”You often get scrutinized as an actor for the choices you make. You sort of get slammed for them sometimes, and it’s like, well…” Simon Pegg says, searching for the right words, ”Shut up, it’s my job.”
He’s having a laugh, but when the co-writer and star of cult favorites Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz talks about his latest outing, the comparatively mainstream comedy Run Fat Boy Run (in theaters on Friday), he turns surprisingly earnest. The film follows ordinary British bloke Dennis (Pegg), who leaves his pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton) at the altar, then decides five years later to try to win her back. The plan: Finally prove to her — but really himself — that he’s worthy, by going the distance in something…like the London marathon, which he says he’ll enter only because Libby’s new, more accomplished boyfriend Whit (Hank Azaria) already has. It’s the feature directing debut of our old Friend David Schwimmer, whom Pegg acted opposite in HBO’s 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers and again in the 2006 movie Big Nothing.
Pegg phoned EW.com for a heartfelt chat about the romantic comedy genre, fans’ mixed reactions to his casting as Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, Fox’s forthcoming (and figuratively unauthorized) remake of his beloved British sitcom Spaced, and the nicest definition of geek you’ll ever hear.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You share the screenwriting credit on Run Fat Boy Run with Michael Ian Black (The State, Stella). Did he simply pass the script off to you once the film’s location was changed from New York to London, or did you actually write together?
SIMON PEGG: The draft I got was just a first or second by Michael, and then the decision came to set it in the U.K. — based entirely on the fact that the money for the production was coming from there. So I took it on to do a polish. We never actually sat down in a room and worked together, but obviously as a writer, I know what it’s like to have someone else fiddling with your babies. I immediately sent him the script when I was finished with it, and said, ”What do you think?” He was very pleased.
I talked with David Schwimmer earlier, and he said the only film he remembers purposely sitting down and watching before filming was Kramer vs. Kramer, because he knew he had to make the audience see that Dennis was a good father so they’d forgive him. Did you look to any films for inspiration, either as a writer or as an actor?
It really appealed to me to actually write a romantic comedy and not cop out of that by making fun of the genre or undermining it in any way. I thought, Let’s try to write a romantic comedy and hit the requisite beats and fulfill the criteria of the genre and do it properly. There’s always opportunities to be a little more edgy, perhaps not so schmaltzy, to have some sort of wry comment on what you’re doing, but I essentially wanted to make a romantic comedy. So I watched other romantic comedies and saw what to do and what not to do.
What are your three favorite romantic comedies?
Well, that’s quite an interesting question, actually, ‘cause obviously romantic comedies have a great sort of history, not just the modern ones that people might bring up. [Thinks for a few seconds] I think films like What’s Up, Doc? with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal and Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn are great. And then in the contemporary vein, I’d probably say something like Four Weddings and a Funeral, which I think was Richard Curtis at his absolute best writing for a romantic comedy set in the U.K.
What is it about those films that you like?
A kind of depth of feeling and a kind of acceptance of the genre for what it is — which is a slightly emotionally manipulative, but joyously so, kind of film style. It’s the ones that make you care about the characters and want to see them together or not together. You have to root for the relationship above all else, and to do that, you have to have rounded characters that you have some investment in. If you have an unlikable character who’s just a bit of a jerk, you just think, Well I don’t care what happens to you.
And you’re playing a man who leaves his pregnant fiancée at the altar.
That’s what appealed to me about it. I thought, This is a real challenge to have a character who does something so terrible at the top of the film and then do our damnedest to make him the central sympathetic figure. Bring it on. How are we going to do this ‘cause he’s such an a–hole? Particularly the women watching this film are gonna think, Why am I supposed to like this guy? And so we contrived a notion that Dennis was so pathologically self-doubting that he considered himself to be a setback, and kind of loved Libby to the point where he figured ruining her wedding day was better than destroying her life completely. He entirely went about it the wrong way, but at the very least, had his heart in the right place. So the idea was that rather than just be a coward and a commitment-phobe, he was a sort of [laughs] deeply sensitive guy who loved his girlfriend enough to care what happens to her.
NEXT PAGE: How J.J. Abrams offered Pegg the role of Scotty in Star Trek — via e-mail