They've battled through the zombie apocalypse, they've freed a small British hamlet from the clutches of evil cult, and now Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are teaming up for the ultimate challenge: The Golden Mile.
"The World's End," opening Aug. 23, is the final chapter of the "Cornetto Trilogy," this millennium's most beloved and least formal comedy triptych. Each installment follows Britain’s schlubbiest duo as they take on new characters and contend with their faded adolescence in one way or another. "Shaun of the Dead" poked loving fun at zombie movies and "Hot Fuzz" applied the same treatment to the spectacular mayhem of Michael Bay-style actioners, "The World’s End" is by contrast a somewhat sobering series capper, a bittersweet comedy that very much takes place in the real world until, well, it doesn't.
The story of an alcoholic man-child who yearns to relive his glorious '80s high school days, "The World's End" begins with Gary (Pegg) desperately trying to coerce the old gang back to their hometown to complete some unfinished business: An epic pub crawl they failed to finish the first time around. Unfortunately for Gary, the rest of his pals, including Andy (Nick Frost), have moved on with their lives. Eventually, the crew gives in, and a night that first seems like it's about the end of a friendship soon becomes about the end of the world.
We sat down with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in New York to discuss their new film, how alcoholism is like an alien invasion and why they owe the world to Jackie Chan.
Seeing all the press that you guys have been doing reminds me of when Radiohead toured OK Computer for like 2 years.
NF: It does feel like that. You know, as much as we all are best friends, there is that thing sometimes at the end of a Q&A, people might imagine that we all live in one room and sit and have a big bubble bath, but we all actually get into separate SUVs with our publicists and assistants drive off in different directions. And that's it until the morning, you know.
SP: That sounds terrible.
The two of you have done a lot of interviews alongside director Edgar Wright, but he's not here now. What sort of horrible things would you like to say about him?
SP: What wouldn't we like to say. The funny thing about Edgar is that he's a phenomenal creative force, and I feel very lucky that we met him.
NF: Do you? [Laughs]
SP: I have this theory about fate... I'm not a spiritual person, but I think you can actually attribute fate to a mathematics of likes and dislikes. I think you're drawn to certain people who share certain interests and in that respect you gravitate towards each other. I remember that Edgar and I were in a movie house, in a cinema, together in 1988, and we didn't even realize until six years later when we actually met that we almost met at that point. We were both really into Japanese anime and went to see "Akira." And I think all of us have found each other because, you know, of shared interests and it creates simpatico and friendship and Edgar is an amazing creative force and a fantastic director. And, sure, he can be a mangy little bastard at times, but it's worth enduring that for his pros.
NF: I think we all can.
SP: Oh God, yeah. Well, not me so much.
NF: If there is a creative gene, I think it also makes you a f**king little s**tbag. Just ask Mrs. Frost.
An interesting thing about "The World's End" is that it illustrates a universal existential problem, and in a way the apocalypse is the best thing that ever happens to Gary. Are the movies in the Cornetto Trilogy kind of everyman fantasies?
SP: Yeah, I think so. You can see them all like that. With "Shaun of the Dead," we always had a pub conversation about what we would do during the zombie apocalypse, didn't we? Everyone has fantasies about the end of the word. And obviously, as two pasty British guys, we're never going to get to live out our American action cinema fantasies unless we make an American-style action movie.
NF: Yeah, we're not SWAT heroes. We're not geneticists. We're just normal schlubs.
SP: And with "World's End" as well, it kind of became... well, it's true what you say about Gary, because in a sense the apocalypse comes to Gary's rescue. At the point where everything takes a left turn it looks like the night's over, but he grasps the end of the world as an opportunity to finish what he's really there for, which is the pub crawl. The post-apocalypse thing is always a fantasy because you always wonder how you'd survive in that situation, but it's more of a cautionary tale, this one. It's about the dangers of romanticizing an extended adolescence or the notion of nostalgia. It's about the dangers of being a man-child. A lot of films these days celebrate that. The "Hangover" movies are all about "wouldn't it be great if we didn't have wives and we could go f**k prostitutes and get drunk?" and that's basically what those films are saying. [Laughs] And there's nothing wrong with that!
Well, I say there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not a very healthy attitude. And a lot of people who are writing these movies are settled down with kids and are probably fantasizing about not being in that situation by writing those films. But with ["The World's End"] it was more about... Nick and I are both happily married with children, and the idea of being 19 again? No f**king thank you. And I don't want to be a guy who's free to do what he wants any old time. Gary is fundamentalized by suicidal depression, he's utterly at the end of his rope. I don't want to be that.
How do you explore that on screen? Gary is so interesting because he’s not afraid of being unlikable, but there’s a fine line between being unlikable and completely turning an audience off. How do you navigate that?
SP: Underneath it, we knew the story of Gary and Andy going in. We knew that Andy really does love Gary and he's just angry at him for certain reasons. We knew that there were reasons as to why Gary is the way he is. We wanted to dare the audience to hate Gary to the point where when they learn the truth they think, "Oh s**t, he wasn't very well, maybe I've been a bit hasty in judging someone like that." So it's important to really have a handle on your characters going in and have the confidence in your story to be unlikable and have the characters be difficult to relate to, as long as there's eventually a way in.
NF: Especially with Gary, it can be more complex than that. Yes, it's everything that Simon said, but also Gary is a bit of a c**k.
SP: He's all of a c**k.
NF: It's quite an odd conundrum in that yes, he is a terribly depressed alcoholic, but he's also a dick. Would he be a dick if he wasn't an alcoholic? Yeah, he probably would.
SP: He's definitely a fool because he never got help. He assumed he could solve his problems by drinking.
NF: When I look at Gary, I never assume that he thinks he has a problem. He just looks around him and thinks, "What the f**k is wrong with you lot?"
SP: He lives in the moment. He lives in the moment, but it's a moment frozen in time. The moment is 1990. And as long as he's drunk, he's fine, so it's very, very important for him to stay drunk. To the point where a human life, the planet, mean less to him than staying drunk.
NF: Alcoholism is a similar metaphor to the aliens in the film. It's that creeping invasion, it doesn't just come down and blast lasers into the White House and blow it up. By the time you realize it's happening, it's too late. It's truly insidious like that, and it's the same with the aliens.
And in a way "The World’s End" then becomes an unlikely candidate for one of the most realistic portraits of alcoholism as it exists in the real world.
SP: With robots!
NF: You know, that has a lot to do with the characterization and the writing of these characters. Edgar and Simon are brave enough to spend 35 minutes on what, at first sight, looks like a bittersweet comedy drama about five disparate friends uniting for a pub crawl. You spend a lot of time investing in those five characters, so when the film takes a terrific turn 40 minutes in, you're willing to go with it because you either like or you don't like or you love or you hate these five characters.
SP: I think science fiction always works as a great metaphorical tool for looking at our relationship with the universe and ourselves and identity. That's what science fiction is, it's a way of regarding our reality through the prism of something unreal. Of late, I think science fiction has lost its way to a degree, it's become more about the spectacle of itself. It was never about the robots, it was about us, and people got distracted by the robots. And now science fiction is really airless.
NF: The metaphors are barely masked in terms of what they mean, anymore. 9/11 saw two buildings fall down and blow up, and now it's like [imitating screenwriter and clapping] "Yeah, yeah, let's knock down buildings!"
Yes, while this movie feels more like a return to the work of Douglas Adams.
SP: Absolutely. I think Douglas Adams' DNA is inescapably entwined into British sci fi. This film is very much in the spirit of the smaller, sort of paranoid science fiction of the UK, and to a degree the "Body Snatchers" strain of American science fiction, that post-war feeling of the enemy within. Even though we don't really make reference in the film to other films, you can definitely see the mark of a Douglas Adams creeping into our ideas because that's what we've grown up with.
During the making of these three films, what was the most surreal moment, the moment that made you look at each other and go, "Holy hell, we’re at work right now"?
SP: That happens a lot when you’re in a street full of zombies or running through Welles town center firing guns. With this film, you get the chance to create these action scenes with Brad Allan, who's a student and a collaborator of Jackie Chan.
Right, this feels like it could be "Drunken Master III."
SP: These guys, the drunker they get, the more proficient they get in this bizarre discipline we call "Pub-Fu." It's a combination of things they saw on the WWE and basic brawling and it becomes this kind of martial art. I think the worst thing action filmmaking can do is to take it away the actor and give it to the stunt performers, who are brilliant, but they're not the characters that we've come to know. And in this film, we wanted you to see that it was Andy battering those guys around.
NF: That's why I had to turn around after crashing into the fence, so the camera could see it was me.
SP: And stunt performers aren't always great actors. They're usually not great actors.
NF: Whereas we're great actors and stunt performers!
So what you’re saying is that you’re ready to take on Jackie Chan? Maybe Jackie Chan at 70.
SP: Oh no, we actually thanked Jackie Chan in the credits, and it's because every film Brad does he thanks Jackie. Jackie obviously gave him his start and is a great inspiration to him, so it's something of a huge cool thing for us to have Jackie Chan in our credits.
NF: The greatest accolade I ever received was when Brad Allen said I was the white Sammo Hung, and also said I was his favorite action star. Which was f**king amazing. And I'm gonna blow our trumpets, but we all f**king work hard at it! We don't just turn up and think "Oh, why have we gotta do this?" I think that's one of the reasons that Edgar, Simon and I work so well together at a basic level, because we work hard. All the time. You can't just turn up and expect those things to take care of themselves, you have to put the hours in. And that's not a complaint, because we all love doing it
So now I guess it’s only a matter of time before you guys follow in Jackie Chan’s footsteps and snowboard off a cliff onto a helicopter.
SP: That. Would. Be. F**king awesome. You know, I am a keen snowboarder.
NF: I have my helicopter pilot's license, so...
SP: We can do it together!
SP: And the next film was born! You'll get a cut. I'll be in touch with your agent.
Thank me in the credits next to Jackie Chan.
NF: You can come on the set of “Snowchopper."