Simon Pegg Interview: “We don’t think enough.” – movieScope

Was there an autobiographical aspect to your character Jack in A Fantastic Fear of Everything?

Jack is victim of himself, and I totally understand that predicament. The blank page is an awesome adversary, and it can drive you up the wall when you haven’t got someone to spark off or if it has to all be you, particularly when there are things that can be projected on to that page that you don’t necessarily want to deal with. There was an empathy at least, if not a total understanding. I insulate myself from that by trying to write with other people, be it Jessica (Hynes) or Edgar (Wright) or Nick (Frost).

What are the constraints of writing in such a collaborative way?

It’s hard, and it always lead to arguments. It’s never a smooth process. I’ve had very vocal debates with all my writing partners, and argued about things for ages and ages that I genuinely thought was right before eventually conceding on. It is a collaborative process so you have to take on the opinion of the other person. You wouldn’t be sat in the room with them if you didn’t respect their opinion. Sometimes when you’ve had three ideas in a row shouted down it begins to feel personal, and things can start to feel tense. But that’s just part of the process. You have to constantly make decisions about whether to say: “Ok, fair enough I concede,” or argue yourself blue in the face.

How does it work practically?

We work in an office with Final Draft, and we’ll plug the computer into a monitor. When we were writing Spaced we’d sit opposite each other on separate laptops – massive chunky things. I was thinking about that when me and Edgar started writing at Working Title’s L.A offices.

I have to go to work though. I can’t work at home. I need a space that I can go to, even if it’s just on the other side of the garden.

You spent a lot of time working as a stand-up comedian before going into acting. What did stand-up teach you? 

Having gone to university wanting to be a actor, I came out not wanting to be an actor because the course was very theoretical. It looked at the social aspects of film and theatre, and I thought: “I don’t want to be an actor that is a puppet to the whims of casting directors and be sat waiting for the phone to ring, in the hope I’d end up in things I don’t have any love for. I’ll be autonomous. I’ll have control.” Stand-up offered that. The thing about the contemporary stand-up comic is you can’t just tell jokes. You have to write your own material, and that disciplined me. You have to be very self-reliant and very self-motivated. It gave me a grounding in generating material.

As your career has progressed, do you come to prize that sense of self-reliance and autonomy less?

Yeah I guess. I don’t prize it less, but you become less idealistic and more realistic. In an ideal world you would want everything you create to be self-generated and totally without filter. That’s a very naive desire really because you have to move with the ebb and flow. But The World’s End, which is mine and Edgar’s next film, is no less compromising than Shaun of the Dead. It’s probably darker.

You continue to make very low-budget and very high-budget films. On higher-budget films, how do you retain a sense of control?

It’s always easier to work with lower budgets because you get less interference from the studio. As soon as you start working with big numbers, then the studio want to get their money back and they’ll start sticking their oar in. Inevitably, that just makes everything bland.

The World’s End is still the biggest budget film we’ve made together, but hopefully we’ll still be able to make our film with our own personal vision. We’ve always said we want people to come to us, rather than having to go out there and sell it. That’s been the same since Spaced. We have a dedicated fanbase because we have asked our audience to come to us. You had to do a bit of work and understand the references and what we were saying and why. People appreciate not being regarded as stupid. They appreciate being given some work to do. We don’t think enough. Cinema and TV; it shouldn’t always be easy.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything is in cinemas now…