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With his thick-rimmed black glasses, carefully-groomed beard and tailored T-shirt, the Simon Pegg of today is a far cry from the Simon Pegg of his breakthrough comedy Spaced, in which comic book prints and a skateboard tucked under his arm were the norm.

But reassuringly, despite the sleek appearance, Pegg's still a product of his past, and he's as happy to chew the fat about Spaced, the whip-smart comedy he starred in and co-wrote with Jessica Hynes, as he is to pass the time with fans.

"I remember I've gone up to people in the past who I've admired and hoped that they'll be nice to me," says the 44-year-old. "So if someone comes up I try to think if that was me and that person turned around and was like, 'I don't feel like it today', I'd be gutted.

"I understand that and I don't think I'm above talking to fans. I'm just a fan who's now working in the industry that I'm a fan of."

Pegg's already sizeable fan base looks set to swell again when his new film, Hector And The Search For Happiness, is released this week.

Hector is a new sort of role for Pegg. Instead of the steady laughs and quick-fire popular culture references usually associated with his characters, Hector's a rather serious psychologist who assesses his dissatisfaction with the world with due gravity.


"It's nice to be able to do something which is, outwardly, a little bit more of a stretch than stuff I've done before," says Pegg, who often collaborates with his friends Edgar Wright and Nick Frost, known for their work on the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy which comprises Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End.

"All mine and Edgar Wright's films have a vein of emotion in them and seriousness," he says.

"They haven't just been slapstick comedies, there has been some pain in there, but with this film it was more dramatic than anything I've ever done before and it was nice to get my teeth into moments of fear and terror and anguish."

There's a good deal of fear and anguish when Hector leaves behind his loving girlfriend Clara, played by Rosamund Pike, and goes on a global quest to find the root of happiness.

Along the way he meets a wide range of people who reveal their own sources of happiness, which Hector dutifully jots down in the notebook Clara gave him as a leaving present.

One of those characters is seemingly uptight Prof Coreman, played by Christopher Plummer who Pegg bonded with over the Star Trek films - they both worked on the sci-fi flicks at different times.

In the movie, Coreman's character encourages Hector to do the dirty on Clara with an escort. It's things like this that make Hector not as immediately likeable as Pegg's previous characters.

"I'm not sure he's entirely sympathetic at first," says Pegg. "He's very closed off and he's a bit superior, and what he does is ultimately a little bit selfish. He learns a lesson by going on this journey of self-discovery."

Some of Hector's life lessons are ones that Pegg abides by.

"There are a couple of ones I think really ring true," says the father-of- one, who lives in London with wife Maureen and their daughter Matilda.

"There's the one that he gets like a little epiphany, which is that avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness. That's the one that really rings true to me."

Throughout his own life Pegg, unlike Hector, has tried to embrace change, however scary it might be.

"I always like to think you never stop learning, and I like to think that I'm at a place in my life now where I'm a little bit more aware of myself than Hector," he says.

"I'm more at ease with myself than Hector is, but I feel like I've done what Hector has done, which is to get out of my comfort zone and realise where I'm happiest."

He has learned to acknowledge the things that don't make him happy too.

"I think we all mistake certain things for happiness," says the actor. "I think we mistake comfort for happiness and we mistake pleasure for happiness and entertainment for happiness when really these are just things we use as proxies for our happiness. We use them to cheer us up or try and achieve brief happiness when real happiness is something much more profound and long-lasting and exists within us."

While Hector looks long and hard for his own notion of happiness, Pegg, who has a script in development with Crispian Mills and has just finished working on new comedy Man Up, doesn't have to go far to find the source of his. What makes him most happy, he says, is his family.

"Having a good home life," he continues, noting that one of his happiest moments was the birth of Matilda five years ago.

"Work for me is not an escape, it's something I do, something I have to do and something I love, and I feel very privileged that I love my job. It feels like a hobby more than a job, but it's not something I do to get away from my home. I love being at home.

"Home is where I am at my most comfortable. That's the centre of my world - my wife and my daughter and my dogs. It's a place of great joy."

Hector And The Search For Happiness is released on Friday