The scene: I’m sitting in a Manhattan hotel suite, awaiting the arrival of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, stars of the upcoming “The World’s End.” The apocalyptic comedy sees Pegg and Frost reuniting with long time friend and collaborator Edgar Wright to finish off their unofficial “Three Flavors: Cornetto” trilogy (alongside “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” all three films feature a nod to a flavor of Cornetto ice cream). I stare down at the coffee table at a copy of Town & Country magazine with “The Lone Ranger” star Armie Hammer on the cover and consider another trip over to the pastry table when Pegg enters. He says hello, and settles in…
SIMON: Ah, I see my copy of Town & Country has arrived. [Picks it up] I’m still slightly surprised to learn that he’s just one person after Social Network. It’s totally amazing, man.
MANDATORY: The guy’s had such bad luck. Always on the cusp…
SIMON: I know. I haven’t seen “The Lone Ranger” yet. But it sounds like a bit of a train wreck.
MANDATORY: Yeah. I mean…$250 million? How could it ever earn all that back?
SIMON: It’s bad money after bad money. These films – everything gets thrown into them and then there’s a scramble to fix them and they just keep throwing money at it. It’s like throwing money into…a fire. [laughs] I think necessity is the mother of invention. We could not go over $30 million on this movie, because if we did we would have entered a whole new tax problem. So we literally could not go over $30 million, there was no option of overrunning. So we did everything we could to bring it in on budget and once we were sort of getting to the end of post production there were still effects shots we needed it was like going to the company and being like, “Look, do you want it to look like this or do you want it to look like that?” And they’d go, “OK, we’ll charge less for this.” You know? [laughs] But when you’ve got limitless resources, I think it’s dangerous. You get these ridiculous follies…I mean, the amount of human lives that could have been saved with that money…the amount of babies that wouldn’t have died…
MANDATORY: If you start thinking like that, you’ll go insane.
SIMON: Yeah, I know…
MANDATORY: But did you take every chance anyway to walk around the set of The World’s End going, “Well, you know, on Star Trek, we had this…and this…”
SIMON: [laughs] Yeah, I did actually.
[At this point, Frost enters. He greets us, then heads right for the pastries.]
NICK: Don’t mind me, I’m gonna…
SIMON: Yeah, dig in. Please.
MANDATORY: OK, so it’s typical in movies that when groups of people are under duress, their true natures come out. Is that the same after three movies? Have you learned ugly truths about your friends and collaborators?
NICK: [From across the room] Yeah!
SIMON: Yeah. The thing about us is that the working relationship is fundamentalized by a social one which existed, particularly with me and Nick, prior to us working together, and as such we have a relationship which is more familial than if we were just colleagues. So we can put up with all sorts of shit from each other and absorb it and understand it and…
NICK: Or not. You also get to a point where that friendship enables you to say, you, know, “Enough.”
SIMON: “Stop being so fucking grumpy, Edgar.” [laughs]
NICK: Which you couldn’t say to someone, you know, that you didn’t know so well.
MANDATORY: Do you know each other’s buttons? Like, if you want to piss off Edgar you know all you have to do is nitpick the lighting or something because you know that’ll get to him?
SIMON: Oh god yeah. Edgar’s got more buttons than a fucking remote control.
NICK: Well, in terms of the lighting, you wouldn’t have to. Because that’s Edgar’s thing. Him and Bill Pope lit the shit out this, beautifully. The thing about Edgar on set and us, because we are so close, he probably never talks to us, on set. Because we are so close, that enables you to not get moody about that.
SIMON: He’s not always telling us what to do.
NICK: Because that’s just how it is. He’s not there to pander to our needs in terms of what we want – he’s making a film. And it’s our job to do what we can do to help facilitate that for him. In terms of being producers on the movie, too, you know.
SIMON: Our job, when we work together, with Edgar particularly, is to give him the space to be as insular and angsty as he wants to be because we deal with the front of house, we keep the crew happy, we make sure the energy on set’s up, and that the atmosphere is good and that we’re all feeling very productive. Edgar, when he doesn’t work with us, he has to be on his best behavior. And that can sometimes be creatively stifling. He can’t sit there scratching his beard going, [adopts whiny, high-pitched voice] “Ehhh, Whaa?” [laughs] So maybe he doesn’t solve problems as well.
MANDATORY: So no weepy phone calls from the cast of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, then?
SIMON: [Laughs] yeah, right. “Who is this monster?”
NICK: Well, no, he’d have to be on his best behavior.
SIMON: And there were lots of pretty girls in that, as well.
NICK: Yeah, exactly.
MANDATORY: Have you noticed a real change in your dynamic from Shaun of the Dead up to now?
SIMON: I noticed a change in Edgar from Spaced until now. I’ve seen his talent expand. He was always gonna be a film director, even when we were making small television. He didn’t belong on television, his ideas were too cinematic. It’s been thrilling to see him evolve and I love working with him because I feel like we are plugged into such an awesome creative resource with Edgar – right back to Spaced, when I showed him the script for the first time and he went, “Yeah, we can do this and this and this… ” and I was like, “Wow, you totally get this. You’re like in my head.” But, yeah, he’s a little bit more temperamental than he used to be, perhaps, because when things don’t get done, he feels it. He’s not very good at facing the word “No” particularly, but he’s a perfectionist. And you can’t argue with perfectionism.
NICK: That’s the thing, too. You can’t. Do you want to make something that’s mediocre? Or do you want stay over and work three hours over to make sure it’s perfect? You can’t argue with him…sadly.
MANDATORY: Have either of you picked up any actual survival skills from any of these movies?
NICK: I did a whole season of this show called Danger 50,000 Volts – and that’s what it was about, surviving weird things, and apocalypses, and alligator attacks. I was hospitalized a bunch of times doing that.
MANDATORY: Did that show ever make its way over to America?
NICK: Only on DVD.
SIMON: It’s like $40! It’s ridiculously expensive.
NICK: Yeah, it’s really expensive.
MANDATORY: Which of your group would be killed and eaten first?
MANDATORY: Who would taste the best, though?
SIMON: Nick. Because you’re a very good chef, and you eat a lot of very good food. So you’ve been nourished on fine stuff. Your forearms would be a fucking delight.
NICK: Like a pig eatin’ acorns. [both laugh] But Edgar’d be so sweet.
SIMON: But he eats such a lot of shit, Edgar.
NICK: I’m eatin’ a fucking muffin!
MANDATORY: The whole concept of a “Cornetto Trilogy” started as kind of a goof, but caught on. Do you worry you may have painted yourselves into a corner? Like people expect you to be done now or something?
SIMON: In some respects. Cornetto became the most facile, easy way of defining the three films as a piece. It was like, “OK, you can go on about the loss of identity or perpetual adolescence or the notions of friendship that bind the films together…or we can say it’s ice cream.” Ice cream’s so much easier. It became apparent to us, during Hot Fuzz when we referred back to Shaun of the Dead with the repeat of the Cornetto line, which you know–
NICK: –just hoping we’d get free ice cream at the premiere. Which didn’t happen.
SIMON: So when some journalist was like, “Oh, is this your defining feature?” We were like….”Yeeees?” But it’s a neat way of defining the criteria for these movies, which is quite specific. They’re all set in the UK, they’re all set now, they’re contemporary, they’re all about loss of identity and they’re all about the manchild thing…whether it’s good or bad, it’s not entirely celebratory of that whole manchild idea. The next film we all make together, we won’t have to abide by any of that criteria. We can set it in the 40s, in Yugoslavia…
NICK: [mock serious] The Archduke Ferdinand story?
SIMON: Yeah, that’s the one. Oh no, that was 1914…We can make it work.
MANDATORY: In the Hot Fuzz commentary, you joked that the third film, which would include the “mint” flavored Cornetto, would have to be set in the arctic. Did World’s End actually go through a lot of weird permutations?
SIMON: No, it was weirdly kind of…it was simply that Edgar had had this idea about the strange sense of ennui you get when you go back to your home town and it feels simultaneously the same and different. You get a sense of alienation from what you know so well…and we thought, well obviously, what is more literal “alienation” than aliens, you know? Wouldn’t it be funny if we attributed the sense of loss you get when you return home to an actual alien invasion? And that was it. That was 2007. We came back together in 2011, I think at the right time as well, because we were older, 40…and we sort of put the idea together in its more complex form which is what you see in The World’s End. It actually went through very few permutations…it came fully formed. And actually, looking back at the writing process, it almost wrote itself.
MANDATORY: Do you now have to sit through meetings where studio heads will pitch you other Cornetto flavor-themed movies?
NICK: [laughs] We get that on Twitter a lot.
MANDATORY: Like, “What would Hazelnut be?”
SIMON: Well, those have only just come out. There were only three originals. I dunno if it’s off the back of the success of the trilogy…
NICK: They brought out 8 new flavors or something.
SIMON: They want us to make more films to sell their ice cream for free.
NICK: We’d be doing bits of junket press around London, and someone would show up wherever we were with boxes of Cornettos. We’d be like, “Nah, don’t want ’em.” Apart from Edgar, who’d be like, [same whiny, high-pitched voice] “Yeeeah…put ’em in the freezer!”
SIMON: That’s why Edgar wouldn’t taste nice. But like Nick said, a lot of people on Twitter will say, [adopts same voice] “Hey, why don’t you-[laughs] I went into that voice! The Edgar voice. “Hey, listen, why don’t you, um…” I think people just assume we pull genres out of a hat. We don’t. Really, we’ve adopted these populist ideas to say more substantial things. It would be a very specific audience for a film about a down on his luck guy who’s trying to prove to himself and his girlfriend that he’s a man, and it would be a very particular audience for a comedy about male bonding and about alcoholism and conformity, but you stick some aliens in that or some police cars or zombies and we’ve got a bigger audience.
NICK: We get a lot of people on Twitter saying that thing where they go, “Hey, I’ve got the most amazing idea for you guys. You have to DM me. Seriously.” [laughs]
MANDATORY: One of the Cornetto flavors is called Enigma, which is clearly baiting you guys to do something.
NICK: That’s all flavors. And none. That’s a new one, isn’t it?
SIMON: ‘Cause you eat it and you’re like, “What the fuck does that taste like?”
MANDATORY: A few weeks ago, another apocalyptic ensemble comedy called This is the End came out… if you could swap one of your guys for one of theirs, who would you take?
NICK: I’d want Craig Robinson.
SIMON: Yeah, I love Craig. He’s brilliant. Those guys are really funny, that film is a very, very funny film. I think it’s kind of cool in a way, it’s indicative, that this whole notion of the end of the world is on everyone’s mind. Not just these two films, but there’s After Earth and Oblivion and World War Z and Superman and all these things are apocalyptic…and it’s all because of A) the turn of the century and B) the Mayan apocalypse which had been coming up for ages, people had been talking about it so people were like, Hey, we should make a film like that…Anyway, that’s not your question. [laughs] I thought Jonah [Hill] was very funny in that movie.
NICK: I haven’t seen it.
SIMON: But, yeah, I’d take Craig.
MANDATORY: Who would you send over in exchange?
NICK: No one, we’d just kind of snatch him.
SIMON: We’d pretend we were going to send someone, but send a dummy. We’ll throw a bag over its head and say it’s Martin Freeman, but it would be some guy…
NICK: “There’s a little Hobbit inside this here…”
SIMON: “You can have a Hobbit! Here, take him!” And they’d whip the bag off and we’d be like, “C’mon, Craig! Come with us! Run!”
“The World’s End” opens August 23rd.