With The World’s End, actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost haven’t just reunited with Edgar Wright, the director that first brought the comedic duo to movie screens worldwide. They’ve also completed the final chapter in an informal trilogy, one that began with Wright’s zombie-apocalypse spoof Shaun Of The Dead and continued with his shoot-’em-up send-up, Hot Fuzz. Elements of both those movies appear in The World’s End, which casts Pegg as a nostalgic, middle-aged party animal who somehow convinces estranged mate Frost—as well as mutual drinking buddies Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Considine—to accompany him on a bar crawl the group failed to complete as twentysomethings. Needless to say, it’s more than just decreased alcohol tolerance that ends up standing in their way.
The A.V. Club: Besides Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin, which you all contributed to in some capacity, this is the first movie the three of you have made together since 2007’s Hot Fuzz. Did you have to work to rekindle the creative mojo or was it just like falling back in with old friends?
Edgar Wright: I guess the latter. We had come up with the idea for the story six years ago, when we were promoting Hot Fuzz, and we had the overall theme and the concept worked out. It’s something we chewed on for a long time. So when we actually got down to writing it, me and Simon went away for a weekend to brainstorm. Six years of life kind of factored into it, and the screenplay is a lot better for us having taken time out and done separate projects.
Simon Pegg: There was no period of adjustment getting back into it. We fell into it very, very easily. It’s something we’ve been doing since we were in our 20s. It was like putting on an old cardigan or a pair of slippers or something.
Nick Frost: Mojo doesn’t dissipate over time. It’s just always there. We’re also mates. We’re friends behind the camera, too. So the mojo is constantly boiling in a pot like creative fondue. [Others laugh.]
NF: Yes, it’s like a slow-cooking gumbo.
AVC: Has the way you make movies together changed dramatically since Shaun Of The Dead?
EW: Obviously they get bigger in scale from Shaun to Hot Fuzz to World’s End. Scale and the amount of action and special effects has increased. But I think the amount of hard work stays exactly the same, because whatever we’ve done has always been too ambitious for the budget. I’m of the mind you can never get complacent. You can never go home early on a shooting day, like knock off at 5 in the afternoon.
AVC: Simon and Nick, you’ve sort of swapped roles in this one, with Simon playing the live wire for once and Nick playing the straight man.
SP: We didn’t want to just repeat what we’ve done. I’d say that the dynamic that Ed presents in Shaun Of The Dead is wildly different than what Danny presents for Nick. But like you say, the supposed straight man versus the wild card—yeah, we did change it around. I think that’s because the chaos in the film had to be at his very center in this one, rather than just off to the side, as it’s been in the other two. And it was really good fun. We don’t want to bore anybody.
NF: We’re actors, and it’s a chance to do something different. I think people just assume that I’m some sort of stoned cop. [Others laugh.] In fact I’m probably nearer to this character than to other characters I’ve played. It’s a treat to do something different.
AVC: Is the fictional setting of Newton Haven modeled on a real place?
EW: If it’s modeled on anything, it’s the garden city and new towns that cropped up after World War I and then again after World War II. So it’s modeled on those sort of satellite towns most people who become professionals want to escape. They grow up in this town, and they get to London as soon as they can. Both me and Simon are from small towns in the U.K. I think it’s something that resonates with us, especially if you pursue a certain career. You have to get to the next metropolis and leave your town behind. So that makes it always a bittersweet experience going back. I had that experience; Hot Fuzz was shot in my hometown.
AVC: There’s a lot of doomsday dread making its way into movies these days. Yours is actually the third apocalypse-themed comedy of the summer.
SP: I think it comes down to the 21st of December last year. Everyone was talking about the Mayan apocalypse. It was just on everyone’s mind. It’s a pretty obvious expression of the cultural subconscious, really. Everyone was talking about it, everyone knew it was bullshit, but it sort of was a bit fashionable. If you track the creative process of these films that have all come out at the same time, they are all at some point probably intended to come out around December of last year. But the way film production works, things always get delayed. [Laughs.]
EW: I always wonder whether it has to do with the end of the space race. When I was a little kid, I used to look at sci-fi that was aspirational, and I used to think I was going to be an astronaut or living on the moon by the time I was 30. You’d watching things like 2001 and Star Trek and Space: 1999 and think, “Oh, well, we’re clearly all going to be on the moon.” But aside from Virgin Galactic, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that we’re going anywhere. So a lot of the genre stuff is based on paranoia that people feel that we are eating ourselves.
SP: It’s probably also the AIDS metaphor writ large. In the ’80s, the enemy became the self rather than the other after the Cold War broke off. Instead of some kind of foreign power, it became the body itself. Then with the rise of terrorism, that transmogrified into this idea that the enemy walks among us and the enemy is ourselves and that naturally leads to us thinking about our own demise. That’s what I would say if I were a film student. [Laughs.]
AVC: The World’s End plays on a pretty iconic classic of sci-fi paranoia.
EW: Yeah. Writing this movie, I discovered this term “social science fiction.” It describes a lot of very political science fiction that came out post-war, and during the Cold War. There are a lot of great American examples, like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. In the U.K., there were a lot of great British books and adaptations like John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, which got turned into Village Of The Damned. There’s a wave of these works that became so influential they seeped into nearly every British sci-fi show. So tales of small-town paranoia were inescapable for me growing up, and they really resonate with me as well.
AVC: The fear of getting consumed by a mass is very relatable.
SP: Yeah, and I think you can trace that fear throughout all of our films. They’re all about a loss of identity—a sort of forcing of a mass identity on one thing or one person. Shaun is facing being consumed by conformism and chased by zombies at the same time. In Hot Fuzz, it’s about the NWA [Neighborhood Watch Association] forcing its identity on a town. If you cross the zombies from Shaun with the NWA you end up with what the guys are facing in World’s End. This very wayward individual like Gary King [Pegg’s character] becomes a kind of spokesperson for humanity.
EW: Like you said, there’s a lot of metaphors you can apply to this genre. And we like the idea of saying something about the evils of homogenized branding—the faux-folksy branding that you get in various chains, be it bars or coffee shops. It’s a funny thing to rail against.
AVC: Unlike many contemporary comedies, which incorporate a lot of improvisation, your films are very precise.
EW: It’s funny, you’re actually one of the first people who’s said that. Most people ask if it’s improvised, which kind of baffles me because it is very precise. We write the script and we rehearse the script and occasionally we bring in lines during the rehearsal process. But it is a very precise script because we try not to have repetition of dialogue, or if there is repetition, it’s very specific running jokes that usually come in threes.
AVC: You’ve called The World’s End the closing chapter of your trilogy. But we can assume you’ll all work together again, right?
EW: Oh, yeah, we’d love to. We made a promise to do a third. When we had the idea for the story, we realized there was a way of linking them all thematically. We wanted to take one of the themes—perpetual adolescence—and wrap it up for good, make it very final. Sort of as an alternative to the American man-child comedy. We thought there was something in those that was off, and there was a way of addressing it by going a little deeper and a bit more raw. Hopefully, with the denouement of this film, people will see that we have a full arc for that kind of subject. That said, it doesn’t mean that when we won’t work together again, we’ll just do something thematically different.