HERE is an interview with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost written for The Big Issue in the North in early 2004, just ahead of the release of their rom-zom-com Shaun Of The Dead.
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IT’S all very well for the Americans.
They have the right – some might even say the duty – to bear arms under their Constitution. But just suppose for a minute that, say, the cannibalistic undead rose from their graves in this country – how would we Brits defend ourselves against the zombie multitude?
Don’t laugh. It could happen.
“I think that the British would be much better at fighting zombies than the Americans,” decides Nick Frost. “The Americans would rely too heavily on firearms. When they ran out of bullets they’d find it difficult to adapt.”
“Exactly!” agrees Simon Pegg. “They would have no proficiency in the use of no weapons.”
“I’d go with something like a Lee Enfield with a bayonet,” Frost ruminates, “because you can fire, fire, fire, oh, I’ve run out of bullets, what’s next?” He thrusts an imaginary rifle towards Pegg’s face. “Bang! Right in the eyeball!”
“We always used to think about getting some kind of long stick, like a long crook with a point on so you can just come in, top of the head, crack, there, straight into the cranium” – Pegg jabs a finger at the top of Frost’s head – “Bang! Brained!”
Okay. Is that door locked?
“We’ve thought about this a lot. You can probably tell.”
Appropriately enough for a discussion of all things zombie-related, Frost and Pegg are holed up in a cellar - not the cellar of some shack in the mountains but of some plush hotel in North London. There are no windows and they’ve been shut in here all day.
The duo, best known for their roles in the surreal and hilarious cult C4 sit-com Spaced, are here to talk about Shaun Of The Dead, a genre-busting romantic-zombie-comedy.
Pegg, who wrote the screenplay with director Edgar Wright, stars as Shaun, a listless Everyman who spends too much time down the pub with his stoner mate Ed (Frost) and not enough time with his girlfriend (Kate Ashfield). He finally decides to sort his life out only to find that London is teeming with flesh-eating zombies. As you do.
The only way they can be stopped is by removing their heads or destroying their brains. But without the easy access to heavy-calibre weaponry of our American cousins, our plucky band of heroes must do what the British do best: they have to improvise …
Longtime fans of George A Romero’s seminal zombie flicks, Pegg and Wright began discussing what would eventually become Shaun Of The Dead after filming a scene in Spaced where Pegg’s character tangles with zombies from the shoot-‘em-up computer game Resident Evil 2.
“When we first came up with the idea,” he remembers, “the zombie movie was dead. It was clearly awaiting reinvention. And then the Resident Evil film came out - which was fair enough in a way because the game Resident Evil resparked our zombie interest.”
Hot on the heels of this came Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, which although not strictly a zombie movie, looked like one to most casual observers. The genre was slowly coming back to life.
Then, disaster struck and Pegg, Wright and producer Nira Park could only watch in dismay as their backer FilmFour was dismantled in 2002. New finance came from Working Title, the company behind Four Weddings And A Funeral and Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Having always seen the movie as a small-scale indie project, Pegg had only just got over his jitters that Working Title would try to impose its will on the production when the news broke that a remake of Dawn Of The Dead, the film that had started it all off in the first place, was about to go into production.
“Is it now set in the Trafford Centre?” wonders Frost.
The company behind the ‘reimagining’ of Dawn of the Dead insisted that, because of the similarity in the titles of the two movies, their film had to come out first. In fact, as you’d expect, the two films are worlds apart in terms of style and intent and it’s unlikely that anyone would confuse the two - one stars Simon Pegg while the other stars Ving Rhames, for a start - but there are other, more fundamental differences.
Taking a leaf out of Danny Boyle’s book, Dawn Of The Dead’s director Zack Snyder has his zombies fairly sprinting around the shopping mall like it’s the first day of the New Year Sales. Either that or they’re furtively hanging around, slyly assessing the situation, and for Pegg at least, “that defeats the object. I think zombies, the very crux of their eeriness, it’s in their shambolic, slow, rubbishness.”
“It’s the fact that they’re quite shit,” decides Frost.
“Totally,” says Pegg.
“We were talking about triffids earlier,” continues Frost earnestly. “They’re shit as well but given enough of them, they’re unstoppable. It’s like a colony of ants - if you get bitten by an ant, it’s one ant, isn’t it? But then if you fall into an ant hill …” He looks at Pegg for reassurance. “Where’s this going?”
“No, you’re right,” says Pegg. “It’s the idea of the multitude, but also, they’re us. That’s another scary thing. They’re not monsters, they don’t have any kind of moral imperative, they’re not in it for a reason. All they want to do is do what they do - they want to feed. There’s something in their resolution that is just horrible.”
Despite this, the first half of the movie sees Shaun not even recognising that he is surrounded by the undead. But, thinking about it, would you really be able to spot a zombie on the Tube?
“It’s not just London,” argues Pegg, “it’s about city living in general - walking with your head down, never noticing what’s going on. You could walk past a bunch of zombies and not even notice them.”
Indeed, George A Romero wanted to take the whole premise of his zombie films a step further, and proposed a fourth film where, according to Pegg - who has, of course, read the script [it eventually came out as Land Of The Dead in 2005. Both Pegg and Wright had cameos] – “society had recognised the problem and dealt with it by separating themselves. Zombies were a part of society, but like an underclass. It’s very much an allegory for homelessness.
“People in cities ignore other people, and never is that more true than when someone is holding their hand out and you ignore them like they’re not there. That’s what city people do.”
Pegg and Frost, in their own words, “a couple of geeks” have been friends for the best part of a decade, and have an easy, mutually supportive relationship, which Pegg says is “weirdly symbiotic”. They often finish each other sentences and almost certainly have some sort of special handshake they only use with each other. They met when Frost, an aspiring stand-up, sought advice from Pegg, who was already an established comic.
“We came across each other quite by accident,” says Pegg, “and, you know, it was that rare thing where you find someone you totally …”
“Say it!” squeaks Frost.
“Love,” Pegg finally concedes.
The pair ended up moving in together. “We looked after each other,” says Pegg. They have, says Frost, alternated the role of father and son.
“And we slept together for a period of time,” he ploughs on, seemingly oblivious to Pegg’s cringeing. “We topped and tailed. And then we actually slept together next to each other and we’d sit up in bed, reading a big book. Sometimes when we woke up in the morning, I didn’t know where he ended and I began.”
“Guys can be very weird about that,” laughs Pegg just a little too readily, “but it was so not a problem. I mean, we never touched winkles.”
“We didn’t do ‘pipes ahoy!’” adds Frost.
These days, they tell me, the only way their respective fiancées can keep them apart is by moving them to opposite sides of the river.
“Every now and then you just meet somebody who just gets you and you get them,” decides Pegg.
“No,” corrects Frost, a bit choked up, “it’s not every now and again. It’s just once for me.”
“Let’s not get soppy,” says Pegg under his breath.
[This interview was first published in The Big Issue In The North in March 2004]
See also: Dead Set