Written and directed by Katharine O’Brien and inspired by a true story, the indie drama Lost Transmissions follows the friendship between songwriter Hannah (Juno Temple) and respected record producer Theo Ross (Simon Pegg), as he lapses on his medication and spirals into schizophrenia. As his delusions worsen, the inadequacies of our mental health system become ever more apparent, making it challenging for the people who care about Theo to get him the help that he needs.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Pegg talked about the surprise of a role like this coming his way, realizing this was his first film where he was directed by a woman, getting to know the real person that his character is based on, the challenges in exploring Theo, collaborating with Temple on the friendship dynamic, and the advantage of having this film shot almost entirely handheld. He also talked about going back and forth between big blockbusters and small indies, the delay in shooting the next Mission: Impossible film, whether he’ll be in the Star Trek movie that’s currently being developed by Noah Hawley, and if he’s involved with The Boys Season 2.
COLLIDER: I was very impressed with this and thought you did such tremendous work in it. This is a very different kind of story and character than we’re used to seeing from you. When you read this, had you been looking for a character like this, or was it a surprise to you, that this script came your way?
SIMON PEGG: It was a huge surprise. I was delighted that (writer/director) Katharine [O’Brien] thought of me for the role. Obviously, my body work dictates the sort of scripts I get offered, most of the time. This one felt like it was a complete change of pace and something that really appealed to me, not least of which because it was directed by a woman and I hadn’t actually done a feature film that was directed by a woman, and that felt like something I needed to do. I was really, really flattered that she considered me, and I was able to do it. It was nice to flex different muscles.
Did you have awareness of the fact that you hadn’t worked with a female filmmaker before this?
PEGG: I think it speaks to the state of play that I hadn’t It suddenly dawned on, and I went back through all of my films. I worked with female directors on television stuff, but when paused to think about the films I had done, they were all directed by men. I thought, “Holy crap, that’s terrible.” I thought it would be a really good opportunity, not as some nod towards diversity, but to experience what it would be like to be directed by a woman. I felt like it might be a different experience, and it was.
How did you find the experience of working with Katharine O’Brien, not just as a female filmmaker, but as a first-time director and storyteller, as well?
PEGG: Well, most, if not all, of it boils down to the person. Katharine felt very assured to me. She had a firm grasp of the aesthetic that she wanted to achieve and what she was trying to say. Talking to her, I got the sense that she really knew what she was doing. As an actor, that’s always the most important thing, with a director. It’s about knowing that person is in control. Because if you start to feel like they’re not in control, the whole thing unravels. Katharine seemed super cued up and tuned in to what she was trying to achieve, so I was really happy to join the experience and be directed by her.
Because this was also based on a true story for her and it was something that was personal to her, was she able to provide you any specific insight, as a result of that, that you found particularly helpful, in finding this character?
PEGG: Oh, yeah, I spoke to the person that the film was based on and got to know him, as well as doing my own research into schizophrenia, which is a very specific condition that’s often mis-characterized as a split personality. It was important for me to walk into this knowing what I was depicting, and not just sort of approximating what it’s like to be schizophrenic. Part of what was getting to know the person that the film is based on, which was really interesting because he’s better now. He’s found medications which work for him and he’s on the other side of it. But he talked about his delusions with great clarity, and that was important to me, to understand who I was playing.
What were the biggest challenges in exploring that side of the character? It seems very exhausting, both physically and mentally, to portray an illness like that. How did you pace yourself throughout the shoot?
PEGG: Well, Katharine was a great help, just in terms of moderating Theo’s behavior. She’d often come up to me and say, “Okay, imagine that you can hear everything in the room. Not just the person you’re talking to, but every creak and everything, and you can hear voices.” That really helped with my performance. And we did some rehearsals, prior to shooting, and we did some exercises where I tried to tune into the entire environment. Schizophrenics find it really difficult to filter information, so they’re receiving a lot of information, at the same time, which forces them to create different narratives that form their delusions. So, it was about trying to be in that moment, when the cameras were rolling.
Music really adds a whole other emotional layer to this film. How did you find shooting those scenes? Does music play a role in your life, as well?
PEGG: I’m from a musical family, and it was really important to Katharine. There are two different strands of music in the film, with the ‘90s style of pop that Theo is producing, and Hannah’s singer/songwriter stuff. I think we’re releasing the score as an album, which is very exciting. That just speaks to Katharine’s governance, as a director. She had the whole thing planned, as a visual and sonic experience.
While this is not a romance, Hannah really sticks by Theo, in a way that most people in his life can’t anymore, which means that you had Juno Temple by your side, throughout this. How was she, as a scene partner and collaborator, and are there ways that you feel her performance affected yours?
PEGG: Juno is an incredibly open book. She’s really emotionally open and honest, and that made it really easy to hit the ground running with her. We hit it off, straight away, and bonded in rehearsals and became friends. It made that process of playing the characters quite instinctive and natural, which was great. It was a huge help because it’s an interesting relationship. It’s not a romantic relationship. It’s plutonic, obviously, but it’s very, very strong. And getting to know Juno and liking her, really helped that process. She gives a lot, as an actor. The best thing that any actor can do is give you something back. So, when we were doing rehearsals, she would give the same energy and commitment, as when we were shooting the film.
This was also shot on handheld camera, which creates a certain naturalistic look and a sense of immediacy with it. Does that change how things feel on set for you, at all, while you’re experiencing it?
PEGG: Yeah, it was interesting. It’s nice because there’s no equipment set-up that goes on. I think there was one dolly shot, and that was down to Katharine’s idea of it feeling documentary-like. It allowed us to shoot fast and on the fly. It was a 20-day shoot with a lot to get through, so from a practical standpoint, it’s difficult to execute any kind of complex set-ups. Fortunately, for Katharine, that was how she wanted to do it.
Was there a most difficult or challenging day or scene for you, or was it just different levels of challenging?
PEGG: Yeah, every film is its own challenge. The fun stuff, obviously, was with Theo at the beginning, when he’s the charming and fun guy that he is, which Katharine establishes quite nicely and efficiently. And then, after that, he drifts into delusional behavior and you realize how far he falls. The more delusional he became, the more challenging it was to portray him. There were scenes when Katharine would want me to acknowledge every single sound in the room, as Theo is being bombarded with information, and those scenes were really challenging, to almost try to not concentrate, in a way.
It’s one thing to go from doing movies like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible to doing something smaller, like Lost Transmissions, but it seems like it would be even more of a transition to going back to doing movies of that scale, after doing something like this. Does it feel even more different, to return to bigger movies now?
PEGG: It depends on what’s required of me. Lost Transmissions was very much a two-hander with me and Juno, whereas with Mission: Impossible, I’m a small part in a big machine. In some respects that’s easier because that’s not as challenging, in terms of the research that I have to do. It’s a much more fun, it’s lighter, and it’s more like play, which I really enjoy. I’m not one of those actors that does one for me and one for them. I relish the chance to do big movies, as much as I do the small ones. It’s definitely a change, but it’s probably easier because you’re surrounded by a much bigger support network and you can rely on Tom Cruise. With Lost Transmissions, it was just Juno and I.
Has the shooting schedule for the Mission: Impossible films been delayed, due to the coronavirus, or do you start shooting soon?
PEGG: Yeah, it was. The start of shooting has been delayed because you have to make the decision to protect everybody and not add to the problem, so you pull back a bit. We can wait until things calm down, as hopefully they will.
Have you read a script for M:I 7?
PEGG: I couldn’t possibly comment on the script, but I have seen the plan and it’s looking really interesting. (Director) Chris McQuarrie is very good at character. He’s a master at staging those big action sequences, but none of that matters, if you don’t care about the characters.
Do you know whether you and the cast will be back for Noah Hawley’s Star Trek movie, or have you heard if that’s going to be a full reboot of the franchise?
PEGG: I have no idea. I don’t know anything about it. I’m pretty sure we’re not involved. There are a lot of iterations of Star Trek, and there’s room for more than one in film, as well. And I’m a big fan of Noah Hawley’s, so I’m very interested to see what he does.
Are you a part of Season 2 of The Boys, at all?
PEGG: No. They got me out of the way. I did my little bit. It was very fun to do that show. I was pleased to be a part of it.
Is there a current TV series that you watch, that you’d love to do a fun guest spot on?
PEGG: I don’t know. I always feel like, the things I like, I wouldn’t wanna see myself in. I did play Dengar in The Clone Wars and in the Battlefront video game. It’s a good time for television. Television is just on fire. There’s so much good stuff around. I thought Watchmen was incredible. It’s really fun to get to see these cinematic visions on the small screen.
Lost Transmissions is now in theaters and on VOD.