Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, & Nick Frost Round Table
By Adam D'Ambrosi | August 22, 2013
The World’s End tells the story of Gary King (Simon Pegg), a one time high school legend who struggles to reunite his childhood friends for a legendary pub crawl in their old hometown of Newton Haven. In his quest to reconnect, Gary finds that his high school buddies now want nothing to do with him, especially Andy (Nick Frost) who feels that Gary betrayed him 20 years before. Eventually, (and not without some manipulation from Gary) the group gives in to their friend’s sad dream of reunion and return to their old stomping grounds, which they find has undergone an alienating metamorphosis.
Director/writer Edgar Wright, writer/actor Simon Pegg, and co star Nick Frost return in the third installment of what has become fondly known by the trio’s fans as “the blood and ice cream trilogy”. As is expected by the trio, The World’s End maintains a hilarious pairing of crisp dialogue and brutal melee at its best. Pegg’s tragic charisma as Gary plays well off of Frost’s straight laced, unforgiving character Andy. The dynamic between the supporting characters Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Sam (Rosamund Pike), offers other venues for fresh laughs.
In this roundtable interview with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, I attempted to get a discussion going about what makes for good comedy. What I got was a demonstration of comedy at its best.
Adam D’Ambrosi: Simon, you have said that you take the audience’s intelligence seriously when making a film. For any of you, why does taking that intelligence seriously make for good comedy?
Pegg: Because you should never underestimate the joy of audience participation in making links and the joy of your own connections in film. I think anyone can laugh at a person falling over, and we know that better than most because we put it in every film that we do. But there’s also a huge joy in working stuff out, and solving puzzles, and making connections between threads, and seeing foreshadowing, and things paying off. It’s a far more gratifying experience than just hearing the word “come” every five minutes.
Pegg: He loves that.
Pegg: When an audience leaves the theater and they feel that they have been taken seriously, they feel good about it. I mean… we’re constantly being infantilized by what we see in the cinema! We’re constantly being underestimated, bashed around the head with it. It’s turning us into mush. I would hope that in a summer that has been populated by big dumb shit, that you’d feel [from smart humor], “oh that was tasty.”
AD: So you feel like the audience feels it when you take their intelligence seriously?
Pegg: They should be, I mean, I do. We try to make films for ourselves, try and make things that we would leave the cinema and go, “oh that was enjoyable”. I remember the first time I saw Raising Arizona, I felt flattered that they thought that much of me that I could get that film. I was complimented by it in a weird way. I love that feeling like I’m in on it, and I’m not just having fireworks lit off in my face.
Wright: I feel that all of the films that inspired us, and continue to inspire us… are all ones that I wanted to watch again as soon as it finished. Films that [make you say] “I love that, but I just want to see more,”. Raising Arizona is a good example. I feel the same way. I saw it first on VHS, and I watched it immediately again afterwards. Before I had to return it I was like, “I’m going to watch as much of this as I can.. so I feel like I’ve seen everything,” Which is a good way to be. That’s the greatest kind of movie; you want to watch it a second time halfway through watching it the first time.
Pegg: I don’t think that you can watch any of the films we’ve made, particularly The World’s End, and entirely get it on the first watch. There’s stuff in there that you can’t possibly get until you’ve seen it all before. There are punchlines that happen before the setup, so that you can’t get it until you watch it a second time. I mean, because we feel like we owe it to the audience these days in the age of repeated viewing and the age of DVD and downloading -the ownership which we have of cinema now- you owe it to the audience… If they’re going to spend money on what you make, then that needs to give back something, so that when you watch it again, you’re still seeing new things. If that means people on the first watch don’t entirely get it, then, you know, that’s just the way it is.
Frost: We had the Olympics last year, and I’m sick of the word ‘legacy’ because we heard it about a trillion times, but it’s about that thing… In ten years’ time someone will say, “hey, have you seen this film?” It’s like that with… Spinal Tap. It’s those things where people say, “Hey, you’ve got to see this.” And that kind of means a lot to us. It’s not just about-
(snaps his fingers)
a ‘pop shot’
(Pegg starts laughing)
Frost: It’s about something that people will watch in ten years. Or 15 years, or 20. It’s really important. (looking at Pegg) ‘Pop shot’.
(Everyone laughs, Pegg the hardest)
Frost: It’s like putting peanuts in a log.
Pegg: I’ve never heard that one.
Frost: Well.. with animals, if you just lay the food out for them, they get really bored and sad. But if you hide it, so they find it, they fucking- they feel amazing!
Wright: I’ve never heard that metaphor.
Frost: People were thinking these animals are very depressed, what’s the big deal? But animals like to forage-
AD: You make ‘em work for it.
Frost: Make ‘em work for it, you know, that’s what they are happiest doing. So… Let’s hide food all over the place, and [the animals become] infinitely happier because they have to work to find it.
Wright: So what we’re basically saying to our audience is, “Listen, you monkeys, you work for your peanut.”
Reporter 1: Last night you mentioned something in the Q&A, that you wanted to show parts of England that weren’t London, but then in your movies, parts of England or London have zombies, they have murderers, they have what we see in this movie-
Wright: We’re just basically saying: “Don’t go to England.”
Wright: Richard Curtis’ films are sort of like a tourist board… advert, and ours maybe not so much. Don’t stray out of the tourist zone.
Pegg: Stay in London, yeah.
Wright: Stay in zone one.
Pegg: Stay in Notting Hill.
Wright: Do not go any further east, west, north or south.
Pegg: Yeah… What was the question? No I’ll talk about it… The U.K. is seen in a certain light around the world- not least in America- as being some sort of chocolate box, you know, green and pleasant land full of castles… [No matter] where we take it, whether it be zombies or murderers or aliens, that’s by the by. Where we are trying to set the film is, at least, in a real part of England, something a little more indicative of the real place.
Frost: Don’t go to Northern England, because it’s full of unemployed miners who do strips.
Pegg: They have to strip for a living, yeah… We always want to start off from a point of reality. That’s where our roots always are, in reality. Then we go off to these places of fantasy and absurdity.
Wright: But it’s also amusing to us, having grown up in those places. When we watch, especially, the Hollywood genre movies it seems so far flung to us. Even when we did Hot Fuzz…watching American cop films seemed like sci-fi to us because it’s so far removed, especially if you’re in the country or a satellite town. There’s something about having grown up in small English towns that you’re both obsessed by what goes on behind closed doors, and also that slightly mischievous desire to cause actual mayhem.
Pegg: Also, we’re parochial. On a global scale… England is a parochial country, and so we wanted to reflect that.
Reporter 2: So, you’ve got this trilogy of films.. Aside from ice cream, what would you consider the thematic connective tissue between them?
Wright: I’m glad you asked. I would say the overriding theme is the individual versus the collective, which is in all three movies. The danger of perpetual adolescence, you know, in Shaun of the Dead, Shaun has to grow up to be the hero. In Hot Fuzz, if anything, Nicholas Angel has to dumb down to be the bad-ass. In this movie when Gary King decides to turn back the clock with the magic time machine known as alcohol, things go very badly wrong. You know, the moral of this film is actually said aloud by Rosamund Pike, she says, “you’ve got to go forwards and not backwards”. I guess that’s something that links all of them.
Pegg: The loss of identity and fracture-
Wright: Especially between men
Pegg: -And how they must change
Wright: Right, mate?
Pegg: (too the all male interviewers in front of him) Right guys?
Pegg: And the different stages of friendship that men go through…Or not go through. And also Britishness, contemporary Britishness. There are many many connective threads that are far more important and relevant than the ice cream. The ice cream and the fence jumping…is an invitation in. It all gets more cerebral after that.
Wright: The ice cream is literally the desert topping.
Reporter 3: You’re obviously walking a very fine line in terms of tone, especially in the second half of [The World’s End]. You’re obviously very conscious of that, but what kinds of things did you take to make sure that it didn’t go one way or the other, that everything was balanced?
Wright: That’s definitely a tricky thing. I think we like that idea for all of the movies we’ve done. Shaun of the Dead is pretty dark. It’s funny to me, a few people have said, “Oh [The World’s End] feels darker than the other two,” and I said, “Yeah, but in Shaun, he does shoot his mother in the head,” that’s about as dark as it gets.
Pegg: Danny’s dad points a gun at him in Hot Fuzz-
Frost: It ends with a weird proto fascist utopia
Wright: I think the thing is, even some films that you really enjoy, you could be in the cinema and like laugh for a hundred minutes, and have kind of forgotten the film by the time you get to the parking lot. We like to make films that hopefully do have laughs and do have thrills, but have some other nagging theme to them that echo around in your head a couple of days later. That’s our aim in a way: to have some kind of deeper meaning.
Pegg: And we’ve always been at pains to embrace and defend the idea of a slow burn. So you don’t just get in there and desperately try to be funny straight away, or play all your cards straight away to try and fool the audience into thinking it’s hilarious. There’s value in building characters and story, and when you do start taking left turns or making dramatic choices, people have got a lot more invested in it. It’s a lot more effective I think.
Frost: You can get away with more as well.