English actor-writer-director Simon Pegg is bloody funny when he teams up with best bud Nick Frost in cult films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but Pegg has also made an impression in big American franchises like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible.
Pegg and Frost’s latest buddy picture is Paul — a sci-fi road-trip comedy in which the two pick up the wisecracking titular alien [voiced by Seth Rogen] while traveling from Comic Con to alien hot spots in the Southwest. The surprisingly raunchy R-rated film — a loving homage to anyone who has ever nerded out over movies like Star Wars or Close Encounters of the Third Kind — is coming to both DVD and Blu-ray in an unrated version with a spaceship full of extras on August 9.
We sat down with the affable actor and author of “Nerd Do Well” and discovered that he is genuinely enthused and reverent about genre films as he chatted candidly about putting Paul onscreen, his movie obsessions, why there won’t be a Shaun of the Dead sequel, and why he doesn’t mind being kicked around by Sigourney Weaver.
Movies.com: Was Paul initially conceived to be the third and final chapter in your “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy, the film to follow Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz?
Pegg: No, no. It was never supposed to be that. It’s something Nick and I came up with when we were shooting Shaun of the Dead as a sort of a joke project to contrive a way to shoot somewhere it didn’t rain. The idea was so simple that it stuck around for some reason. The third part [of the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy] is going to be next year with a bit of luck.
Movies.com: Paul is a love letter to the Comic Con crowd. What sci-fi movie were you obsessed with growing up?
Pegg: Star Wars, without a doubt, was a favorite in terms of science fiction, as well as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg’s alien stories were particularly referenced in Paul and you can see that DNA in the film.
Movies.com: Did you get some masochistic delight being kicked around Ripley herself, Sigourney Weaver, on the set of Paul?
Pegg: Absolutely! It was hilariously fun to be beaten up by Sigourney and know that it was Ripley. She is so game—she’s a team player in every way. She threw herself into the role. She’s a heroine of mine.
Movies.com: Paul is a completely CG alien. Was Seth Rogen — who voiced Paul — ever on set?
Pegg: Oh, absolutely. We knew wanted a character that was CG but felt like he was there and we were riffing with him. We worked with Seth for about a month before we started shooting, doing performance capture, rehearsing and improvising. When we went to Santa Fe to start shooting, we knew Seth would be going off to make The Green Hornet. A fortuitous coincidence is that Joe Truglio, who plays Agent O’Reilly in the movie, was able to step in and be Paul on set. We basically had an adept comic actor who was very good at improvising and, when he knelt down, he was the right height for Paul as well. Afterwards, Seth listened to what Joe did on set and modified his original readings to ape what Joe had done.
Movies.com: Shaun of the Dead has become a cult classic. Are you ever tempted to make a sequel?
Pegg: Not at all. There is no reason to make a sequel. People want us to do a sequel because they want to see more, but the story is finished. The only reason to do a sequel is to cash in on the success of the first film — and I know a lot of sequels are exactly that — but we’ve got no desire to do that. Shaun of the Dead has a beginning, middle and an end and is perfectly defined the way it is. If you added to it now, it could spoil it. Also, Ed’s dead! Now, there’s an argument to doing a sequel to Hot Fuzz because you could see Nick and Danny in a new adventure. If we came up with a good idea, I wouldn’t be averse to a sequel to Hot Fuzz. But Shaun of the Dead should be left alone.
Movies.com: What about a sequel to Paul?
Pegg: Nick and I had a great idea for a sequel to Paul when we were driving out to Area 51. We came up with this story that we thought was so funny and could definitely do. But if we started writing it now, it wouldn’t be out for three or four years.
Movies.com: Besides Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames, you are the only other actor to reprise his role in the Mission: Impossible series. What can you tell us about the next sequel, Ghost Protocol?
Pegg: I did learn that, yes. I think it’s going to be really great. Brad Bird is the director, and I think this was a superb choice. You only have to watch Ratatouille and The Incredibles to understand how clever Brad is in terms of how he moves the camera. Even though those films are animated, he brought the same sensibility to Ghost Protocol. We just had a blast making that movie and there are some insane stunts in it, but it’s also a character piece with some great stuff between the characters. It’s new and absolutely the right thing to do for that story.
Movies.com: Shaun of the Dead shows your love of zombie movies, Hot Fuzz is an homage to buddy cop pictures and Paul has you in full-on Comic Con mode. So what is your favorite movie of all time and why?
Pegg: I find it hard to be absolute about this one. I love cinema, so if I had to pick a film that has had the greatest effect on me, I’d probably say Star Wars. But that’s probably not my favorite film of all time. There are films like Raising Arizona and Dawn of the Dead and Taxi Driver that have a special appeal for different reasons.
Movies.com: Who is another funny actor that you are dying to work with?
Pegg: It was great to work with people like Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig in Paul. I’d like to work with some of the big American comics like Ferrell, Stiller, Steve Carell and all those people. You just want to work with the kind of people that you watch and make you laugh.
Movies.com: You are coming back as Scotty in the next Star Trek movie and the Internet is buzzing with rumors about it. What do you know about this sequel?
Pegg: Nothing! I know we’re filming in fall, as far as I know, but that could mean anytime between now and Christmas. Everyone is ready to go, but they won’t tell us anything about it. [pause] And we wouldn’t tell you if we did! [laughs]. I long for the times when you could go into a movie theater and not know anything about it. It’s so difficult to keep secrets these days!