Meet the team behind The World's End

Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost talk us through their trilogy-closer

Interview

Small-town eccentricities, nostalgia, aliens and the apocalypse: The Shaun of the Dead stars are back with their latest flick.

He once tried to do an epic night out with his closest teenage friends, but failed before they could achieve local-legends status. Now a 40-year-old gent who’s never let go of his goth-garbed glory years, Gary King (Simon Pegg), is determined to finally complete that circuit – even if it means conning his old buddies into returning to their quaint small town and confirming that the once-coolest cat on campus has become a complete failure. But his pals aren’t the only ones who’ve changed over the years. Once they return to this English hamlet, everyone they run into seems a little… different.

To say more about Edgar Wright’s new movie, The World’s End, would be robbing folks of some serious film-going pleasures; the trailer already gives away a few too many revelations for our comfort. (Though if you feel like checking it out, be our guest.) What we can say is that this third collaboration between British director Edgar Wright, his co-writer and leading man, Pegg and actor Nick Frost continues the winning streak the trio started with Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). And like those films, their latest project mixes elements of genre cinema – in this case, sci-fi and apocalypse movies – with male friendships, glorious nods to geeky obsessions, satirical jabs at English culture, an out-of-left-field pathos and the sort of blockbuster sugar rush that’s been largely AWOL this summer. Time Out talks to this talented threesome about the film’s delights.

The idea for this film came to you while you were shooting Hot Fuzz in your home town, right?
Edgar Wright: We were shooting Hot Fuzz in my home town of Wells, Somerset, in the UK, and I remember looking at the dailies and going, ‘Wait, there’s a Starbucks in the shot. I don’t remember that being there!’ We had to digitally remove it; the same thing happened with a McDonald’s in another scene. I had this sensation of: ‘What’s going on here? Where am I?’ The seed was planted then.

So tell us about the notion of adding sci-fi elements to the film
Edgar:
That came a little later. But that whole strain of smart sci-fi movies – what I like to call the ‘quiet invasion’ genre – seemed like the perfect way of looking at that bittersweet feeling that I described originally: you feel alienated from the place you came from. You don’t recognise the place where you grew up anymore.

Nick Frost: It’s happened to all of us... The more you go back, the more things that you remember just disappear. It’s like watching that time-lapse photography of a bowl of fruit rotting away. There one minute, and then the next, phfft!

Despite all the recognisable genre types – the zombie movie, the buddy-cop film and now the sci-fi ‘quiet invasion’ movie – you never feel that these three films are just nudge-wink parodies.
Simon Pegg:
We’ll ride a specific genre in order to get at another story, but… Edgar has said before that in our films, the genre elements are like a Trojan horse. It’s there to entice people into the theatre and get them to look at a movie that, on the surface, may look like a million other films you’ve seen. But once you’re there, you’ll find that there’s actually quite a lot going on.

Nick: I feel like Simon and I got the whole parody thing out of our systems with Paul.

Simon:
I actually don’t think we’ve ever parodied anything. We’ve used elements and we’ve adopted things, but never with the intention of just sending things up, y’know? The closest we’ve come to that might be Hot Fuzz, since we drew attention to the absurdity of large-scale action films by setting these monumental scenes in an English village.

Edgar: Plus the joke in that movie is that, by the third act, it’s become everything it’s said that it’s not going to be. ‘Oh, police work isn’t like it is in the movies!’ Then the last part comes, and…

Nick: …and it is like it is in the movies.

Edgar: One of my favourite moments in the film is when Simon’s character, Gary, figures out that some sort of invasion is afoot. He gets this huge smile on his face – because it’s easier for him to think that something or someone has taken over the town than to deal with the fact that he’s got old. ‘Oh, of course this is why nobody recognises me!’

Simon: ‘It all makes sense now!’

Were you at all like Gary when you were growing up, Simon?
Simon:
[Sheepishly] I was definitely a goth like Gary, yeah.

Edgar: He had a Sisters of Mercy T-shirt.

Nick: Those might have been his clothes. Might have been.

Simon: I did have a group of guys I hung out with like the group in the film, though I wasn’t the leader. That was another guy, who was just the coolest and who sang in our band. I saw him recently at a reunion and he hadn’t really moved on. It was just kind of sad you know.

Edgar: Nearly all these American manchild comedies tend to glorify perpetual adolescence, and we wanted to do something darker and more honest. It’s still a comedy and it’s still got action and sci-fi elements; you’ll still have a fun time, I assure you, dear readers [all laugh]. But we wanted to push it to places that other comedies wouldn’t go to.

Apocalypse and post apocalypse movies are having a huge cultural moment now. Why do you think people are so fascinated with these types of movies at this particular moment?
Edgar:
I’ve thought about this a lot, actually. I think people really think we’re destroying ourselves, and the planet, at an exponential rate, so this the-end-is-nigh idea is hovering in the air right now.

Simon: There’s no exit strategy, either.

Edgar: Right, which is where the post apocalypse movies come in: Figure it out soon, or you get this. I have this theory about science fiction movies in that, when the space race sort of died, a lot of people sort of lost hope. When I was a kid, I just figured we’d be living on the Moon by the year 2000.

Nick: Or by 1999, if Space: 1999 would have had its way.

Edgar Wright: Once people realised that hey, we’re going to be left here and everything is going to hell quickly, sci-fi soon became about our own self-destruction.

Simon: You had the millennial fears, the notion after 9/11 that you were never safe, the environmental paranoia, even the Mayan calendar thing. The end has been on everyone’s mind for a while now. And these are the first things that tend to bubble to the surface in popular culture.

Edgar Wright: I’m glad you brought up the Mayans, because our film wrapped shooting on December 21, 2012 – the day their calendar predicted the world would end! We think there may have been a misprint or a typo in their calendar, actually. ‘Wait, this isn’t “The world will end… It’s The World’s End is over on the 21st.”’

Simon: They were right all along!

Nick: What happened was the second tablet was broken. The whole thing was supposed to read: ‘On December 21, 2012, the world’s end… we will have finished shooting principal photography.’
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