didn’t show the actors anything because I didn’t want them to take anything in. With Hot Fuzz, I gave Nick a whole lot of cop movies to watch because it made sense for his character to have watched something like Exit Wounds. (Laughs)
Nick Frost: It would only make sense for me as a man to have watched Exit Wounds.
Edgar Wright: (Laughs) Actually, for the kids and other people sort of playing the villains of the piece, I did make this tape of great robotic performances. Like Yul Brenner in Westworld or Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. I had this kind of reference tape I showed a lot of the younger actors who might not have seen some of these movies to just kind of get them up to speed. With some of these kids I would say, “Put your Robert Patrick face on and they would totally get into it.” Some of the kids in those fight scenes are about 15 years old. The main kid actually turned 16 on the set and he did all his own stunts. It was just incredible.
Nick Frost: He had a stunt-mitzvah. We threw a big glass cake at him.
Edgar Wright: The one thing I did show to the crew was the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That one had a huge influence on Shaun as well. Philip Kaufman’s remake is so great because of all these things he does with the background extras and the feel and it’s such a great location. It’s the kind of film that would be hard to get made right now, that’s for sure. I think that’s a great film.
With this trilogy now behind you, where do you see your working relationships going from here?
Edgar Wright: This movie was quite ambitious to pull off, and we just feel satisfied that for once we made good on a promise. We never made Spaced season three, but we once said we would. As much as we promised fans we would do a third film together, we promised it to ourselves that we would make a third film together. What’s been really great about doing this, aside from just being really pleased with the movie, is that we got to do something rather personal. That said, we tried to make three standalone movies, but they are thematically a trilogy. If we do another film together, it might end up being something completely different. What connects these movies, aside from the sillier things like ice cream and fence jumping, are the overall themes. They’re all about the friendships between men, perpetual adolescence and the dangers of that, and the individual versus the collective. Then just on a level of stating the obvious, they’re all set in the UK, they’re all contemporary, and that’s kind of important to the piece. If we do something again, it could be completely different from all of that.
Nick Frost: There’s no rush. If we don’t work together again for five or six years, that’s just what it will happen, you know? We’ll find something we like, come back, and have a blast doing it. We’re not just going to come back to make a film just for the sake of making a film. It has to feel right.