How To Lose Friends & Alienate People - Simon Pegg interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
SIMON Pegg talks about taking the lead in How To Lose Friends And Alienate People and overcoming the difficulty of playing such a potentially obnoxious character.
He also lists his own personal favourite films (apart from Con Air) and explains why he’s still taking each day as it comes when it comes to dealing with his burgeoning film career.
Q. This is one of the most complex characters you’ve played. We should loathe him, but we don’t. How did you prepare to play such a peculiar individual?
Simon Pegg: I hung out with Toby Young. I did actually meet Toby a couple of times before we started shooting, but I made a decision quite early on not to play him, especially seeing that Peter Straughan – who wrote the script – had fictionalised Tony’s memoirs and created a fictional version of Toby. I kind of figured I had free range to play the part from the page, rather than from the man. But it was very much there in Peter’s script. He did a great job of adapting a book, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a screen adaptation. The book is a series of very funny anecdotes, knitted together with musings on meritocracy. On the page, that whole journey that Sidney makes, from being objectionable to perhaps someone with some humility, was very much there… so I have to thank Peter for that.
Q. Was the film perfect timing in the sense that you’ve made it over here, but are now trying to make it in America… much like your character in the film?
Simon Pegg: I suppose so… I don’t have a game plan. I’m not trying to make it in America particularly, I just want to work and keep doing good stuff and working with good people. Inevitably, there is an incredibly prolific centre of production over there. You have an amazing film industry, which is extremely busy, so inevitably as an actor you’re going to gravitate towards that part of the world. So, there were definitely parallels about being British in America. You do realise when you spend a lot of time over there that you are a foreigner. It’s tempting to believe that we’re part of the same continent, and that because we speak the same language, we’re country fellows – but we’re not particularly, especially when you’re trying to sell a film like Shaun of the Dead over there. You are taking a foreign film to America, and you have to do a lot of convincing.
Q. You’ve been the subject of a few newspaper profiles yourself. But what’s the worst one you can remember?
Simon Pegg: I think there was a profile of me once in a Sunday newspaper that had clearly just read my Wikipedia page, which is full of apocryphal nonsense – and it said that I had a black ponytail once. I never did! But I can honestly say that’s the worst thing that’s been written about me.
Q. Have you had many of your own pinch me moments during your career so far, such as standing on the deck of the Starship Enterprise in full costume perhaps?
Simon Pegg: [Pinch-me moments] keep happening all the time when you’re in LA, just because it’s the centre of industry and everybody’s there, so you constantly find yourself in those weird situations – and it’s never not surprising to me. Working on this movie and doing those scenes with Jeff Bridges… I remember going to see him in Tron when I was seven. So, to be there acting alongside him was amazing. So, those incidents are probably all too frequent to even pick out a single one because that’s the nature of the beast as it were… to go from being born in rural Gloucestershire and then winding up doing those kind of things is amazing. I hope it always is amazing and I hope I don’t get tired of it all, or find it boring.
Q. You tend to play very likeable characters on-screen, but do you have any plans to subvert that in the future?
Simon Pegg: As I say, I don’t really have a game plan. I don’t pick them because of that. You write a script, or you read a script, and you do it. I’ve only done Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Run Fat Boy Run and this. I don’t know if patterns are emerging, then they might be deceptive. The most important thing for me is that I enjoy my job, I enjoy going to work in the morning and making the film. For me, that’s what it’s all about… the daily process of making a film is so much fun and anything else that follows is just a necessary evil [laughs]. I just want to do stuff that I enjoy and work with people that I really get some satisfaction from working with. I’m not planning it all out now, thinking I’ve got to play a villain or a serial killer because I’ve played two nice guys in a row or whatever.
Q. This looked like a fun film to make. How much fun did you have on set? And how did you enjoy having Kirsten Dunst as a romantic partner?
Simon Pegg: I genuinely had a great time making this movie. Myself and Kirsten had a great time and I think she’s a remarkable person in terms of the amount of experience she’s had. She’s been working since she was three and that brings a lot of wisdom, but she’s still only 26, so she’s got that odd mix of wisdom and youth. We spent a lot of time making each other laugh. Having said that, working with Jeff [Bridges] was incredible. He guy is a legend and for me to get to work with him was fantastic. And similarly working with Megan [Fox], who is just coming through and suddenly wowing the world, she’s… when they first called “cut” on her first big scene I think everybody was surprised. There was a palpable sense of “my God, she can act as well”. If I could have it this way, I would make a film, then have it on a DVD, give it to my Mum and then go make the next one. That would be the perfect set up for me.
Q. Your character claims Con Air to be the greatest film ever made. Assuming that it’s not… what is?
Simon Pegg: I don’t know, it’s a tough one. I don’t really think in absolutes like that because there are so many great films out there. I mean, for me I suppose one of the films that convinced me that filmmaking could be funny – not just in terms of the script, but also in terms of the direction and the camera work – is Raising Arizona by the Coen brothers. I just think it’s one of the best comic movies of all time and I’d put it up there in my list, definitely.