Interview: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost

The director and his stars on The World’s End.

A bittersweet ending to the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy (or Three Flavours Cornetto as its helmer prefers), The World’s End is a slice of pure fried gold from its creators Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Pegg plays Gary King, a troubled party animal who rounds up his childhood friends (Frost, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman) in a desperate bid to complete the small town pub crawl that marked the parting of their ways as youths. A touching, hilarious and nostalgic example of everything that is likeable about the trio’s work, it’s their most personal film to date. We recently caught up with Pegg, Frost and Wright in a London hotel for a round table chat, and this is what we learned.

On the music of The World’s End.

Pegg: I was very much a goth from about 16 to 21. The big names for me at the time were Sisters of Mercy - obviously my favourite band - Bauhaus, The Cure, Balaam and the Angel, The March Violets. And a lot of hairspray, tight trousers and winklepickers. That’s the only thing about Gary - I wouldn’t have worn the Docs ‘til a little while later. I relished going back. I never dyed my hair black when I was young - for some reason I thought it would upset my mum - so to do it was like putting something to bed.
Frost: I was a raver, and it’s never left me. Obviously the fashion is different, but I still listen to the music a lot.
Wright: I would like to think of myself as an indie kid, but I don’t think I was ever that cool. I started buying NME when I was 16, but up until that point it was exclusively what had been on the Radio One Top 40. I remember specifically when an indie song would break in, and it seemed quite dangerous. Bruno Brookes would say, ‘At number 37 it’s Primal Scream with Loaded,’ and you’d go ‘Woah! What is this?’ Those anthems have never gone away.
Pegg: Me and Edgar had a 200-song playlist which we were listening to during the writing process, and certain songs stood above. Loaded was something integral to the story and the script, and stuff like The Happy Mondays, The Soup Dragons, The Stone Roses, then stuff like Kylie as we wanted to bring the pop end in, and Saint Etienne and the more clubby stuff. We’re both big fans of The Sundays. We wanted to have the music exist from a five-year gap from ‘87 to ‘92. It’s Gary’s mixtape.

On the inspiration and influences for the film.

Wright: There are themes Simon and I have discussed as far back as Spaced that we wanted to wrap up in this movie. In all three films we touch upon the idea of perpetual adolescence, and the joys and the dangers of that, and we wanted to do a film about that. Shaun of the Dead was about a guy turning 30, and we had to be honest about the age of the actors - Simon and Nick are both husbands and fathers. There’s a thing about the American manchild comedies, where people pretend to be stoner flatmates forever, and that’s not true. We thought a good thing to do would take four people who are grown up, divorced, married, with kids and proper jobs and one guy hasn’t grown up. We thought of Gary as the ghost of sixth form past. He appears like a wraith in the movie! It’s one of the reasons we didn’t do a third Spaced, as it would be extremely false to pretend to be 26 forever.
Pegg: Edgar had this thing in Wales, and I had in Gloucester, where you go back and there’s this simultaneous sensation of familiarity and alienation. You can’t put your finger on it as it looks the same, but doesn’t feel the same. It’s because you’re different.
Wright: Since Spaced we didn’t want to do movie references as we did that a lot, and Hot Fuzz was more of a meta film as they talk about the movies. In this, the sci-fi theme was exactly what we wanted to say about the homogeny of chain pubs and how the British high street has changed, about how you can never go home again. People like John Christopher and British TV sci-fi were huge influences, a strain of sci-fi that was darker and would tackle events through a narrow focus of one town.
Pegg: We watched It’s Always Fair Weather, the Gene Kelly musical, we watched The Big Chill and Fandango. We decided not to do what we did with Hot Fuzz, which is watch lots of films, because we didn’t feel we needed to learn any language of cinema. We weren’t going to make any comments about science fiction or have any references to films - any references you pick up on are unintentional or subconscious. Even films you could apply it being similar to such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Stepford Wives, Village of the Damned… we thought we should come in from a social-science fiction angle and look at John Wyndham, who wrote The Midwich Cuckoos and Day of the Triffids, so any influence is probably a literary one.
Wright: Me and my brother designed the ‘blanks’ like action men when we were kids. We liked the idea of dismembered action figures. The blue is because I wanted to make the actors feel like little kids; when I was at school I used to end the day with fountain pen ink all over my hands and face.

On the action scenes.

Frost: It was fantastic. We got to work with Brad Allan, who works with Jackie Chan, so you have the potential chance to impress someone who is impressed by Jackie Chan! He’s quite a serious man, and he knows his business, but he’s a big ball of muscle. We did about four weeks of rehearsal, hitting bags and pads. He’d have his laptop up and press play and say this is what we were going to do, and it would be the finished fight but just him and his guys in a rehearsal room with boxes. It was fantastic. I got to fight ten men at once but not get hit.
Pegg: We had an editor on set to edit the video assist, so we could see exactly how the film was developing. They were filmed in one complete shot - eight minutes of fighting.
Frost: One thing I found about the ‘pub-fu’ with the stools, I had to hit those men a lot. I think they get paid by the nosebleed.
Wright: I think Simon saw Scott Pilgrim and what all the 20-year-olds had done, and thought ‘I can do that!’ Okay, let’s do it! We wanted to do these really intense brawls, and the thing I’m most proud of is that it’s apparent in the movie the actors are really doing it. There are no knives, no guns, and it feels slightly different, like a bar brawl that’s become surreal and out of control.

On casting trilogy newcomer Eddie Marsan and the rest of the gang.

Frost: We had the best time on Snow White [and the Huntsman], so at an early point I said we should work with Eddie.
Pegg: Eddie is a master of playing bad guys. He refers to himself as ‘Rent-a-c-word’ Marsan, and we loved the idea of him playing a sympathetic loveable character. He was the only choice we had for Peter. There’s this bit where he falls asleep when someone’s droning on and it’s just pure Stan Laurel when he wakes up. It was our dream cast and we got it.
Frost: We just hung out and laughed a lot. Paddy [Considine] left to his own will just dance around and say inappropriate things.
Pegg: Paddy’s got a terrible habit of talking right up to the point of action, and the last thing he will say before action will leave you there digesting what he’s just said.
Frost: That scene in the bowls club is nine pages long, and it felt like proper acting. Paddy would say things like [adopt’s Considine’s strong Burton accent] ‘It’s like fucking Donmar Ware’ouse. Who the fuck’s going to watch eight minutes of acting?’
Pegg: Martin Freeman’s a dark horse, as he likes to crack you up but he pretends he’s not doing it.
Frost: It was very supportive. We had moments where our characters were angry or upset, and it’s proper acting, not just goofy comedy. We all did that thing where it goes cut, and Eddie or Martin would come up and pat you on the back.
Pegg: Rosamund Pike, what a star. We used to give her penguin cuddles when it was cold outside. She’d stand in the middle of the circle of five and we’d turn around [sings Magic Roundabout theme]. In a very boysy set she made herself heard and had a great time. I went on to do a film with Ros immediately afterwards where we play lovers, and we were able to pick up our friendship on that set.

On Nick Frost playing a very different sidekick.

Wright: Nick can be very stern when he’s on the phone to the council, and I thought I wanted to see that Nick in a film! He can be extremely severe and terrifying. Simon and I felt we wanted to have redemption for Gary, that guy, as there are elements of me and Simon in him. Everyone knows someone like that, the coolest guy in school who hasn’t moved on. We like the idea he’s attempting to bring him back down to his level. In the first half hour he’s already thinking about ditching them to hang out with some teenagers!

On the location shooting.

Wright: The reason we went to Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth was that they were the original garden cities and they had the architecture from the ’10s and ’20s, and for me that gave it the British sci-fi vibe. When I was walking around I got a distinct John Wyndham vibe, which was great. The irony is that Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth are both Quaker towns, and were designed to be dry. They actually didn’t have enough bars, so we had to fabricate them ourselves. I think the locals were bemused that we made their towns the drinking towns as they don’t have any pubs! Pub number 11 is actually Letchworth train station. We couldn’t shut it down, so every 20 minutes hundreds of commuters would come pouring out.

On real-life pub crawls.

Wright: When I was 19 I tried to do one in Somerset, my home town where we shot Hot Fuzz. I got through six and got black-out drunk and wandered off before finding my friends at 2am. I wrote a film about it, Crawl, when I was 21. I never did anything with it, but after Hot Fuzz I kept thinking about it, and thought it could be the first three minutes of the movie. It’s probably a good thing a lot of the pubs are not real!
Frost: We’re not pub crawl people to be honest. We had one with Edgar a few years ago which lasted about three pints and we had to take him home. We had a pub crawl at our stags, but a friend brought a bottle of absinthe shaped like the Eiffel Tower and that put paid to that. We’re the people who found a beautiful pub, sat in the pub and the crawl came to us.
Pegg: I had an epiphany today that a pub crawl is a way of justifying abusive alcohol intake. If you sit in a pub and drink twelve pubs it’s a lot, but if you go on a crawl it’s a quest and there’s a reason.
Frost: If I did a pub crawl now it would be in a beautiful Spanish city - we’d stop and have sherry and chorizo, and then move on and have potatas bravas.
Pegg: I’d do a cafe crawl now, with a nice bit of cake and a cup of tea.

Filmbeat also interviewed the gang - watch below.