It’s hard not to be a little intimidated walking into a conference room where Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and Edgar Wright are waiting for you. They’re all funny guys with intimidating British accents--and, of course, they’ve all known each other forever. On a long press day at the Four Seasons in Austin, it’d be hard to blame them if they opted to amuse themselves by taking the piss out of us.
The three longtime friends are in town to promote The World’s End, the third film in the "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy," which also comprises Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and aside from a bit of mocking piss-taking about the strict definition of "trilogy," they’re unfailingly polite and thoughtful when they talk about the film.
It’s been six years since the three of them have made a movie together, and The World’s End builds on the time off--stars Pegg and Frost are both past 40 now (with director Wright not far behind), and there’s a more grown-up perspective to the film that allows them to add more than a few dashes of melancholy to their comedy palette. The time away from one another as collaborators seems to have served them well, too--Pegg brings in things he picked up from his Star Trek and Mission Impossible roles, Wright carries lessons he learned making Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Frost things from his time on Snow White and the Huntsman. The movie itself is a thrill, watching different ways for the trio to explore the lessons of life through their love of genre film together. And it all seems to lead to an important creative lesson for their fans, too: the benefits of working with your friends. So what are the best things about taking on a project like making a movie with your best friends?
Gary King, the character that Pegg plays in The World’s End, is a burnt-out loser who never got over the brief period in his teens during which he was cool. And the film, which hinges on King’s attempt to reunite his school friends to complete a legendary pub crawl that they failed when they were in school, parallels the experience of its stars and its director, who had taken years away from working together to focus on projects independently.
According to Wright, though, that parallel is only half right--though the other half explains why they needed that time away in the first place. "What spoils that theory somewhat is that we came up with the idea on the Hot Fuzz press tour six years ago," he says. "But that said, we felt--me and Simon--that we couldn’t have written this script six years ago. So when we did reunite to write it in 2011, having thought about the story for a long time, we had a lot of extra material because we were older."
Wright has an unlikely comparison for the experience of working on the films he’s made with Pegg and Frost: The Seven Up documentary series by Michael Apted. "We get to be slightly older each time," he says. "It’s good to do a film about a reunion when we’re reuniting to write it."
The three films that Wright, Frost, and Pegg have made together are called "The Cornetto Trilogy," but it’s really just an inside joke between the filmmakers and some of their fans about some ice cream that appears in all three films. ("How dare you talk about Cornetto as 'some ice cream,' Wright says in a mock-outraged tone when asked about it). But to some extent, the elements that tie the three films together could have been a trap, if the three of them weren’t all on the same page.
"The truth is, they’re all written by myself and Edgar, directed by Edgar, starring me and Nick, and also a sort-of repertory cast," Pegg explains. "They’re all about the individual versus the collective; they’re all set in the U.K.; they’re all set now. They all deal with personal change in a certain way, whether it be growing up or growing down, or learning to let go--and in that respect, there is a very strong thematic connection between them."
That held its appeal to them when they started, and carried their idea of what they could do when it came time to make The World’s End. "In the first two films, we had used a sort of popular genre in order to smuggle in slightly more thoughtful films than they might appear on the surface," Frost says. "That’s exactly what we wanted to do with this one: use the science-fiction element as a metaphor for a variety of things that enhance the points we’re trying to make about nostalgia, and about change--social change and personal change."
With that in mind, it’s perhaps a little strange to think of the films as a concluded trilogy--aren’t they just a series of movies that the guys have fun making together, about things they’re interested in, that express a particular worldview? But Frost says that concluding the trilogy with The World’s End frees them up to explore new ideas next time around.
"We won’t be bound by the same criteria next time," he says. "We can take it elsewhere. We can set it in a different place or a different time. We don’t have to include the little gag links [that connect the films], like the fence joke or the Cornetto."
The World’s End wouldn’t be the movie that it is if they hadn’t taken the time away from working together after making Hot Fuzz. That’s not just true because Pegg and Wright needed the time to grow up, either--they also needed to meet the people they met on their various other projects to assemble the team that would make this film.
"I think you’re very lucky when you meet people that you think, He’s a keeper," Frost says. "Edgar went and found [stunt coordinator] Brad Allen and [cinematographer] Bill Pope, and I found [actor] Eddie Marsan. It broadens your horizons slightly, and you meet people with a similar mind-tuning thing. It makes our palette a lot richer."
Pegg is clear that big-budget productions and smaller films aren’t particularly different, though. "The actual process of filmmaking doesn’t change particularly, because it’s similar no matter what size budget you’re working on," he says. "You’ve always got a camera crew, and the sound people, and the director, and the DP. The actors, they’re in that little eye of the storm doing their thing. The trappings of it change and the size of the sets change--the amount of trucks increases--but we’ve all learned things and brought them back to our own experience. It’s great fun to come back and tell each other stories about what we’ve been through. The amount of stories that Eddie [Marsan] and Nick had about working on Snow White with the rest of the dwarves could fill the entire film."
Or, as Frost puts it, "It makes the make-up sex a lot better."
"To me, it didn’t feel any different at all," Wright says when asked if working with Pegg and Frost was different for him now that he’s worked on major Hollywood productions like Scott Pilgrim, or having taken production meetings with Marvel about his forthcoming Ant-Man feature.
That’s something that Frost attributes to their friendship. "It felt exactly the same," he says. "I think it’s partly because we’re best friends, and we’ve all been best friends for years and years. For me, it felt like we wrapped Hot Fuzz on Friday and we started this on Monday."
Still, there is one element of this production that stood out to Pegg, fresh off of Star Trek Into Darkness. "When we walked into our little three-way trailers on our first day of Shaun of the Dead, we were like, 'Wow,' " he laughs. "If we had walked into one of those trailers now, we’d go, 'What the fuck is this?' "
Frost, Pegg, and Wright all get very animated when discussing the themes of The World’s End, which they see as a response to what Wright calls "the American man-child comedy." And the back-and-forth between the men betrays their easy camaraderie (and bears a verbatim telling here).
Wright: "There are a lot of comedies, especially in the last 20 years, that glorify the idea of being . . ."
Pegg: [singing] "Forever young!"
Wright:"Everything from, like, Billy Madison to The Hangover. And usually they don’t show too much dark side--or any dark side, and it ends up glorifying the idea that you can be a big idiot forever. We wanted to do something that was a bit more realistic, that was a bit rawer. We like to think of it as a dark chocolate with sea salt inside. It’s a yummy chocolate, and every now and then, you go 'ooh.' "
Pegg: "A chocolate with a chile in it. It’s also that thing where in those films, there’s no consequences to it, to his actions."
Wright: "If anything, they’re rewarded for being stupid."
Frost: "They take his job. So he burns his bridges and tells his boss to fuck off. In the end, it’s fine, because he gets to open his dream bakery. You don’t always get to open your dream bakery."
Wright: "What about this? Nick Frost in Dream Bakery. 'A Hero Will Rise.' You in? I’d love to see a film called Dream Bakery.
Frost: "Yeah, set it in Tokyo."
Frost and Pegg have played best friends on screen since they costarred on the BBC sitcom Spaced, which debuted in 1999, and both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz revolved around their relationship with one another. When it came time to write The World’s End, the two were determined to find a new way to approach things.
"We always thought, 'Where can we go next?' with mine and Nick’s on-screen relationship," Pegg says--which made the contentious, long-faded friendship full of bad blood that the two share in The World’s End a compelling choice.
That history allowed them to play Gary, Pegg’s character, much darker than they might have otherwise. "If you know a little bit about us and have seen us play very, very close friends, then this is a nice way to turn that on its head," Pegg says. "Doing that the first time probably wouldn’t have been as effective."
There’s a lot that’s effective about The World’s End--it’s a weird, sad, funny movie about friendship and the challenges that people can only really overcome when they get together with their oldest friends. So of course it makes sense that Pegg, Wright, and Frost would make this movie together.
[Images Courtesy of Universal Pictures]