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Star Trek – Simon Pegg interview

Simon Pegg talks Star Trek

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SIMON Pegg talks about his delight at playing Scotty in JJ Abrams’ new Star Trek movie, what it was like to act in front of Leonard Nimoy for the first time and why the odd number rule about the Star Trek movies – as made up by his character in TV’s Spaced – no longer applies.

Q. When you were a little boy did you ever play Star Trek characters and if so, which did you play?
Simon Pegg: Yeah, I was a fan of the show as a kid. I’ve watched the show since I was nine. I remember it being on BBC 2 at six o’clock tea-time and being utterly beguiled by it. I sort of found my science fiction legs with Star Wars obviously because that sort of exploded in 1977 and was very much a brash lightshow. And then I got more into science fiction and enjoyed the cerebral nature of Star Trek, which is what they had to do because they didn’t have the resources to do what they did in Star Wars in 1965. It was something that was almost like a play every week. Getting into that as I got older I just completely fell in love with it. So to become a part of it, as a nerd, which is what I am – sorry, but it’s true – is extraordinary. And to do scenes… when Chris and I were doing our scenes with Leonard Nimoy, it was kind of weird, because he was talking to me as the man I’ve known since I was nine. And it’s not a man from this planet, it’s a man from Vulcan with pointed ears. So. it was kind of odd to have Leonard look at me and say lines and me not go “Waaheeooo” and become very excited and need to go to the toilet.

So, for me the joy of being part of this story, on a daily basis I wake up and pinch myself. I came slightly later to the shooting because it was a long shoot and everyone had already met each other, but when I joined the crew, and I finally came on board, it felt so right. In a weird kind of hippyish way, we already knew each other and immediately clicked. It was a great feeling and the spirit of togetherness that pervades Star Trek was very much there on the set. It was extraordinary. I’ve just gushed my way into forgetting what the question was. There you go, I’m a nerd.

Q. Do you need to be a fan of the show to enjoy the movie? 
Simon Pegg: Chris [Pine] is absolutely right, you don’t have to be a fan, but if you are a Star Trek fan there is a lot in it for you. There is a level of conversation between viewer and film with this that if you do know Star Trek you’ll get lots of little bits and pieces and you’ll feel spoken to and acknowledged. It’s an important fanbase, Star Trek. They’re dedicated, they love their stuff. It’s an important thing. And what JJ has miraculously managed to achieve with this… which I think when a lot of people in the past have tried to appeal to a existing fanbase and a new viewership, they’ve found that it’s a very hard balance to strike. I think this nails it completely because you can watch this without knowing anything about the pre-existing history and love it for the sheer adventure and human story and the ideas of it. But if you do know it, and you see that the surface of Vulcan looks a little bit like Vasquez rocks in California where they shot the episode Reno [check this] – nerd – you think “fantastic”. It just nails it, so I’m very proud.

Q. Is it true that you initially turned down the part and, if so, how did you feel when you were actually in character and in front of Leonard Nimoy?
Simon Pegg: I never turned it down. JJ emailed me, like he does… rather than just go through all the usual rigmaroll, I just got an email saying: “Would you like to play Scotty?” Just going “yes please” felt ridiculous. I felt like I should take a couple of days to think about it. But I was always going to say yes.

Q. How much were you influenced by your predecessors?
Simon Pegg: Well, for myself and Karl [Urban], sadly our counterparts have sadly left us. For me, I met up with Chris Doohan, who was James Doohan’s son, and we had lots of chats about his dad. I never went into this wanting to impersonate James. I wanted to pay homage to him and do a performance that he would like perhaps, just as a viewer. So, I had that connection.

Q. I noted a couple of big similarities between this and Star Wars. One of them was giving Simon Pegg a little side-kick who, in a film that’s full of perfect plays for the fan-boy audience, might be a little controversial. Have you created an Ewok or Jar Jar Binks kind of thing? Being absolutely honest Simon, how do you feel about that character?
Simon Pegg: The fact is that Scottie is not alone on that planet and there’s another guy with him who just happens to be an oyster-faced little guy called Kiso, played by the brilliant actor Deep Roy, who is a fantastic actor. I think the multi-cultural nature of space is something I think is always interesting. Kinso’s no Jar Jar man, come on. What we really liked about that whole thing was the notion that these two guys had been pretty much stranded together alone and have developed a sort of odd-couple relationship where they don’t really like each other but would probably miss each other when they’re apart. It was just another part of trying to create a universe that is varied and multi-cultural. I think the comparison to Star Wars is simply that we’re not seeing Trek in an aesthetic which is more comparable to the effects in those films now. We’re now seeing Star Trek in a way that perhaps Trek fans would perhaps always have liked to have seen Star Trek, which is huge and with every possibility realised.

Q. Your TV series Spaced was peppered with pop culture references. How do you feel about becoming part of the pop culture yourself? Have you now broken the space-time continuum? 
Simon Pegg: I don’t know how many people know this but in Spaced there’s a line where I’m talking about things that are sure in life and I say that every odd-numbered Star Trek film is shit. This was back when there were only seven or so and it was a widely held controversial geek’s eye view of Star Trek. But that’s not true anymore. That’s most certainly been disproved by this movie. It’s lovely to be a part of it. I am a self-professed fan of this kind of stuff and a geek, and to go from doing a sitcom about a guy whose life ends basically when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace comes out… I think if I was still doing Spaced now there would be an entire episode dedicated to how Tim Bisley, my character, would just be orgasmic about this movie. This is everything he wanted that film to be and wasn’t. The irony of being part of that is not lost on me at all, I can assure you.

Read our review of Star Trek