In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Once described by Michael Ian Black as “the nerdiest nerd ever to nerd out about nerdiness,” Simon Pegg is known by many fictional alter egos—Tim from Spaced, Scotty from Star Trek, Benji from Mission Impossible, or any number of characters from his cinematic collaborations with Edgar Wright—but he can currently be found playing hit man Charlie Wolfe in the Australian black comedy Kill Me Three Times, in theaters now.
Simon Pegg: Packing animal feed in a warehouse in Gloucestershire when I was a student. It was a very strange environment. It was hung heavy with oat dust, the place was infested with mice, and everyone who worked there was over 60, and I was 18. It was crazy.
The A.V. Club: How did that job come about?
SP: Desperation, mainly. I needed a bit of money. I went to a sort of temping agency, and they said, “Oh, yeah, go work here.” I quit after a week. I told them I had asthma and I couldn’t work there. But it was just the most soul-destroying job I’ve ever done. Apologies to anyone who works in animal-feed packing industry and loves it. [Laughs.] Different strokes for different folks!
AVC: You obviously realized how bad it was pretty quickly. Did you at least try to convince yourself that it was going to be worth the money?
SP: I don’t know. I look back on it now and realize, you know, when you’re a student and you just want some money to feel like you’re an adult, you’ll pretty much do anything within reason. And I was doing a lot of manual labor, a lot of packing, double-glazing fixtures, stuff like that. But it wasn’t very social. It was just a lot of old men. I used to sit in the break room, and everyone would be asleep, apart from me. It’d just be all these old men, and they’d be asleep, and there would be mice running around my feet, and I’d just sit there, so fucking weirded out. [Laughs.] I had to leave! I can still smell it now. I can still smell it, the animal feed. It’s scarred me for life.
SP: I could go back earlier than this, but one of the defining moments was when George Romero called me after he saw Shaun Of The Dead. I heard that he was going to call, and I waited. I sat by my phone in the kitchen and just waited, and it rang. And it was just the most amazing thing to talk to him and have him sort of say he’d enjoyed the movie. We’d screened it for him in Florida, where he was at the time, and Edgar and I were just so amused by the fact that he had a security guard with him who was guarding the film. Like, “What, he’s gonna rip us off?” [Laughs.] “This film is a rip-off of him! If he wants to put this film on his phone, let him!” It was just the most extraordinary thing.
But he was so gracious and sweet, and I just babbled about reanimation time being slightly faster. And he just went, “Yeah, I liked it!” So to have that degree of circularity… You grow up watching certain films or admiring certain filmmakers, and to write a love letter to one and have them validate it, it’s extraordinary. And he’s remained a friend to this day. So it was a real moment for both of us to chat with him and get to tell him how much his work meant to us.
He’s someone I don’t think gets enough credit for what he created. People just think, “Oh, yeah, zombies, they’ve been around forever.” They haven’t, you know. He invented that particular iteration of the zombie myth. He took it away from the voodoo mythology and turned it into this sort of cannibalistic thing. And I think he should be on the credits of every episode of The Walking Dead. You know, just as a thank you. It’s something he’s not thanked for enough.
SP: Oh, God. Master plan, supervillain… I think I’d probably ban all smoking and drinking. [Laughs.] That’s exactly what I’d do: I’d remove all the cigarettes and alcohol from the world. That would piss so many people off. That’s worse than, like, murdering puppies. For some people.
Not for me. I don’t smoke or drink. I’m extremely self-righteous about that fact. [Laughs.] I’m a sort of 45-year-old reformed man… and I think everybody else should be as well!
SP: I was very normal, I think. And I was a huge fan of movies and acting. My mom was in the sort of community theater, and I always hung around down there, and I was a massive fan of everything I’m kind of involved in now. But fairly ordinary, I think. And cheeky. [Laughs.] Funny.
I hesitate to say I was the class clown, but that was kind of how I interacted with other kids in school, and I very much appreciated the responses I got. The validation of laughter is often a very heavy psychological balm. [Laughs.] Not that I needed it! But, yeah, I think I was a good kid.
AVC: Do you still possess that inner child, so to speak?
SP: Oh, yeah, absolutely! I mean, it’s funny, it’s amazing to me as an adult to be interacting with the kind of things that I gazed at from afar when I was a kid. I lived in the cultural equivalent of Tatooine when I was a little boy. I didn’t live in London, I didn’t live right in the middle of where everything was happening, I lived on the very edge of it. And the idea of actually participating in the world that I was watching seemed a very, very far-off idea to me as a kid. And it still every now again sort of dawns on me when I’m doing something like Mission or Star Trek or whatever. It doesn’t ever fail to occasionally creep up on me and be the source of extreme joy.
SP: [Instantly.] Carrie Fisher. One-hundred percent.
AVC: Pre-bikini? Or was it the bikini that did it for you?
SP: Oh, pre! The bikini was like… I mean, that was just icing on the cake, really. I happened to visit the set of Star Wars when she was there over the summer and got to sort of, like, hold her in my arms. [Laughs.] Which was so nice. And I got have a lovely talk with her, and it was so funny because looking into her eyes, it’s, like, it’s still Princess Leia, you know? She’s still there.
And it was slightly distracting, because when you meet people that you know from other films—as often happens to me, and as tends to happens to you when you’re an actor, you constantly meet people that you’ve seen in other films. But when it’s people who’ve kind of had a seismic effect on your life, it’s quite extraordinary. So I got to tell her. She immediately grabbed my hand to check if I was wearing a wedding ring and said, “Damn you!” [Laughs.] She’s awesome.
AVC: Kudos, by the way, on managing to just about sound casual when delivering the phrase, “I happened to visit the set of Star Wars.”
SP: Oh, well, if one of your best friends is making a Star Wars movie, you’re not gonna not abuse that privilege. [Laughs.] I defy anybody to say otherwise!
SP: Well, I did have entrance music in my stand-up show. I was talking to my wife about this the other day. It was a tune called “Driving South,” by The Stone Roses, off the second Stone Roses album, the one that I don’t want to throw at the zombies in Shaun Of The Dead ’cause I like it. And it’s an awesome rocky track. So either that or, like, “Immigration Song,” by Led Zeppelin. Sorry, “Immigrant Song”! [Laughs.] I was just reading an article in the paper about immigration!
AVC: Weirdly, someone asked me to ask you if you really loved Second Coming as much as your character in the film did.
SP: It’s not as good as the first album, but it is a good album. You know, it’s got “Ten Storey Love Song” on it, “Love Spreads,” “Driving South.” There’s enough merit on it to not slag it off so much. [Laughs.]
SP: Promo. [Laughs.] That’s it. Well, I went to the gym when I got up. I got into L.A. yesterday, so I woke up pretty early, went to the gym to get myself ready, and then I started with a radio interview at 8 a.m. And it is now six minutes past four, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
AVC: Hang on, I know you at least got a lunch break, because I got pushed back by an hour so you could have it.
SP: Yes! I did manage to have lunch. Well done. [Laughs.]
SP: Me and Martin Freeman have a long-running joke that we are interchangeable. Martin’s a very dear friend of mine, and we see each other a lot, and we often regale each other with stories of someone coming up and saying, “Oh, I love you in Shaun Of The Dead!” Or, “Oh, I love you in The Hobbit!” It makes us laugh. [Laughs.]
AVC: Any particular incident where it was someone of note who mistook you?
SP: Well, no, but I was doing promo today, and someone said, “So, Edgar…” I’m, like, “Nope, I’m the other one.” [Laughs.] Also, the guy from Modern Family, the guy who’s in the gay couple [Jesse Tyler Ferguson], I saw him recently, and he told me that he was in some place, and a guy came running and went [In an American accent.] “Aw, man, I think you’re amazing in Shaun Of The Dead!” Anyone who’s got vaguely sort of reddish-brown hair is gonna be mistaken for each other. That’s just the way it is.
SP: I’d still like to work in film, but I’d love to work in the technical side of film. I’d love to work with, say, Greg Nicotero [The Walking Dead] in kind of, like, special makeup effects. I’d probably say, “Good with clay and latex.” Although I don’t know what kind of job that’d get me. [Laughs.]
SP: I collect snowboards, because I’m a bit obsessed with the sport, and I like to stay current with, uh, recent breakthroughs in snowboard technology. [Laughs.] So, yeah, I collect snowboards. The problem is, I get to go snowboarding maybe once or twice a year. So, really, if I get a board, I’m only gonna use it once or twice before I move on to my next one. So I’m trying to stop buying snowboards.
But I’ve actually got a Walking Dead snowboard, which I took off Greg Nicotero, ’cause he’d been given it at the end of a shoot. I saw it at his house, and I said, “You don’t snowboard! Gimme that!” So he did. And it’s still in the wrapping. [Laughs.]
AVC: How did your fascination with snowboarding come about?
SP: I started snowboarding when I was in my 20s, but then I kind of didn’t do it for awhile. And when I was shooting Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, I was in Vancouver, and I needed a way to not miss being away from home. I have a young daughter and a wife who I miss when I’m away, and they couldn’t come with me. And I realized that if I went snowboarding, you can’t think of anything else when you’re snowboarding. You can’t hesitate or think about anything other than not falling off and breaking your neck. If you want a holiday where you’re not gonna think about work and you’re not gonna think about anything, snowboarding is the best way to do it. Or skiing, I guess. I don’t ski, so I don’t know.
But I basically went snowboarding every spare moment I had in Vancouver, contrary to all insurance stipulations. [Laughs.] And I became obsessive about it, so by the end… I started off the shoot very much a novice in terms of my skill, and by the end of the shoot I was boarding with the stunt team. So now I just go every year, and it’s my special treat to myself.
AVC: Any particular kind?
SP: I do have an affinity for John’s Pizza, in New York. I remember going there the first time I ever went to New York. The John’s on Bleecker Street. I just love those great big—you know, they don’t have names. They’re not called anything but numbers. Just, like, number 1 through 30. I like a number 14. They’re big, and there’s a thin and crispy, lovely base. Ay-yi-yi, they taste so good.
AVC: What toppings do you prefer?
SP: I like the Neapolitan topping. I quite like an anchovy, black olive. I do like a sausage, but with pizza, it’s so savory when you get the saltiness of the anchovies with the olives and the cheese… Oh, Jesus Christ, I want a pizza now! [Laughs.]
Bonus 12th question from Christopher Stanley of Mad Men: “If you could have another artist’s career, either living or dead, whose career would it be and why?”
SP: That’s a lovely question. Maybe somebody like Ian McKellen, you know, who’s just worked his entire life. It’d be really nice to get to Ian McKellen’s age and still be playing, like, superheroes and stuff. [Laughs.] It’s pretty amazing, really, when you think about it. He’s well into the evening of life, and yet he’s still playing amazing characters and just being in really fun stuff, and yet he’s still doing small stuff and theater. So that would be wonderful.
And I’d also get the chance to be gay, which I haven’t so far. So it’s the best of both worlds, really. [Laughs.]
AVC: And now you get the chance to ask a question of the next person, whosoever it may be.
SP: Oh, okay. Right, let me think of something that’s sort of a career-based question. Has there ever been a point in your career when you thought seriously about changing it to something else, and why? That’ll probably lead to some awful personal soul-searching, so, yeah, have you ever felt like swapping jobs? [Laughs.]
AVC: Was there ever that sort of moment for you?
SP: Not really. I mean, I love my job very much, and I don’t think I would change it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t, because I can’t do anything else. [Laughs.] But sometimes you feel like, “Oh, Jesus…” Sometimes what goes along with it is kind of tiring. Sometimes you just wish you could make a film and then have it on DVD so you can see your mom. But, no, I’ve never really had that moment. Not really. Not seriously.