Sunday, April 15, 2007

INTERVIEW: The "Hot Fuzz" guys-- Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Needless to say, I'm a huge fan of these guys. Like everyone else, I think "Shaun of the Dead" is brilliant, every episode of "Spaced" I've seen is fantastic, and I think "Hot Fuzz" (opening Friday) is the best thing they've done so far.
Just a little preface: this was not a 1-on-1 or phoner so I can't claim this interview "Exclusive." It was a roundtable interview with two other college journalists, so only about a third of the questions are mine. I won't say which, but don't blame me for some of the... weaker ones. They weren't as spirited as I've seen them, and Nick didn't seem particularly talkative, but that's probably due to us being one of the last interviews of the day. Still, it was a fun interview, and they seemed to be terribly nice guys, obliging all of our unprofessionalism of pictures and autographs (I got my "Spaced" and "Shaun" DVDs autographed). Enjoy:

Simon Pegg: I’m impressed by the array of recording devices.

Question: In “Shaun of the Dead” it was clear you were ribbing zombie movies while also…

Edgar Wright: (whispering, indicating towards Nick) He’s texting.

Nick Frost: (rapidly punching keys in his cell phone) Sorry, it’s really important. Go on.

…while also having a certain amount of affection for them. When creating “Hot Fuzz” and dealing with movies like “Bad Boys II,” how much was fueled by love and how much was just out-and-out mockery?

Edgar: There is a certain amount of affection for “Bad Boys II,” we wouldn’t have given it such a heavy airing otherwise. The reason that “Point Break” and “Bad Boys II” are Danny Butterman’s two favorite films—the reason we picked them—is because they both kind of represent gloriously unpretentious entertainment. “Point Break” itself is sort of a camp classic that is brilliantly directed, and is all kind of about spectacle and homoeroticism. And “Bad Boys II”—any film that spends $150 million smashing up cars is alright in my book. So there is a level of affection for them. We wouldn’t spend two years making a film that was not affectionate about the genre. There’s not a desperate need for another cop spoof particularly; what we wanted to do was make a film within that genre. Kind of the idea behind “Hot Fuzz” is that these films just don’t exist within the U.K. There’s no precedent for them at all. So we thought we’d have a little fun by taking the sleepy rural U.K. and dropping a Bruckheimer in the middle of it.

Simon: Also, with “Shaun of the Dead,” I argue that we didn’t do any ribbing of zombie films. I think “Shaun of the Dead” IS a zombie film, there’s no mockery. We wanted to make a film that was a zombie film and a comedy. But I think with “Hot Fuzz,” there’s maybe a little bit more parody in there because someone of those hijinx, high-octane, high-everything are ripe for a little…

Edgar: Ribbing and riffing.

Simon: But certainly with a great amount of affection, never with a sneer on our face. We don’t sneer.

Edgar: I think you could say it’s “ribbed for your pleasure.”

Nick: Like johnny-jackets!

Edgar: Exactly!

That’s going to be the title of my article.

Edgar and Simon: (together) Ribbed for your pleasure!

Edgar: The “Hot Fuzz” arouser.

Delving into your guys’ past, I was really happy to see Julia Deakin in there. Are you guys going to work with Jessica Stevenson or Mark Heap again? And will “Spaced” ever get a U.S. DVD release?

Simon: The answer to the first question is, who knows. Jessica is an enormously talented actress and it’d be terrific to work with her again. Scheduling and family and such have all sort of conspired against that since we finished “Spaced.” But the DVD release will hopefully happen soon. Mark Heap was supposed to be in “Hot Fuzz” but he had a herniated disc, so he couldn’t be in it. These people are all still very much in our lives, and they’re friends of ours, and if the opportunity comes to work with them again, we’ll tell you. It was great to see Julia back on set. She’s a force of nature, and very hot with a gun as well. She cocks a shotgun well.

You’ve probably gotten this question over and over again, but how in God’s name did you manage to get such an epic cast?

Edgar: Well, obviously, if this had been our first film, we wouldn’t have got this cast together. But because we’d done “Shaun” within the British film community, I suppose we had a bit of a reputation. But in some cases, people approached us, such as Jim Broadbent or Paddy Considine. They both approached us after “Shaun of the Dead” came out and said how much they liked it, and how much they’d like to work with us in the future. Writing a script, you can’t help but have those ideas in the back of your mind. And pretty much everybody else reacted to the script and the fact that we’d done “Shaun.” Timothy Dalton had seen “Shaun of the Dead” in L.A., Billie Whitelaw’s son was a big fan of “Shaun of the Dead,” so it kind of worked like that.
But they mostly just responded to the script, and really what we wanted to do with that casting was for it to work in two ways: the police service played by pretty much all the comedic actors, and the Sandford Village People as we like to call them [played by] living legends and real institutions. Because it has a very elaborate plot, we wanted to make it like those old mystery films like the Agatha Christie films, or more recently Oliver Stone films where you have big people playing seemingly insignificant parts that then become very significant. So it’s very much in that vein. [pause] Was that a long enough answer for you?

Do you feel like college students are faster to embrace, like, British... your kind of humor?

Edgar: Specifically ours, or British humor in general?

British humor in general, but also yours I guess.

Edgar: Certainly in the case of “Shaun” and “Spaced,” because of the age group of the characters maybe, and when we made “Spaced” I suppose we were only 10 years out of college ourselves. So, when we did “Spaced” and “Shaun of the Dead,” it certainly appealed to a lot of people who empathized with it because they were in the same boat, or knew a lot of people who were in that sort of situation.

Simon: Also, I think college students, or generally young people, are usually having their ear closest to the ground, and are always on the lookout for other stuff, and I guess now globally with the internet and that sort of stuff, they tend to be the people that are looking for it first. But having said that, it was the college students that made “Monty Python” really big here. They were the first ones to pick up on it here. But our senses of humor really aren’t all that different, you know. We’re far more similar than people kind of suggest in terms of humor. Like “The Simpsons” is very specific to America, it’s all about the American family specifically, and yet we get it completely. There’s no real language barrier there or cultural barrier. It’s all gettable. And I think one thing with our films is that—literate, intelligent people get more out of something when they feel like they’re not being talked down to or treated like an idiot.

What would you have wanted to do with more money, or with more resources?

Simon: Blow more shit up.

Edgar: Blow more shit up. The film is two hours long, and it is sort of epic in terms of the amount of ground it covers. We wanted to pretty much cover every single type of cop thriller, be it serial killer thriller, or corruption film, or conspiracy or buddy cop action film. So if we had more money and time, it would literally be blowing more shit up.

Nick: I would’ve liked to have seen a Viking burial somewhere in there.

Edgar: Yeah.

Nick: A burning longboat.

Simon: Any kind of burning boat.

Nick: Exactly.

And sort of on the flip side of that, what did you shoot that didn’t make it into the movie? What was left on the cutting room floor? [Note: I won’t get into specifics on ownership of questions, I’ll just say this doozy was not asked by me]
Edgar: There’ll be quite a lot of deleted scenes on the DVD. There’s probably about 25 minutes of deleted scenes, but most of it is that when you make the film is you end up doing another draft of the film in the edit. You’ve filmed everything, and then it’s a process of whittling it down. We didn’t want it to be a minute over two hours. The first cut of the film was two hours and twenty-five minutes long, and it’s like ‘okay, we have enough stuff here to get the max out of it.’ And that’s one good thing about the test screening process, is you can use that kind of thing to see which gags work and which don’t.
With a comedy, you tend to shoot more gigs and you tend to start whittling them out. Sometimes you can have too many jokes in a scene, and you can get verbal gag fatigue. There’s about twenty funny gags that came out just because you can’t have too many of them in a row, and there’s some subplots we took out—there was a bit more with the hoodies originally, and there was a bit more of a connection between the hoodies and the other characters. Very few entire scenes, maybe like three or four entire scenes. We had a scene where Angel busts himself down from a Sergeant to a Constable. Just things that we sort of didn’t need; it’s very easy to [cut things out], knowing that it’ll be on the DVD and that someone will see it eventually.

Like “Shaun of the Dead,” the movie’s sort of a love story between Simon and Nick…

Edgar: Sort of?!

Simon: It’s pretty much gay porn.

...why was it important for you to address the homoeroticism inherent in buddy cop movies?

Edgar: Why wouldn’t you want to?

Simon: Because that’s what they’re all about. Those films… you only have to watch the end of “Lethal Weapon” to see Danny Glover cradling a wet Mel Gibson in his arms, saying “I gotcha, I gotcha” to know homoeroticism and the closeness of men plays a massive part in those films.

Edgar: That’s a good title for his article.

Simon: “The closeness of men.” I think there’s something at work in those films, there’s something attractive I think to an audience about straight guys being affectionate with each other. Men find it so hard, generally, to express affection. We’re so terrified that if we show any amount of emotion we’ll be branded. Macho men actually being a little bit in love is kind of sweet. “Starsky & Hutch,” you probably don’t remember it, but in the opening titles, Hutch was blown into Starsky’s arms, and he blew in his ear, and it was all these little moments that’s vital to those films.


Nick, you’ve been pretty quiet over there. Isn’t it about time Simon took a bullet for you?

Simon: I’ve been doing that for 15 years.

Nick: Aww. I mean, yeah, it would be nice to do a film where they don’t kill me off I guess. [to Simon] Maybe in the next one, I can shoot you.

Simon: You don’t get killed in “Hot Fuzz.”

Nick: Well, sort of. But with our projects, it works sort of the same. It’s not “Oh, I’m dying again.” It’s that it’s for the good of the picture. So, I’m happy to take one for the good of the film.

Simon: Also, we kind of wanted to play on a couple of things. One, assuming that people had seen the first film, the fence gag obviously, you think you know what’s going to happen, and then you don’t. And also, in the first film, we killed Ed. You don’t know if Danny’s gonna get it or not, and it sort of heightens the tension a bit. Even though they’re not sequels, it sort of uses the first one.

Edgar: It could be like “Ecks Vs. Sever.”

Nick: Ooooh.

Edgar: Yeah, now we’re talking.

********************SPOILERS OVER************************

Out of the 200 or so DVDs that you watched for research, what were the best and what was the worst one?

Edgar: The worst one was “The Hero and the Terror.” Late-period Chuck Norris. Early-period Chuck Norris was quite entertaining. “Invasion USA,” “Silent Rage,” “Code of Silence,” they all had things to recommend. But “The Hero and the Terror” is pretty much dumbed-down. The obvious classics are too obvious, like “Die Hard,” “Dirty Harry,” “Hard Boiled,” “L.A. Confidential,” “Chinatown,” so let’s go with “Super Cops.” Highly underrated Gordon Parks 1974 film—not available on DVD. But available on bootleg.

Nick: I only watched one film, and it was the best and the worst, and it was “Bad Boys II.” That was it for me. That was my homework in one glorious two and a half hour stretch. I turned the DVD player off and took the rest of the day to myself. That was it. “Bad Boys II” was perfect.

You mentioned “Hard Boiled.” Did you watch other films from Hong Kong?

Edgar: Well, we watched a lot of Asian films in general, like “Memories of Murder,” by the director of “The Host,” it’s fantastic. It’s an incredible film, really underseen. We watched that, we watched “Infernal Affairs.” It’s weird watching “Infernal Affairs” now, especially because of “The Departed,” but because “Hard Boiled” feels like kind of a dry run for “Infernal Affairs.” Almost exactly the same plot and one of the same actors. “Infernal Affairs” was fantastic. Did we watch any other Asian films?

Simon: We, obviously, watched the Asian John Woo films, and the Jackie Chan films.

Do you see yourselves as more of a Martin Lawrence or Will Smith type of guy, and Simon, you’re sort of in J.J. Abrams crew now [with Mission: Impossible III], do you think you’ll make it into his “Star Trek” film?

Simon: Next time I see him, I’ll ask. I’ll try to get a little part in there. Nick, Martin Lawrence or Will Smith?

Nick: Definitely Martin Lawrence.

Simon: I love Will Smith and I’m a real fan of his. What it would be to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. He does a great job of being able to do comedy and serious stuff, and be taken seriously in both genres. I think that’s quite admirable, and I think he goes a long way towards making “Bad Boys II” a… good film.

Edgar: [To Nick] And you just want to be in “Blue Streak 2,” don’t you?

Simon: He wants to be in “Wild Hogs 2.”

"Hot Fuzz" opens in theaters everywhere this Friday, April 20th.


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