Movies & TV / Columns

411 Interview: Simon Pegg Talks Man Up, Being in Action Films, More

November 20, 2015 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Simon Pegg

Fans stateside likely know actor, writer and producer Simon Pegg best for his work as Scotty in the new Star Trek films and Benji in the Mission: Impossible movie franchise. Pegg is also beloved to more hardcore film and TV fans for his work with director Edgar Wright for The Three Flavours of Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. However, this week Simon Pegg co-stars opposite Lake Bell in the charming, fun new romantic comedy Man Up. Pegg portrays the male lead Jack, a newly-single man who gets wrapped up in a blind date with Nancy (Bell), who Jack believes is someone else before high jinks ensue. The film will be getting its digital release this week. Recently, I got the chance to speak with the multi-talented Pegg, who also executive produced the film.

Jeffrey Harris: This film was quite surprising because I went in knowing almost nothing about it, which is rare in this day of filmmaking. Ultimately, I found the film quite charming because it constantly subverted my expectations and surprised me.

Simon Pegg: That’s kind of what I got when I read it. Nira Park, who is my longtime producer and friend — I’ve know her since we did Spaced, the TV show — she gave me this script the last day of filming The World’s End. She said, “Take a look at this. It’s filming in London next year, and you might like to look at Jack.” I trust Nira implicitly. The thought of filming in London was a big draw because I could stay in my house. I read it, and I was really taken with it because it felt at once very unapologetic for what it was, which is a romantic comedy. But at the same time, a little spiky and a little truthful. There seems to be this tendency toward denigrating romantic comedies as of late because it becomes something sort of cheesy or whatever. Whereas this embraced what it was. As a fan of When Harry Met Sally or Annie Hall, as a demonstration of what romantic comedy could be and should be, I immediately phoned Nira back and said, “Yeah, I’d like to do this. It’ll be fun.”

Jeffrey Harris: Lake Bell is a natural at comedy. How did you like getting to work with her?

Simon Pegg: Lake sort of came in — We spent a long time looking for Nancy.
We were obviously looking for a Brit for Nancy. Jack could’ve been American, but Nancy had so much family in the UK in the movie. Part of the film is about her getting to her mother and father’s 40th wedding anniversary. She kind of had to be British, which meant we had quite a small focus for our casting. And we decided to cast the net a little wider and look for American actors who could do a British accent, and Lake came up. We went to the US, and I read with her. And she was just really good and seemed to get the screenplay. She went off to do No Escape in Thailand, and we sort of offered her the role. She started working with Joel McCulloch, who is a brilliant dialect coach here in the UK and started working on the accent and perfecting. And [she] came to the UK pretty much sounding like a native. So it was really fun to cast forward and to work with someone I didn’t know and hadn’t actually heard of before and find a rhythm with them. Lake and I quickly established that sort of back and forth, which powered Jack and Nancy’s relationship.

Jeffrey Harris: What I found so appealing about Tess Morris’ script is that when Nancy meets Jack in the film, I assumed it was going to be one of those typical romantic comedy tropes of a mistaken identity. So how long can Nancy keep her lie together? Then the lie really falls apart about midway through the film, so all bets are off. It’s very rewarding to see a comedy do that.

Simon Pegg: Yeah.

Jeffrey Harris: Is that what you liked about the story because it’s not what you would typically expect from that type of comedy?

Simon Pegg: Well I liked the way that Tess sort of hung the film on a sort of classic rom-com misunderstanding, but then like you say, jettisons it pretty quickly. And then it becomes about how do we keep these two characters together? She contrives very smart, little ways to make sure that they don’t actually split up after that moment. They actually stick together for the night, and for the remainder of that journey are obviously at each other’s throats because he’s furious that she lied to him. She’s kind of mad at him because he’s upset that she’s not as young as he thought she was. They’re both pretending to be other people. She’s genuinely doing that. He’s sort of putting off a cool exterior. Really, he’s a broken, vulnerable man. So what you have in the second part of the story when the lie has been revealed is them kind of at loggerheads, and yet you see them in a bar arguing and you realize that they’re actually unbeknownst to them very much in tune with each other. They’re literally in-sync with each other. All that stuff just struck me as really smart and clever. It made for a much more colorful, two-sided story when you have two people who are — it’s not just Nancy fooling Jack. It’s them fooling each other, and then finding out the truth and talking about the truth and then meeting each other for real. That just struck me as a really smart dynamic for a screenplay.

Jeffrey Harris: I thought it was also very clever that you ended up going on the date with Ophelia Lovibond as Jessica and then see Rory Kinnear as Sean again. Rory Kinnear is amazing in this film, and he’s just blowing up all over the place between his roles in the James Bond 007 franchise and Penny Dreadful. Is he amazing or what? Because he can do it all.

Simon Pegg: Yes, a very talented actor. Rory is very established in England, which you are seeing right now with Bond. But his father Roy Kinnear was a very, very beloved comedy actor here in the UK. And Rory actually even looks a bit like his dad. And so it makes a lot of sense to me that Rory has such good comic chops because it’s in his blood. He’s very, very funny as Sean. The supporting cast with this movie — we were very lucky with Ophelia and Rory, but also Harriet Walter, Ken Stott, Sharon Horgan, who’s just blowing everyone away in Catastrophe at the moment. It’s really nice to have such a strong supporting cast playing these characters.

Jeffrey Harris: I think what works great about Ben Palmer’s direction is his sense of energy and pacing. I would say the film is very much a maturation of him as a filmmaker.

Simon Pegg: Yeah, I think Ben made some great choices. His directorial style is subtle, but at the same time, it’s got a lot of flavor to it. He’s shooting London, which is an incredibly romantic location. The humanity is very personally, at the same time as showcasing some of the city’s most famous landmarks.

Jeffrey Harris: At what point did Ben come into the film as the director?

Simon Pegg: Ben I think came in just before Lake did. We were developing it with another director, and we were a bit sort of stuck. Suddenly Ben’s name came up, and he had just done brilliantly with the first Inbetweeners movie, which is I think the biggest ever comedy film in UK history. And he came in to talk, and he just seemed to really get the material. He is really clued up and keyed into it. With something like a romantic comedy, which has these moments of improbability like the grand gesture at the end, that’s always a staple part of the ingredients it takes to make a rom-com. You have to shoot that in a way that makes the audience OK with it and go with it and enjoy it. He was really good at capturing that kind of stuff. I felt that with his Inbetweeners movie, he probably wanted to do more. This was opportunity to do that.

Jeffrey Harris: I’m very curious because TV is a very interesting landscape right now, and you worked on a very seminal TV show with Spaced. Have you ever given thought to possibly working on a TV show again in any capacity, and do you have anything in the pipeline?

Simon Pegg: Yeah, I mean 100 percent. The only thing that would deter me at the moment would be the idea of doing one thing for a very long time. There is no doubt in my mind that television is an incredibly auspicious medium right now. It’s where a lot of the serious acting is taking place. There are some incredible television shows. It seems a sort of succumbed place to be. At the moment, I’m quite happy sort of flitting from place-to-place. I wouldn’t want to relocate from where I am right now in terms of where I live. If I did a TV show, it would have to be in North London because I’m a bit of a homebody, and my work takes me away from home enough. But yeah absolutely. Television has never been more exciting than it is now.

Jeffrey Harris: What I also found clever about Man Up was Tess Morris writing about the female perspective on dating and how it can be awkward for women too. What did you think of that dynamic?

Simon Pegg: That’s one of the things that sort of drew me to the script was that Nancy was such a well-rounded, authentic character. When men write women, they tend to write women the way they want women to be, or the way they resent women for being. They don’t really — they seldom nail it. It takes a woman to write a really good female character. I like that. When I read the script, I really appreciated that and wanted to be a part of that. With Jack, she also wrote a great male character. I, as a writer, sort of said, “Look. Can I get in on this a little bit and give you a few pointers where Jack isn’t feeling so authentic?” She was more than happy to do that. So we worked a little bit together on making sure that Jack was as well rounded and three dimensional as Nancy. But yeah, the film’s heart is Nancy and by that Tess. I found that really appealing.

Jeffrey Harris: As hilarious as you are Simon, do you ever think about, “Wow. I’m also quite a talented action hero”?

Simon Pegg: *Laughs* Not really. I’ve appeared in those kind of films and have great fun doing it, and I’m always up for a challenge. I think with things like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek, those things are such an ensemble, it’s not like I’m Ethan Hunt. I’m Benji. I’m the guy that does the computer business. I know my place. It’s a fun world to exist in, and I relish doing those movies as much as I do the smaller ones. They’re always immense fun. I don’t know if I am — unless we do a Benji film, I don’t think I am an action hero really.

Jeffrey Harris: Last question, if you could be He-Man or Skeletor, who would you be?

Simon Pegg: Well that’s a good question. I think I would probably be He-Man because Battle Cat would clinch the deal for me because I’ve always wanted a large, green cat.

Thanks so much to Simon Pegg for taking the time to speak with us. Man Up is is available via VOD starting today (Nov. 20).

article topics :

Man Up, Simon Pegg, Jeffrey Harris