September 29, 2008

As most of you know, opening this weekend is Simon Pegg’s new movie “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.” In the film, Simon plays Sidney Young, a smalltime, bumbling, British celebrity journalist who is hired by an upscale magazine in New York City. The film is based on Toby Young’s memoir of the same name. Here’s the official synopsis:

After disrupting one black-tie event by allowing a wild pig to run rampant, Sidney catches the attention of Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), editor of Sharps magazine, and accepts a job with the magazine in New York City. Clayton warns Sidney that he’d better impress and charm everyone he can, if he wants to succeed. Instead, Sidney instantly insults and annoys fellow writer Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst). He dares to target the star clients of power publicist Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson). He upsets his direct boss Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston) and tries to make amends by hiring a stripper to dance for Lawrence during a staff meeting. Sidney, of course, doesn’t stop there, finding creative ways to annoy nearly everyone. His saving grace: a rising, sexy starlet (Megan Fox) develops an odd affection for him, and in time, Alison’s friendship might be the only thing saving Sidney from torpedoing his career.

I recently got to participate in a roundtable interview with Simon and the resulting conversation is below. While Simon did seem a bit jetlagged, he gave it his all, and the interview is filled with all the random bits of geekiness that you’d expect from Mr. Pegg.

Also, the interview was done with both the domestic and international press, and I now understand why we normally get separated. While the domestic press (meaning outlets in the United States) is more than content to ask about the movie and upcoming projects, the international press goes straight for the jugular in terms of personal questions and subjects I won’t touch. As you read the interview, you’ll easily figure out who asked what.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio of the interview by clicking here. And since I won’t have the time to transcribe director Robert B. Weide, here’s his interview in audio form.

Again, go and support Simon this weekend by seeing “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.” He’s great, as always.Finally, here are some clips from the movie in case you missed them.

Question: What’s the weirdest celebrity encounter you’ve had?

Simon Pegg: (pause) That might have been with Jeff Bridges playing drums in his trailer on like the second day of us meeting. He bought some drums and he invited me into his trailer at lunch time to learn to play. And I did. He sort of taught me how to do it and then I was beavering away on it and he was teaching me to do the bending the note and then I suddenly heard a guitar strumming and looked up and he was playing his guitar along – and we were kind of like, jamming (laughs). So I went from not ever having met him to jamming in his trailer in twelve hours. It was quite bizarre.

What’s the most Hollywood experience you’ve had since you’ve been on this journey?

Simon: Oh God! Probably another one with Jeff, actually, at the Iron Man premiere. I went up to say good bye to him and he stood with his brother and he was with John Voigt. I kind of just went up to say (whispering) ‘I’m going,’ because he’s such an ever so nice man and we get along very well. And he said, ‘No, stay, stay.’ And so I listened to John Voigt tell an anecdote and I stood there with Jeff Bridges with his arm around and Beau Bridges just listening – three Hollywood legends just chatting and me on the end of it just looking like I’d snuck in. I think in Hollywood that happens every day. You’re constantly seeing bizarre things. We went to see – Steven Spielberg, Edgar (Wright) and I on set recently and we were chatting to him, and it happened to be the day that Tom Cruise came to visit, so we ended up all sitting around a table talking about films. And Edgar and I were very very cool and didn’t even break our stride. We just got on with it and had a good chat. And then I went on the 405 (freeway) just going , ‘Ahhhh!’ (screams excitedly). It was so kind of odd. Such a surreal situation to be in.

Can you still go around LA without being recognized?

Simon: Yeah, of course!

Have you ever had any of those ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ moments?

Simon: (laughs) No! I don’t even know who I am, why would I? No, God no! Heaven forbid. People that do that misconstrue their place in the universe – enormously. Their mistake, ass-kissing and over management for self importance – people don’t trust actors. That’s why they’re treated so well.

There’s a reference in the movie to Gollum. Was that in the original script?

Simon: Gollum from Lord of the Rings? As opposed to Gollum from I don’t know what? (laughs) Yeah it was, yeah.

You’re a writer – did you bring anything to the script?

Simon: ‘I’ve got cock on my hand,’ I think is the only thing I improvised on the whole film. No, occasionally there was some room for improv, but generally speaking, Peter’s script was really strong and neat and structurally intact so it didn’t really need anything added to it. That was nice in that respect. It’s nice to be able to hand the reins over to someone else and not have to have that production responsibility. I kind of prefer it when I do because I’m a control freak but it wasn’t necessary, really. Bob obviously comes from an improvisational background but the biggest thing he would do though, it was funny because it was his first feature film and he didn’t know he had to say, ‘Cut!’ (laughs) the take would end and the tape would be running and the celluloid – you could hear the dollars just whirling through the camera. And you’d hear, ‘Bob, just say cut!’ And he’d say, ‘oh yeah, sorry. Cut!’ Because he’s so used to working with video which is cheap. But that was the only instance of his naiveté.

Did you make the decision to play Sidney more goofy than he is in the book?

Simon: No, I’m just a terrible ham (laughs). I must admit it was a nice change of pace to play the goof, rather than in my own movies I tend to write myself as the slightly more straight centre to it, and then cross to all the goofying around. That’s because I’m just so unselfish as a writer – I can’t help myself. (leans forward). That was irony, by the way. But in this I had license to just be an idiot and what better a way to spend the day?

At the junket for Choke, Brad said he played Kirk’s alcoholic, abusive father – which was kind of fascinating. Do you have any good Star Trek things that you can let slide?

Simon: I’ve got so many but I can’t let any of them slide (laughs). It’s all under wraps so I’ve got to stay true to my secrecy agreement.

What can you say about your tattoos? (on forearm)

Simon: Oh, that’s personal (laughs)

Have you found your beloved Cornetto’s here?

Simon: I think they’re called a Drumstick here – the cone with the nuts around the top. They’re famous… although in MacDonald’s they’re doing Cornetto’s now – not that I ever go there. We just decided to use this particular brand of ice-cream in our first film and then we thought we’d bring it back for the second and now it seems to be a thematic constant in our work (laughs) but they’ve never given us any free ones. It’s a bloody liberty, really.

What’s the status of getting a Blu-ray version of Shaun and Hot Fuzz?

Simon: I don’t know really. I know they were both released on HD but I don’t know about the Blu Ray, I’ll have to look into it.

How tough a day was it when you had to work with Megan Fox and Kirsten Dunst, and possibly make out with one of them?

Simon: It’s something that – it’s a burden I carry. And not entirely happily. (joking). No, it was great and ridiculous as well. They’re both fantastic girls and it was a pleasure working with them. Both very different and Kirsten is so experienced, she’s been doing it since she was three. She has an enormous amount of wisdom and professionalism, as does Megan, but she’s very new to it. She’s an ingénue. She’s in many ways like Sophie (her character in the film) but has more integrity and more intelligence.

Did you ever try to work in during the rehearsal process a kissing scene with Kirsten in the rain?

Simon: Upside down? No. I have it on good authority that I’m the best right way up kisser she’s ever experienced. Oh, why did I say that!? (laughs) It’s not true, it’s not true. She never said it. I’m just joking.

What’s the funniest night out you’ve had recently in a Hollywood setting?

Simon: I don’t really do Hollywood. I don’t live here and I come here every now and again and I see my friends and hang out a little bit but I try not to exist in that world. I think it’s slightly dangerous.

In what way?

Simon: The minute you start going to those places where people photograph you, that’s the minute you start becoming property of someone else. You start becoming a person rather than an actor and it’s hard for someone to believe you’re playing an 18 century dock worker when they’ve seen you the night before at a bar with your trousers around your ankles. I have great nights here and I really enjoy Hollywood. For someone who doesn’t come from there it’s like a movie theme park of the whole place. You’re walking around and you’re seeing people and sights from films and these incredibly historic studio complexes which are just so thrilling to be around because what’s made there. I guess I’ve had my fair share of time at the Cat ‘n Fiddle (Brit pub in Hollywood) with some of the ex-pats.

In London you must be recognized all the time?

Simon: It’s kind of like here. People don’t really care. I mean, it’s hard for me to walk into a pub now but it’s generally worse in the satellite towns. People don’t expect to see you so they go a bit nuts if they do see you, whereas in London, it’s like LA. You expect to see Brad Pitt walking down the street. That’s’ where he lives.

Your Spaced DVD had some impressive guests. Did guys like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and South Park’s Matt Stone all have an encyclopedic knowledge of the show?

Simon: They’ve just been really supportive of us ever since Shaun of the Dead and I think they’ve gotten in Spaced retroactively and it’s very cool to have people like that on side. We asked them if they wouldn’t mind doing that and they were all very amenable. And of course, Quentin is like a sponge. He consumes knowledge, of nothing else but films. But he is incredible. He has the most amazing recall and when him and Edgar I don’t even feel like a geek anymore. I feel like a jock because they know so much.

Do you plan to work with them soon?

Simon: I’d love to. I very nearly worked with Quentin this year but some scheduling problems got in the way. Yeah, any one of those guys, I’m a fan of all of them so you never know.

Was that for Inglorious Bastards?

Simon: Yeah.

You must be pretty annoyed about that then?

Simon: Yeah (laughs). But he promised to put me in the next one.

The Hollywood Reporter said there would be an American version of Spaced.

Simon: Yeah, they made a pilot and didn’t get picked up so end of story.

Were you secretly relieved?

Simon: Publicly relieved (laughs)

What do you miss most when you’re not in England?

Simon: My dog (laughs). She’s a miniature Schnauzer. And my wife obviously, but she tends to come with me. Yeah, just normal life. I’m quite a home body and I kind of prefer the normality to the madness and so I guess I miss the normalness of life.

What American stuff have you gotten into? Food? TV shows?

Simon: Chipotle. It’s just a word I see everywhere. I haven’t even tasted it yet but I love it (laughs). I love American tv. We get a lot of American tv. I’m a big fan of Entourage and Heroes and Lost and there are so many great American serial television. It’s the best in the world for those – not only for tempting great actors back from film to tv but just in great storytelling and great production values and I’ve been loving Flight of the Concords, which I know is kiwi, but it’s an HBO show. You’ve got to watch Summer Heights High which starts on HBO this month. It’s the most incredible show from Australia – it’s about a guy who’s like Ricky Gervais times three. It’s set in a high school in Australia, he plays three characters and each one as good as David Brent. I’s incredible.

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Ricky Gervais wrote an episode for the Simpsons – would you like to do the same?

Simon: Yeah, of course. I love The Simpsons, I’m a big fan. I was doing an interview in Phoenix at Fox recently and there was a Simpsons couch in the foyer which you could sit on with the Simpsons . I took a picture of myself sitting on the couch giving Lisa a kiss on the cheek and I sent it to Yeardley Smith who I met recently at a thing, and I suddenly thought, ‘Wow. Is that creepy?’ but she sent me an email back saying it was sweet. Yeah, I’m a big fan of the Simpsons. What I’d love to do is have a Halloween special and have Shaun and Ed from Shaun of the Dead doing a Halloween special of the Simpsons. I think that would be great.

We’ve talked to some of the Star Trek actors over the year about how they’re paying respect to the original character although they’re doing their own thing. Scotty obviously was Scottish but what kind of voice are you doing?

Simon: My wife’s family. Kind of western Scottish – kind of Glaswegian, west coast Scottish accent, which is very different from the east. And indeed, the north and south. But her family is from Glasgow and I’ve spent a lot of time in Glasgow so I’ve tried to do that.

How awesome is it to walk on that set that JJ (Abrams) built?

Simon: Oh, it’s boring (laughs). No, it was amazing. I remember the first time I stepped on set in my… whatever. I was sitting next to JJ and I did a very deliberate step onto the bridge and it was one small step for man, one giant leap for geek-kind. (laughs)

How are the plans going for the third installment of the Cornetto trilogy?

Simon: We just got to sit down and write it really. It’s just a question of finally getting on with the nitty gritty, the hardest part really which is just starting from scratch. But we’re formulating good ideas I think. I think it will be pretty insane.

You’re obviously friends with JJ and you haven’t done much tv lately but would you consider doing an episode of Lost?

Simon: Oh yeah.

What about Fringe?

Simon: I haven’t seen it yet because we don’t have it in the UK yet. I’d love to do an episode of Lost just so I could find out what’s happening. I’ve been trying to get information out of JJ on the set of Star Trek about Lost season4 and he would never tell me. He’s brilliant at keepings secrets. I’d say, ‘come on – tell me who the oceanic six are at least? And he’d be like, nah.

What are you doing in the next few months before you start working on Paul?

Simon: Holiday. I’d just like to take a break. I really want to get out of the – this time for me is always dizzying and this is a very necessary part of the job and I think anyone who shirks it is irresponsible, really. You do have a duty to whatever you’ve done to make sure it gets seen and particularly when we do our own stuff, we have to get out there and take it to the people ourselves but with this I always feel this is the part you get paid for. This is the job of the job and the acting – that’s what you do for free because that’s just like messing about. It’s fun. And this is a very necessary and important part of the job but for me it’s always difficult. So I’m going to take a break.

So what do you think of Toby’s perspective (author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) which is to say the least contemptuous of it.

Simon: Well, Toby is a pathological self promoter and he kind of loves it. There’s something about it which he delights in. I think the whole thing in the film is the reason Sidney wants to tear it all down is because he’s desperate to be inside of it. He’s desperate to be part of it and because he isn’t he resents it and I think that represents probably a certain cross section of the media whereby this disdain and hatred of the very thing they’re reporting on because essentially they’re not in it. There are people who set up these websites that just say terrible things about people who are, for want of a better word, celebrities. And then those people end up being celebrities themselves because of their doing. It’s like a snake eating its tail.

Who could you be talking about?

Simon: (laughs) oh I don’t know.

Would you let any females date a guy like Sidney Young?

Simon: Certainly not my sister, and definitely not my wife. Although my wife is dating someone who looks a little bit like Sidney Young, facially anyway. I don’t know. He’s not a bad guy. He’s kind of contemptuous in some respects but when it comes to it he’s got a good heart and that’s what you learn about him in the movie. Ultimately, he’s a good guy but he’s desperately trying not to be for some reason. Maybe it’s a self defense thing, a pre-emptive – ‘I’ll make you hate me before you hate me,’ for no reason. I’d have to meet him and talk to him for a while and see if he’s worthy of my daughter. He’s bloody good looking!

Can you talk about the first moment you met Megan Fox? Did time stand still? Is she that beautiful?

Simon: For her it did. Megan did the film because she was a fan of Shaun of the Dead so it wasn’t like I had to jump up and down to get her attention. She walked on set and the air disappeared from the room. She is extraordinary and incredible beautiful but she’s also pretty down to earth and a bit geeky. She’s a comic book fan and she loves surfing and she’s not an untouchable by any means. She was quite jet lagged when I met her. I thought she was blinking a lot to be seductive but it was because she was tired.

What’s the most embarrassing date you’ve been on?

Simon: I don’t know. I get asked this. I wasn’t really a dater. I relied mainly on coincidence and alcohol before I got married. I never sort of asked a girl out on a date particularly. I think a couple of times maybe when I was younger. I don’t know. I was thinking about this recently. I don’t’ know how I ever managed. I think I was quite a serial monogamist.

The success of Spaced – were you surprised at how successful it was in the US?

Simon: Yeah, I was amazed. I was completely blown away by it. I think it sold 1.3 million copies of it or something which is for an obscure British sitcom pretty impressive. I was delighted and it was a nice vindication for us. We always hoped it would do well here.

You did a lot of promoting at Comic-Con – what was it like this year compared to previous?

Simon: Well, you didn’t get hit on the head by a statue. Steve was injured at Comic-Con. I’ve only been there once before. It was more crowded. It was more insane. The first year I went there it was before Shaun of the Dead came out so I was able to move around freely. This year I had to wear a mask (laughs). So I could get on the convention floor and see some stuff and that is the very heart of our demographic – those are the people who would watch Shaun of the Dead and of course I would find it difficult to move around because they want to say hi, and once you start it’s very difficult to stop.

That’s what Shatner said. He wore a mask

Simon: Didn’t he wear that mask of his own face?

What was your mask?

Simon: The Joker. One from Batman.

Elijah Wood wore a Storm Trooper outfit

Simon: Isn’t he a little short for a Storm Trooper?

Yes. Would you ever wear a full-on outfit or the mask is good enough?

Simon: I was sweating enough in that mask. I think if it was the kind of… it was actually quite nice, quite liberating to wander around – weirdly enough I was drawing looks but only because I was wearing a mask and not because I was the guy from that film.

What did you buy?

Simon: I bought an Ed action figure which they ended up wearing it for free?

Is that because you lifted up the mask and said, ‘Can I have that for free?’

Simon: No, I didn’t – I was jut out there. Just to get free stuff

A lot of celebs say that on the way up when they need free stuff but have to pay for

everything and once you have the money you get it fall for free.

Simon: Yeah, it’s crazy.

What’s the best gift you’ve gotten?

Simon: Two boxes of action figures. Two boxes of zombie action figures, it was great.

As a great fan of movies how does it feel to be making big budget Hollywood movies?

Simon: It’s cool. I feel like – the little something that could. I’m still a fan and am the same as I ever was but I’m managing to exist within it as well which is fine. I’m still as impressed as I ever was. I just happen to be participating in it as well. I feel very lucky and feel very privileged.

Do you get starstuck?

Simon: Yeah, all the time. Whenever you meet anyone you admire or meet anyone you’ve seen on tv you get that initial moment of , ‘Wow, its them!’ And then you meet them and they’re usually normal, ordinary, sweet people as they usually are.

Who’s the last person you were starstuck by?

Simon: I met Matthew Fox and I’m a big fan of Lost and I saw him at a party and he saw me and he went, ‘Oh man, Simon Pegg!’ (laughs) So I was really chuffed that I was put at my ease because he and his wife were big fans of the movie and that’s great when I have gone up to people that I really admire. When I went up to George Lucas he was talking to Ron Howard just as I got introduced and I saw George Lucas’ face going, ‘Oh here’s another fucking 30 something geek who’s going to bore me with how much Star Wars changed his life,’ and Ron Howard said to me, ‘Hey Simon, I love Shaun of the Dead. My kids are big fans.” And George Lucas immediately changed towards me and we had a conversation as equals and not as flamboyant – whatever he is now.

You almost did something for Spaced because of the American version and you wrote something on your blog – and you ended up not making it. Did you want to do it?

Simon: Yeah, because I wanted to do it again. And so the Cloverfield thing never happened but it was the funniest Spaced forcibly taken away from us by an American company which was to have a scene in which the Statue of Liberty crashed into their front garden which was a beautifully literal representation of what was happening to us. And double negative we did the special effects from Cloverfield and they did Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz – and JJ was going to let us use the plates and we were going to do it all on hand held but we didn’t have to do it because Fox canned the pilot. It was fun writing it.

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