Simon Pegg and Nick Frost On Set Interview PAUL – Plus the First Images from the Film

     July 15, 2010

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When director Greg Mottola’s Paul was filming in New Mexico last August, I was invited – along with a few other online journalists – to visit the set and watch some filming.  With Paul written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, I’ll admit to being incredibly happy to be there since Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of my favorite films from the last decade.   If you’re one of our few readers who hasn’t seen those movies, I need you to stop what you’re doing and buy them.  Trust me, once you watch them both, you’ll understand when geekdom loves Pegg and Frost.

Even though both actors were busy on the set of Paul, we managed to get some time with them in the afternoon.  They talked about making their first “American” movie, where the idea of Paul came from, how they were adapting to working with a CGI creature as a main character, working without Edgar Wright, and so much more.  If you’re a fan of Pegg and Frost, you’re going to love the interview.  As usual, I’ve provided a full transcript and the audio after the jump:

As usual, you can listen to/download the audio from the interview by clicking here or you can read the transcript below.  This is one of those interviews I really recommend listening to rather than reading the transcript.  Paul gets released March 18, 2011.

Paul-movie-imageHow has it been like? Does it feel very different making this movie than the last two, doing it in America also?

Nick Frost: Yeah.

Simon Pegg: Yeah. I kind of feel we’ve been hidden away. We kind of just blocked ourselves off and we’re just fucking monkeys…Sorry to swear. It’s always interesting working in America just because the catering’s so different. In England, you get a breakfast, lunch…

NF: Sandwiches.

SP: Sandwiches…Here, it’s just food all the time. It’s really hard not to just eat all the time, isn’t it?

NF: Yeah. You’re talking to the wrong person.

SP: We’ve been here for like six months nearly because we did Steven Spielberg’s Tintin at the beginning of the year and now this. I just really love working with American crews. There just seems to be…I think in England there’s no overtime, so if you go over, you have to ask nicely and they don’t particularly like it, quite rightly, because they aren’t getting paid to do it. But here, there is overtime, so nobody gives a shit about things running over. So everyone’s just in it to win it the whole time.

NF: You know, we did ten night shoots back to back and it was just fucking crippling. But then, the crews, even at 5am, were just laughing. You know, everyone’s really just enjoyed it, I think. I’d like to think so anyway.

SP: It’s been really good fun and working with our cast as well, who were just extraordinary. I know it always ends up sounding like a bit of a sort of love fest when you talk to actors about their fellow actors ‘cause no one really bitches. We’ve really felt like we’ve had to raise our game on this movie, just because everyone’s so fucking good. Like Jason Bateman and Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio and Kristin Wiig are so, so funny. Sigourney Weaver was absolutely lovely, just so up for it. Blythe Danner is…incredible. John Carrol Lynch, who will forever be France McDormand’s husband in Fargo for me. It was such a laugh, you know.

NF: And Zodiac.

SP: And Zodiac, of course. But yeah, a couple of times, Nick and I have had to go and think, “You better fucking start working harder, otherwise we’re just gonna vanish in this film.” {Laughs}. And then Paul on top of that, with Seth doing Paul’s voice.

NF: We’ve forgotten Seth’s in it, as well.

SP: I know, because he’s not on set.

NF: We kind of did him first off. We did mo-cap in Los Angeles like four months ago and we did his bits. And then we came out here and a few times in the last couple of weeks I said to Simon, “You know, Seth Rogen is in this film as well.”


Now Nira [Park, producer] said you came up with the idea during rain while you were shooting Shaun of the Dead.

SP: {Laughs} Yeah that’s right. One of the biggest ironies of this shoot has been the sheer unpredictability of the New Mexican weather, in that the very motivation for doing this film was, “Let’s go somewhere hot and make a film about where something hot is. I know, let’s make it in the desert. Yeah, it’s an alien, it’s Area 51, yeah. And then these guys, and they help him get home.” That was it. And I drew a poster for Nira of Paul giving the finger and it said, “In America, everyone’s an alien.” And that was the pitch and it sat on Nira’s notice board for…it’s been sat on there since 2003. We always joked about doing it. And here we are on this incredible Comic-Con set.

NF: We had that same feeling that you get sometimes when you go into a pitch meeting with the studio and they say, “So what have you got?” “We haven’t really got anything.” And then you have to say, “Oh…how about an alien? And he’s got attitude!”

{Simon’s miniature schnauzer, Minnie, walks towards the journalists}

SP: This is not Colin from Spaced. This is Minnie.

Is this your dog?

SP: Yeah, she’s gonna be in it. She’s dressed as Princess Leia tomorrow. {Laughs}.

So now that you guys have done Tintin and are obviously huge experts on special effects, does that make it so much easier to be playing opposite nothing in only scenes with Paul? Or is it tough to be there with that empty space?

SP: It is tough. We’re working with [London-based VFX company] Double Negative, who we’ve known for a long time. They did Shaun and Hot Fuzz and have since done plenty of things: Hellboy 2, Cloverfield…And we’ve got [VFX company] Spectral Motion doing the puppetry that we do use and the live lighting reference puppets and animatronics. But it’s hard to talk to a red light, or Mr. Eyeballs is this pole with two ping-pong balls on the top.

NF: We have to shoot Paul so many times. Like, we did a scene in a night shoot the other day where, because the sun was coming up, I had like ten minutes to do my single. And then we re-shot Paul’s stuff the other day and he had like an hour and a half. {Laughs}. Why? That’s not fucking fair! But we’ve got a little guy in a costume and we’ve got a child at points playing Paul.

SP: Christoff, who’s our small actor who does reference and sometimes suits up is an amazing drummer–hasn’t acted before, but has been tirelessly present on this set.

NF: He has been. They call him The Anvil.

SP: That’s his nickname, The Anvil, it’s pretty good…But we have to shoot him so many times, you know. We do it with those two guys, then we do it with no one there or then we do it with Joe Lo Truglio…Then sometimes we do it with a gray ball. Then Joe Lo Truglio, then nothing. So, you know, for each one shot we get, Paul has eight. We would have been wrapped by now. {Laughs}.

NF: Paul’s a complete asshole.


Wait, Joe’s a stand-in for Paul?

SP: What Joe has done, in an act of extraordinary selflessness, he’s not only playing Agent O’Reilly, but whenever Paul’s on set he does Paul’s off-lines. And sometimes stands in for him. But Joe’s been onset all the time, which has been great ‘cause he’s a fantastic guy, he’s such fun. I knew him from Superbad and from Pineapple Express. I’d never seen The State, but just from that one little thing he does in Superbad , that amazing cameo where he plays that creepy little guy.

NF: “You on Facebook?”

SP: {Laughs} “You guys on MySpace?” {Laughs}

So this will be your first and last CGI movie.

SP: Well the very motivation for this was, we thought how cool it would be to have a film that was essentially a kind of…almost like an indie pic, you know, like a road movie. But have it the sense that this incredible–and it has to be incredible–sprite, you know, this character who is not real, he’s a CG character, and how the context of the movie would offset that character to make him look even more real, because it’s handheld…Though, having said that, Greg [Mottola, director]’s bringing some incredible flourishes to this. There’s a lot of motion in the camera…He’s really Spielberging it up, which is great.

NF: I mean he has to be credible, but he also has to be fairly forgettable, do you know what I mean? If after ten minutes, you’re still looking at him thinking [diffident moaning], I don’t think we’ve done it right. He just needs to immediately just become a character and not some kind of amazing CG.

SP: So you know, it depends on how it turns out. If it doesn’t work, then yes, it is our last.

NF: We’ve both been scanned by the way, so if anything happens to either of us

SP: My problem with Jar Jar Binks was never particularly the technology, it was the idiocy of the character.


That was everybody’s problem with it.

SP: Yeah, it wasn’t the fact that it was a CG character.

NF: And the eyelines.

SP: Yeah, Ewan McGregor going, “What am I looking at?”

You guys are together again, but you’re different characters obviously. How is the dynamic between these two characters different from what we’ve seen before?

NF: I think Clive [Frost’s character] is more of a butch this time than…

SP: The bitch.

NF: …Danny Butterman and Ed.

SP: For starters, this is a two-hander. It’s not me. The central characters in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead were my characters, Nicholas Angel and Shaun, and Nick’s characters just stole the show, that’s what they did. Whereas this is like we’re both the lead in this film and Nick’s character is probably a little bit more confident, a little bit more assured than mine. Graham [Pegg’s character] is a bit more messy, less proactive. Paul’s kind of like Ferris Bueller, you know, he kind of affects everybody around him and never really is affected himself.

NF: It’s important that we did something slightly different. Not that we work hard at it. You know, we’ve been friends for 15 years, but the relationship that we have is, I think, quite important to me…It’s important to us.

Now do your characters have much of a backstory at all or are they just two fans going to Comic-Con and hanging out?

SP: I don’t think we’ve got particularly Stanislavkian about their background.

NF: Oh I have!

SP: Have you?

NF: You didn’t read the…

SP: I didn’t read the Bible [An Actor Prepares]…Yeah, we kind of know where they’re from and what they’re about, but the important thing in the movie is where we find them and where they are at that time. So they’re two British guys living sort of like…rural north London…

NF: West London.

SP: West London. And have saved up for this trip, they’re going to start at Comic-Con and they’re going to go to Area 51 and they’re going to eventually go down to Roswell. They want to go to the UFO hotspots, and by sheer coincidence they meet an alien. {Laughs}.

NF: It could happen.


Your producer was talking about how she felt you guys were doing more improv on this movie than you had on the last two. I was just curious, you said that Seth had come in and already recorded a whole bunch of stuff. Have you guys shot stuff thinking, “Okay, we need Seth to come back in this scene so he can play off what we just did here?”

SP: Yeah, Seth will have to come back and always was gonna. What we did initially in Los Angeles was very preliminary and it was just to get a sense of the performance and what Seth would be doing. But working with people like Kristin [Wigg] and Bill [Hader] and Jason [Bateman] and Joe [Lo Truglio] as well, they’re very good at improvising, so–although, we’re pretty anal about what we write.


SP: There has been room to just loosen up a little bit…

NF: What, are you laughing at “anal” there?

{Bigger laughs}

SP: No, we are. We’re quite nasty but we make sure that we get a take of what’s written.

NF: You can’t have someone like Bill and Joe and Jason Bateman, it seems silly having them on set and not letting them do what they want really Every one of them brings something into the role, you know. We’re not American, so the script that we wrote, we had to run it by Greg to make sure that all of our terminology was correct and just weird little things…Just to make sure that it all seems very naturally coming out of the mouths of American actors and it sounds like it‘s an American script. We know enough about America to write a pretty damn good stab at that.

Your characters are all knowledgeable and up-to-date on American pop culture and what’s going on?

NF: God I hope so.

The attention to detail–the t-shirts you’re wearing and what’s going on at Comic-Con–I’m wondering what sort of things are hidden in the film that you guys as fans are just really excited [about]?

SP: We’ve got a great thing in here that we’re not allowed to say, obviously…No, there’s lots of stuff. There’s the presence of…you know, Shauns and Angels and Dannys in there was Nancy [Steiner], our costume designer, who just did that for a laugh. I hope anyone who notices that will take it in good fun and not as being self-indulgent. So there’s plenty of little things in there. The notion is that Paul has been on Earth for about 60 years living in this base, just basically having an affect on popular culture. He’s in touch with a few of the creative minds in America and has helped him out in a few things. And so Paul is responsible for a lot of what we know…So he has certain abilities that you’ve seen elsewhere and the reason you’ve seen them elsewhere is because it was his idea. Which has enabled us to retroactively rip off every film ever.


When we were doing the shots earlier in the theater [referring to a scene where the journalists were extras], there was that moment where you two as fans are going bananas for somebody on stage. Who out there in pop culture would make you guys flip out?

SP: We decided we can give you an exclusive, although don’t tell anyone. We were trying to think of who it’s gonna be [n stage in the mystery role…We thought maybe Twiki.


SP: Just a guy like waving. And you say, “Bidi-bidi-bidi.”

So Nick, I remember two years ago you were at the Superbad premiere and it just seems that everything’s kind of spread out from there. You’ve worked with Greg, Edgar’s worked with Michael [Cera]…Have you felt it at all that maybe something happened that night where all of these things generated out of there?

NF: Greg made me drink this potion that night…I don’t know, I mean I think when you watch something like Superbad–when we watch Superbad–you think, “God, that’s fucking great.” [Greg and Michael] are like an American us. So it just kind of makes sense that we would branch out slightly and want to kind of reach out to Greg and Michael…

SP: We’re fans of each others’ stuff…of course we were going to find each other eventually, because we like the same stuff and we admire each other. You know, like Jason and Jeffrey Tambor, and I’m a massive fan of Arrested Development, which we were watching last night, going “Oh my God, there’s Agent Zoil and there‘s, uh…!” And having picked up bit of SNL on the Internet–we don’t get it in the U.K., crazy, I don’t know why–and seeing Kristin in Knocked Up and various other films, you see these people and think, “God, they’re great. I wish I could work with them!” We are so fucking lucky that we’re in a position to offer those people parts, and even luckier that they say, “Yes.” So for us, it’s a bit of a dream come true. We’re getting to work with the people we like, and I think it’s just that thing of, you know, not to be too much of a hippie, but souls kind of find each other and they gravitate towards each other, do you know what I mean?


SP {imitating journalist}: “At this point, Pegg became a bit of a hippie…”

I’ve seen a lot of Star Wars stuff out there [on the Comic-Con set]. Does this mean that George Lucas doesn’t have any hard feelings about Tim’s reaction to the prequels?

SP: Wasn’t my idea. I said, “No Star Wars things.” You know, I’ve got a lot of friends at Lucasfilm because I think they all agree with me [on the quality of the prequels], but they just don’t tell their boss. {Laughs}.

When you worked with Spielberg on Tintin, did you pick his brain at all about the aliens coming to Earth thing?

SP: Oh yeah, we’d sit with him between takes and he’d just tell us stories about Close Encounters and stuff.

Did they have any ideas that substantially influenced you?

SP: Yeah, absolutely. The film very much draws in the tradition of films like Close Encounters and E.T., that kind of sense of wonder…We were hoping to have a score which is, I mean, obviously John Williams would be an amazing person to get but he’s expensive. He doesn’t work for nothing. But to have that Spielbergian feel, definitely. His influence on the film is very evident, moreso than you would be surprised to find out.

NF: A lot of the time we’d run off set really laughing, wouldn’t we? Steven would tell a story about Close Encounters and we’d say, “Okay, thanks!” and he’s gone off the set and we’d shut the door and go “WOO!”

Are you guys, in the film, eating any ice cream and are you making a point to make sure that you say it’s a different kind of ice cream [than Cornetto]?

SP: No, there is no ice cream consumed. This is not a Cornetto film, this is a different thing.

NF: This is part one of the Pepsi and Klondike Trilogy…

SP: Edgar has insisted, and quite rightly, that this film never be sold as part of the box set with our other two films, and I think Edgar’s right. This has to be seen as something different. We will be at pains to stress that this isn’t the third one. This is a different kind of film altogether. I’m not saying that The World’s End will be a similar film to the other two, but this is mine and Nick’s. We’ve written this together, it’s a different director. Same production company, but we want it to feel like it’s a different thing. You know, obviously the temptation is to see it as that because it’s Nick and mine. There were a couple of little line references in the script which we took out. I think at one point we were taking off in the RV and somebody said, “Punch that shit!”, and we realized it was a Hot Fuzz line, and we didn’t want anyone to think that we were trying to…

NF: Yeah.

SP: You know, obviously those little references [on the Comic-Con floor set] are sweet enough, because only the people that “get” it will know what the fuck we’re talking about. But no ice cream allowed. Certainly not Cornettos. You can’t get ‘em here! What are they called here?

NF: Drumsticks.

The movie’s called Paul, you’re on the road. Is there a Christian theme? Paul on the road to Damascus?

SP: I never thought of that, but yes there is a thread in the movie about evolution vs. faith.

NF: It won’t go down so well in the middle states.

SP: Paul’s very presence represents a contradiction to certainly creationist values and Kristin Wiig’s character, Ruth, is a furious Christian and has a whole worldview rocked by the appearance of Paul and so has to question the notion of her faith and divinity in general. So there is a serious little thread going through it which we had quite fun with.

Can you talk about working with Greg and not working with Edgar [Wright] and how that differs?

NF: Edgar…


SP: Edgar’s been e-mailing us today. It’s just different, you know. I mean we love Edgar we will work together again. We obviously have a third film to make in that particular other series we were involved in together [the Blood and Ice Cream/Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy]. Greg is more laid-back than Edgar. That’s not saying Edgar’s in any way hyper. Edgar is an intense director and he’s very concentrated. Greg seems to be a little bit more sort of serene on set, but no less involved in the artistic process of making the movie. I really like Greg…When we go into our mode with shooting with Edgar, he becomes…he’s the director and we’re the actors, and he doesn’t need to say that much to us anyway, so he’ll just come and go, “You know what I mean?” “Yeah.” “Okay.” And that’s it. And Nick, who’s known Edgar for ten years, will come up to me between takes, “Does he like me? Does he like me?” Sometimes he says, “Edgar. Edgar. Edgar!” you know, because he’s just so hung up on thinking about what the camera’s doing. But it’s been nice working with a different director and finding a different dynamic and…this is a Greg Mottola film, it’s not an Edgar Wright movie.

For more Paul set visit coverage:

Collider Goes to the Set of Greg Mottola’s PAUL Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Director Greg Mottola On Set Interview PAUL

Producer Nira Park On Set Interview PAUL

Production Designer Jefferson Sage On Set Interview PAUL

And if you’re going to Comic-Con, you might want to check out this panel:

PAUL: PANEL: 4:45pm- 5:15pm – Saturday in Hall H

Paul — Scheduled to appear for Universal Pictures’ sci-fi comedy-adventure Paul are a who’s who of film comedy. Director Greg Mottola (Superbad) will be joined by cast members Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead), Kristen Wiig (Date Night), Bill Hader (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover), Joe Lo Truglio (Role Models), Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet), and Sigourney Weaver (Baby Mama) as they discuss the movie about two sci-fi geeks whose pilgrimage to Comic-Con ultimately takes them to America’s UFO heartland. While there, they accidentally meet an alien who takes them on an insane road trip that alters their universe forever. Q&A session to follow.

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