Run, Fat Boy, Run - Simon Pegg interview
Interview by Jack Foley
SIMON Pegg talks about the challenge of re-writing Run, Fat Boy, Run for an English audience, making his character forgivable and why running is an odd thing really…
He also talks about connecting with child co-star Matthew Fenton, out-joking female co-star Thandie Newton and getting nervous at film premieres…
Q. The script was initially set in America and started out quite different. Can you tell us a bit about the transformation?
Simon Pegg: It was set in New York, so I had a crack at it to Anglicise it, which involved a combination of things, a cultural translation and also linguistics – not just “sidewalk” to “pavement” but also rhythms in speech that were interesting to eek out. The original was also perhaps a little more sentimental, which is OK in an American context because they’re OK with emotion, they’re not as ashamed of it as we are [laughs]. I think we’re a little bit more reserved and less inclined to emote. So there was a little shift tonally as well to make it not more cynical – because that’s negative – but more British. It was an interesting process. I also added a few more scenes and the Harish Patel character was originally an Italian. I went onto a website of Indian names to find a Hindi name that began with “G” that was long and found Ghoshdashtidar, which is a lovely name. Harish is one of the funniest men… and he’s the closest human being to a perfect circle as well [laughs]!
Q. How did you make your character appear likeable for audiences given the starting point of the film?
Simon Pegg: Well, it’s a hell of an awful thing he does at the top of the film and one of the challenges of re-writing it was trying to solidify why the hell we should ever feel sorry for him because he does an awful thing, particularly for the female audience. They’d think: “Why the hell should I like this guy? He’s an asshole!” He just jilted a pregnant woman. But the point was he feels that if he goes through with marrying her he’d ruin her life. In a bizarre, skewed, silly way he thinks, as he says, that spoiling her day is better than ruining her life. It’s also part of what makes Libby’s character so loveable because she permits him to be part of her son’s life, which is an incredibly selfless thing to do. The trick with the film is to make Dennis somebody that you could believe redeemed himself – even if he’d done this awful thing, he’s done it in a bizarre way for an unselfish reason.
Q. Do you enjoy running?
Simon Pegg: It’s an odd thing the human thing that we‘d put ourselves through something that’s ostensibly tiring and annoying for no other reason than it makes us maybe fitter! I love running on a treadmill… slowly. But the idea of doing a marathon is bizarre, I think. I suppose it’s testing yourself and pushing yourself to the limit – seeing if you can complete something that’s almost insurmountable. But it is a weirdly human thing. Obviously cheetahs do it but they’re chasing gazelles! We don’t chase gazelles…. I don’t know where I’m going with this! Did I say I was hungover? [laughs]
Q. Did you know David [Schwimmer] first from Band Of Brothers?
Simon Pegg: Yes, but he didn’t talk to me back then! I played his sergeant. But Band of Brothers was great because it was like all the actors in the UK between the ages of 18 and 30 all pretending to be soldiers. You could smell the testosterone in the air!
Q. What was it like working with Hank Azaria?
Simon Pegg: He’s incredibly funny. My time with Hank was just spent…. because we’re both comedy geeks. We’re both big fans of comedy so it was kind of like Python quotes and stuff. He’s a massive Python fan and he took me to see Spamalot on our first night out together. And because I’m a huge Simpsons fan he’d just do Simpsons voices for me like that! He had no problems, he wasn’t like: “I can’t do that, I’m not a performing monkey!” He’d just go bang into it to the point where he would just go [mimics a Simpsons voice] at the point where the camera started rolling and I’d be laughing when “action” was called.
His character is interesting as well because one of the things we did was to make Whit a little more complex, so that when you first meet him it’s not evident that he’s necessarily the bad guy. We kind of thought it would be nice if in the first scene he seemed like a nice proposition – he’s good with Jake, he’s funny, he’s good looking, he’s built well… He didn’t wear a modesty patch, by the way, in that scene in the locker room. I was face to face with little Hank for quite a long time that day. Again, I don’t know why I mention that. But it’s not until later on that you realise he is the bad guy and the archetypes start to get in place.
Q. Did Hank Azaria’s Simpsons connection endear him to young Matthew Fenton?
Simon Pegg: He’d do voices for Matthew, yeah, but then Matthew just kind of took everything in his stride. He’s a weird adult child. He used to love hanging out with us on set and Hank was always very forward in doing Mo or whatever.
Q. How did you go about establishing a paternal bond with Matthew?
Simon Pegg: Thandie and I had a running battle on set of trying to out-joke each other and I used Matthew in a joke once that I had to make work without damaging or exploiting him in any way. So, I said: “Wow, your hands are amazing, show me your hands…” And then: “Show me every finger.” So I photographed every finger and sent Thandie that picture [of the middle finger raised]. He never knew that I was exploiting him [laughs]. His mum will read this and kill me! But I did talk to him like he was a grown-up. I never babied him. I’d drop swear words in front of him because it made him laugh and then pretend I was sorry – never anything too bad. The whole s***head thing… you know what kids are like, they laugh. I just met him in the middle. On the one hand, he is a complete whirlwind of a child and you can’t keep his attention for longer than two seconds. He starts talking about something else. But it was just a case of hanging out and being his mate. He really responded to that.
Q. How did you find the reaction at the film’s premiere?
Simon Pegg: It was great. It’s always nerve-wracking. I don’t like being in those situations really. Premieres are an odd occasion because it’s a mixture of adrenaline and genuine unease in every part of it. You can relax afterwards at the party but even then you’re being pulled around. But during the actual watching of the film I was thinking: “Am I having a heart attack? What’s going on?” My heart was racing. But it’s always nice to be validated by the response of the crowd. Sometimes they can be a little stiff but at the premiere they were lovely and it was a great vindication for us.