After starring together in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are together again in The World's End (which Pegg co-wrote with director Edgar Wright, as he did the two previous installments of the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy). This time, they are part of a group of friends who go back to their hometown to try to complete a nostalgic pub crawl from their youth, when, of course, sinister forces interrupt their quest for more beer, and hilarity ensues. Pegg and Frost sat down with Vulture to chat about drinking, rumors that Pegg had just been cast in Wright's Ant-Man movie, and the fine line between apocalypse movies and destruction porn.
What's with all the Ant-Man mania just because you pointed at a poster?
Pegg: Unbelievable, right? I was with the Hulk, too! I stood next to the big mural at Marvel, and I was like, "Oh, hey, there's Ant-Man!" Because Edgar's doing Ant-Man, and he's one of my best friends. And suddenly it's like [in deep announcer voice], "Is Pegg Ant-Man?" And I couldn't quite believe it. Isn't it crazy that there's that much clamor for information? You know what it is, it's the struggle for exclusives now. The tiniest little thing is just leapt on with just ridiculous intensity. Literally later today I'm going to have my picture taken next to everyone from Darth Vader to Mr. Peanut, and I will be pointing. [Strikes a pose.]
This wasn't meant to be a trilogy at first, but then you called it the Cornetto trilogy in the hopes that you would get free ice cream. But you could have easily called it the Vaulting Fences trilogy, or ...
Pegg: The ice cream was a very convenient way of tying it up, a very simplistic way of saying they're a trilogy, even more than the vaulting fence gag. We didn't put a fence gag in The World's End until we did the reshoots. We couldn't figure out a way to top the Hot Fuzz one, and we didn't think of the idea until after principal photography and we went back. And if you're going to call it a trilogy, you have to undermine it with something like ice cream, otherwise you're going to sound like pseudo-intellectuals.
Frost: We didn't get the free ice cream on Hot Fuzz, but we got a ton on this! Cornetto suddenly realized we were a wonderful source of free advertising, and they were like, "Yeah, take it!" And they've brought out six or seven new flavors. There's one called the Enigma, which is quite a lofty name, isn't it, for an ice cream cone? The bottom has a chocolate question mark.
You guys don't drink as much anymore, but when was the last time you went to the actual pub, the World's End? The one in Camden Town? Or the last time you went on a pub crawl?
Frost: We used to go every Sunday! We used to walk down into Camden at 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday and spend the day. We'd mooch around and get Thai food and sit in a pub all day. What did we use to drink? Smirnoff Ice?
Pegg: [Grimaces.] Smirnoff Ice. Fucking yeah. The last pub crawl I remember doing was for a stag party — what's the American for it? Bachelor party. We did a crawl over pubs in central London and wound up in a bowling alley. But it all went to hell because one of our members bought an Eiffel Tower full of absinthe, and it all went to shit after that.
Frost: We were 38-year-old males standing in a circle, twenty of us, wanting to swig this out of Eiffel Tower. That's the bottle, the shape.
Pegg: This film is very much pro-ice-cream, but it's not pro-alcohol. I remember Benedict Cumberbatch watched it and said afterwards, "Boy, that really makes me want to have a drink!" He was joking, but anyone who comes out saying that seriously, it's like, you didn't get it, then. It's about alcohol being a distraction and an ineffective medication. It's not about it being the be-all and end-all and best in the world.
At any point when you were on the set of Paul, did you make a pact with Seth Rogen to both release apocalyptic moves with similar titles in the summer of 2013?
Pegg: [Laughs.] No! Actually, when we heard Seth's movie [This Is the End] was coming out, it was called The End of the World, and we wrote to him and said, "We need that. That's our title. It's the name of a pub, and it's really important that we keep it as The World's End. Do you mind shifting your title a little bit?" Because initially it was called Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse. But no, that's just synchronicity. After Earth, Oblivion, World War Z, Man of Steel — there's been a lot of apocalypse films this year. And it's generally because the Mayan apocalypse was approaching, their timing was off, and it's the biggest way to make a spectacle, too, to destroy whole cities. Even Transformers in 2012. I think science fiction's kind of lost its way over the years, in that people suddenly think it's about the robots. It was never about the robots. It's always been about the people. And robots have been a metaphor for something. And there doesn't seem to be a metaphor now. It's literal destruction. Was Man of Steel a metaphor for 9/11? No. It was just us seeing buildings falling down. There's nothing poetic about that.
Frost: You can also be very cynical and say, "Are you cashing in on those images?" You know what I mean? I'm not sure that's the case, but that seems to have sprung up since that happened.
Pegg: If you look at Transformers, Transformers is a movie version of a toy, which came out of a series about robots, which was aimed at children, and then suddenly it's a thing that's skewed towards adults, but it is just toys fighting. It's all it is. And it doesn't really say anything about us or the world. And in my experience of it, it's just mind-numbingly dull.
Frost: You never even get that satisfaction or the joy and hope that comes from the chance of rebuilding. It just ends on a mass destruction.
Pegg: And consequently, and it sounds like we're really blowing our own trumpet ...
Frost: Blow it! [Makes a series of trumpet sounds.]
Pegg: [Makes one single trumpet blurting sound.] The thing about The World's End, we never wanted to welch on our promise in the title. Even though the title is referring to a pub, it promises something a lot bigger than that, and we wanted to show the consequences of what happens in the end, that that status doesn't go back to normal, that there is a change, and that change is permanent. It's not like everything's all tied up nicely and you can all go home and live happily ever after. That was one of the things that blew me away about Man of Steel, that at the end, they're all at the Daily Planet office just going, "Hey! Let's go see the Dodgers!" Isn't everyone dead? Isn't New York flat? What do you mean, go see the Dodgers?!
Plus, Clark Kent just walks in there and no one recognizes him, after all of that, just because of the glasses.
Frost: [Whips glasses off.]
Pegg: [Whistles Superman theme.] I thought Nick Frost was supposed to be here! Oh, there he is! That's the thing. The choice to make that film so real, and kind of grown-up, is to reject its innately childish aspects — you know, the tights, the underpants, and all the silliness of it. Which meant that that moment, when he goes to be Clark Kent, is totally lost, because you don't buy it within the criteria that they've set for themselves with the reality of the film. Whereas with the Christopher Reeve Superman or the comic book, you buy the glasses, because it's silly anyway!
Both of you suffered injuries on set. Nick, you tore a leg muscle, and Simon, you broke a hand. How much of a pain tolerance do you have? Because you continued shooting that scene where you vault over the bar for six more takes after you broke it?
Frost: You have to.
Pegg: If you don't, Edgar gets upset, and that's worse than pain. When I broke my hand, we hadn't got the shot. And it was really late at night, and I didn't want to say to Edgar, "I can't do this again," because I wanted to get the shot as much as Edgar did, because I'm as invested in the film as he is. So I did another six takes with a broken hand, and it really hurt! Phoebe, one of our camera assistants, was the only one who spotted it, and I remember her face was so worried! Because I was just sweating and white, and Edgar said, "Can we do that again?" [Grimaces.] "Yep!" And eventually we got the shot, and I was whisked off to the hospital.
Frost: I think neither of us are very selfish people, and you think about the whole thing. If I'm not able to work for two weeks, then that knocks us back two weeks, and then we won't have Martin [Freeman, who was juggling Hobbit shoots]. I think both of us would rather be hailed as pain-sucking heroes than ...
Pegg: To adopt a phrase from Hot Fuzz: For the greater good, we carry on.