This weekend, frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost will once again grace the big screen together. The duo have previously appeared in the hits Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and now they’re taking the sci-fi genre by storm with Paul. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Pegg about his latest feature and we discussed everything under the sun: aliens, Comic-Con, “Spaced,” and even “Cougar Town!” It was an interesting and fun conversation to say the least!
Check out the interview below…
Before we get into anything Paul related, I have to ask you one thing: did you see the “Cougar Town” homage to “Spaced?”
Simon Pegg: Yes, I did. I thought it was very funny.
Did you like the fact that they directly said ‘I love Spaced’ at the end of it?
SP: I thought it was sweet because by saying that they were acknowledging the fact that they were basically doing what we’ve already done [laughs]. It’s a smart way of making a reference and at the same time being able to do the same thing again, which I’ve based my entire career on. I’m fine with that. I thought it was lovely because the vast majority of people watching that show would never have seen “Spaced” and they’re like. ‘What did he say? I love space? What does that mean?’ It was a lovely nod. It’s amazing for us. We made a little comedy for no money back in the late-nineties in Britain that we never thought would get seen outside of the U.K. Then for it to be paid homage to in a huge American TV show it’s a real privilege. I consider it somewhat of an honor.
For those of you who haven’t seen the Cougar Town “Spaced” homage, here it is:
Now that that’s out of the way, what made you and Nick want to make a sci-fi film? Do you guys have a thing for campy, genre projects?
SP: We don’t ever approach it like we’re checking genre boxes. We like to make the kind of films that we like to see. We made Shaun of the Dead because we wanted to make a zombie film not because we wanted to say anything about horror. I mean, Hot Fuzz perhaps was more of a parody than anything we’ve done because it sent up the notion of the action film by putting it in a different context. Paul is a sci-fi film, it isn’t a comment on sci-fi.
Why did you guys name the alien Paul and where did this story come from?
SP: When we were making Shaun of the Dead, it was raining a lot and we thought ‘Oh, why can’t we make a film somewhere where it’s always hot?’ And then we thought over by the desert, and then the desert became Area 51, and that became aliens and we thought how are we going to put ourselves into that? So we’d have to be a couple of British tourists who’d captured an alien and the alien’s name was Paul. The joke was that he had this ordinary name. We never changed it. The idea became that he crash landed on a dog who’s name was Paul. If we properly thought about it longer, we probably would have gone with Rex or Fido. I mean, Paul just stuck.
How did you go about casting the voice of the character?
SP: That was a gradual process because initially we wanted an older actor to play the part because we wanted Paul to sound very worldly-wise, and sort of gravelly. Like an old guy really. His species only lived to about 300 earth years and he was probably about 100, and he’d been on earth for 60 of those years. We figured we should get somebody like Rip Torn or Kurt Russell, you know someone who’s been around the block.
Why was Seth Rogen chosen?
SP: We were slightly worried about that because it would go against what we had intended for the character and then Seth’s name came up. And Nick and I were both like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s perfect!’ He’s a known figure for his comedy work but he also has this wonderfully gravelly voice. We knew Seth through mutual admiration. He liked our stuff, we liked his stuff, and he was the only actor who really fit the bill for us and thank God he said yes.
How did The Big Guy become a woman?
SP: Initially when we wrote the character it was a man, and for the longest time during the writing process it was this gruff male voice. And then one day in our office we sort of said, ‘What if his voice was a woman?’ Immediately we thought, ‘Oh my God, what if it was Sigourney Weaver?’ Because she does have a thematic relevance to the genre. It’s like there’s another joke there. Her very presence in another alien movie is funny because of her connection to that particular series of movies.
We never thought she’d do it. I thought she’d be like, ‘No, no more aliens, please!’ But we sent her the script and she loved it. We never thought for a second that she’d even entertain the idea. And then she came on set and we understood because she’s such a team player and she gets the jokes. She’s a fantastic person. We were just in awe of her. It was like the queen was coming on set and we were all bowing and curtsying.
The two main characters, Clive and Graeme are sci-fi/fantasy fanatics. Would it have been funnier if they were non-believers?
SP: We thought the funniest people to meet an alien would be people that really love aliens, because they’d have to live up to the expectations and their dreams. The joke is that for Clive it doesn’t really.
Are the characters based on any of the fanboys you’ve encountered?
SP: Yes, definitely. We’ve met so many people like that. We’re kind of those people in some respects. There’s a wonderful culture of enthusiasts who are essentially shy people with big loves for things. People who find their heart and soul in fantasy perhaps because they don’t live it on a day to day bases. A lot of the people that enjoy our stuff have been a part of this sort of geek tribe because we’ve done science fiction, horror, and what have you. Those genres tend to attract those kinds of people.
Last year I met J.J. Abrams at Comic-Con and my mind went blank…
SP: I was the same way with Carrie Fisher. I lined up to meet her at Comic Con. You get to spend seconds with them and that’s the time you’re given to imprint yourself upon these people that you love. It’s hard because you’re immediately on the backfoot. You know they’re not going to remember you in five minutes let alone a year. You just have to kind of understand that and go with it.
Paul opens in theaters everywhere on March 18th.