Comedy actor Simon Pegg’s new film required him to play a slovenly writer who struts about wearing only his underpants – and he had no trouble getting into character, he tells Albertina Lloyd.
MEETING Simon Pegg feels a bit like catching up with an old friend. He’s Tim from Spaced, the geeky flatmate who isn’t ashamed of his love of comics and science fiction. The kind of guy you can chuckle over a few pints with, and who you would definitely want on your team in a pub quiz.
Today, he’s particularly keen to chat about his latest film, surreal comedy horror A Fantastic Fear Of Everything, which marks the directorial debut of Kula Shaker’s Crispian Mills.
Pegg plays children’s author Jack, who has become so paranoid researching a new Victorian crime novel that he can barely leave the house.
Pegg explains: “Jack is a sweet children’s author who has decided to ‘get serious’ and write about something a little more grown-up so it takes on the notion of serial killers and death because that’s the most serious thing he can think of.
“When really it’s his children’s writing which bears all the terror and fear for him, because it’s the very thing he projects all his childhood trauma onto. So even though he’s trying to redirect his talents to something more grown-up, the spirit of his hedgehog Harold won’t let him go.”
Pegg spends much of the film looking unkempt and dishevelled, wearing very little other than a pair of dirty Y-fronts.
“It was joyous,” he exclaims. “I can’t think of a better way to spend a day than just in your pants and get paid for it. It was brilliant. And utterly comfortable.
“By the time everyone had seen me once, it became a very common thing to just see me walking around... naked... and just sitting in a deck chair with my legs sprawled!” Pegg suppresses a snigger at his own joke.
Today he is looking dapper in a pastel shirt with the sleeves rolled back to show off his LA tan, and his trademark bleached blond hair slicked back.
It’s a world away from the hairy, maniacal creature in the film, which required him to abandon all personal grooming.
“I grew my nails out and I grew my facial hair out and I did a lot of yoga so that I lost a lot of weight,” he reveals.
And yet he manages to make such a horrifying appearance most amusing.
“One of the great things about Simon Pegg is you can relate to him,” says director Mills. “He’s a real everyman.
“I think that’s a pretty magical quality. It’s just a gift he’s got. That’s why he’s a movie star.”
And Pegg is a big star these days. Since the success of his films with friends Edgar Wright and Nick Frost – Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz – Pegg has gone on to star in Hollywood blockbusters Mission: Impossible 4, Star Trek and Steven Spielberg’s Tintin movie adaptation.
He hangs out with A-listers Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow. He could even be classed, though probably much against his own wishes, as a celebrity.
But Pegg, who seems to be living the dream, is dismissive of such a title. “I don’t know if I am big Hollywood star. I work in America. That doesn’t mean you’re a Hollywood star – Tom Cruise is a big Hollywood star.
“I’m just an actor and I can fortunately speak the same language as they do so I have the opportunity to work there as well. The thing about being in LA, you are in the very thick of the industry and you find yourself getting jobs at dinner, rather than having to make an effort.”
He’d jump at the opportunity to do some serious drama, but concedes comedy is his “first love”. He has just shot a part in a U.S. TV pilot playing a “Jewish Californian comic”, but accepts that Americans see him as “the funny British guy”.
“I’m the guy who crops up and makes jokes in difficult situations and I’m happy if that’s my entry into working in American cinema.
“America is a really prolific market place and they have less trouble getting films made than we do. Because they have an industry, and we just have a lot of talented people trying to make films – that’s not an industry.”
Pegg, Wright and Frost are about to begin work on their highly-anticipated film The World’s End, the final part in their Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. It will have the biggest budget so far, but he’s apprehensive about the audience reaction.
“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to show your work (to everyone). You’d get to make the film with all the resources available and then just give a DVD to your mum, and you wouldn’t have to go through the trauma of everyone judging it.”
Pegg admits to being scared of failure – and being eaten by lions. “That happens,” he deadpans matter-of-factly.
But as a husband and father to young daughter Matilda, the 42-year-old has had to “man up” and conquer his fear of spiders.
“I’m the one who has to get rid of them because everyone else in the house is scared – even my dog,” he says.