In five years of interviewing actors and filmmakers, the Shaun of the Dead team were the first subjects whose movie I had given my highest (four-star) rating. I felt like I “got” their film and appreciated it completely, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to ask any questions, which had all been answered for me by their movie. Nevertheless, I wanted to meet these bright young talents, if only to hang out with them for half an hour and bask in their hipness.
When the interview started, director Edgar Wright was still on the phone doing another inerview, so I stared with the two actors, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
- Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: The only russ myer film you can show to your girlfriend and say "hey check this out it's great."
- Riki-O: the legend of Riki, which is a Japanese, Hong Kong, kind of like a martial arts/horror/prison flick, which is ridiculous
- American Movie, a documentary which is extremely funny
- Our current favorite film is Napoleon Dynamite, which we just got into... been to like 3 times since we've been here.
- Raising Arizona, which is one of my favorite films just because it's such a lovingly crafted piece of crystalline-ly structured film
- American Werewolf in London, jsut because it was an inspriateion for us, probably the strongest inspiration next to the original Dead films, just for being a film that juggles horror and comedy never to the detriment of the other
- The original Vanishing
- Maybe a family favorite, Man Bites Dog
EW: What about Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2?
Marty Mapes: Shaun of the Dead felt like a troupe comedy to me. Do you guys feel like a team?
Simon Pegg: We’re just mates. We’re best friends. We don’t come as a pair particularly. We’ve known each other for ten years. I kind of encouraged Nick to become an actor...
Nick Frost: You got me into this.
SP: ...because I thought he was a talent. We worked together, shared a flat together. You can’t spend that amount of time with a person without developing some sort of simpatico. But it’s not like we’re like a duo for hire. Although, you know... Frost and Pegg...
NF: Pegg and Frost
SP: It could happen. Pegg and Frost: The TV Show.
MM: Is there any reason more creative people don’t do teams?
SP: People meet at university; they have colleagues rather than friends. A lot of the best comedy comes from people that really know each other well.
MM: I’m thinking of Trey Parker and Matt Stone — they’re not brothers, but friends.
SP: Or the Pythons, you know, they were all friends. They met at universtity, made friends, and then made this comedy troupe. So I think it helps to have a good relationship with your fellow comedy performers, definitely
MM: I’ve read that you’ve all contributed to your own characters. What sort of things did you bring. Maybe I should ask you (Simon) what he (Nick) brought.
SP: We wrote the part for Nick. Nick was always going to play Ed, as much as I was always going to play Shaun. So we wrote to Nick’s strength. But aside from his considerable acting ability, he also came up with some great little physical tics for Ed, having the weird little shaved cube of hair and his outfit and his demeanor. Nick just brought exactly what we knew he’d bring which is himself.
NF: ... and a sixpack ...
SP: ... of lager, yeah.
MM: And simon?
NF: Simon is like Shaun, but then he isn’t like Shaun. He has this vulnerability that he brought to the role of Shaun.
SP: Thanks, man
NF: [laughs] I don’t mean as in “you’re vulnerable,” but you have a nice quality to Shaun that’s quite sad and vulnerable and at the same time is striving to be better.
SP: Keep saying good things about me.
NF: That’s it.
Classic Zombies vs. Z2
MM: Where were you when you first heard [the 2004 remake of] Dawn of the Dead was being produced?
SP: It was still in the early draft stage but the majority was complete. I got the script [of the remake] sent to me from America and read it and was partly relieved and partly depressed, just because we felt like we’d lost our novelty a little bit. But then they chose to do this kind of weird revamp of it and have zombies running around [instead of shambling]. I’m glad they did that because we’re like classic coke — Shaun of the Dead, and the Dawn of the Dead remake is like C2. Although I enjoyed the remake, I thought it kind of missed the point of what made those original zombies more scary and weird.
MM: And in your words, what do you think that point was?
SP: It was a very funny satire on the nature of consumerism. It took Decartes’ “I think therefore I am” and turned it into “I am therefore I shop.” And also this inability to rid ourselves of our little bourgeois habits despite the apocalypse being upon us. They still set up that weird little life for themselves in the mall with all the trappings of middle class life. And yet society’s falling apart. So it was all about the ingrained nature of consumer society on us, as bodies, as living people and dead people.
(At this point we are joined by director Edgar Wright, who had been on the phone for another interview in the next room)
MM: We were just talking about the message in Romero’s originals. Did you say “okay we need to come up with a new message”?
EW: One of the things about the Romero films — I don’t know if it’s the same in the U.S., but certainly in the U.K. — is I think people didn’t really give them credit for being satirical in any way. People always think of George Romero as the king of splatter, they don’t think of him as a great satirist. So we wanted to continue in that vein. So some of the things about commuters, and coasting through work, and even relationships — Shaun is a zombie in every aspect of his life. So it’s definitely taking on that spirit of it having a proper subtext.
MM: And the new fast zombies?
SP: As I was saying, it just misses the point. If they become somehow better than us, if they become this super race, it defeats the object. The point is that they are the embodiment of our greatest fear. They’re the walking dead. By that very definition they should be shambolic and weak and ineffectual and sympathetic. You don’t get any of the tragedy of them in the remake, when they’re all running around, aggressive. You could never have a character like Bob in Day of the Dead who’s this wonderfully tragic figure, who you can identify with more even more than the human characters. You don’t get any of that. It just completely castrates them of any sort of metaphorical or dramatic weight. They just become like fireworks.
EW: I think the remake is in its own way perfectly good — in a kind of slick sort of action film. 28 Days Later gets off the hook because they’re not really zombies. They kind of got rage infected. But it did look like when they were making Dawn of the Dead, [they said] “oh shit, we better do that as well.” It did seem like somebody had watched 28 Days Later whilst they were developing it and thought, “yeah, make ‘em fast!”
SP: The next zombie film will be zombies that can fly.
EW: There’s that film House of the Dead. I’ve only seen bits of it, but the zombies are doing Matrix jumps. Kind of like Zombie-Fu. There was a time when we were developing it where we were thinking “oh god, I hope people still buy slow zombies,” but I’m really glad that we stuck to the classic recipe.
Icing and Gravy
MM: Has this allowed you to meet Romero?
EW: He’s making a new one!
MM: Is it “Twilight of the Dead”?
EW: No, it’s called “Land of the Dead.”
MM: Have you gone to meet him? Is he a hero of yours?
EW: We haven’t met him yet, but he’s seen the film.
SP: We’ve spoken to him.
EW: He loves it. It was really sweet for us cuz it was just like the icing on the cake. We shipped him the print and he watched it at his holiday home in Florida, just him and a Universal security guard — which I thought was quite funny, as if George Romero would pirate the film himself. And we spoke to him that night and he really loved it and in every interview that he’s done since, if he ever gets asked about it he always mentions it and says “oh it’s my favorite film this year, it’s the best zombie film I’ve seen apart from my own and I love it.” He’s given us cameos in the new film, as zombies. So at some point before Christmas we’re gonna go up to France to put in our cameo.
SP: we’ve got the poster quote from him as well on the U.S. poster it says “An Absolute Blast, Shaun — by George Romero.” It’s great to have — we all refer to it as “daddy’s approval” — the one person that we wanted it to appeal to it did. Everything else is just gravy.