Interview: Simon Pegg
Fri, 03 Oct 2008 17:55:40
Simon Pegg is a master satirist, having skewered popular genre conventions in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz to the delight of fanboys (Peggheads?) who devotedly follow the British actor's every career move. In How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, he takes aim at the Perez Hiltons of the world, pseudo-celebrities who are seduced by Hollywood's constructed glamour and long to wedge their way into V.I.P. booths alongside stars and starlets. He recently spoke about his own surreal Tinseltown experiences, including meeting Tom Cruise, and how they informed the jaded journalist he plays in the film.
What's the weirdest celebrity encounter you've had?
That might have been with Jeff Bridges, actually, playing tabla drums in his trailer. On, like, the second day of us meeting, he brought some drums and he invited me to his trailer at lunch time to learn to play, and I did, and he sort of taught me how to do it and then I was beating away on them. And then I suddenly heard a guitar strumming and look up and he's playing his guitar along and we were jamming. I went from not ever having met him to jamming in his trailer in 12 hours. It was quite, quite bizarre.
What's the most "Hollywood" experience you've had since you've been on this journey?
I think another one with Jeff, actually, at the Iron Man premiere, I went up to say goodbye to him and he stood with his brother and Jon Voight. I kind of went up to say, "I'm going." And he put his arm around me and said, "No, stay, stay." So I listened to Jon Voight tell an anecdote and I just kind of stood there with Jeff's arm around me with Beau Bridges just listening. Three Hollywood legends chatting and me looking like I'd snuck in. I think Hollywood is constant; it happens every day when you're there, you're constantly seeing bizarre things. Myself and Edgar [Wright] went to see Steven Spielberg on set recently and were chatting with him and it happened to be the day when Tom Cruise was on set. We ended up around the table talking about films, and Edgar and I were very, very cool and didn't even break stride. We just got on with it, had a good chat. I went up the 405 that day going, "Aaah!" It was kind of odd. It was such a surreal situation to be in.
Can you still go around L.A. without being recognized?
Yeah, of course.
Have you ever had any of those "Don't you know who I am?" moments?
No. [Laughs] 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. They mistake ass-kissing and over-management for self-importance. People don't trust actors, that's why they're treated so well.
You're a writer, so did you bring anything to the script that you improv-ed?
"I've got cock on my hand," I think is the only thing I think I improvised in the entire film. Occasionally there was some room for improv, but generally speaking Peter's script was really strong and neat and structurally intact. It didn't really need anything added to it. That was nice, in that respect. It's nice to be able to hand the reigns over to someone else and not have that production responsibility. I kind of prefer it when I do because I'm a control freak. It wasn't necessary to tamper with it too much. [Robert Weide, the director] obviously comes from a very improvisational background with [Curb Your Enthusiasm], so occassionally. The biggest thing Bob would do, though—it was funny because it was his first feature film, and he didn't know he had to say "Cut!" The take would end and the camera would keep running. You could hear the dollars just whirring through the camera. And everyone was going, "Bob, say 'Cut!'" And he was like, "Sorry, sorry, sorry—Cut! Cut!." He's so used to working with video, which is cheap. That was the only instance of his naivety, I think.
Did you make the decision to play Sidney more goofy than bitter as he could've come across?
No, I'm just a terrible ham. I must admit it was a nice change of pace for me to play the goof. In my own movies I tend to write myself as the slightly more straight center to it and let Nick Frost do all the goofing around. That's because I'm just so unselfish as a writer I can't help myself. That was irony by the way. In this, I had license to just be an idiot, and what better way to spend a day than that?
How tough is it to work with Megan Fox and Kirsten Dunst?
You get used to it. It's a burden I carry, and not entirely happily. No, it was great, and ridiculous as well. They're both fantastic girls, and it was a pleasure working with both of them...[They're] both very different. 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 Megan's very new to it. She's an ingenue, in many ways like [her character] Sophie but has more integrity and more intelligence.
Did you ever try to work into the rehearsal process a kissing scene with Kirsten in the rain?
No. I have it on good authority that I'm the best right-way-up kisser. Why did I say that? It's not true; it's not true. She never said it. That was a joke.
What's the funniest night out you've had recently in Hollywood?
I don't really go out to Hollywood. I don't live here; I come here every now and again and I see my friends and hang out a little bit. I try not to exist in that world. I think it's slightly dangerous. The minute you start going to those places where people photograph you, the minute you become the property of someone else. You start becoming a person rather than an actor. It's hard to ask someone to believe that you're playing an 18th-Century dock worker if they've seen you the night before falling out of a bar with your trousers around your ankles, you know what I mean? I have great nights; I really enjoy Hollywood. For someone who doesn't come from here it's like a movie theme park, 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 of what's been made there.
“The reason that Sidney wants to tear it all down is because he's desperate to be inside of it.”
What do you think of Toby [Young]'s [the author of How To Lose Friends and Alienate People] perspective, which is, to say the least, contemptuous?
Toby is just a pathological self-promoter. 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 that Sidney wants to tear it all down is because he's desperate to be inside of it. He's desperate to be a part of it and because he isn't he resents it. That represents probably a certain cross-section of the media whereby there is this disdain and this hatred for the very thing they're reporting on, because essentially, they're not in it, you know what I mean? There are people that set up these websites that just say terrible things about people who are...celebrities, and then those people end up becoming celebrities themselves because of their doing it. It's like a snake eating its own tail.
Would you let any females you know date a guy like Sidney Young?
Certainly not my sister, definitely not my wife. Though my wife is weirdly dating a guy a little bit like Sidney Young, facially. He's not a bad guy. He's kind of contemptuous in some respects. He's got a good heart. I think that's what you learn about him in the movie, is that ultimately he's a good guy; he's just desperately trying not to be for some reason. Maybe it's a kind of self-defense thing, preemptive. "I'll make you hate me before you hate me for no reason" kind of thing. I'd have to meet him and talk to him for a while, see if he's worthy of my daughter. He's bloody good looking.
As a fan of big movies, how does it feel to be making big budget movies?
It's cool...I'm still a fan. I'm still the same as I ever was. I'm just managing to exist within it as well, which is fun. I'm still as impressed as I ever was. I just am participating as well. I very feel lucky. I feel very privileged.