Monday 25 September 2017

Now is the season of our content

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's new movie tells the story of five middle-aged pals, only four of whom have bothered to grow up

John Masterson

Nearing 40, Gary King strides across the screen having browbeaten and tricked his old school friends into recreating the last day of school pub crawl they did through their then-home town. Gary's mates have taken all the fast-track routes to conformity ... car salesman, solicitor, estate agent hell, and marriage. Gary, always the coolest, has drunk and drugged his way through two decades and is a free man touting lager as the elixir of youth.

For fans of the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright combination, The World's End will be a must-see. Like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it is written by Pegg and Wright, stars Pegg and Frost, and is directed by Wright.

There is little of the autobiographical in there, I quickly realise, when I meet Simon Pegg, who plays Gary, and Nick Frost (solicitor) in a Dublin hotel.

"It's like, thank God we're not 'out there' any more really. Neither of us were really like that. Neither of us were Gary King. I think the thing is avoiding being a Gary King. His refusal to conform is a form of conformity," says Frost.

Pegg is a bit mystified about the reaction to the pre-publicity. He doesn't see the film as a romantic look back.

"I keep seeing things on Twitter like 'We're doing a pub crawl for The World's End'. This is not a pro-pub-crawl film. It is an escapade which involves a pub crawl, but doesn't particularly celebrate it. For the guys that get dragged along, it is a bit of a pain in the a***. For Gary it is a bit of a suicide mission," he adds.

For Nick, Gary is a bit of a tragedy. "The fact that he has never had a better night than he did when he was 17 is deeply sad. This is a guy who never found happiness. For a guy like that, he is awfully 'up' so he has to be hiding something."

As always with Pegg/ Frost/Wright, they have a dig at conformity with wit, visual references and banter, all at top speed. An early laugh-out-loud moment is typical. They enter the hallowed second pub on their crawl. It is identical to the first.

"Earth is being 'Wether-spooned'," observes the writer part of Simon. "Is the homogenisation of the high street pub on a galactic level a good thing? No. The film is all about loss of identity."

How far Gary lives in the past is clear when Sam, played by Rosamund Pike, arrives. As teenagers, Sam and Gary enjoyed a drunken quickie in the loo. When the current delectable Sam excuses herself to go to the ladies, only Gary could misconstrue it as an invitation. Pike was the Bond girl in Die Another Day. Possibly not the only Bond connection in the film. Hint.

Long-time friends and collaborators, Pegg and Wright seem somewhat surprised to have hit 4-0. They have ended up with lives they like. Both are married with young children. Both have a lot of good work behind them and plans in the pipeline. Wright drinks little, mostly with food, and is an accomplished chef. Pegg, who is hugely impressive as the lager-fuelled Gary King has been teetotal for years. Neither is looking back on lost youth with regret.

"Our generation has postponed adulthood for a long long time," says Pegg. "When I was a kid, I remember guys in their mid-20s that seem older then than I am now... moustachioed twentysomethings who had already left their childhoods a long way away. Our generation are playing video games."

Nick, who is sporting a 'Fly me to the moon and let us play among the stars' T-shirt, points out that in The World's End they "don't really offer a middle ground. You have the guys who have become a bit boring and the guy who has stayed boring. There is no happy medium where you have grown up but the compromises you have made have led to contentment." Which is precisely what they have achieved in their own lives.

"I think a mid-life crisis is when you worry that you are doing things that you don't really want to do. You think, 'oh I should buy a sports car... Sleep with young girls or whatever...' It is because you are thinking I am not doing what I want to do. I am doing ABSOLUTELY what I want to do," says Pegg. "I have settled down and I have kids and a particular kind of life, but it is all through choice and I am very content with it. I don't feel like I am losing out in any way."

Likewise Frost.

"I have always been happy. Not just making films, I have put as much effort into waitering. Even if I was cooking, I would be happy."

The World's End, which is the name of the destination pub on their crawl, has spectacular fight sequences as the five discover that their home town is being taken over by blue-blooded aliens. Frost had just finished shooting a comedy dance film Cuban Fury, and Pegg had just completed being Scotty in Star Trek Into Darkness so they were in good shape.

"Those fights took days. Litza Bixler choreographed them. It was a very physical film. Simon broke his hand, but just had to keep on going. I had broken mine on Paul. We like to break our hands." For sheer joy, it is hard to beat the choreographed sequence of the five lads going on the town (Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan are the others) to the sound of the Doors' Alabama Song.

"It was Edgar's idea," says Pegg. "We were aware that it might be expensive and it was slightly out of our needle drop in terms of music, being all from a certain period, but the Alabama Song felt so right. The weird sort of puppety rhythm of it ... that Kurt Weill feel it has."

There have been lots of the whisperings about a secret superstar and I was sworn to secrecy. They approached him and he said yes.

According to Pegg, "(Superstar) was absolutely lovely and keen to know that he was in on the joke. It is so nice when you meet actors that you have seen for a long time and you find them to be exactly the person you hoped they would be. (Superstar) was very present on set and totally went for it.

"He sat there with us and didn't go off somewhere," adds Frost.

Smart Superstar. That's where most of the laughs would be.

'The World's End' will be in cinemas from Friday

Irish Independent

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