In the comedic-action film, directed by Kriv Stenders, Pegg plays Charlie Wolfe, a sleek assassin who finds himself caught up in three botched jobs. Indiewire hopped on the phone with Pegg to find out how he balances this seesaw of roles and his upcoming rom-com at the Tribeca Film Festival.
So, I watched the movie yesterday and it was quite shocking.
There seems to be this cool trend of dark, violent comedy happening right now, especially in the indie world.
Yeah. I had a very busy year in terms of traveling around the world. I’d been on, I think on all five continents — and I was just about ready to get back to my family, and spend some quality time, and this sort of dropped in to my inbox, and I read it and thought, “Oh no, this is a script that’s filming in Perth, and it might require me to be away again,” and I couldn’t say no, because I liked it. So I sort of tentatively said, “Can you shoot me out in two weeks?”
Then they said yes! And I chatted with Kriv* just about the look of Charlie, and what Charlie was all about. And I went to my costume fitting in a Paul Smith in London to get his sort of sleek, black, shark-like persona going. And then I went out to Perth, and had a fantastic two weeks! We did everything of mine in a very short space of time.
Wow, that’s impressive. Did it feel rushed at all?
No, not at all! We had to essentially shoot the beginning and the end of the movie in the same week. So, that was quite a challenge. But it meant that when they got on with the shooting the film after I left, that everyone was on their full game. I wouldn’t want to do anything that felt that we weren’t giving the full attention. It’s just that we focused specifically on Charlie’s storyline for the first part of the shoot, and took the time to get that done properly before we moved on to the rest of it and I went home.
The character is totally suave, and has a restrained coolness to him. Does that feel like a departure for you compared to other characters you’ve played?
No, I feel like this character is more like me than anything I’ve ever played before.
Yeah, I’m an amoral killer. [laughs] No, it was great — I really liked this sort of dynamic of Charlie, and he’s kind of the audience’s way into the movie, you know, the whole weirdness, the corruption is something we see through his eyes. It’s quite an interesting thing to make the audience see a film through the eyes of someone who is so fundamentally bad. But, in a weird way, he’s almost the most likable character in the movie, because at least he has principles, you know? In a plan full of conniving idiots, it’s actually quite refreshing to be with Charlie, which sets an interesting dynamic for the movie.
I’m sure a lot of people, considering some of your more beloved roles, perhaps kind of think you’re a goofball in real life, but you’re more restrained, as this character is?
[laughs] I don’t know. I mean, for me, it was just a chance to do something a little different. You get into the habit of playing specific kinds of people — you know, I often play fairly regular guys put into extraordinary situations, so to play someone who’s a little more arch, and someone who’s so sort of shark-like and kind of bad, was really, really good fun. I’m not like Charlie. I’m not amoral, I have very strong morals. [laughs]
[laughs] Good, I’m glad. So, you were mentioning traveling again. This marked kind of an interesting international role for you. You’ve obviously had a very worldly career, can you tell me about how different audiences around the world have different reactions to your films, or things that you’ve noticed?
I find that one thing that’s interesting, is you realize just how democratizing cinema is, and that you’ll find that there’s a great common ground out there for people, and the people that see the movies in America, or the UK, or Australia, or Europe — they tend to be very, very similar, you know? And it’s heartening to know that we can find a huge common ground in art (if I may be so lofty). I really love to travel — the only thing for me, is the separation from my family, which I occasionally have to incur. But I’m always careful to manage that and never be away longer than a certain amount of time before I go back and visit. Of course Skype and FaceTime are an enormous help these days. But other than that, which is a tremendous drawback, the traveling is great fun. You get to see a lot of the world. Perth is the most remote city on earth in terms of geographical distances from other places, so it was really fun to go there and experience that part of Australia. I’d only ever been to the Eastern Australia and the middle of Australia, I’d never gotten across to Western Australia. So it was lovely to experience the culture down there.
Another thing that I wanted to bring up, because I’m a huge nerd, is “Star Trek.” You’ve got the third film coming up, can you tell me a bit about stepping into such an iconic character, and how that felt for the first two films, and what do you hope for for the third?
Well, you know, obviously as a fan of the show, and the films, it was a big deal to take on Scotty, and it still is. Even more so, now that I’m kind of writing — or co-writing — the third film, I’m very aware of the importance of what I’m currently in control of. But if anything, I will probably underwrite Scotty for this one, because I’ll feel bad about bigging myself up or giving him too much to do, because people would go, “Oh! He just wrote the film for himself.” And also, I can kind of govern how much I’m in the films, so I can take lots of time off. [laughs]
Another high-profile film that just came on the radar is the next “Mission Impossible” film, for which the trailer just came out. Is there anything in particular we can look forward to from your character in this next film?
Yeah, I really loved playing Benji. I didn’t really know he was going to evolve into what he did. When I did the first film, “Mission Impossible: 3” was my first, J.J. Abrams had seen “Shaun of the Dead,” and thought, “Oh, let’s get him in, he’ll be fun,” and we hit off a friendship that’s 10 years now, of being good friends. And I remember when he called me to do “Ghost Protocol,” I just got an email just saying, “How would you feel if Benji was an agent?” and I was like, “Yes, please!” And so to play him going into the IMF in “Ghost Protocol,” having been on one or two missions, to playing him in “Rogue Nation” where he’s been around the block, he’s a little more experienced, he’s a little less green — it was really good fun. He’s still essentially the same person, but he’s much more adept and much more capable than we’ve seen him be before. And it was great to get to play him and play his evolution.
Were there any pointers from Mr. Cruise on how to kind of take on that evolution?
[laughs] Tom always sort of inspires you to do your best work, because he never gives less than 100%. He’s so dedicated to his craft, Tom, he’s totally compelled to give the audience everything, and I love that about him; it’s inspiring to be around. So you’d really have to bring it to the table when you’re working with him, otherwise, you just vanish from the screen. But he’s always very keen to do his own stunts, so I would always do as much as possible, which is always fun. Particularly when we did a huge car chase in Morocco that you see a little bit of in the trailer, and that was all me and Tom. Tom was driving — he’s an extraordinary driver. I didn’t do much acting in those scenes because I was just screaming, but I was never particularly scared, because I felt like, “Oh, he’s got this.” And we did some crazy stuff. We went down a set of stairs in Rabat — like, in a car. And it was unbelievable.
It looks awesome. You go back and forth with these kind of big blockbuster projects and small indies. Tell me what you like about each of them. They’re completely different worlds, obviously.
I try and — as a fan of popular film growing up, being in films like “Star Trek” and “Mission” is kind of wish fulfillment — you know, it’s what I always wanted to do when I was a kid. But I think it’s important to try and keep a wide variety of work. I also like working with smaller productions and new directors and writers and stuff, so it’s just for my own sanity really, and my own enjoyment in what I do, it’s nice to mix it up. It’s never that different, really; the eye of the storm is always the same. The resources change. Suddenly, you’ve got three cameras and your on a set that’s the size of an air hanger — but in the very center of it all, it tends to be very, very similar. And maybe your trailer might be a bit different, but I want to hang on to this indie side of things as well, because I think a lot of really good ideas happen there. Big cinema now is about spectacle and wow factor, and the smaller films are where you get this more contemplative, more cerebral kind of stuff, which I’m a fan of — so I don’t want to lose touch with that.
One of your recent smaller movies, “Hector and the Search for Happiness” got a bit of negative backlash. Is that something that surprised you?
It did, it got a kicking. I saw it, when I read the movie, I saw it as a sort of child’s eye view. It was attacked for being naïve, and I think it is naïve — but I think it was part of the story in a way. It was about a guy who, kind of like a little boy, who sees the world in terms of the way children see the world, in grand, broad strokes, which was then interpreted as being sort of irresponsible stereotyping. I never really saw it like that when I read it, I thought it was fabulistic. It’s incredible, the amount of people that have seen it who aren’t critics who absolutely loved it in a very fundamental way. But I think it’s just too happy for critics; critics are generally quite miserable people. [laughs] So it got their backs up.
And, yeah, when you work on something that takes up so much time — you know I was working all around the world on “Hector,” and I had a very positive experience making the movie, I met a lot of wonderful people — and when you put something together and you put it out there and it’s just kind of universally dismissed, it’s tough, you know. But you’ve just got to pick yourself up and keep going.
Well, I enjoyed it.
So you’re not miserable! [laughs]
So you’ve got a film coming out that’s going to be at the Tribeca Film Festival called “Man Up,” with Lake Bell…
Yeah! It’s is a really fun romantic comedy written by a writer called Tess Morris, who wrote a fantastic character in Nancy, a really positive female role, which is very raw and honest, but at the same time totally embraces its role as a romantic comedy. I think romantic comedy, or “rom-com, has become a bit of a dirty word.
It’s on the comeback.
I think so. It’s a totally valid kind of trope, and I think you can undermine it all you like and make fun of it, but even the people who are doing that are making romantic comedies. You think of the great, you know, not just the really old fashioned ones with Cary Grant and what-have-you, but I mean, a film like “When Harry Met Sally,” you know — they’re great, great examples of romantic comedies that really deliver, and I think “Man Up” is a return to that kind of joyous celebration of that dynamic between the two leads who are essentially falling in love. We know the journey, because that’s why we’re going to the film, because we’re going to see a romantic comedy. The trick is to make the route to the end really, really, fun, and I think Tess managed to do that so well with this script. And Lake does a great British accent.
I was just going to ask — as a native, how was her accent?
She was flawless! I mean, we kind of hired her because we saw “In a World” and realized that dialect was her thing. And we were looking for a British actress to play Nancy, but we couldn’t find the right person, and suddenly it was like, “Why don’t we get Lake to do British? And she did, and she didn’t really speak in her own accent for the entire shoot — I don’t really know her because I’ve never heard her speak in her own voice. [laughs]
Is “Man Up” your first leading, romantic role?
I guess — I mean, “Shaun of the Dead” is a romantic comedy, really. People always call it a spoof, and it’s not a spoof. I get quite annoyed when people say it’s a spoof of zombie films. If anything, it might be a spoof of romantic comedies, certainly a particular kind of British romantic comedy. But in terms of the general no-irony, full-on, yes, believe-that-I-could-possibly-woo-someone-like-Lake-Bell, then yes it is, I guess.
Is that something that you always wanted to do? Or did it kind of fall into your lap?
It fell into my lap! It was something that Nira Park, my producer who I’ve worked with for many, many years, from today to “Shaun of the Dead,” and “Hot Fuzz,” and “World’s End” and “Paul,” she gave it to me on the set of “At World’s End,” and the first thing about it was it was shooting in London, which meant I could stay, and sleep in my own bed, and see my kids so I was like, “I’ll read this.” And I read it and I thought it was so much fun, and it just seemed like a no-brainer. But I don’t really have any specific ambition when it comes to playing characters, I always try to take everything on a case-by-case basis, you know? But I say no to far more than I say yes to. [laughs]
Then you’re high in demand!