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PEGG, SIMON & FROST, NICK - PAUL

They’re actors not comedians, say Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and comedy should be taken more seriously, they tell Andrew L. Urban.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are sitting on camp chairs beside a fold-out table propped up against the side of what Americans call an RV – a recreational vehicle – a replica of the one seen in their new film Paul. This is the van in which they drive across the Nevada desert after picking up an alien by the roadside, named Paul.

But this time, the location isn’t Nevada; it’s Newtown, Sydney, on the grounds of what used to be the Eveleigh railway depot. The recreation vehicle prop adds a touch of filmmaking ambiance to their promotional tour and they look comfortably relaxed in jeans and sneakers. 

Pegg, who wears a Star Wars T shirt under his windcheater, has a stern look on his face, but Frost assures me that’s normal. They’re evidently not going to be making jokes throughout the interview, like some comedic actors. But then they don’t like the term ‘comedic actor’.

"not too needy and not too troubled"

“We’re just actors,” says Pegg. “You don’t get people referring to ‘sad actors’ or ‘disappointed actors’ because of the roles they play.” He says actors largely fall into two categories: the needy and the troubled. “We’re in the middle; not too needy and not too troubled.” 

Comedy isn’t taken seriously, says Pegg, because it doesn’t ‘look’ serious. But it’s an art he says, and a hard one to succeed at, especially in the collaborative, team creating workshop of movie making. “Comedies don’t win Oscars,” he says pithily.

In Paul, they play comic book geeks: Pegg plays Graeme and Frost plays Clive, who have taken a trip from their UK home to the giant expo, Comic-Con in San Diego, and hired the RV to take a drive to some of the iconic places from the UFO sightings handbook, like Area 51. Here they come across the opportunistically named motel, Little A’Le’Inn, selling all kinds of ‘alien’ merchandise. 

But it’s on a night stretch they come across a small green figure that looks just like every comic book’s image of an alien, who introduces himself as Paul. And the road trip to a secret rendezvous that Paul is anxious to make, begins.

Paul, voiced by Seth Rogen and created by a team of clever CGI craftsmen, is not the only alien here. Graeme and Clive are both aliens in a mid-American landscape, as they meet a series of colourful characters, including a trailer park manager’s daughter Ruth (Kristen Wiig), whose bible bashing father Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch) has brainwashed her into the creationist notion of the universe.

"could be expected to cause a stir"

It’s the sort of element that could be expected to cause a stir in the religiously fervent US, but Pegg and Frost say they’ve had more questions from the media about them satirising creationists (and religion generally) in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, than in America.

The atheistic running gag in the film hasn’t set off a furious protest and beheadings by crazed Christians, as did the burning of a Koran by a bigoted American preacher just as Paul was opening in the US and UK; Muslims in Afghanistan (why only there?) went wild with indignation. Perhaps, muses Pegg, people sensed that a comedy with an alien in its wasn’t being serious about anything – certainly not creationism.

Frost says he was especially pleased reading all the Tweets that say how much people just enjoyed the film. “It’s all right to make a film that is escapist and funny without a heavy message,” he says. 

To their surprise, “there was a bit of sour grapes from some in the media at home in the UK for us making a film in America. These are people who’d seen us as pure indie filmmakers …But the film seems to have a following,” Pegg says, citing the optimistic box office in the UK and US, where the film has taken about $40 million in the first couple of weeks, equal to its entire budget.

The people they were most keen to impress with Paul were “our mates,” says Pegg, then quickly adds, “Edgar.” Frost agrees. Edgar is Edgar Wright, Pegg’s frequent director and collaborator, with whom they made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

"challenging and educational"

“It’s the film we wanted to make,” adds Pegg. “It was challenging and educational … we learnt a lot, including how to be more democratic in our writing approach, embracing outside ideas more readily.”
First published in the Sun-Herald

Published April 14, 2011



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Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

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