The darkly comedic Kill Me Three Times is a deliciously wicked crime thriller about mercurial assassin Charlie Wolfe (Simon Pegg), who quickly finds himself in a sun-drenched surfing town in which the residents are tied up in their own tales of murder, mayhem, blackmail and revenge. Directed by Kriv Stenders and written by James McFarland, the film also stars Alice Braga, Teresa Palmer, Sullivan Stapleton, Luke Hemsworth, Bryan Brown and Callan Mulvey.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, actor Simon Pegg spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what gets him interested in a script, why he wanted to play this particular character, making sure the humor was there, getting comfortable carrying around an enormous rifle, and how much fun the entire production was. He also talked about how terrifying it is to be responsible for writing Star Trek 3, how he got that job, and needing to have the script finished by June, as well as his experience on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, his hope that he can get to work with Edgar Wright on their next project soon, and what it was like to visit the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
SIMON PEGG: Yeah, very much so. On paper, Charlie was just a delight. I like the fact that interestingly the audience’s POV was through this character who’s essentially a very bad person. But we piggy-back on him into this town, which just happens to be filled with even more despicable people who are so amateurish that you end up having to be on Charlie’s side. He’s very, very different than a lot of characters I’ve played. He’s far less likeable, in a traditional sense, and is motivated by greed and violence. It just felt like it was time to do something a bit different.
You’ve said that you’re really bad at reading scripts, and that you’ll just put them on the pile and never get to them. So, what is it that actually gets you to pick one up and read it, and keep reading it?
PEGG: Page one, I think. You have to be in the right frame of mind to read a script, and if you pick one up and it doesn’t quite draw you in, you’ll discard it quite soon or you’ll think of a reason to not read the rest of it. If you read a script and you’re like, “Oh, I’m on page 30 already,” you know it’s going to be worth keeping going. And I read this one and I really liked the artfulness of the narrative, and the way the time shifted around, the way it revealed itself in increments, and how what you thought happened didn’t happen. I felt like it was something I really wanted to be involved in, but I’d been away from home a lot that year. Another reason to say yes or no to a project is how long it’s going to take me away from my family. Because I had already been away a little bit, I felt like I couldn’t really justify going to Perth for six weeks, but I didn’t want to say no. So, I just said, “I’ll do this, if you shoot me out in two weeks,” expecting them to probably say no. And they said, “Okay.” I was like, “Wow, I didn’t expect that!” I didn’t want to say no to it ‘cause I felt it would be silly. So, I thought that if I threw the ball back at them, it wouldn’t be my responsibility. But they said yes, so I went and had this whirlwind two weeks, shooting all of Charlie’s stuff, and met Sullivan [Stapleton] and Alice [Braga] and everybody, and had a blast. It was great!
As a writer yourself, is it hard for you to find scripts that you get excited about and that keep you guessing?
PEGG: It’s a weird one with scripts. I’ve generated a lot of my own stuff, and I hopefully will continue to do that. When it comes to doing something outside of what you do, it either is the script or the director, or occasionally, it’s both. I knew Red Dog, but I didn’t know Kriv [Stenders], as a person, so this was entirely the script. To get to do that variety of work is always a careful process. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t, but I’ve never not enjoyed a movie that I’ve been involved with. It’s always had its rewards.
This assassin is a seemingly mysterious guy. Are you someone who comes up with your own backstory, or is that something you spoke to the director about?
PEGG: We had a vague idea that he was ex-British military, probably quite high up, and possibly went into being a mercenary, and then went into contract killing because that’s all he knew. But we figured that he decided, very pointedly, “I’m going to be a hitman, so I’m going to wear a black suit and have this mustache.” It was like he’d gone through a book of hitmen and went, “I’m going to look like this,” so he’s very considered and very precise in his approach. Every decision he’s made has been very specific. Also, the very sight of a man in a black suit in the desert is very brilliantly incongruous. He’s like the Grim Reaper. Part of his whole thing is that he quite likes to stand out. It’s a hiding in the light kind of thing.
With a character like this, was it important to you that the humor be there and that he really enjoys what he’s doing?
PEGG: Totally! He’s an evil man. You’re asking the audience to interact with an extremely heightened setting and set of situations, and that would be really difficult to watch otherwise. There’s a lot of violence, corruption and horrible people. If it was all super realistic, you’d end up just like, “Oh, man, this is depressing!” But you make a little fun, and you make it a little theatrical and silly, than it becomes far more watchable and enjoyable, and you can appreciate the violence without it being bludgeoning.
And he has this hilariously enormous rifle that he’s carrying around everywhere with him. Was it challenging to get comfortable dragging that thing around?
PEGG: Yeah, I had to have a day with the armorist, to look comfortable with it. But, it’s every boy’s dream to wield this kind of fire power. Obviously, it’s a controversial and serious issue, and it was never, ever meant to be anything but cartoony.
Was there any one sequence that was particularly challenging for you?
PEGG: It was all fun. It really was. Every single day that I was on it, I was working. It was really good fun to work with this cast. Everybody on it, thank goodness, all hung out with each other, which is important when you get an ensemble. It was like being at camp because we were all away from home. Even Bryan Brown, who’s this elder statesman of world cinema, was so cool. He was so game. When he turned up on set, he was so up for it. It’s lovely to hang around with people who have been in the business a long time, and have them be lovely. It reminds you that it’s possible to stay a human being in this business. The fight with Sully was fun. Working in that quarry was quite challenging, lying on the ground in a suit. But it was a bit of a vacation for me, in some ways.
This film is so lush and beautiful to look at while all of these horrible things are happening. Was it fun to get to be out in bright daylight, doing all these really bad things?
PEGG: It’s weird, this film is like a really bright film noir. We actually had trouble with the weather because it wasn’t as sunny as we wanted it to be. I think it brightened after I left, but there were days that it was too overcast. It needed to look like a fun, ideal place to live, and yet it’s filled with this cast of horrendous people. Even Alice and Luke [Hemsworth] are up to no good, having an affair and stealing money. No one is immune. Everyone is a bit of a bastard. Aside from the people you see in the bar, they could be the only six people in the town. I think that aspect of it was really fun.
What’s it like to be writing Star Trek 3?
When you started working on Star Trek, as an actor, could you ever have imagined you’d be in this position?
PEGG: On set, sometimes, there’s room for improvisation, especially for someone like Scotty who’s Scottish, but never anything more than little dialogue tweaks, here and there. Now it’s like, “Okay, now you’ve got to write the dialogue.” It’s scary! Also, the timeframe we’re working in is extremely tight. It means we’re having to come up with the goods. We can’t be lazy about it. We can’t procrastinate. We have to come up with the stuff because the production is hammering on the door saying, “When can we build this? What are we gonna we build? Who is in it?” I don’t know! Let’s right it and we’ll find out. It’s an interesting process.
How did that happen? Was it something you asked to do?
PEGG: No. Me and Bryan Burk, who’s one of the producers at Bad Robot, have worked together on a bunch of stuff. We were sitting around, talking about the direction the next film was gonna go in. They were thinking, “Maybe we should go back to the drawing board, a little bit, with the screenplay.” Bryan and I would just sit around and talk, and we’d get excited. And then, Bryan was like, “Do you want to write it then?” It was a difficult decision. I hemmed and hawed about it, a little bit, because it felt like a big responsibility. I owe J.J. [Abrams] and Bryan an awful amount. I love those guys. I want to do right by them, so I felt like I should man up and do it.
But, you felt like you knew the characters and the world well enough to tackle it?
PEGG: Yeah. It’s weird to walk into something and take ownership of it, in a way. Everything else that I’ve written has been mine, from the very germ of the first idea, or shared with Edgar [Wright] or Nick [Frost]. But with this, I’m walking into a realm that doesn’t belong to me, and I have to treat it with a degree of respect. Obviously, I always treat things with respect, by I have to abide by certain rules and do right by the original series, and not be too post-modern with it and not be too aware of itself. I have to try to take on the spirit of the show, rather than fill it with stuff that people will just go, “Oh, yeah, that’s from episode something or other.” It’s more than that.
When are you supposed to be finished with the Star Trek script?
PEGG: Come hell or high water, June. I’m busy writing it. It’s an ongoing thing. I’m sure we’ll be finessing it, right through the shoot. You never really, truly start writing a movie until the edit. There’s a whole new lexicon that you’re confronted with, when you’ve shot the movie, which is the visual language that you don’t have on the page. And then, you start to realize, “Hang on, we don’t need that speech because that look says it all.” So, it will be an ongoing thing, right until next year.
How did the shoot for M:I 5 go? Could you ever have pictured yourself as an action star?
PEGG: No! It was great fun! It’s funny to see [the trailer] because we only just wrapped two weeks ago. There’s a hell of a lot that’s not in the trailer. You’re never gonna go into a film with Tom Cruise and it’s not going to be fun. He is such an inspirational character. He cares so much about the product. He obsesses about the audience having a truly cinematic experience, so he will do all that stuff. And I was in that plane, when he took of and was on the side. I was in the cockpit, actually, but I did go back and watch the monitor. He did that. In an age where you can do anything with CG, and people just go, “Okay,” people have an abstract idea of CG. When you see something that makes you go, “How did they do that?!,” it’s a rare occasion, these days. Tom has been at the forefront of making sure people still ask that question, by scaling the Burj Khalifa, which he did, and by hanging onto the side of an A-400, which he did. Of course, there were safety precautions, but he did it. It was extraordinary to see him do that. There’s stuff he does in the movie that is as committed and as nuts and as exciting as hanging off of a plane that you don’t see in the trailer.
Does seeing Tom Cruise do such death-defying stunts make you want to step up, or do you want to just leave all of that to him?
PEGG: You have to step up around him because otherwise you just get left behind. The car chase that you glimpse in the trailer, we shot in Casablanca and Rabat, and it was only ever me and Tom in the car. It was never stunt people. A lot of the chase is on us. It cuts to the exterior, but a lot of the time, it’s just us. He did all of the driving, so I was happy to allow him to do that. They asked me sometimes, “Do you want a double in the car?,” but I was like, “No, I want to be in there.” And it wounded up being a way between me and up, with the seat heating in the car. Casablanca was really hot. Whenever I wasn’t looking, he’d switch on the seat heaters and I’d start getting a bit hot. I realized what he was doing, and it became this war. In the midst of this crazy car chase, where he was driving around these little alleyways, whenever he’d turn the corner, I’d switch his heater on. It was a very silly day.
That’s awesome that he’s just so game and willing to just have fun with it.
PEGG: Oh, totally! From the outside, Tom Cruise appears to be this weird enigma, who’s this complex, strange, mysterious character. He’s not, at all. I hesitate to use the word ordinary, but he is a far more ordinary person than you might expect. He’s a very devoted, very serious, but very fun person. And he’s the first person to mess around, on set. He loves his job. He preserves a certain amount of mystique around himself, and it helps him to be elevated to the level of movie star that he is, but he’s just a guy.
Obviously, people are always wondering when you, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright will be doing something together again. Is that something you guys talk about a lot, and is the scheduling just really hard, at this point?
PEGG: Scheduling is the hardest thing. Literally, today, Edgar has been calling me. He’s here developing Baby Driver, so he’s like, “Come and let’s have an hour and just come up with stuff.” I really want to do it. We’re actually going to book in a day, in about a month, where we can sit down and just start concocting stuff. Our schedules are obviously very busy. We’re trying to find the moment to get back together and come up with the next thing, which will absolutely happen. It’s just a question of when. We have to clear the table, a little bit. Obviously, when work stretches out into the next year, it’s hard to find the moment, but we will.
Do you have a list of ideas that you hope to get to?
PEGG: Yeah, we have an idea already for the next film, that we’re working on. We just need to get in a room and develop it. What we usually do is go away together, for the weekend, to a hotel or something, and we just go in a room and talk and talk and talk. We need to do that. And then, as soon as we do, we can start cooking it up and have it on the backburner, so that when we are both free, we aren’t starting from scratch.
Since you and J.J. Abrams are such good friends, what are your thoughts on Star Wars?
PEGG: I’m immensely excited, having been lucky enough to visit the set. I’ve never been on a film set where everyone has been so invested in the material because they are emotionally and intrinsically linked to it, as people who work in an industry that was informed by the original films. Suddenly, they’re back in those environments, seeing those sets again and seeing J.J. work with real physical things, and models and puppets and masks. Also, the new technology will, of course, be involved in it. The original films were always about the cutting edge. They weren’t retro movies. They were very forward-thrusting, technological masterpieces, and as such, there will be that stuff. It’s going to be extraordinary. I’m so excited for people to see it. It’s going to be everything that we wanted 16 years ago and didn’t get.
It’s so cool because it’s a combination of this vastly different technology with a franchise that makes you feel the wonder of being a kid again.
PEGG: Totally! I took my daughter to the set, and she met BB-8, the droid you see in the trailer. She sat with him for ages, and just talked to him. The guys were operating it, just off camera, and she was there. I said, “Come on, we’ve gotta go,” and she said, “I just want to spend some more time with him and have another hug.” It’s just a ball with a thing on it, but it’s a testament to that character, how much he’s going to impact on audiences because he’s so full of life. And that goes across, for everything. Also, to see the old staples again is going to blow people’s minds.
Kill Me Three Times opens in theaters on April 10th.