As a filmmaking team, director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have put their unique satirical spin on zombie films (Shaun of the Dead), buddy cop pictures (Hot Fuzz) and now with their latest collaboration, The World's End, alien invasion features. But as with the previous two installments in the so-called "Cornetto Trilogy," there's a lot going under the surface of this rollicking sci-fi comedy, which stars Pegg as Gary King, a pushing-40 drunkard who reunites his four teenage pals (including Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and, of course, Frost) in order to relive an epic pub crawl in their quaint hometown that they never had the chance to complete. On a recent press tour through New York, the trio discussed the deeper meanings of The World's End and where that evocative title comes from.
Edgar Wright on the Origins of The World's End
When I was 21, I had written a script about teenagers going on a pub crawl that I never did anything with. It was way later, after Hot Fuzz, that I thought there might be something in the idea of trying to recreate that night. What the film is about -- and what all the movies we've done are sort of about -- is the perpetual adolescent figure and in the third one, we wanted to deal with the dangers of not growing up. The thing with the arrested adolescent is that age gets older and older. It used to be 30 is the new 20 and now 40 is the new 30 and it's like, when does that stop? The idea of the movie is, you've got five friends, four of them are grown-ups and one, Gary, who wants to be 18 again. And in a way, if there's any time travel aspect to the movie, it's that alcohol is the time machine -- it's the thing that's going to make you more juvenile. He's getting his friends drunk so they can all be teenagers again.
Wright and Simon Pegg on Their Sci-Fi Influences
Wright: I used to watch a lot of sci-fi on British TV as a kid before I even knew what the word "genre" met. Not only Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but Village of the Damned, Invaders from Mars, Quatermass, Doctor Who, The Prisoner. Also in the UK there was a whole bunch of Hammer films that ripped off Quatermass like X the Unknown and The Earth Died Screaming. One of the things we wanted to tap into in The World's End was the sci-fi movies we watched as kids. And the whole alien invasion aspect to the movie is almost like a coping mechanism. Both Simon and I are from small towns and we've experienced that bittersweet feeling of returning home and finding that your hometown has changed without you. So the sci-fi element of the movie is an amplification of that feeling.
Pegg: We didn't want this film to be a comment on science fiction cinema in any way. We wanted to use science fiction as the genre trope to get our point across. It seemed like the obvious thing when your story is about the alienation you feel when you return to your hometown. We simply took the word "alienation" to its literal conclusion. We didn't watch many sci-fi films before making this. We watched It's Always Fair Weather, a Gene Kelly musical about three guys reuniting after the war and finding they have nothing in common, and we watched The Big Chill, because we thought it would be funny to make a film like The Big Chill but where the corpse came along to the party. So Gary is basically Kevin Costner. [Laughs] But sci-fi is always a great metaphor, because it's using the non-real to describe the real. That's where I think sci-fi to some degree has lost its way in the last 30 years or so, because it's become more about the spectacle and not the poetry of it. Science fiction has always been a great way of looking at our futures or our relationships with technology or each other or outer space or God or whatever. And since special effects have become so good, it's all about fighting and robots. Although I think that Star Trek, which has recently been reborn, is still very much related to classic sci-fi. J.J. Abrams is a very intelligent filmmaker, so it's still very metaphorical. For example, Star Trek Into Darkness is a gigantic, exciting space thing, but really it's about friendship and family.
Wright on Creating an Unlikeably Likeable Hero
Gary King is a guy that both Simon and I know; we all know someone like him. And even though he's a character who has problems, we have a lot of compassion for him, because there's a part of him that genuinely wants his friends back together and when he realizes he can't have that, he starts to become more self-destructive. The movie is ultimately about a man running away from therapy and triggering two interventions. By bringing his friends together, he triggers his own intervention and then at the end of the movie it's like a cosmic intervention. Also notice that at the start of the movie, one person -- Gary -- is narrating it and talks about missing 1990, while none of the other guys seem to miss 1990. But at the very end, somebody else is the narrator and the final thing they admit to is being wistful about the past. So at the beginning, only Gary King is nostalgic for the past, but at the end -- through some kind of a global disaster -- another character is getting wistful about the past. That was another idea about the film, about [nostalgia] being cyclical.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on Filming the Action Sequences
Nick Frost: I played rugby from age 7 to 21 and I kickboxed when I was 30 for four or five years. Then before this film, I did a dance movie with Rashida Jones and Chris O'Dowd, Cuban Fury, so I trained for seven hours a day every day for seven months to become a dancer. So in terms of learning vast choreographies, I was good. And with all the kicking and the punching, it was like a dream role for me in terms of the action.
Pegg: We trained with a guy called Brad Allen, who is one of Jackie Chan's stunt people. We wanted to incorporate Jackie Chan's cinematic style of fighting; because he does all the stunts, it allows the characters to be maintained throughout the action sequences. Often in cinema, when you cut to an action sequence, it'll be handed over to the stunt performers and you'll get lots of quick cutaways and quick close-ups so you can hide the fact that it's not the actors. But by that, you lose the characters that the actors have created. So just like when Jackie fights, we wanted you to see that it's us, that we do everything. So we trained with Brad and Damien Walters, who has an incredible show reel on YouTube, which enabled us to shoot the fight scenes in wide shots and long takes so you could see more of the action and it felt more fluid. Edgar, Brad and Damien designed these incredible sequences where the camera seems to drift around the fight instead of constantly cutting in.
Frost: There are only two things we didn't do throughout the film and that involved diving through fake glass.
Pegg and Wright On the Evolution of the Cornetto Trilogy
Pegg: When we started out, we would never have been so arrogant to assume we'd be given the opportunity to make three movies. We were very lucky that Shaun of the Dead got a release on the British cinema circuit, let alone an international one. When we came to do Hot Fuzz, we realized what we'd done was create two films that were tonally sequential -- not direct sequels, but with thematic links. So we thought maybe we could make a third one that could be of a piece with the other two, making a series of three films you could conceivably regard as a trilogy and watch all three to see us developing and refining certain ideas over time. We thought if we did it succinctly over three films it would be quite a nice thing to do and something that perhaps hadn't been seen before, even to the point of having a joke take place over three films. Like, the fence gag is a three-part gag.
Wright: We've approached the movies like Michael Apted's 7 Up series in that we can get older doing them. Simon and Nick aren't the same characters from Shaun of the Dead because they're ten years older. Since then, they've both become husbands and fathers. I feel I see a lot of movies -- what I call the man-child comedies -- where people pretend to be 26 forever. And that always feels forced to me, that people who pretend to be like loveable stoners and stuff in reality have got wives and kids.
Wright on the Rise of British Comedy in America
When Shaun of the Dead came out in this country, we were pleasantly surprised that people got on board with it. As a result, with Hot Fuzz and The World's End, we never really tried to change anything. When you try to make things more transatlantic to appeal to an international audience, audiences on both sides of the pond smell a rat. I think a lot of British films in the '80s and '90s tried to be more transatlantic by including an American in the cast. It was like, "Don't be afraid of this British film -- Andie MacDowell's in it!" So I'm very proud that with these three films, we kept it British. In this day and age, with the Internet and the amount of shows on both sides of the pond, it's leveled things out. I don't think there's ever been a problem of the U.S. not getting British humor, it's just exposure. It always used to amuse me that before the late '90s, it seemed like the only British shows you had over here were two of the dumbest ones and the smartest one! There's a big gulf between Monty Python and Benny Hill.
On Pegg and Frost's Comic Chemistry
Frost: After Simon and I wrote Paul, there was some kind of online discussion about whether or not I helped write this, but my thought was that Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz work fine without me there writing, so I would have hated to have come and helped and it turned out really bad. Because then I would have got the blame for it! I'm always the first to get the script and it's like having a suit made for you with a really good tailor. It fits great right away and I just ask for tiny little refinements. There's not a funny line count, we don't get jealous at the end of the day.
Pegg: We're actors, so it's fun to mix up our comic personas. In Shaun and Hot Fuzz, my characters are both reactive. Shaun and Nicholas Angel are both reacting to what's happening around them, whereas Ed and Danny are forces of proactivity. In World's End, I'm the more proactive force and Nick is more reactive and it felt like a fun way to change it up a little bit. By changing the dynamics of our roles so I'm less of the straight man in this one felt right for the story.
Wright: Not only are they great actors and getting better as well, but they've known each other twenty years and I think the chemistry that comes from that is just honesty. To get performances like that with actors who don't know each other, you could get there but it would take a long time. And amongst the five lead actors, everyone sort of knew each other. Paddy and Eddie are good friends, Nick and Eddie are good friends and Simon and Martin are best friends. So to have those five together -- even for those who didn't know each other -- they immediately locked in. I watched them and thought, "These guys have known each other forever."
Wright on the Origin of the Movie's 12 Pub Names
All of the pubs in the movie are named after real pubs. There are many "World's End" pubs in the U.K. -- there's about four in London alone. There's one specific one that Simon and I used to meet at in in North London, near a cinema that we used to go to. Simon went on his first date with his now-wife at The World's End, he and I used to meet there before going to the cinema and Nick fell off the wagon there after two years of not drinking. It always used to strike me as a weird thing to say: "I'll meet you at The World's End," so when we came up with the idea, I said, "It has to be called The World's End." Once we worked out the plot of the movie and we know it was going to be 12 pubs -- 12 steps, very pointedly -- then we went back and took real pub names and attributed them to different scenes. The idea is that the names of the pubs are like tarot cards, they each tell you something happening in the scene. And I find pub names quite fascinating because they're very descriptive. Some of them have a history to them, but most of them just put a fancy name on a very shitty bar. I always used to find that fascinating. It was like, "Oh, The King's Head!" But then you go in and it's a shithole. [Laughs] I do have a love/hate relationship with pubs, because the homogenization of the chains makes me feel like I'm in an M.C. Escher sketch. All the signage and everything is the same. My pet hate, which is in the movie, is that fake chalk writing, which is supposed to look handwritten, but it's actually done in a factory. If you notice throughout the movie, the signage is all the same in every single bar. The only thing that changes is the name of the bar and the number -- we put a bunch of hidden numbers in so you could count your way through the movie.
Watch a featurette about The World's End below
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