Simon Pegg isn’t really everywhere and in everything, but it sure seems that way. Pegg, who stepped into the Star Trek universe big-time by playing Scotty in Star Trek (2009), returns to the screen this week with the sci-fi comedy Paul. Plus he’s wrapped Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn and he’s currently reprising his role as Benji Dunn opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Oh, and he’s the voice of Con-rad, the ship’s computer, in the new videogame Spare Parts. And, of course, he’s gearing up for the next Star Trek feature. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Pegg in Vancouver, where he’s shooting the Mission: Impossible sequel, to talk about some of the above projects and more. Below is part one of our exclusive conversation, which centers on Trek, and be on the lookout tomorrow for part two, which will cover the British actor’s other current projects.
Given how busy you are these days and especially how many projects of your own creation you’re involved with, how tough or easy a decision was it to sign on for Star Trek, knowing you’d be locking yourself into one franchise, one character, possibly for years to come?
Pegg: I deliberated for a few days. J.J. (Abrams) just dropped it on me out of the blue. He kind of just emailed with it. I didn’t expect to get it. I was reading all the pre-publicity and I thought, “This is great. J.J. is going to do a great job.” Then, suddenly, I got an email saying, “Do you want to play Scotty?” I was dumbfounded and wasn’t ready for it. I kind of “Ummm-ed” and “Aaaaah-ed” and I did consider all those things you just mentioned. But I think it’s different these days. I don’t think now it’s like how it was for the (TOS) actor back in the day. There were fewer opportunities for them, I think, to expand beyond what they were doing because when they started out playing the characters they were all theatrical television actors and were best known as those characters. So, in some respects, they were locked into the roles. And thank God, in a way, they were because they brought something to the roles that was eternal. But J.J. just said, “The worst thing that can happen is that every couple of years we get to have fun for three months.” I thought that was a great reason to do it. And, also, I have enough ideas of my own and enough plans of my own to offset just being seen as one guy. It’s not like I’m only ever going to be Scotty now. There are plenty of other characters I have to play.
What went through your mind in playing Scotty, in terms of tipping your cap to Jimmy Doohan, paying tribute to a family relative, and making the character your own?
Pegg: Out of respect to Jimmy Doohan, I tried to not make particular reference to him just because that would be saying that Scotty was him when in actual fact he was playing Scotty. I tried to do what he probably did when he got the script, which was to consider the details on the page and who is he? We weren’t making a parody. None of us were. None of us was tempted to make sly references to the original cast members. Karl (Urban) and Zach (Quinto) were probably the most similar, but they weren’t channeling DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy, they were channeling the characters. It was important for us not to seem like we were being wry. To me, I wanted to play the character and, by that, do James an honor. I got to work with Chris, his son, and that felt like I had some connection with the past. I didn’t want to forget that, but it was also important to take it as seriously as possible and not see it as some sort of post-modern take on an existing thing.
You not only had a few moments with Chris Doohan, but you had scenes with Nimoy and even a Tribble. How big a thrill was that for your inner Trek fan?
Pegg: That was great fun. I was a Star Trek fan growing up, so to be integrated into that universe was extraordinary. And to act alongside Leonard as Spock was… it was almost distracting to the point of forgetting my lines. I wasn’t just meeting Leonard Nimoy, but I was meeting him being the character that he’s most famous for playing and in that world again as well. So there were, with that and the Tribble and everything else, there were a whole host of bizarre nerd distractions going on.
Did you get a chance to share your enthusiasm for Star Trek and Spock with Nimoy?
Pegg: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. We’d sit between takes and chat. I told him how much Star Trek meant to me and I told him I really enjoyed the 1978 Kaufman version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, just to mix it up a little bit, so he knew I wasn’t just a one-Trek mind, as it were. He’s a really funny guy. He’s very dry and very entertaining, and I was really taken with him. He made me laugh a lot, actually.
The film had a daunting mission: please the longtime fan base, forge a new fan base, appeal to mainstream moviegoers and establish new versions of familiar characters. At the end of the day, how well do you think Star Trek (2009) accomplished its goals?
Pegg: I was very pleased with it. The finished film was superb. What they did very clearly was to inject Star Trek, which had become slightly burdened with its own kind of technical mythology, with a dose of the mojo that Star Wars had lost. Oddly, it’s like J.J. Abrams found the discarded energy from the first three Star Wars films and pumped it into Star Trek. So you got this very aspirational, very momentum-driven film which is a thrill ride, and there’s less stuff about calibrating dilithium crystals and more stuff about shooting Romulans in the face. And I think, for today’s cinema audience, that struck the chord that had been missing from the previous installments. More hardened Star Trek fans might disagree, but for it to succeed on this level, on the level it had to succeed on, that was necessary, and I think J.J. really pulled it off. It’s kind of “farm boy finds adventure in outer space.” We’d seen that before, but it worked very, very well.
Check back tomorrow for part two in which Pegg will discuss his other current projects.