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BOI INTERVIEW: Simon Pegg Talks Tibetan Roof Satellites and Going The Whole Hog in “Hector and the Search For Happiness”

BOI INTERVIEW: Simon Pegg Talks Tibetan Roof Satellites and Going The Whole Hog in "Hector and the Search For Happiness"


One of the perks in writing this blog has been the opportunity to sit down with people in the industry whose work I truly respect.  Ever since I first saw him when a friend of mine gave me a grainy VHS copy of a rather obscure British TV show entitled, “Hippies”, I haven’t been able to stop laughing at Simon Pegg, often loud enough to have fellow moviegoers move away from me.  The actor/writer/producer/TV theme song performer (don’t ask) first burst onto the American movie scene with 2004’s brilliant “Shaun of the Dead”, co-starring Pegg’s partner in crime, Nick Frost, and directed by co-hort Edgar Wright and the threesome would collaborate twice more, on 2007’s hilarious “Hot Fuzz” and last year’s trilogy finale, “The World’s End”.

But something odd happened along the way.  Hollywood discovered that Pegg, in addition to being one of the funniest people on the planet, had the range to play more serious fare.  After rather noble misses such as “Run, Fatboy, Run” and “How To Lose Friends and Alienate People”, J.J. Abrams cast him in a major role in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (he’s also on board for the fifth installment of the franchise).  “Star Trek Into Darkness” would follow and this coming Friday he plays a world weary psychiatrist who ventures out on a global quest to discover what makes people in all four corners of the earth happy in “Hector and the Search For Happiness”, based on the book by French author, Francois Lelord.  The film is one of the most life-affirming movies of the year and Pegg is wonderful in the title role.   I sat down with Simon Pegg, along with the film’s director Peter Chelsom, last month at the London Hotel in Hollywood.

BOI
How did this all come about?  Had you read the book before seeing the script?

SP
No, I still haven’t read the book, actually. I didn’t read the book as a kind of a choice before I got the part because I didn’t want to start questioning parallels and such between the book and script.  I got involved because I was told Peter (Chelsom) was involved and I was a fan of his and we got together and it kind of happened very quickly.    After that it was a no-brainer.

BOI
Ok so heavy question #1…how much of Hector is inside you?

SP
About 18 centimeters

BOI
Hmm, I wasn’t looking for an exact percentage but thank you nevertheless.

SP
Ha, no.  Well, Hector is really the antithesis of a lot of the characters that I’ve played in the past because I’ve sort of made my name playing a kind of perennial teenager, the guy who can’t let go of his youth because he can’t make the transition to adulthood, whereas Hector is someone who has closed the door on his childhood very early and is now completely unable to find the key and is unable to access any of his childhood.  And a childhood is especially important because it’s the place where we set all of our emotional parameters and our opinions we have on love and death and sex and happiness.  They’re all set when we’re young and we have to be able to access them so we value them as adults and if you can’t, you’re left out there as this emotional automaton and I think it’s important to be in touch with your childhood.  So for me if was fantastic to play a guy who isn’t a video game loving youth-er.

BOI
Yeah, the first twenty minutes is kind of the antithesis of “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hut Fuzz”.

SP
Yes, he’s coasting through life mistaking satisfaction for happiness and he eventually realizes he’s been in a permanent state of comfort and that’s not being happy.

BOI
One of the scenes I love in the movie where he says, and I’m sure I’m mangling it, but  “we don’t ask ourselves enough if we’re truly happy” and that’s the part of the movie that will resonate so effectively with people, don’t you think?

PC
Absolutely.  It’s a very timely issue, especially now.

BOI
Peter, what did you think when the producer (Judy Tossel) brought the screenplay to you and how difficult and time-consuming was the production

PC
I really thought this was right up my alley as I wanted to get back to my roots with films such as “Hear My Song” and “Serendipity”.  As for making it, it was like making five different films.  That was the way I perceived it and I didn’t get daunted by the task.  We had five different crews in the five different locations.  

BOI
What was it like filming in China?

SP
Filming in Shanghai was incredible, it’s such a visually stunning city.  The night we filmed the scene where Hector and Ying Li (Ming Zhao) are having their passionate embrace this unearthly fog just drifted in and completely obliterated the backdrop and we just decided that it would be very metaphorical…Hector is in a fog-he can’t see the truth.  And then we went out to Tibet and that was tough as the conditions were a bit more difficult and we ended up shooting some of what stands in for Tibet in Bavaria in Germany actually and actually the area we shot in Bavaria looks more like what you’d think Tibet looks like.  It out-Tibetted Tibet.

PC
And we always wanted the extremes of weather with the cool and rain of London, then the heat of Africa and we wanted to snow for Tibet but we just didn’t get any at the time we were filming but lucked out by shooting in, of all places, Germany.

SP
One of my favorite scenes in the movie was when I was up on the roof with the monk, trying to put this satellite dish up, talking about why he’s happy and the whole of the two of us is beautifully silhouetted against the mountains.

BOI
Honestly, I thought the movie was terrific and I was so scared going into it because I loved the book so much and was wondering if you were going to change Hector’s relationship with Ying Li at all because it is a real source of moral ambiguity in the novel.

SP
There are lots of things that we changed.  The main thing is that the book, in film terms, had no first act, so we had to expound on the relationship with Rosamund (Pike) and he had to have a “call to action”.  So we had to create a moment where it all explodes.  And yes, because it’s a fable and the characters become almost archetypes you have to ask, “what do they represent?”.  For us, Ying Li was a web of temptation for Hector that he almost gets caught in but not quite.  And it was a decision (to have the relationship unconsummated) that was made in the editing room because we shot it both ways.

BOI
Do you think that because the author is French that culturally there’s more of an acceptance in the book of the Hector character carrying on a physical relationship with Ying Li while still loving his girlfriend back in London?

SP
Yes, definitely.  But we didn’t want the women in the audience to be put off him and make him less sympathetic so we decided to make the change. 

PC
But we also wanted to make him suffer a bit because he did almost go through with it and it weighs on him and he has to repent and then he’d re-emerge and resurrect.  Because it definitely is his intention to “go the whole hog”, as we say in England.

BOI
Uh, the what?

SP
The “whole hog”.  I have absolutely no idea where that comes from. Maybe it’s a pork metaphor.

BOI
This answer has gone downhill quickly hasn’t it?

SP
I’m afraid so.  

SP
But I loved the relationship between those two characters.  Ultimately it’s heartbreaking, especially the scene where the two of them part in the street in Shaghai and I loved that.

BOI
Thanks so much for the time and I wish you the best of luck.,

HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS opens New York and Los Angeles this coming Friday with an October 3rd expansion

  

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