It began as a throwaway joke during the promotional tour for Hot Fuzz, the second film directed by Edgar Wright, produced by Nira Park, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and written by Wright and Pegg. Cornetto ice cream was a prop in both Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, and (according to Wright), “someone pointed out the Cornetto connection, and asked if we were going to make a trilogy. And I said yes, it’s going to be like Kieslowski’s Three Colors, but three flavors. So it was a silly joke in an interview that got recycled and repeated.” And thus we have the third film of the “Cornetto trilogy,” The World’s End, which finds estranged friends Pegg and Frost (along with three of their mates) going on a pub crawl in their hometown in the midst of — well, that much is a bit of a spoiler. I talked to Pegg and Frost about those spoilers, the genesis of the story, and their place within the canon of great comedy teams during the film’s recent press junket; the pair were doing interviews in a room at the swanky Waldorf-Astoria, stretched out on expensive couches, clad in T-shirts and sneakers, the very portrait of chummy relaxation.
FLAVORWIRE: It’s such a pleasure to meet you guys.
FROST: (Grinning) Well, that might change in the next few minutes.
I loved the movie — obviously for the broad comedy and sci-fi elements, but also for the sensitive way it handles the nature of adult friendships. I wonder how much that aspect of the film was inspired by your own experiences as you’ve gotten older and become more successful?
PEGG: Yeah, there’s definitely a degree of that there, particularly for myself and Edgar, as writers of the movie. Edgar’s experienced a strange sense of… I don’t know, ennui I guess, when he went back to Wales to make Hot Fuzz, the town where he grew up. And I commented that it was kind of like Body Snatchers because everything was all very familiar, but it all felt very different, and that became kind of the genesis of the whole movie, in a way. For me, I’d had a few experiences meeting up with old friends and that, the odd kind of — I’d had quite positive experiences of having an evening fueled entirely by nostalgia, but that being all we had, but fortunately, we never tried to make anything else. We had a lovely reunion and then didn’t see each other again. But yeah, there’s been a whole series of events which have contributed to this movie; our passing 40 and our own sort of senses of self and where we’re from.
FROST: We grew up together; we’ve been friends for 20 years, so there are people that we, ten years ago, were massively close to that you thought, “This will never not be like this.” Now we haven’t seen them for ten years. I would argue that it’s not about becoming successful; it’s about growing up and having a family and a partner and a kid and responsibility. And I think, unlike Simon and Edgar, if I haven’t seen someone for ten years, there’s probably a reason I haven’t seen them for ten years. You know, if it was going to happen, it would’ve happened, ya know? I think I’m very lucky that I have my group of mates, and it’s probably a horribly closed-off mindset I have, but I think I’m done. I’m happy. That’s not to say that people I meet at work — I think, “God, you’re fantastic,” but it just drifts away.
That’s probably a great gauge of how quick time goes when you get older, too. There’s a festival near where I live and Primal Scream were playing. I was standing, waiting for my wife to come out from the bathroom when this guy, a paramedic, came up, a little paramedic, smiling. [He acts it out.] Doing that to me. “Eh?” I was like, “What the fuck?” It was, like, his ID card and I was looking at it and I realized, fucking hell, Stuart Nichols! I hadn’t seen him since I was 15! And I’m in that zone, we’re in that zone now where it’s like, there’s a quarter of a century I didn’t see you. And it was lovely for five minutes, and then I thought, “See you later. That was enough for me.”
PEGG: It blows my mind to think that there’s the same distance between [their characters] Gary Prime and Andy Prime and the original Gary and Andy as there is between me and Nick now, me and Nick when we met. We’re 20 years between our first meeting and so we were those guys back then.
FROST: I remember being a ten-year-old boy and being out with my dad buying rugby boots for me and we bumped into some bloke — I can’t remember what his name was now — and he went, and my dad said, “I haven’t seen him for 35 years!” And as a kid, I remember thinking, “You fucking old cunt.” But now, I can tell you a story about not seeing Stuart Nichols for 25 years!
PEGG: Now you’re an old cunt!
FROST: Now I’m an old cunt, yeah!
One of the things that sort of binds the film to Hot Fuzz is that they’re both set in these lovely little villages that cannot be trusted. Simon, I understand the town you’re from is fairly small, so I wondered if that common theme draws from your experience of coming from places like these.
PEGG: I think for both me and Edgar, yeah. Even with Shaun of the Dead, it was a small part of London. It wasn’t the London that you see in a lot of movies that has red buses — well, we did have a red bus, but it was a single-decker. It wasn’t like postcard London; it was little London, and similarly Wells, in Somerset, where we shot Hot Fuzz, was where Edgar grew up, and the garden cities that we shot The World’s End in are similar to the market town I grew up in as well, this kind of “little England” that we don’t often see cinematically. And yeah, I guess that feeds in very much to what we do because we’ve come from those places, and returning to those places now is always a very strange experience because you do feel at once home and away.
It’s a strange thing: you realize home is a time; it’s not a place. You can’t go home because you can’t go back in time, so even if you go back to where you were born, it isn’t home anymore. Home, if you’re completely happy and okay with the world, home is where you are right now. And so, yeah, that’s always been an interesting thing for us, and we wanted specifically for this film to be set in what’s called a garden city, which are these sort of designed towns that cropped up sort of the turn of the century —
FROST: 1906, I think.
PEGG: Yeah. They were built as dormitories of London, places where people could commute from, and when you look at them from above, they’re like weird little crop circles. We liked that idea, that an alien invasion could take place in one of these towns because it’s almost like a shit’s landed and imprinted a town, a circuit board, prints a circuit board.
Nick, one of the things that’s so much fun about you in the movie is that you’re play a kind of guy who’s very different from your previous characters. He’s very quiet and businesslike and buttoned-up, which obviously degenerates as the movie goes on. Was that a kind of character that you’d wanted to do?
FROST: This is going to sound like a very boring, flippant answer, but I don’t really care. I think as an actor, you’d be daft to say, “Oh, I’m only going to do this, or I’m only going to do that.” I think also it’s that the things that I’m known for, in terms of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Paul potentially, and this are — I would argue — that Shaun of the Dead and Andy and Danny are completely different. Ed and Danny are completely different characters. But I’ve done things on TV, on British TV where I play a horrible bastard, and they’re always the most fun to play because I think that’s the most far — [to Simon] you’re going to disagree with this — that’s the furthest away from me that I actually am.
PEGG: A horrible bastard. Come on, man.
FROST: But as an actor, I would hope that I would be neutral enough as a person that I could potentially play anyone and have it be believable.
Oh, and I totally bought you. And then I totally bought you when —
FROST: When the bomb went off. Like the Hulk.
PEGG: I think the key to it is that it’s less about the characters being different; it’s more that the dynamic between us is different, and so the characters are as different from our previous characters as the previous characters were from the previous characters, but because, in this one, I am the proactive one — I’m the kind of comedic force, as it were, and Nick’s character, initially, at least, is the reactive one. The dynamic shifts in that way. In the first two films, I’m the reactive one and Nick is the catalyst, is the force of change or sedation or whatever. And that’s where the true little turnaround has come, and that’s why this seems to be such a different setup for the two of us, because the dynamic of Shaun and Ed and Nicholas and Danny is quite similar, even though the characters are wildly different, whereas the dynamic in this one is very different.
FROST: I also think it’s for the greater good. It’s for the film. Whatever they want me or need me to be, I’m happy to be that. [To Simon:] I thought it was always very selfless of you in the first two to play the straight man when, in real life, that’s not what our dynamic is. I’m as much his straight man as what you see in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
PEGG: And a horrible bastard.
FROST: And a fucking horrible bastard!
You guys talk about yourselves as a comedy team. There was a time when film comedy was littered with comedy teams, but you guys seem like one of the few left these days, in the sort of Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy tradition. Could you see yourselves continuing to work together long-term like they did?
FROST: Yeah, I would hope so. I think we’re very lucky in that, yes, we’re a team, including Edgar and Nira, but we also do a lot of stuff apart, so we’re not in that position where, if we’re not working together, we don’t get offered shit.
PEGG: I like to think we’re like the Avengers. We all have our separate things, but eventually, every now and again, we assemble and take on some giant force of evil.
FROST: We’ve always talked about this being the long game. There’s no rush. We’re relatively young.
PEGG: We’ll work together again, but not because we are a team or perceived as a team, but we really enjoy working together. We’ve got a productive thing going on.
FROST: If that is five years, then it’ll be five years. If it’s ten years, then it’ll be ten years, but it will happen.
PEGG: And Nick Fury will blow the horn and [makes a sort of trumpet noise], then the Hulk [he growls], Tony Stark will come together.
FROST: We always have great ideas. It’s those little ideas that you have that just gnaw away at you, and then you get to a point where it’s like, “Let’s fucking do this good idea.”
PEGG: The trick is when to do it. I mean, we could probably start shooting a film, we could start developing something tomorrow. We’ve got a bunch of ideas, but we don’t want to outstay our welcome. We don’t want it to be, “Oh, here comes another fucking Frost and Pegg joint.” We’d rather it be something that people go, “Oh good, it’s them again!” Not like, “Ugh, those horrible bastards.”
FROST: That’s the next film, by the way.
PEGG: Horrible Bastards.
When I saw the film, there was this lovely note from Edgar that said, “Please be careful about revealing too much in terms of twists and character development,” and then I’ve seen a couple of ads that give away some of the stuff that I would think would fall into that. I’m curious about that, because this is a time when we’re all very hungry for information, but cognizant of spoilers. As creators and fans of that sort of thing, where do you line up on that issue?
PEGG: It’s a difficult process. Marketing, in some respects, is almost contrary to filmmaking in that it seeks to expose rather than hold back. But at the same time, you do have to let people know what they’re going to see. We can’t say, “Come and see this bittersweet film” — as much as we’d like to — “about friends reuniting” and then spring the science fiction aspect on people; we kind of have to lay our cards on the table a little bit and give some stuff away. The trailer is only two minutes long, and there is a lot more in the film than there is in the trailer.
Ideally, I think going to see the film and knowing nothing about it is the best way to see it, and there are people that will do that, but not everybody. The vast majority of the cinema-going audience need to be tempted in and given something, thrown a bone in order to bring them into the cinema. Not everyone is a movie geek like we are, unfortunately, so we can’t but give shit away sometimes, and it breaks my heart when I see the trailer and then you see [spoiler], and it’s like, “Well, that surprise is gone.” But if we’d have had our way, you wouldn’t have seen Paul in the trailer for Paul; he wouldn’t have been in the posters. The point is, in that movie, you think it’s about two guys on a road trip, and suddenly an alien appears and everyone freaks out.
FROST: Devil’s Tower, that was in the first poster.
PEGG: Yeah, they put Devil’s Tower in the poster.
FROST: In the first poster and the concepts and the trailers. It was like, no, no, no, if we can’t not have Paul, then let’s have that, at least.
PEGG: I did have a conversation with the trailer makers, the US trailer makers, and they were telling us why they were putting all this stuff in, and I said — it was one of those conversations where it was a bit tense and stilted — and I said, “So what you’re saying is people need to see the film before they see the film so that they’ll go and see the film.” And there was this big long pause and this guy went, “Yeah.”
FROST: You’ve got to admire honesty!
PEGG: Yeah, absolutely, and you know what? If it gets people in, they’ll see it a heck of a lot more than they saw in the trailer, but you do have to sacrifice something. That’s sadly the case.
FROST: I think that’s just how it is, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a new thing. I just think now, with the Internet, there’s a lot more focus on it.
PEGG: You can pause trailers now. It used to be that you could put subliminal messages in cinematic trailers because you’re never going to see them anywhere where you could stop them. So you could see a flash of something, like, “What the fuck was that?” And you can go back and find that. Now there are websites that will break down the trailer frame by fucking frame, and it’s like, give us something!
FROST: You have to choose your battles, though, and the fact is, the way it is, you have to give something away. If you’re clever, you get to fight what that is. And also, I think the art of the trailer has been lost. There’s no panache. It’s just, “Here it is.”
PEGG: Well, I think that’s an interesting thing. That almost kind of feeds into the movie and the idea of, “Ah, do you remember before Starbucks? Do you remember before that chain pub came in?” When you look at old trailers, it’s amazing how spoiler-riffic they are. The trailer for Carrie shows the bit when the blood falls on their head! But it was a different time and a different way of seeing it.
The third trailer for Man of Steel was better than the film. It was so exciting and the music, Hans Zimmer score, it was like, “This is going to be amazing!” It’s a weird, odd thing. And also, you don’t want to mislead people. You don’t want people to get into the cinema and they’re like, “Hey, I didn’t know this had [spoiler] in it!”
OK, before I go: Cornetto Quartet? Is there going to be more?
PEGG: We’ll do more films, but they won’t be Cornetto-based. We’ll be able to branch out a little bit and set them elsewhere, in a different time, and they won’t necessarily have to be about the things that these films are about.
FROST: We’ll call it something like the Ferrari 458 Trilogy. So then they’ll give us one each!
PEGG: Or even worse, they give us one to share.
The World’s End is out Friday.