Simon Pegg: interview

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Simon Pegg has risen to fame via cult hits 'Spaced' and 'Shaun of the Dead'. The writer and actor tells Time Out, through a mouthful of crisps, why we’re past postmodernism and why his wife walked out of the premiere of his new film, ‘Star Trek’

'I can’t eat Monster Munch on… er… humanitarian grounds,’ says Simon Pegg, unconvincingly, mouth full of crisps, in mock protest. Pegg doesn’t know why, but he’s standing in a cupboard in Claridge’s Hotel in Mayfair and stuffing his face with tuck-shop snacks. It’s simple: we asked and he said yes. He’s in no position to protest.

It’s the morning after the British premiere of ‘Star Trek’. He’s got a hangover. He likes Monster Munch. And he’s so happy to have pulled on the famous maroon jersey to play Scotty in the new ‘Star Trek’ movie that you get the impression he’d do just about anything to help get the word out.

Does Pegg have to pinch himself sometimes? He’s a 39-year-old, self-confessed movie geek from Gloucester and in the past year he’s played an iconic character in a ‘Star Trek’ reboot and been motion captured for Stephen Spielberg’s new ‘Tintin’ movie. ‘Yeah, definitely,’ he says, pouring himself a Coke to help relieve the hangover. ‘I feel like that the whole time, the way things have gone. Especially being a movie fan and a fan of this kind of cinema.’

He takes his cinema seriously. His tastes might be mainstream, but once he starts talking about ‘Star Trek’, as well as the recent Batman and Bond movies, it’s like listening to a talking thesis. And he even manages to keep a straight face. ‘I think we’ve evolved out of postmodernism now, the notion of feeling the need to objectively comment on the past,’ is his reaction when I tell him I was surprised at how straight the new ‘Star Trek’ has turned out to be. It’s not parody. Nor is it overly navel-gazing. ‘I think that it’s a post-cynical world we live in now,’ he adds. Thankfully, he’s laughing now.

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Pegg as Scotty (centre)

So, how does an actor whose favourite film is ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ compose himself when he steps on to the set of a $150 million ‘Star Trek’ movie? ‘I try to play it cool,’ he says, not even convincing himself. ‘The rest of the cast on “Star Trek” seemed so immediately equipped to let it run smoothly off their back. Maybe it’s because they’re American or Californian. But I was running around like a kid in a toyshop.’

But back to the Monster Munch: Pegg must be used to the weird machinery of film promotion by now. Ever since 2004, when he and his ‘Spaced’ co-conspirators, Nick Frost and writer-director Edgar Wright, let loose their zombie movie tribute ‘Shaun of the Dead’ on enraptured fanboys here and in the US, he’s been reconciling his twin roles of film geek and movie star.

The success of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ won him a small part in ‘Star Trek’ director JJ Abrams’s ‘Mission Impossible III’. Then came bigger roles in comedies like ‘Big Nothing’ and ‘Run Fatboy Run’ and the chance to go on writing and working with Frost and Wright on ‘Hot Fuzz’ (which he’s described as ‘ “Lethal Weapon” meets Miss Marple’). Recently, he and Frost have been voicing detectives Thomson and Thompson for Spielberg’s ‘Tintin’ and are writing another film together. He and Frost will also act in ‘The World’s End’, also helmed by ‘Spaced’ director Wright. Pegg may be playing Scotty in a multi-million-dollar studio movie, but, as the saying goes, you can take the boy out of ‘Spaced’…

The Hollywood machine hasn’t consumed him whole yet, then? ‘It can swallow you up, definitely,’ he says of working on bigger productions, with all the extra baggage that comes with them, the hangers-on, the assistants, the drivers. ‘But then “Star Trek” didn’t feel that much different from “Shaun of the Dead”. It’s the same sort of set-up, only the catering’s better.’

Of course, whether he likes it or loathes it, he’s now a celebrity. The success of ‘Shaun of the Dead’, especially on DVD in the US, means that he’s recognised everywhere he goes, both here and in the US. ‘I was walking through Dallas last year and everyone was going, “Hey, Simon!” It was really odd. But I get more recognised in America than I do in London. Whenever Nick and I arrive in LA, there are always photographers waiting for us. I don’t know what it is. It’s kind of strange.’

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'Star Trek'

How does he deal with it? ‘I try not to engage with it, really. I don’t encourage it. I don’t have a publicist and I don’t want to be in the media when I’m not working. The notion of celebrity and turning up in the papers falling out of clubs is beside the point, really. For me, the whole thing is about making films. I think sometimes people who don’t work in the industry don’t realise that. It’s brilliant making these things – going to set, waking up early in the morning, spending the day play-acting. That’s what’s fun about it.’

He has always been a writer as much as an actor. Before writing ‘Spaced’ between 1999 and 2001, barely out of Bristol University and 25 years old, he was writing and performing in two TV comedy series, ‘Six Pairs of Pants’ and ‘Asylum’. Writing is still key to him. These days he shares an office with Frost near Goodge Street where they retreat to work. ‘When I write with Nick, it really bubbles along quickly. We sit opposite each other and I type – I’m quicker and better at grammar – and he sees what I’m typing relayed on another screen. It works really well.’

He still lives in north London, with his wife, Maureen, who is seven months pregnant with their first child. ‘She came to see the film last night, but she had to leave halfway through and wait in the foyer because it was so loud and the baby was kicking so much. She left just when I was about to deliver my best line. I said to her: “I can’t believe you care more about our baby than my iconic line!”’ It’s the sort of thing that Tim, Pegg’s pop culture-obsessed character in ‘Spaced’, might have said. But of course he doesn’t mean it.

He shows no signs of having his head spun by success. He’s enjoying working in the States yet he’s not about to uproot and move over there. ‘I want to stay in London. I’m a bit of a homebody anyway. It’s nice to go out to California every now and then and have a bit of a laugh. But, to tell the truth, I love Crouch End!’

Star Trek’ opens on May 8.

Author: Dave Calhoun. Photography Rob Greig



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