All good things must come to an end, and this weekend, the “Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy” finally melts with the debut of apocalyptic robo-comedy “The World’s End.” Beginning with 2004’s romantic zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” and continuing with 2007’s buddy comedy send-up “Hot Fuzz,” the loose trilogy and the films within are wild, visually stunning homages to very specific genres, all of them directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. (Pegg also co-wrote all three.) Wright, Pegg and Frost all return for “The World’s End,” which dramatizes what happens when several childhood friends return to their hometown to find things are different. Like really different (minor plot spoilers ahead).
In “The World’s End,” Pegg plays Gary King, an alcoholic with some grating personality issues, who recruits his old group of friends (including Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine) to return to their hometown of Newton Haven. It’s there that they encounter an old crush (played by future “Gone Girl” Rosamund Pike) and a horrifying town secret that killer robots have replaced most of the town’s population (they bleed blue ink). The whole thing takes on a kind of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or “The Thing” vibe, if everyone in those movies was really drunk and loud and the soundtrack was filled with classic Britpop jams from the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“The World’s End” is very much in keeping with the other films in the loose trilogy; it’s deeply hilarious and gorgeously photographed. But like all things that reach their conclusion, it’s also a little bit more bittersweet and emotional than we were anticipating. To poorly paraphrase “The Dark Knight,” it might not be the finale you were expecting, but it’s the one you probably deserve. We got a chance to talk to Wright about his inspirations for “The World’s End” and how difficult it was to assemble the expansive soundtrack, as well as offer updates on Disney‘s “Night Stalker” with Johnny Depp, his mysterious “Collider” project with J.J. Abrams, the idea he has for a horror movie, and, of course, “Ant-Man.” Also: little spoilers are littered throughout, so tread lightly, please (or bookmark for after you’ve seen the movie).
What inspired you to this tackle this sort of story of nostalgia and globalization? Where did that come from?
I think just a number of things I’ve been obsessing about. I think the nostalgia thing is something…I think it sort of bothers me more than it bothers Simon. In a way, I think Simon and Nick look for it a lot and I have a tendency to think back to my school years quite a lot and I wonder why, and it kind of amuses me as much as it obsesses me. I’m pretty happy with my life and career and I’m always bothered by the fact that I wanted to go back and do school better and go on dates. So I think there’s a part of Gary King and the recreation of the special night that I can definitely sympathize with.
I think it’s okay to get nostalgic over music or movies from your youth, but this film is about the dangers of trying to recreate former glories. Gary King is stuck in the past, which is bad enough, but when he actively tries to regress his friends through alcohol, all hell breaks lose. The cautionary tale in the movie should be that you should never, ever want to go back because the past is a disaster.
But at the end he sort of is able to reclaim that in an interesting way.
Yes, without giving too much away the idea at the ending is that in a strange way everybody gets exactly what they want although it took a mess to get that. We had the idea for the ending in a similar way to “Shaun of the Dead,” we knew what the final image was going to be before we exactly had everything locked down in the screenplay. We always knew where we were going with it and what the end of his eventual arc was going to be. I think there are definitely positives of the nostalgia and I think music is the most positive form of nostalgia but I think it’s like Rosamund Pike says in the movie, “You have to go forwards, not backwards.” You can’t rest on your laurels and you can’t relive your teenage years forever; it’s ridiculous
“You can never go home” also seems it speaks to the writers of this movie.
I have had bittersweet homecomings to the town I grew up in and the feeling of having had no impact on your town is something that I felt as a younger man; returning home to find that former schoolmates didn’t recognize me, publicans didn’t recognize me, not even the school bully gave me a second look, it’s an odd feeling that we wanted to give an otherworldly twist. If anything, the invasion in the movie is a coping strategy for dealing with the inevitable downer that you are getting old, time marches on and your hometown wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
There’s a sense of wrestling with nostalgia—loving that romantic idea of looking back, but knowing you must ultimately move forward.
I definitely wanted to make a movie about time travel without the MacGuffin of a DeLorean, police box or even a hot tub. I thought there was rich potential in the idea of a man so in love with the past he tries to recreate an epic night. Of course, this is disaster and really Gary needs to looks forwards and not backwards.
What are your take on old friendships vs. new friendships? What’s your take on friendship period, as that’s an integral theme of this film: the nature of friendships and whether they can stand the test of time.
I think I feel guilt over losing contact with friends at times. I tried to alleviate that by making this movie glorifying our teenage years. And then I invited my old friends to the premiere, which was a trip. But like many of us, we have friends in our life that we’ve had to cut out because of various problems and it’s a tough thing to do. This movie is about two friends trying to repair an age-old rift, even if it takes the end of the world to repair it.
How does the globalization-themed ending tie into the rest of the movie’s themes of nostalgia, friendship, the past and home in your mind?
When I returned to my hometown to shoot “Hot Fuzz,” I was bemused to find a sparkling new Starbucks in the center of the high street. I ended up digitally erasing it from the movie. I’d built up this romanticized image of my birthplace and yet it was no different from London, the same chains, the identical pubs. So the movie is about the realization that you cannot stop progress and in fact the “villains” of the piece see themselves as benevolent and efficient, wanted to improve the planet and lose the rough edges. So we draw a line in the sand, do you want to be perfect like “‘them” or do you want to be a flawed like “us.” Are you a robot or are you human?
You could easily set your next movie in that post-apocalyptic world and not even choose to follow the same characters if you wanted.
Maybe, but the joy of the ending to me is to see a whole new world for five minutes and hint at future adventures that will never happen. All three of the movies could lead to sequels, but those are best left to people’s imagination.
I was going to ask you about the soundtrack. There’s like a million pop songs on that but it never seemed overwhelming. How do you find that balance?
There are a couple things. One, this is how we wrote the movie. It’s funny, a few nights ago I did a double bill of “American Graffiti” and “Dazed and Confused” at the New Beverly and whenever I watch both movies, especially “American Graffiti” I’m staggered at the amount of tracks in that film; it’s incredible. There must be 30 rock ‘n’ roll classics in there. In a way, even though it’s set in 2013, Gary King has a mixed tape which is kind of like his security blanket. So the first thing we did when we were writing it was make this playlist…it was like 200 tracks long and it was mostly 1988 to 1993, which is the period where I was in college. They were all like touchstones of a particular time and a lot of the songs I remember being a gateway to more alternative music; it was the period where I stopped listening to pop music and oldies. It really informed me to write the movie. When we wrote “Hot Fuzz,” for instance, we just listened to action scores, and when we wrote “Shaun of the Dead” we listened to horror scores, but here we just listened to this music and very quickly those songs became instrumental to it. They start to rise to the top and actually become structurally important as well.
Did you run into any licensing issues on any of the songs?
Just at the last second, actually, to try to afford The Doors, as you would imagine. Nick Angel is our music supervisor, the “Hot Fuzz” character is based on him, and to his credit he did say at the very first script read, “Oh, the Doors are going to be expensive.” When it finally came down to it there were two other tracks I changed to make room for The Doors. We had this long playlist and we always had B and C options. I think at one time we had The Pixies in there; we had “Stormy Weather” by The Pixies but it was too expensive getting it. I’m really happy with what’s in there and in fact, whenever I watch the end credits of the film and the music credits come up I go “Holy shit!” There’s just so many artists, and so diverse to have everything from Blur to The Stone Roses. It’s great.
You obviously are a huge movie fan and have an encyclopedic knowledge of genre film. What were some of the movies that inspired “The World’s End”?
I think this one came from a more personal place. When we did “Shaun of the Dead,” the initial idea was we wanted to be inside a George Romero film so we wrote a film set inside his universe. And in “Hot Fuzz” it was very much about the difference between the mundane reality of British cops and the fantasy of the American police. In this one even though it’s very much in the paranoid, science fiction world, the sci-fi elements came as an expression of our feelings about going home.
There was a time when I was going back home and I felt much like the characters in the movies. Even though I’d gone away for a year I felt disconnected from my parents. It’s that feeling you have when you go back home and expect this hero’s welcome and realize the town has changed without you, architecturally, socially. I just felt the town was slowly being changed, so that was definitely a touchstone. There’s a whole wave of movies about small-town paranoia, “Invaders from Mars” in the U.K. There’s also a literature element as well—John Wyndham was a big influence and Nigel Kneale. I think those people are so influential that they are responsible for a lot of great horror and sci-fi in the ’60s, which trickled into TV with “Doctor Who” and “The Avengers” and “The Prisoner.” In a similar way to this film is about nostalgia, a lot of the sci-fi elements are things as I grew up with as a kid; things I watched before I even knew what genre meant. In a way it’s harkening further back to a great strain of paranoid, post-war sci-fi that I watched before even acknowledging that I was a sci-fi fan.
Visually it’s a little bit John Carpenter there, at least with the lens flare when the characters open their eyes and their hands.
Absolutely! “Shaun of the Dead” we actually shot in John Carpenter’s format and I used his idea of making a low-budget film look artsy. I was always taken with the glowing-eyed pirates in “The Fog.” “The Fog” is one of my favorites and even though he only put it on screen for a couple of minutes, that image was burned into my subconscious. Also, “Westworld” as well. Yul Brynner’s contacts—that’s still amazing as an in-camera effect. If you look at the trailer there’s a shot of them running down the street and all the people running actually have lights on their eyes. A lot of the burning eyes effects are in-camera. To save money, we tried to shoot all the daytime stuff when you’re not drunk yet in stereo and switch to anamorphic when you start to get drunker at nighttime, and all the stuff in the past we shot in 16 mm.
You’re about to start shooting “Ant-Man.” It sounded like “Ant-Man” was going to be something outside the canon of the Marvel film universe at first and now it sounds like its back in. Has that changed?
I think it’s just doing its own thing in the accepted history but it’s still part of the other movies and always was. In the time I’ve been working on it other things have happened in the other movies that could be affected in this. It is pretty standalone in the way we’re linking it to the others. I like to make it standalone because I think the premise of it needs time. I want to put the crazy premise of it into a real world, which is why I think “Iron Man” really works because it’s a relatively simple universe; it’s relatable. I definitely want to go into finding a streamlined format where you use the origin format to introduce the main character and further adventures can bring other people into it. I’m a big believer in keeping it relatively simple and Marvel agrees on that front.
What’s the tone supposed to be?
It’s hard to say, my head’s still in ‘World’s End.’ I think it’s funny…I wouldn’t say it has any of the comedy that is in my previous but I think it’ll be in a different vein. There’ll be less swearing in it.
What’s going on with “Night Stalker”? Is that still something that’s going?
Yeah. I think that’s still a ways off, it’s not even been written yet but yeah, it’s happening.
What about “Collider”?
That is being written at the moment. It hasn’t gone away. It’s something I’m excited about but it’s a little ways off. I’ve become more superstitious in this day and age and I think people expect to have hourly updates on every project. Even in the case of “Ant-Man” it’s true, twice I was contemplating another project. The chance to do “The World’s End” came up and it was something more personal and it became very clear to us that we had to do ‘World’s End’ next and also we wanted to. Marvel was great and said, “We can wait. See you in two years.” People always say “Why is it taking so long?” and my answer is that “I’d rather see the movie with VFX from 2015 than VFX from 2005” and you can’t argue with that.
That’s amazing that Marvel let you put it off like that considering they have this all mapped out decades in advance.
The reason it’s always been there is because they really love the script and so I was very excited that they didn’t say, “Let’s give the script to someone else.” I’m so glad that I made ‘World’s End’ and it was the right time to do it and there were many reasons why we wanted to do it, had to do it and I’m very prod that I did it because if we didn’t do it in the next couple years we’d have never done it.
You kind of teased about future flavors in the ice cream.
There’s so many but this is the final in the Cornetto. In the U.K. there were only three flavors and you can see in the movie why it’s over. We give it finality at the end.
It seems it wouldn’t be out of the question.
One fan said, without giving away what happens said, “I can’t believe they don’t get to eat it.” We had to subvert it.
Seemingly you’d team up with these guys again in the future.
I’d love to. It’s a very rare and fortunate position to be able to make movies with two of your best friends who happen to be really amazing actors and writers. If we never did a film again I’d be very happy with the three that we’ve done, but it would seem foolish not to work together again. When you’re doing a long press tour as we’ve been doing for the last five weeks, it’s sitting in domestic airports for delayed flight and we have time to talk about what we’d like to do and in the future it might be something dramatically different.
Between the three movies, the ones I’ve directed, their partnership in each of them is radically different. I find it strange when people say the dynamic is very different in this one. I’m pretty sure the dynamic is different in the second one. It’s like Nicholas Angel and Shaun might have something in common and Gary King is very different. I love working with them and I think their performances in this are really great and I’d like to keep working with them and going deeper. It’s something you can only do with good friends; it’s the benefit of being really close that you can be honest. I don’t think I could get to that position with an actor I didn’t know as quickly as we have done with this. I love them and I always want to work with them so we have talked about future ideas.
Are you still thinking of doing a straight horror thing?
Yes, I am actually. I’m actually developing it with Big Talk and Film 4. It’s something I’ve been doing a lot of research on and I want to write at some point once I’m stopped with this crazy promotion for this movie.
Can you give us a tease of what vein that’ll be in?
I want to do something that’s very visual and has very little dialogue. All of my films have been very dialogue heavy and that’s great. It always makes it more of a challenge to market in other countries. I like watching films that can play in any language because they’re essentially silent.
You’re a big Nicolas Roeg fan right?
“Don’t Look Now” is one of my favorite films, absolutely!
When you said horror relying on visuals it made me think of “Don’t Look Now.”
“Don’t Look Now” is a masterpiece. I think it’s the best-edited movie of all time. I adore it.
Last question and a random tangent: how do you feel about the original ‘Star Wars’ actors returning for the new movies? It seems like kind of a waste considering how massive the potential universe is. Since you’re a huge ‘Star Wars’ fan, what do you think of that?
I think it’s more than okay to have the stars of the previous movies appear as elders and I don’t think they will be the leads. I think it’s just about passing the torch. I guess the proposed spin-off movies could go off into complete new worlds. I am a big fan of 4, 5 and 6, so I’m intrigued as to what J.J. does with 7.
“The World’s End” opens on Friday, August 23rd in wide release. Wright’s “Ant-Man” is already set for a November 6, 2015 release. And below is Mike Relm‘s “Cornetto Megamix,” which Edgar tout as “what might be my favorite re-edit of any of my work.”