Bits and Bobs (Vol. 4): The Simon Pegg Interview

Simonpegg_lBefore Shaun of the Dead. Before Hot Fuzz. And way before becoming J.J. Abram’s Scotty in the new Star Trek film, Simon Pegg co-created and starred in Spaced, the landmark TV Britcom about two hard-up twentysomethings called Tim and Daisy (Jessica Hynes), with big dreams (he wants to be a comic book artist, she wants to be a journalist) and one tiny flat (they pretend to be a couple in order to live there). Did I mention the crazy best friends Mike (Nick Frost), a Territorial Army sergeant, and Twist (Katy Carmichael), a wannabe fashionista? Or their wacky neighbors, tortured artist Brian (Mark Heap) and perpetually soused landlady Marsha (Julia Deakin)? What about the electronica soundtrack, the science fiction homages, or the fantasy sequences?

Spaced is great stuff indeed, and to celebrate the series’ DVD release tomorrow (July 22), Pegg (who, along with co-creator Hynes and director Edgar Wright just embarked on a week long promotional tour) chatted with Bits and Bobs about Quentin Tarantino’s commentary, American love for Tim and Daisy, the canned U.S. remake, his mock script for a new episode, (the lack of) a third season, and what other British comedy you should be watching right now. Catch Pegg’s first answer below, and click through to after the jump for the rest of the interview.

B&B: The new DVD is stacked with commentaries: Quentin Tarantino, Matt Stone, Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody, Bill Hader, Patton Oswalt, all showed up to talk Spaced.  How did you connect with this people?
Simon Pegg: Because it was getting an American release and we wanted for that to be special in some way, we thought it might be nice to get American perspectives on the show. We basically just asked our friends—people that we’ve become friends with over the last four years or so since Shaun of the Dead came out and we’d been coming to the U.S. a bit more—and they just happened to be the perfect sort of people to do the commentary. I mean, obviously Quentin Tarantino because the show had influences by him. He’s been very supportive of us and he’s become great friends with us. So we just pulled a lot of favors really. We got Diablo in there because we really wanted to have a female voice and it was slightly man-heavy, to say the least, in the list of people we had. Matt Stone and Kevin Smith, and all those guys, Bill and Patton, had been really nice to us over the years and we kinda thought it would be nice to hear what they had to say. 

addCredit(“Simon Pegg: Dave Hogan/Getty Images”)

B&B: Did you already know they were big fans? 
SP: I knew a few of them were, yeah. Obviously the show is veryindebted to the cultural stuff Kevin Smith was doing in terms ofrepresenting that part of society. I’d always wanted him to see theshow because I felt there was a sort of synchronicity going on there.When I found out he liked it, I was overjoyed. You know Quentin is justlike a culture Hoover anyway. He sort of just inhales things. He’s similarly very positive about it.It’s nice to get that kind of validation from people you respect. 

B&B: When did you get your first taste that Spaced was a U.S. hit?
SP: I think I’d been over for Comic-Con in 2004 and Shaun of the Deadwas coming out. I was walking down the road really early one morning toget a coffee. And these two people were walking toward me and they hadT-shirts with Tim and Daisy on them. And I couldn’t believe anyone knew about it here. And I found out it wasdoing good business under the table at comic conventions on VHS andripped DVD and was quite thrilled that it actually found a way overhere, because we’d never even cleared the music for North America. Wedidn’t even think it would be really shown here. So it was a nicesurprise.

B&B: How did Spaced begin?
SP: Jess and I were approached by the Paramount Comedy Channel. Theywanted to write a show for us.  We’d just been on a show called Asylumand we’d worked very well together and someone said “Oh, you knowperhaps we can make a vehicle for you.” And we sort of said, “Yesplease, but we’d like to write it.”  Both of us had been having ideasabout things we wanted to do. I wanted to make a sort of magically realkind of sitcom in the flavor of shows like Northern Exposure and The Simpsons,but also have that unrequited love thing at the center of it. Jess,similarly, had loads of ideas about a flat share show and things shewanted to do and say. It was just a combination of us two having allthose ideas and then getting Edgar in to direct it. 

B&B: How did you cast the other characters?
SP: Nick Frost’s character of Mike was something he’d come upwith. I really liked it and sorta said,“Can I write this character into this show and you can play it?” And hewas a waiter at the time so he said okay. He wasn’t even an actor whowanted to be a waiter. He was just a waiter. And then Mark: Thecharacter of Brian was actually written for a different actor, but hecouldn’t do it in the end. So we auditioned Mark and he justnailed it. I knew Mark, I’d worked with him a couple of times before.And Julia Deakin who played Marsha, she came in and read itfor it and got the part. Katy, who played Twist, was a friend of Jessand mine. Some of it was fait accompli, others we actually did cast for it. 

B&B: What about Bill Bailey, was the part of Tim’s boss at the comic shop written for him?
SP: Oh yeah, absolutely. It was kind of, you know, the character’s called Bilbo. So it clears that. 

B&B: Is he the one who got you to guest star on Black Books, a Bits and Bobs reader fave?
SP: Yeah, yeah. Well that was because Black Bookswas from the same production company as Spaced and it was produced byNira Park, who was our producer. And I said to Nira one day, becauseNick had done a cameo in Season 1 and Jess was in Season 2, isn’t itabout time that I get in Black Books? And that’s how I got to play the part of Evil Evan.

B&B: Did Shaun of the Dead come from the episode in which Tim has zombie hallucinations?
SP: Absolutely—only in that Edgar and I had such a good time shootingthat sequence that we literally said we must do that more often. Thenwe started kicking around fun ideas about a movie we could do as a jokealmost, and it just became more and more concrete and real, andeventually we were taking the idea around to film companies. 

B&B: Was it different working on a big budget versus a television budget?
SP: We never really made things easy on ourselves. We made Spaced as ambitious as we could and shot it for very little money and it nearly killed us. For Shaun of the Dead,we just upped the ante. So we were still shooting with less than weneeded. You just adapt as you go up. When you know yougot more money, you want to use it. So you make sure it’s in thescript.

B&B: On your MySpace page, you posted an Cloverfield-infused Spaced script inspired by the now-defunct U.S. remake. Will anything ever come of it?
SP: The Cloverfieldthing was something I just knocked up as a joke. I thought it would befun to do it as a riposte to the American Spaced remake. A playful oneas well—nothing vicious. Just the idea made me laugh so much—the ideaof the Statue of Liberty’s head landing in their garden was awonderfully visual representation of the show being hijacked byAmerica. But, you know, obviously the pilot was made and it wasn’tpicked up so it was kind of pointless doing it because it all relied onthat punch line. I saw the pilot as well, which was very interesting. 

B&B: Was it any good?
SP: Not really, but all the actors were fine and everybody was great init. It just completely missed the point of the original show. But, youknow, I kind of feel bad for everyone that was involved with it. ‘Causefor actors it was the possibility of a job and stuff. So I take nopleasure in the fact that people maybe missed out on an opportunity.Though I’m glad it didn’t happen in a broader sense. 

B&B: Will there ever be a third season?
SP: The idea of doing more Spaced?I don’t know. We’re so much older now, you know. When we were writingthat show, we were very much like those characters. We didn’t haveanything. We were living in s*** accommodation and we were living veryaspirational lives. And I’m talking to you now from Beverly Hills.This is kinda weird. 

B&B: You can’t make Tim and Daisy rich?
SP: I think that would slightly spoil it. 

B&B: Part of the purpose of this column is to recommendBritish entertainment to American anglophiles. What would you recommendright now that’s British?
SP: Well, I would always say, it was out a little while ago, butsomething I absolutely love and it was only around for one season inthe U.K., was a showcalled Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Which will be on YouTube.It’s a really funny, tart, ’80s hospital show. Just reallyreally funny. Brilliant influences. Brilliant. Very stupid, but alsovery clever. I would always send people in that direction.

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And on that note, Bits and Bobs readers, here’s your list of What to Watch and listen to in British and Irish entertainment:

Monday (July 21): If you’re in or around New York, beg, borrow, and stealto catch Russell Brand’s live show at the Blender Theater at 9pm (I sawit yesterday) or just stay home and listen to the recording of DirtyPretty Things’ Live from Leicester Square performance on London’s Xfm radio.
Tuesday: Buy Spaced on DVD! Then listen to U2’s new remastered deluxe versions of War, Boy, and October
Wednesday: Like you, I lament the lack of fictional programmingon BBC America—but sometimes they have a doc so freaky, it makes up forit:  Watch Love Me, Love My Doll at 9pm. Then check out Eddie Izzard on NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly at 1:35am.   
Thursday:  Watch George Michael on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart at 11:00pm on Comedy Central. 
Friday: The feature film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited hits screens. Watch the penultimate episode of this season of Dr. Who on Sci Fi at 9pm. 
Saturday: Download highlights from Jonathan Ross’ Saturday morning BBC Radio 2 chat show. Then The Vicar of Dibley‘s Dawn French stops by The Graham Norton Show on BBC America at 10pm. 
Sunday: From 3-8pm, catch up on the five most recent episodes of BBC America’s Robin Hood in order to prepare for the August 2nd finale. Then lament that the final episode of Foyle’s War airs at 9pm on PBS (while recording Shameless on the Sundance Channel).   

Comments (11 total) Add your comment
  • Nose

    Simon, you’re awesome. I’m so glad Spaced is finally coming out, and let’s hear more about your new Nick/Edgar/Simon movie!!!

  • Mel

    Aubry I think your column is really starting to influence people. I put State of Play on my Netflix Queue last week after you suggested it. Netflix still says “Long Wait” for the DVD. In other words all you Bits&Bobs fans out there return the damn DVD! ha. Just kidding! But really…

  • Mel

    BTW Watched 4 episodes of Spaced on BBC America yesterday and it was so good!

  • daisyj

    Question for the commenters here: I just watched the last episode of season 3 of Coupling, and I’m wondering if it’s worth getting the fourth. On the one hand, it’s a really funny show, but I hear they kind of j’d the s in the last season and I’d hate to spoil my impression of it. Also, not sure how good it could be without Jeff.

  • Perry Lucas

    Will have to check this show out. I’m a fan of some of Pegg’s other work, and have heard only good things about this program.

  • Aubry

    To Mel: Thanks! I hope you get it soon and enjoy it as much as I did. We watched it in one sitting!
    To daisyj: You’re right, season 4 of Coupling isn’t as good—and the new guy Oliver takes A LOT of getting used to. But Gina Bellman, who plays Jane, really comes into her own in these episodes, so it’s worth watching for her. Also, one of the best first season guest stars comes back and it’s totally hilarious (episode 4, if you want to skip ahead). If you’re a totally Jeff-head like me, you should watch Strange (the pilot episode is on YouTube). Another good British romcom on DVD is Worst Week of My Life (and it stars Sarah Alexander who plays Susan).

  • Steve

    Just to clarify, Garth Marenghi’s Dark place is not from the 80’s (as the article seems to suggest) but a spoof made about 4 years ago of all those late 70’s early 80’s cheesy paranormal shows made here in the UK (think Saphire and Steel if any of you saw that). The joke is that the script is awful, the acting worse and the special effects even worse than that. Think ‘The X Files’ but done on a budget of $30s a show. The biggest joke is that that Garth Marenghi himself plays the lead of hansome action hero even though he is short, fat and not exactly dashing.

  • meg

    He doesn’t say it’s from the 80s. He’s just using it to describe the show. Which is true.

  • Nix

    Simon Pegg is hot.

  • Kay

    I hear that Simon has a scene in the transporter room with Scotty’s son, Chris Doohan

  • Thelonius Nelson

    I heard Simon was making a new zombie film called Ninja Zombies at http://www.ninjazombiesmovie.com

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