Finishing a trilogy is never easy. Once your first film is successful, expectations rise exponentially with each following entry. When your first two films are the massive cult hits "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," hopes for the final film are as high as for any mainstream blockbuster. Edgar Wright can handle the pressure. The director and co-writer of both films as well as this week’s "The World's End" has proven again and again his ability to create new, original concepts within preexisting genre confines.
In "Shaun of the Dead," he brought new life to zombie horror by infusing a heartfelt comedy into a bloody last stand. With "Hot Fuzz," he took buddy cop action to a whole new level -- well, really, he took it to a deeper, meta level already within itself. Now, the 39-year-old UK-native is breaking into science fiction via a pub crawl in "The World's End."
Indiewire sat down with a chatty Wright in New York to discuss the film buff's incredible knowledge of pop culture, how he handles the pressures brought on by an expectant, ever-increasing fan base, and whether or not "The World’s End" is also the end of these three men's collaborative efforts.
You've done what’s next to impossible these days. You completed a trilogy made up of equally excellent parts.
Thank you very much. That means a lot to me. We're very proud of the movie. People will sort of say, "Are you sad it’s all over?” And I'll say, "No, it's just a relief that we did it." (laughs) I literally finished the film in early July. This is now the 16th city on this press tour, and I had to go to France and do a little bit, and I thought I was literally going to collapse this whole month. We started doing prep in July of last year, and it’s been one of the most intense kind of years. It was a tough shoot, but I'm really, really proud of the film.
You can absolutely see all that on the screen. Obviously, you have an extensive knowledge of film. If you can’t tell from your movies, you can certainly hear it on Doug Loves Movies during your guest appearances on the podcast. At what stage in the production do your various homages make their way into the film?
This one was a bit different, really. In "Hot Fuzz," I guess it’s the most meta of the three because it's about the difference between the reality of the job and the fantasy of the movies. This one, it was less like that. There would only be a couple of ways that would factor into it. In a way, the sci-fi element in this movie is inspired both by books and films and TV that I grew up with. Like specifically the ones that would be on TV a lot when I was a kid, before I even knew what the word genre meant.
In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, post World War II, during the Cold War basically, there was a particular kind of sci-fi that would manifest itself in these incredibly paranoid, doomy sci-fi films. You know, "all is lost" and usually it would end on quite a bleak note. Whether it's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Village of the Damned," "Invaders from Mars," or on TV like "Doctor Who," "The Avengers," "The Prisoner." And most of them are great metaphors of taking your fears and making them kind of like flesh in science fiction. All the great science fiction movies are metaphors for some kind of real fear rather than a fantastical one, and this movie is no different in a way.
So for Gary (Simon Pegg), the film is about growing up or the loss of identity. "Oh, if I stop being the high school rebel and settle down, have I lost my identity?" The movie is sort of about a man escaping from therapy and triggering his own intervention, first on a social level and then on a galactic level, but that first intervention when they all turn on him and tell him some hard truths, his response is to say, "You're jealous. I’m free to do what I want, and you’re all slaves." And slaves means robots, so Gary thinks, "Hey, I'm the last kind of rebel. You guys are all robots." But then that fear that has manifested itself in terms of, "Hey. Wait a second. Maybe everybody else is a robot, and I’m the last human." That’s the nice thing about doing these movies. It's a relationship movie first and foremost, and then the fears in the characters manifest themselves as a fantastical threat, in this case as an alien invasion.
But, you know, I didn't rewatch any of those movies because they were all things I grew up on. In a way, because the whole film is about nostalgia, the threat is more nostalgic. It’s more recalling 50s, 60s, and 70s sci-fi. Even the baddies themselves are like action figures. They rip apart like action figures. You can pop their heads off. The UK version of G.I. Joe was called Action Man. It was like a taller version of G.I. Joe, but very similar. You could twist the heads off, and take the arms off, much like the kid in "Toy Story." Sid? Is it Sid?
The little boy who dismembered all of his toys to create Frankenstein monsters of his own? Yup. That’s Sid.
The one thing I did do -- some of the actors playing the baddies are very young. I didn’t even show this to the main actors. This was just for the actors who played the blanks (robots). I made a little reel of great robot performances. I showed them some clips of Yul Brynner in "Westworld," and Robert Patrick in "Terminator 2." "Village of the Damned" and...what else is in there? Well, this is more about the choreographer (Litza Bixler) and stuff, but I like movies where there’s sort of an amorphous force. Sort of like older B movies like "Carnival of Souls" or there’s a great film called "Messiah of Evil" where there’s an amazing scene in the cinema when one person suddenly realizes the whole crowd is against them. Especially when you've got a film where a whole town turns, I wanted to take some images that were nightmarish for me as a kid and stylize them more.
With "Shaun of the Dead," we did movement classes with the zombies so we could get them all to do the same thing. Sort of give them coaching on zombie performances. On this one there was a choreographer for the whole movie. You'll notice everyone else in the town is always walking in step with each other. There's that scene where they’re walking to the whiskey bar, and the entire town is walking in step. Then there’s that scene when they’re in the trailer and all the blanks are running down the street. They're all running in step. So I liked this feeling that the whole town is against you. I wanted to synchronize everybody, choreograph this whole mob, and it looks terrifying.
This interview is continued on page 2.