It seems like only yesterday that I was chatting up Simon Pegg about a film project, but in fact it was all of seven months ago. But since then, he’s had two trailers drop into the world, including one for the latest MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie ROGUE NATION, as well as the British romantic-comedy MAN UP [which does still not have a U.S. release date], opposite Lake Bell. And hopefully before the end of the year, we’ll also see Pegg in the latest film from Monty Pythons’ Terry Jones, ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING. These days, Pegg has been busy wrapping up writing (with partner Doug Jung) the third of the modern-day STAR TREK films, to be directed by Justin Lin. The fact that Pegg had five second to talk seems incredible under those circumstances.
But Pegg is actually just as dependent when it comes to promoting his smaller films as it is when it comes time to talk about his bigger-budget works or the films he makes with director Edgar Wright and frequent co-star Nick Frost. The film we were put on the phone to discuss this time around is the Australian production KILL ME THREE TIMES, in which Pegg goes against type to play a horrible person named Charlie Wolfe, who just happens to be a professional assassin from Britain, living in Australia for reasons unknown. And if I told you more about the plot of this movie, I’d have to murder you.
I can tell you the film is a lot of fun, twisted and reveals its secrets in unusual way. Directed by Kriv Stenders, KILL ME THREE TIMES co-stars Teresa Palmer, Alice Braga, Luke Hemsworth, Sullivan Stapleton, Callan Mulvey, and the great Bryan Brown. And it’s set to open in some markets this weekend; you can also check it out on VOD right now. With that please enjoy me chat with the always lovely and spirited Simon Pegg…
Simon Pegg: Hey, buddy.
Capone: Mr. Pegg, how are you?
SP: I’m good. How are you?
Capone: I feel like every few months or so we have to do one of these.
SP: May it last for a long time.
Capone: You’ve got plenty coming up this year, so that doesn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility.
SP: I might see you even more, actually. It seems to be something of a bottleneck with MISSION being brought forward, and there’s a whole bunch of other stuff too.
Capone: Well, you had two trailers drop yesterday. That was pretty exciting. I’ll admit, I’d completely forgotten about MAN UP, but I do remember you and Lake Bell going back and forth on Twitter like a couple school kids while you were making that.
SP: Yep. That came out. We had a little double whammy on the front page of IMDB, because there was the MISSION trailer, and then you saw right next to it the MAN UP trailer. You know what it’s like, sometimes post-production schedules sync up, and suddenly everything comes out at once, so it’s going to be a bit of a bottleneck. There you go. There are worse things.
Capone: Rough life, I know. So with KILL ME THREE TIMES, when you’re handed a script like this, it seems like it would be a fun script just to read—the way it’s structured and plotted out and wacky timelines and reveals. Does that immediately make it fun for you because these people actually took the trouble to make this entertaining as hell, let me see what we can do with it. Tell me about your immediate reaction.
SP: Yeah, it was a weird one, because it landed on my desk a little bit late in the year, or at least scheduled late in the year when I was doing a lot of traveling around and I had been away from home a lot. And then the script came in, which was really fun to read. It was artful and surprising. You could see it on the page. It wasn’t something I particularly wanted to say no to, even though it meant going out to Perth, and I figured what I had to do was say, “I would love to do this, I’m serious about that, but can you please shoot me out in two weeks.” Just to see what they would say, because I wasn’t saying no, but at the same time I wasn’t saying I would come out and be in western Australia for six weeks. They basically said okay. Sure enough, I went out and did a very intensive two-week shoot, and got all of Charlie’s stuff done and came back out in the UK while they finished doing a film. I was really lucky there, because it was a script I didn’t want to pass over, because it felt like it would be fun. Also, because it was a very different role for me to play. It was a chance to play someone who was a lot less…well, he is ikable in a weird way. He’s certainly not as nice as a human being.
Capone: He’s a terrible human being.
SP: [laughs] Yeah, he’s terrible, but at least he has principles. I really like the fact that, functionally, he is the audience’s way in, as well, to the Eagle’s Nest. We ride in with Charlie. So the film is asking you to essentially sympathize with an amoral monster, which is kind of interesting.
Capone: He’s the narrator too, so that immediately puts us in his head. Were you in any way familiar with Kriv’s other films? What was it about his approach to this material that you specifically liked?
SP: Well, I had seen RED DOG, and I really liked it. It’s a really warm and satisfying movie. I knew it had been a huge hit in Australia, and I have an affection for Australia as well, because I had been there many times, particularly at a formative time of my life. So the idea of making a film with Australian filmmakers was really appealing. Once I got on the phone with him and started chatting, like all great filmmakers, he’s a real movie buff and he loves the arts. He’s excited and full of ideas. We riffed on the whole look of Charlie, and I suggested the mustache. He also has a scorpion tattoo on his neck, which you don’t often see, but the tail just sticks out of his collar—all these details that we obsessed about. And then I went into Portsmouth and Covent Garden and got tailored for this Martin Blank-style black suit [from GROSSE POINTE BLANK] that we wanted him to be wearing, just so he looked like a bizarre anomaly in the desert. Kriv’s enthusiasm was really infectious.
Capone: You brought up a couple of things I was going to ask about. Let’s talk about the practicality of the all-black suit in the desert and on these beachfront locations. In my mind, I always figured real-life hit men would probably benefit from not standing out quite so much. But here, there seems to be the opposite approach.
SP: Well, we came to that from a number of angles. One is that he’s like the Grim Reaper. It’s like he’s as conspicuous as a man with a cloak with a scythe. The other thing is, we figured he probably was ex-British military and he decided to go into contract killing because he liked it, and was probably was a little romantic about it. He probably thought, “I’m going to get a black suit, a cool car.” And also, the film operates on a level of heightened reality. It’s a stage show. The characters are all larger than life. It’s not supposed to be particularly realistic. So we like the idea of Charlie’s theatricality, and the fact that he’s modeled himself on a variety of hit men that he had seen in films and comics. So that was Charlie’s motivation.
Capone: I was going to say, Charlie has definitely been watching too many hit man movies. Clearly, that’s what links him to you.
SP: [laughs] Exactly. The cultural awareness of it. But at the same time, it wasn’t arch in that respect or post-modern. They are archetypes, really, that populate this film. Eagle’s Nest is almost only them there. It’s only the protagonists that are there. So Charlie is very much a type, a stereotype, and he needs to be in order to function within the story, because the story is about, you know, you’ve got the femme fatale, you’ve got the innocent girl, the young lovers, you’ve got the corrupt policeman. It’s all big, big characters, and as such, you need to draw them.
Capone: It’s a really cool cast, but knowing you, I have to imagine that getting to spend any amount of time with Bryan Brown had to blow your mind a little bit, because that guy is the quintessential Australian actor for a certain age group. What were some of the things racing through your head when you actually got to meet him and work with him?
SP: Oh yeah. He’s an absolute elder statesman of Australia cinema, and not just Australian cinema, but he made that transition into Hollywood cinema as well, obviously. Not just COCKTAIL, but F/X. He’s Bryan Brown. To meet him and find him to be extremely personable, and he had no superiority working with all us youngsters. He was really fun and really collaborative and extremely normal. He’s like a proper Aussie bloke. He’s very down to earth, very dry and great fun to be around and to chat to as well. I love talking to older actors, just because they’re always replete with stories, and Bryan was no exception.
Capone: Did you create a backstory for Charlie as to how he ended up a Brit in Australia? Was it originally written as a Brit?
SP: Originally, I don’t think the story was even set in Australia when the film was originally written. I think it was set in Ireland, and it was then adapted for Australia. It was almost important to not be too specific about why he’s there. The more of a contradiction he is to his surroundings, the more effective he is. It’s like a wraith in a way. It’s like, “What the fuck is that guy doing there?” In my own mind and in Kriv’s mind, we rationalized that he was out in Australia, he probably worked as a mercenary, and then he just wound up freelancing somewhere far away from the places he committed his worst crimes. But I also like the weirdness of him as well. I also like the incongruity.
Capone: It never ceases to work on me when I see a character who is just really good at their job, like a complete professional. No matter what the job, it just makes you have a little more respect for that guy, and that’s when I think about Charlie. Do you agree with that?
SP: Totally. I think that’s really important in this movie, because Charlie basically walks into a place full of absolute amateurs [laughs]. And they’re painfully amateur at what they do, all of them. And it’s a stark contrast to his clinical, super-precise nature. He has all his gadgets, weaponry, arsenal, and he’s so sleek and fetishistic. He walks into a place where everyone is just fucking winging it. Even down to the police, who are just lackadaisical and supremely corrupt. You like Charlie because of that. In a room full of despicable people, he is the most likable, because at least he’s precise and a little bit more principled, albeit evilly.
Capone: As I was writing these questions, I realized I can’t really talk about the story without giving away key points. I’m used to this level of secrecy with some of your bigger films; I’m not sure I approve of having this level of secrecy on your smaller films.
SP: [laughs] Yeah, right. Well it’s funny, because that’s simply about protecting the plot twists. With keeping secrets on films like STAR TREK and MISSION—but particularly STAR TREK—it’s about trying to preserve the integrity of the audience experience. Similarly so with this. But you feel like it’s more of a personal choice that you make, because obviously you could spill all the beans, but it’s nice that you’re not.
Capone: Speaking of STAR TREK, are you still writing now, or are you done writing?
SP: I should be now, but I’m out promoting this film.
Capone: You’re wasting time with me.
SP: [laughs] No, no. We’re trying to get as much done when we can as possible. I’m going to see Doug this week, and Doug’s going to come over to the UK next week. We’re going to get our heads down. It’s been an interesting way to work, because we’ve essentially had to create a whole bunch of stuff very quickly for the production to start working on, without having the minutia of the script in place. It’s a strange way to work, but its necessity means that’s the way we have to work. But at the same time, it’s inspiring us to come up with good stuff. We don't have any choice. This film is going to go into production this summer, and we have to write it by then. It’s not like we have the luxury of time. We don’t. Often you’ll procrastinate. If you do have the time, you’ll just sit around. We’re being forced to create. It’s not how I’m used to working, but it’s not unproductive.
Capone: You thought you were under the microscope just being in it, and now you’re actually writing it. Are we finally going to get that solo Scotty story that fans have been clamoring for? THE SEARCH FOR SCOTTY? Here’s your chance.
SP: Actually, I was like, “Let’s kill Scotty” and they were like, “No!” It’s weird. I’m allowing the Scotty storyline to evolve. I’m trying not to get too involved. I’m not going to put him in the forefront. He’ll have his place in the story, but at the same time, I don’t want people to watch the movie knowing that I’ve contributed to the writing. I’m not writing it by myself. It’s a team. Doug and I, and Justin obviously has input. Lindsey Webber [the head of the film division at Bad Robot] and [producer] Bryan Burk. We’re all collaborating. I realize I’ll probably take the blame if it doesn’t work, but that’s the risk I’m having to take. If anything, I’m going to write myself less, because then I can have more time off and still get to be in STAR TREK.
Capone: Speaking of pushing you to the forefront, in watching that full-length MISSION IMPOSSIBLE trailer—and I haven’t taken a stopwatch to it—it seems like Benji’s character gets bigger and bigger with each movie. It almost feels like you’re in the trailer as much as Tom Cruise is.
SP: [laughs] What I’m hoping for is when Tom finally hangs up his boots in 50 years, there will be a Benji movie. But it’s been lovely to play a character that I never anticipated evolving like this though various stages of his development. We have this idea that in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3, when he was forced into helping Ethan remotely, it gave him a taste for adventure, so he enrolled in the field agent program, then we see him in GHOST PROTOCOL fresh and new to it. And now we see him in ROGUE NATION, and he’s been at it a few years, and he’s now a more experienced elder statesman of the IMF [Impossible Missions Force]. He’s still essentially the same person and still has the same function, but it’s been really fun to play him as a little less wet behind the ears.
Capone: Let me ask you real quick just about MAN UP. What is this film’s spin on men and women. What is the take here that might be different than what we are used to in these kind of films?
SP: Nira Park [producer of all of Edgar Wright’s films, among others] gave me the script. It was written on spec by Tess Morris who wrote the screenplay for Big Talk Productions who made SHAUN OF THE DEAD and “Spaced” and everything we’ve done. She looked at our output and decided she wanted to write something for us, which she did. The script immediately went on the UK blacklist, and other companies were asking her to make it with them, and she stuck with us, which is lovely. I think the key to it is that it’s just entirely honest about what it is. It’s a romantic comedy. It treats the genre without being snide about it.
There have been a lot of romantic comedies recently that have tried to undermine the notion of the romantic comedy, like it was a bad thing. When in fact, there’s a lot to be said about romantic relationships that isn’t about a post-modern take on the genre. It’s a very raw and honest take on a woman who’s been very unlucky in love and then decides to take this mad chance on someone. We know what a romantic comedy is. We know the beats. We know the journey. What we don’t always know is the root. So the thing with this film is it’s a really fun way of getting there. Obviously, we hope that there’s going to be true love at the end, and we hope that the dreams and desires of the characters are going to be fulfilled. We can expect that to happen.
What’s important is how we get there, and what Tess wrote is really fun, dynamic, and quite painfully honest romantic comedy in the truest sense of the word, in tradition of films like WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… or even ANNIE HALL, which is a slightly more subversive version of the romantic comedy. They’re still very truthful. It’s as much about the romance as it is about the comedy.
Capone: Amidst all of the bigger films that you’re involved within a given period, is it important for you to find room in your film life to find smaller films like this one, like HECTOR?
SP: Absolutely. I love being in the big, fun films, because they’re the kind of films I grew up loving as a kid, and to be part of that kind of machinery, the size and scope, the chance to work with people like Tom is always great. I also always want to stay in touch with the smaller filmmaking side of things, because that’s where a lot of invention and spirit and enthusiasm and passion is. For me, I don’t want to ever lose touch with that. There’s a place for big, brash entertainment, and I would never, ever dismiss it. It’s as important to me as the other, but I do like to do smaller things as well and try to work with newer people and do films that are more cerebral.
Capone: Back to STAR TREK for a second, it’s weird. I’ve only met Justin Lin once, but it was for BETTER LUCK TOMORROW [his 2002 second feature].
SP: Oh, his Sundance movie.
Capone: Yeah, and he came to Chicago with it, and he was so cool. It’s funny that he never made a movie that size again.
SP: It happens a lot these days. Hollywood is constantly scouting for young, inventive talent to direct big movies, probably because you don’t have to pay them that much. But everyone from Justin to Mark Webber to Edgar even, people who seem to display huge potential, they go, “Okay. Here’s a giant franchise.” But what’s important is that the studios have faith in them. If you’re going to get someone who has a specific vision, let them do that, don’t just hire them because they’re cheap and you can think that they can do it. Let them do what they do, and you’ll see a refreshing blockbuster. Otherwise, it’s just cookie-cutter cinema.
Capone: Simon, until we meet again, and best of luck with this.