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Talking Trek, Paul, and M:I-4 with Simon Pegg - Part 22:26
Yesterday, Simon Pegg discussed his decision to play Scotty in Star Trek (2009) and mused about what he’d like to see in the next Trek adventure. Now, in the second half of our exclusive conversation, he talks to StarTrek.com about his current projects, among them the March 18 release Paul – which Pegg co-wrote and which has its fair share of Trek references – as well as The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Paul casts you and Nick Frost as a couple of old friends and comic-book/sci-fi geeks who head off on a trip to Comic-Con and wind up meeting and befriending Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an alien who’s been living at Area 51 for ages, but now is bored and wants to have some fun out in the world… our world. Would you agree that it’s a sci-fi/bromance/love-triangle/chase flick/road movie?
Pegg: Bull’s-eye! It’s entirely that. That will be the section at Blockbuster that Paul fits in all by itself. But the whole bromance thing… It’s weird in a way that people need to label things that way if it’s men liking each other as friends without hitting each other or shooting each other. It’s still so contemporary that it needs a buzzword to describe it. There’s no such thing now as a female equivalent of the term because people are just used to two women getting on and putting their arms around each other and being affectionate. It’s no big deal. But it’s a huge deal if two straight men show affection and love each other and actually express that. It amazes me that even now, more than 10 years into the 21st century, it’s still kind of a novelty. Nick and I have had that relationship since we met, really, and we’ve always been very close and never had any problems expressing that.
We talked yesterday about Star Trek (2009) having to please old fans and make news one and also appeal to a mainstream audience. Paul has a similar challenge, appealing to a hardcore sci-fi fan base that will get the in-jokes while also having to be commercial enough and broad enough for the everyday moviegoer. That’s a thin line to walk…
Pegg: It is. It’s hard. The trouble is that a lot of the time people try to just blanket appeal to everyone and, in doing so, the material just gets dumber and broader and things end up being bland because it’s obviously a desperate attempt to please everyone. Really, there’s nothing interesting to me about doing that. You have to assume that the audience is intelligent. You can’t go in assuming that the audience is stupid. I think a lot of the audience that goes to contemporary cinema is under-serviced in some respects, because they’re just assumed to be popcorn-guzzling, fireworks watchers who don’t want anything more than eye candy, when, really, audiences are far more capable. The American cinema audience, I think, is very devoted. They go a lot. It’s a real cultural touchstone in America, and I think the majority of audiences are very cine-literate and get it, despite the success of films like Vampires Suck and Epic Movie and sh-t like that, which make me want to kill myself.
Paul pays homage to the Star Wars films and to Spielberg films and to Comic-Con, etc. Considering your very personal, very current Star Trek connection, how much or how little did you want to bring Star Trek into the equation in Paul?
Pegg: You can’t show Comic-Con and not have a Star Trek reference because that would be foolish. I didn’t want to be self-reflexive, but I also knew you couldn’t have Comic-Con and not see something to do with Star Trek because Star Trek is one of the most pervasive science fiction mythologies – if not THE most pervasive – out there. Obviously, we’ve got a few references in the film. At the beginning of it, though, we had the Borg, not Orcs, knocking us out of the way, and we changed it to Orcs because we didn’t want to have one too many Star Trek references. But there’s a Gorn mask in there, and I think we wrote that up without even realizing that I was involved in Star Trek. We thought, “Oh, sh-t, this looks like a sly nod,” which it isn’t, really. They stop by Vazquez Rocks on the way to Nevada and act out their favorite scene from TOS. That’s more to do with the plot – I hope – than it is to do with my involvement in the contemporary version of Star Trek.
Let’s end by talking about a couple of your other upcoming films. You and Nick Frost are together again as Thompson and Thomson in The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn. How different an experience was Tin Tin for you, particularly with the motion-capture elements?
Pegg: It was interesting. I found that it was like back-to-basics acting. No props. No nothing that’s particularly realistic. Most of your props are wire frame or grey, with motion trackers on them. And you do have to get back into your inner child kind of thing and just start pretending again. I think, as an actor, it’s a good discipline, performance capture, because you really do have to use your imagination. You can’t rely on Method. It’s no place for a Method actor. You have to get back to what Laurence Olivier called “acting, dear.”
What impressed you most about Steven Spielberg?
Pegg: I think it was his Spielberg-ness. I’m a massive fan of Steven’s. I think he’s an extraordinary filmmaker. He has a genius quality in terms of he just knows how to use a camera and how to make you feel when you’re in front of it. He’s done some artier films, but a lot of his movies have been grand, big, broad-appeal family viewing. A film like E.T., say, is just a brilliant manipulation of cinema. And he did it with Raiders and Close Encounters and… There’s no point listing his films that he’s done that I love because there are so many, but to actually meet him and see him work, I understood where the genius comes from. He’d give notes and you’d think, “Oh, yeah, that’s the right way to do it.” But he’d think of it first. And he was also just as enthusiastic as perhaps he was when he was a kid. He’d jump onto set and congratulate us if we did something well. He’d do a little dance and call us his “boys,” and he seemed so involved and invested in the process. I was thinking, “This is what I thought you’d be like,” and he was just like that.
And now, crossing Paul and Tin Tin, tell us about Spielberg’s vocal cameo in Paul…
Pegg: It was kind of his idea. Nick and I were telling him about Paul, and how Paul, in the movie, had been on Earth for a while and his presence on Earth has affected popular culture by a slow process of osmosis. The public have been led to become familiar with Paul as a way of familiarizing themselves with him in case they ever decide to give him a debut. And so Paul has had this direct line to Steven Spielberg over the years and given him lots of ideas… like E.T. and Close Encounters. So there’s a little scene where he’s on the phone with Steven, giving Steven the idea for E.T.’s glowing finger. It was totally Steven’s idea. He said, “Maybe I can do a little vocal cameo and Paul can call me up.” And were like, “What?!” He said, “Imagine that Paul’s on the phone to me and he’s giving me ideas for a film.” I said, “Can you just repeat that into a tape recorder, please, with the words ‘legal binding’ on it?” And he did it. He came in on his own to this recording one morning in Los Angeles. He had a cap on and he read his lines with Seth, and it’s in the movie.
What’s happening with The World’s End, the proposed next chapter in your Blood and Ice Cream trilogy with Edgar Wright?
Pegg: We’re just waiting to write it, basically. Edgar and me are primed and ready to go. It’s just a question of fitting it into both our schedules, which are jam-packed at the moment. But as soon as we can we will.
How is M:I-4 going?
Pegg: Ghost Protocol, to use its official title, is going very well. It’s enormous fun. I’m having a great time. It’s been an excuse for me to get in shape, which has been very exciting, to actually see my abdominal muscles again. I’ve been doing some training and working with Rob Alonzo, who was fight choreographer on Star Trek. I’m have a great time with the cast. Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton are great fun to work with, and Tom (Cruise) is always great fun to work with because he’s just such a dedicated and concentrated actor. He sort of puts everyone to shame, really, when you see someone so invested in something. You think, “Sh-t, maybe I should be like that.” So it’s going great and I think it’s going to be awesome. And to have Brad Bird as our director, I think he has the same thing that Steven (Spielberg) has in terms of understanding how motion and angles can actually augment a story. And he’s bringing that to live-action now. He’s gone from The Incredibles and Iron Giant to working with real human beings. And I know we frustrate him terribly because he can’t make us do exactly what he wants us to do, like he can Mr. Incredible, but he’s extraordinarily fun to work with because he’s a real actor’s director. He’s used to getting precise performances from characters, so he’s great at telling you what he wants.