It wasn't meant to be a trilogy, but Edgar Wright and his usual British cohorts (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) have wrapped up the Blood and Ice Cream series (which started with Shaun of the Dead and continued with Hot Fuzz) with the final installment, The World's End. (For those keeping track at home, the three Cornetto wrappers turned out to be red for blood and gore, blue for police, and green for science fiction.) Wright chatted with Vulture about the unexpected unifiers between the films, his techniques for getting curse words past the censors, and why he's going to have a social-media blackout during the making of Ant-Man.
Simon Pegg caused quite a stir for you by posing next to Ant-Man at the Marvel offices, causing all this speculation that you had cast him in the movie.
Ah, yes! I got my revenge in the Apple Store. I said the reason he wasn't with us was because he had died earlier today. It just became a running joke that the reason our tour was over was because he was dead: [In a somber tone.] "The late, great Simon Pegg, who sadly died today after choking on one of his own tweets."
Do you think people just leap on any possible scrap of information because there's so much secrecy with Marvel projects, especially Ant-Man?
Some of the secrecy is because I haven't started working on it yet! [Laughs uproariously.] Some of the secrecy is because I've been working on this [The World's End] for the last two years. I don't genuinely start doing that movie until October, so you think my reluctance to talk about it is part of my own superstition. If you were about to start a new job, it would be bad karma to sort of talk about it endlessly before you've actually started.
This sort of speculation happened last year with Nathan Fillion as well. But you're probably nowhere near casting.
No, not at all! But it's good. I also think, that's a movie that's coming out in 2015. It's two years away, and I've got plenty of time to talk about it. In fact, to be honest, what's sort of nice about World's End is that we sort of made it in a shroud of secrecy. On Scott Pilgrim, I had done a thing where I did a photo a day from the set, and I blogged every day from the set, and I think that's cool, but sometimes the self-promotion thing gets sort of tiring. So on World's End, Simon and I said, "You know what? Let's not do anything about the making of it. Let's just make it with a news blackout." It was like concentrating. If you're making a movie, the No. 1 thing you have to do is get off the Internet. When I see some directors who tweet ... I actually stopped tweeting during the entire shoot, from July to December. In July I put, "And ..." and in December, "That's a wrap!" I was completely off. And I would do exactly the same next time. I think the best work comes from when you work in a bubble, at least during the making of it, because you can't listen to everybody.
How much does fan anticipation and expectation affect what you do?
At some point, you have to switch off fan expectation and just make the movie you want to make. An interesting thing happened with Spaced that always stuck with me: When we did the first series of that, obviously nobody knew who we were. But that show came out around the point when the Internet was first really starting to blow up, and there was a lot of very nice fan appreciation on the Internet, but I remember even thinking at the time, it made writing the next series sort of harder, because of the expectation. And I was thinking, You know, you should have written the second series before the first series was even out. And that's impossible! But at least then it would be completely pure to what you want to do, rather than answer anyone. So I think with that kind of stuff — and listen, I'm as bad as anybody at reading the Internet — but sometimes, it's like, if you have any sense, tell yourself, Don't read the comments. Don't read the IMDb message board. Cut that out of your life! Go on gut instinct instead.
Is that part of what interfered with Spaced getting a third season?
I think part of the reason we didn't do a third series of Spaced was that we couldn't have really given the audience what they wanted and stuff, in some respects. I think maybe there was an element of people wanted that Bruce-and-Cybill Moonlighting thing, and I don't think Simon and Jess [Hynes] actually wanted to do that. That wasn't what the show was about to them. It's something that they never intended to do in the show. But when you get to that will-they-or-won't-they thing, when that comes up as a big response, you think, Nah, we don't want it to be that show.
Fan anticipation helped make this film happen, though. You weren't even intending a trilogy by design, but it became one as a joke — the Cornetto Trilogy, the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy. And then you felt compelled to deliver.
One of the nice things about doing The World's End is that we made good on a promise. It's not even so much a promise to fans, but to ourselves. We wanted to make a third movie together, and we wanted it to be British, and we wanted it to be a stand-alone film, where you don't have to have seen the other ones to enjoy it, but it also wraps up some themes with some finality, very deliberately. This is the film dealing with perpetual adolescence once and for all, making the whole movie about that. That's one of the nice things about doing film. We've resisted doing a sequel to Shaun of the Dead, a sequel to Hot Fuzz, to do stand-alone films, so it's not like a TV series where you have to think about, How are we going to progress? Or are we going to stay the same? It was like, "Okay, in Shaun of the Dead, we can end the world!" And in The World's End, we can end the world! We can have a movie where there can be no sequel! Yet people still say, "Oh, you could do one." [Laughs.] And with Shaun, Hot Fuzz, and World's End, they're all very final, but there's the tease of like, What would happen next? And that's up to your imagination.
What sequels do you hate the most?
I'd love personally to get rid of all of the Halloween sequels, after the 1978 Halloween ending. I like the idea of a real ending that promises more and never delivers on it. A lot of films I really love, I want to erase the sequel from my mind. I love Back to the Future II and III just fine, but the end of Back to the Future I? That's an ending. What's better than anything else? The promise of future adventures that you never need to see. Your mind fills in the gaps.
How did the sci-fi movies that you're referring to in The World's End — such as Village of the Damned, Invasion of the Body Snatchers — fit in with the trilogy's themes?
It wasn't like we wrote 30 pages of a pub crawl script and then picked a genre out of a hat or a fortune cookie and said, "Oh, it's sci-fi this time!" [Laughs.] The actual threat itself is more based on the sci-fi films I watched as a kid, the ones that would be on TV a lot — not so much anymore, but the fifties and sixties sort of films. Usually all the postwar things are extremely paranoid, with metaphors about the fear of the East, or McCarthy witch hunts, political struggles, outside threats. And with this, we tried to approach this like taking something from our lives and making the threat very metaphorical.
We all come from small towns, and there's that bittersweet feeling about being alienated from your hometown. The town is changing without you. The people are changing without you. There's nothing you can do to stop it. It's not so much like you never left — it's more that you were never there. Like you go back, and you find that you had zero impact on your hometown. And that's the horror of it. So in a way, the whole film is about that nostalgia, and that horror, and regression.
The movie's main character, Gary King, wants to go back in time, but he can't do it sober.
If there's a time machine in the movie, it's alcohol. Booze makes you act juvenile. And by him getting them all drunk, they're going to start acting like teenagers. I was like, I'm going to take these forty-year-olds, and I'm going to make them act like teenagers. When Gary King realizes that there are otherworldly forces afoot, he's happy. And the reason he's happy is that it's easier for him to deal with that, than it is the fact that he's old, or that nobody remembers him, or that the town might not have been a great place in the first place.
It's a relationship comedy, and it's about friends reuniting, but then all the themes sort of crash head-on. Like at the point just before the sci-fi stuff starts to really kick in, Gary has also triggered his own intervention. He's escaped from therapy, and even by bringing his friends together, they turn on him, and they all tell him some hard truths. And his response to that is to say, "I think you're all jealous, because you've all got your jobs, and you're all slaves, and I'm free to do what I want." And "robot" means slave, so he's accusing his friends of being robots. So the whole thing, the metaphor, is the fear of growing up. If somebody wants to be a big kid forever, the robots represent conformity. On the flip side, what the robots are offering, to some viewers, might sound pretty good! [Laughs.] What they're offering is efficiency and harmony and peace, so why wouldn't you want to be an Apple customer?
So it was really fun to take a lot of personal experience, like our upbringing, personal demons, and those fears you have about, "Wait, am I an adult now?" When my parents were growing up, you were expected to get married at 20. Then it became 30, and now 40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40! Soon it will be 50 is the new 30! Where does it ever end? I'm going to be 40 next year, and whenever the word adult comes up, I feel like, I guess I am? At some point, I must be, right?
How different of a film would it be if you were exploring those exact same themes, those same fears, but it was five women, instead of five men, on a pub crawl?
We were saying the other day if someone wanted to do a remake, the kind of groups who do pub crawls, where it's acceptable to do pub crawls, would be teenagers, students, people in the [military] forces, football teams, and nurses. [Laughs.] Nurses after a tough shift. Nurses like to drink. Nurses go hard. [Laughs.] I'm not sure if I have enough of an intelligent comment. I can only express it from my personal experience. I think it seemed like a thing where it was a very sharp character study to do, because everybody has that friend who hasn't grown up. And somebody who is trying to be a teenager forever is usually running away from something.
What do you think about how the man-child is usually depicted in Hollywood, versus your treatment?
I think that there are so many man-child films that are very simplistic and they usually glorify it. Usually the third act is sort of like, "Oh! He's a big kid, but he has to learn to grow up. But you know what? It's okay to be a big kid!" And that's the third act. That's the climax. And that's a lot of comedies over the last twenty years, glorifying the idea of being a big kid. We wanted to do something that was rawer and more honest. Even the way it ends, we're drawing a sharp line here: You can either be with the robots, or you can be with the drunk guy, and there's no third option.
Even though you stayed away from tweeting and blogging during production, you posted a letter you wrote to the ratings board in U.K. about how many times you could use the word cunt and how, and the resulting advice they gave so you could get the rating you wanted. It's fascinating, because filmmakers don't have quite the same open dialogue with the MPAA.
Oh, I know. You don't have that personal contact with the censors — although they don't call them censors in the U.K., they call them "classifiers." I had never done that before. That came about because one of the classifiers friend-requested me on Facebook! And he said, "I work for the BBFC [British Board of Film Classification], I actually classified your previous movies, I'm a big fan." And then way later, when we wrote the script, I said, "Hey, I have a question about language and ratings." And he goes, "Oh! E-mail me, and we'll give you a response." And that was it! He was extremely helpful, extremely thorough, extremely polite, and extremely swear-y! [Laughs.] Then, two years later, this is before we even finished the script, I found the e-mails and I asked him, "Would you be okay if I published this, if I take your e-mail address off?" And he said, "Absolutely!" It's fascinating, right? Weirdly enough, Scott Pilgrim was a film that got an R rating from the MPAA twice, literally on two occurrences of language, and then on the second time, on one occurrence of language. On the second time, I argued and I actually won the battle on that occasion, because they wanted to give it an R because Michael Cera said, "You cocky cock!" And I said, "Oh, that means he's saying he's arrogant! In the U.K., a cockerel is a cock that is being arrogant because it's got plumage and struts around. It's not a sexual reference; he's calling him arrogant." And eventually I won.
Over the course of these films, you've managed to score some fun cameos. But are you trying to collect the James Bonds, now that you've had two of those actors in the trilogy?
[Laughs heartily.] That's a secret! We created a continuity lapse in Shaun of the Dead, in that there is no James Bond in Shaun of the Dead, and the only way we can rectify that is if one of the actors in Shaun of the Dead eventually becomes James Bond. So I think it's down to either Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, or Rafe Spall to eventually become James Bond, and then we'll have perfect continuity. Or Freeman. Or Bill Nighy. [Laughs.] Or Pete Serafinowicz. Or Dylan Moran. Dylan Moran as Bond would be amazing.
And you've had your own share of cameos as well. You were in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ...
That came about because Garth Jennings, the director, is a friend of mine, so we had this kind of deal. Garth Jennings was in Shaun of the Dead — he was a zombie in Shaun of the Dead — so he said, "You should be in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." And then Garth was in Hot Fuzz, so I was in Hot Rambow. And then the one that breaks the chain is Scott Pilgrim, because it was in Canada, so Garth is not in Scott Pilgrim, although his voice appears in it. And then Garth is also in The World's End. He's in pub No. 5, doing this [moves head up]. And he's actually in the trailer.
Was there any pressure to add notable cameos? Or an American?
Here's the thing: I remember when we did Shaun of the Dead, you could definitely make your life a lot easier, budget-wise and getting it green-lit and stuff, if you got an American in it. Working Title have had a lot of success sometimes by having an American in a British film. They pretty much started that with Four Weddings and a Funeral. But we sort of stuck to our guns with Shaun, and even on World's End, because it wasn't an easy film to get made, at all. I think some fans are like, "Why don't you guys do one every year?" Because it's really difficult! There's a reason it took six years for this film to come to fruition. It was tough to get off the ground. So when someone says, "Why don't you just have Johnny Depp play the teacher?" Why not just keep it British, you know? I like to keep it British. Cate Blanchett is the exception because she's Australian, but part of the Commonwealth. [Laughs.]
Is there anything you learned from the trilogy that you can apply to future films?
It's sort of a fallacy that directors have a kind of grand plan and stuff, because usually it's just, "What movie can I get made next?" And sometimes when you see directors and you're like, "Why is so-and-so doing that movie?" it's usually because their dream project is going to take six years to get off the ground, and if they do this remake of this movie, they can be working next week. And that's the sad thing. So if you want to work on dream projects ... it took Alfonso Cuarón seven years since Children of Men. He's one of the planet's finest directors, and you think, I want an Alfonso film every two years, but he digs his heels in to do something that's a real passion project. So all I've learned ... I don't think I've ever made a perfect movie. I've just tried to be always learning and telling new stories. What I loved about doing especially the last two films is just getting more confident with action and effects but doing it in a way that my personality is still all over it. I already get people in their teens and twenties telling me, "Shaun of the Dead made me want to be a director." That's the highest ... because I would meet Sam Raimi and say, "Evil Dead II made me want to be a director." Or the Coens, "Raising Arizona made me want to be a director." Weirdly, when I said that to Sam Raimi, he said, "Don't say that, you make me feel old." [Laughs.]
Before we go, you shot something in Star Trek Into Darkness ...
One shot. I literally did one shot that's probably about a second long in that Klingon shoot-out on Kronos. I realize people may not know the difference between one shot and one scene, because when I said that on the Internet, people were like, "Edgar Wright directed that whole scene!" No, no, no. Let's not take away from the hundreds of crew members who worked on that scene! [Laughs.] I did one shot.