After charming indie audiences with their banter-heavy zom-com Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Bad Boys cop satire Hot Fuzz (2007), British acting duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have taken their latest co-written project, Paul, to Hollywood. It’s a tale about two sci-fi nerds who pick up a hitchhiking alien. As you do.
Paul is a big, comic smooch to E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Do you recall seeing those movies for the first time?
Nick Frost: Definitely. My aunt lived in a place in Wales near an American airbase. She went out with a pilot – he was the first American I ever met. One afternoon he came over with a giant VHS tape. For a 10-year-old, watching Close Encounters was mind-blowing.
Simon Pegg: I was big into UFOs and paranormal activity. And E.T. was the first film, post-Star Wars, that captured my imagination. I remember pulling the hood of my parka up, because tears were streaming down my face. Growing up in the UK, that was embarrassing.
Would you be proud to call yourselves geeks?
Frost: Geek is just another word for being enthusiastic.
Pegg: Or not being ashamed that you know a lot about something that might not be important. Like the way I know all about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Frost: Oh, you geek.
Pegg: I’m probably more nerdy about science fiction, only because Nick is also nerdy about football and cooking.
Your movie has a wisecracking alien at its centre (voiced by Seth Rogen), but there’s also a fun idea in it about your British characters being from another planet. Is America a strange place for you?
Pegg and Frost: [In unison] Yes.
Frost: It always seems like a foreign country to us. I mean, we share a language of sorts, but absolutely.
Pegg: We forget that we’re regarded as foreigners in the States. And the most alien characters in the film are Graeme and Clive. Paul himself is very nearly a naturalised American.
Frost: That’s why we had to start the movie at Comic-Con. It’s a place where a normal guy who lives in Nebraska and works in a bank can dress up like a manga character, and no one cares.
Does that feeling of belonging extend to Hollywood now? This is your first screenwriting job there.
Frost: The thing we’ve always stuck to is this: we’re making a film for our mates.
Pegg: It’s a terrible mistake to try to guess what people find funny through marketing.
Frost: ‘Oh, the 25-year-olds, they love Paul Rudd. So let’s stick him in your movie.’ Meanwhile, I love Paul Rudd. I’m just having a go at the system.
Pegg: I love Paul Rudd too. Why is he not in our movie? Still, working for a studio invites a different perception.
Frost: I’ve read that we must be sellouts. But it’s easy: do you want to make a big film, or do you not want to make a big film?
Pegg: I’m selling out, actually.
Frost: Are you?
Pegg: Yes, I am. Honestly, the whole ‘selling out’ thing is said by people who feel like you don’t belong to them any more.
Frost: Paul is broader, but who’s to say that’s not as valuable as something 400 people in Stockholm see?
It’s lucky that you’ve found a director who straddles the line well – Superbad’s Greg Mottola.
Pegg: Which was perfect, really, because in a way, our pitch for Paul was The Daytrippers but with Gollum in it.
Frost: That old chestnut.
Pegg: Seriously, we wanted to make an indie movie like [the Mottola-directed] Daytrippers, but with this extraordinarily advanced special effect in the centre of it.
Plus a cameo by the master of filmmaking.
Pegg: We’d been working with Steven Spielberg on [the forthcoming] The Adventures of Tintin.
Frost: I call him Dad.
Pegg: So we were telling him about a joke we had, where Steven himself would occasionally call our alien for brainstorming sessions. And Steven said, ‘Oh, that’s great! Maybe I could be in the movie.’ We were stunned.
Frost: Greg actually forgot to say ‘action’ for Spielberg’s first big scene. We were in awe. Silence. And Steven said, ‘Should I do it myself?’
You guys have a wonderful rapport in your movies. But do you ever grow tired of each other?
Pegg: As friends, people can drift apart after they meet significant others and get married. And that’s happened to us. We’re not roommates any more. But we still have this amazing arena to play in, which is our work.
Frost: During the week, it’s not practical for us to see each other. So we’ve found a place where we can hang out – and get paid! Aww. You’re like the Spielberg and Lucas of British comedians.
Pegg: [Raises his hand.] I get to be Spielberg!
Frost: I’ll be Lucas. We both have the neck thing.
Paul is showing in UAE cinemas now.
Hollywood’s worst aliens
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Who they are: Klowns. That’s Klowns with a K. Klassy.
Super powers: We hate clowns, and that gives these guys an edge. For those of you who aren’t sent into a quivering mass of terror at the mere sight of a red nose and jaunty wig, the Klowns can melt us with pies of death and kill us with shadow puppets.
Why they fail: To kill them, we need to pop their large, bright red noses. Evolution on their planet must’ve taken the night off.
Independence Day (1996)
Who they are: An incredibly advanced race of tentacled beasties with super-weapons and a big fleet of spaceships at their disposal.
Super powers: They’re mean – very, very mean. They’re also bigger, stronger and faster than us mere humans.
Why they fail: An alien race with super-advanced weaponry that can wipe out entire cities in a flash should really invest in an anti-virus programme. The entire armada was destroyed by a virus, and a cigar.
Who are they: Grey and gangly, and likely to be found strolling nonchalantly around in your backyard looking weird.
Super powers: Nothing much at all, really. They do pass some pretty deadly gas, though.
Why they fail: Water can kill them. We’re not sure why they chose to invade Earth, or what they intended to do with it once they managed. Applause!
The Forgotten (2004)
Who they are: We can’t be 100 per cent sure; they’re invisible and perform experiments on us. Hey, who just poked?
Super powers: They can suck us into outer space, via the roof of our house, which they can remove. They’re pretty talented architects.
Why they fail: In a brainwashing experiment, the Forgotten change the wallpaper in a kid’s room to try to convince the parents they never existed. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. Seriously – wallpaper?