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The World's End opened in North American theaters last weekend, concluding what was a long and probably grueling press tour for its three stars-- Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who appear in the film and on the poster, and Edgar Wright, the third man who is, as always, pulling the strings. The three of them have worked together since the late-90s cult sitcom Spaced, and together have created a remarkable comedic trilogy about growing up, starting with the zom-rom-com Shaun of the Dead, going into the buddy cop parody Hot Fuzz and now concluding with The World's End, which does include robots and alien conspiracies, but is also a whole lot harder to describe as a parody than the other two.
Both insanely funny and sometimes surprisingly somber, The World's End is about having the guts to let go of the past and the people you were with-- even though Wright, Pegg and Frost swear this is far from the last film they'll make together. In a conversation that included a bit on Ant-Man and Wright's theory about what the end of Shaun of the Dead might actually mean, along with a completely surreal delivery of a plate full of bananas wrapped in Saran wrap, Wright also talked about finding The World's End pub in a former Quaker town, the surprisingly happy ending of The World's End, and the incredibly helpful letter he got from the British ratings board while still writing The World's End.
I can ask you about Egypt and you can give your opinion on that, because that’s something I’m sure you’re totally qualified to comment on.
Yeah, I do not want to, I think nobody wants to know what I think about like Arab Spring or anything like that.
Well, if you could even keep up on the news right now, I’d be impressed, because you’re in a bubble of PR.
Yeah. I don’t need to know about the royal baby. It’s ok.
I don’t know anything about the royal baby. I know his name and that’s all I’ve got.
I think the full name is Hashtag Royal Baby.
Yeah? I say George/Royal Baby.
They given him a name and yet he’s just called the royal baby. His name is George. Let’s call him George.
I wanted to ask you about the letter to… not the MPAA but…
Oh yeah, the BBFC.
Yeah. So, it was like, it kind of blew everyone away, because it was like so reasonable.
And also done two years before the film. We were writing it. It was before we’d even finished the first draft.
Was that the first time you’d had a conversation like that?
Yeah, it was actually. They don’t like to call themselves censors, classifiers. People always think it’s the British Board of Film Censors, but it’s the British Board of Film Classification. One of the them, like followed me on Facebook and he said, like, his name is Hammad Khan and he said, I think he got the certificate to Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. I said, "Oh, that’s great," and then I texted him and I said, "Hey, is it possible to ask a question whilst we’re writing?" and he said, "Sure, email me and I’ll pass it on." So, I wrote that email, like we’re writing and we have a question about language, and their response was so great. I said to Simon, "This is the greatest email ever," and it was also extremely helpful.
And polite and full of information.
Incredible, and to their credit, later when the film is out, I said, would you mind if I publish this. I don’t see where I could print your email, like could I publish this. They said, "Absolutely."
Have you ever dealt with the MPAA process at all?
Yeah, that Scott Pilgrim, amazingly got an R rating twice, which for that movie I was thinking, "Really??" and it was one, because at one point we had one F word in there.
Well, you can get one, but it was the wrong context?
Well that was what was bullshit, is that it wasn’t the wrong context. It’s just they decided like, it wasn’t like a sexual use of the F word. It was just kind of, very much thrown away, so they said no to that. That one it wasn’t that funny anyway, so it was like, don’t worry about that. Just get rid of that. In fact, the F word actually spoiled Aubrey Plaza’s joke with the black boxes anyway.
But then the second one, which I argued against and won was the line, "You cocky cock," and they gave an R rating on that line alone. They said, that’s an R-rating because it’s a sexual sort of reference and I said, "But he’s not saying cock as in genitalia. He’s saying cock as an arrogant person. He’s calling him like an arrogant. 'You are an arrogant dick.'". I’d never met them but my argument was, in Britain, the word cock is just calling somebody arrogant, like cockerel, because cockerels are sort of like, because of their plumes.
Like the Famous Cock, the pub, in the movie.
In the movie, it’s a cockerel. That’s a real name of a pub. It actually exists. It’s around the corner from my house. What I didn’t realize was, when we tried to clear it for the movie, is that it’s the only one in the UK.
Oh, so they got mad about it?
No, we just had to clear it. I think if there’s less than three, less than five, you have to clear it. Maybe if there’s less than three, you have to clear it.
You’d think that would be like the ultimate. Everybody would want to name their bar that, or at least a gay bar.
There’s lots of bars called The Cock. There’s only one Famous Cock, which makes sense.
Now there’s going to be so many more of them, obviously.
There’s many World’s Ends. In London, there’s about three, but the thing is, the reason they’re called the World’s End, is that usually they’re on the edge of a town. So, there’s one in Camden, which obviously now, with the massive urban sprawl, it doesn’t make any sense, but it used to be the edge of like, Camden town.
That’s so sad when everything spreads like that.
Well, what’s funny is in the movie there’s two towns that made up Newton Haven, both built in the early 20th century. Letchworth, which is the main one that we use, was built by the Quakers, which meant that it was a dry town and until the 60s, it didn’t have any pubs at all. I think some people in Letchworth thought that it was highly ironic that we were using their town as like the ultimate pub crawl town, because they were famously a dry town. And in fact, the pub is The World’s End, which is really called The Gardener’s Arms, you see in the movie at the end of a long street.
Yeah, it’s huge.
The reason it’s at the end of a long street is because that is the town limits and it’s outside of the town limits. It’s the pub outside the dry town.
Nice. It’s like an off-shore boating casino. Did you want to have the momentous looking building for The World’s End?
Yeah, yeah. It was written into the script and it was something that was really tough to find, Finding one that was on its own that looked cool was really difficult and then, like magic… it’s like sitting there like a UFO.
You can't just build it on the outskirts of some random town.
The first draft of the screenplay is not a million miles away from the shooting draft or what we actually shot, and yet, when we first did the budget, they said, "This film is going to cost 60 million." And it was like, "Oh, no, no, no, no." I said, "A) That’s not going to happen and B) It shouldn’t cost that much." So we literally, like, cleaved it, like more than half to get it like way down, but still pulled off exactly what was on the page. People who have read the script early on, and in fact other directors who have seen the movie, whether it was Guillermo Del Toro or Peter Jackson or Darren Aronofsky, said "I have no idea how you did that in 12 weeks, on that budget," but one of the things is originally, things like that with The World’s End, was like "Let’s build a set, let’s build a facade," because then we can blow it up.
Well, you had to build a set on the inside, at least, no matter what.
Of the 12 bars, 3 of them are sets, and the others are all locations.
Well, The World’s End obviously.
World’s End and the Beehive and Hole in the Wall, but all of the other ones are real.
I was watching the conversation you guys did with Peter Jackson, and I just was thinking about him and the way Return of the King had ten different endings and very clearly, he couldn’t let it go. When you’re making this, it’s clear that you guys felt a momentousness to ending the trilogy.
Yeah, we wanted to make it like a finale.
Yeah, but did you also have like the hard time letting go? Like did you have four different endings?
No, that ending, the end scene of the movie...the end image and the end scene and the end line was always there.
Like from draft number one. I think when the film first got announced in 2007, all it said was it called The World’s End, so I think everybody immediately leapt to the conclusion that it was going to be post-apocalypse film like Mad Max.
But you knew even then that you weren’t going to do that?
No,no, no, we knew what it was about a pub crawl where the last bar is called The World’s End and our character desperately wants to go to The World’s End and absolutely gets his wish, like in the worst way possible, but also the best, because everybody kind of gets…
Everybody gets what they want.
In a way. Me and Simon have said this a couple times now, we feel that it has the happiest ending of the three, because in all three of the movies, they have a somewhat like black comedy ending. In Shaun of the Dead, yes he is with his girlfriend at the end, but nothing is changed in terms of like he’s still dividing his time between his girlfriend and his best friend. It’s not entirely clear whether his girlfriend knows about the friend in the shed.
I never even thought of that.
Well, we left it deliberately ambiguous.
Interesting. It never occurred to me that she didn’t know.
The only thing that she says is maybe like leads toward that is he says, I’m just going to go out into the shed and she says, "Oh, go on then," which kind of like seems to suggest…
That maybe she’s knows what he’s doing.
But maybe she doesn’t. But also to get to that happy sitcom status quo, lots of people had to die, including his mother and her friends and his friends. And in Hot Fuzz, like it’s a triumph in the ending of sorts, excepts for the fact that our heroes have become like black shirt fascists, beating up hippies. So, in this one, we feel that like, even though we don’t wimp out on the title, kind of everybody gets what they want in the end.
You’ve been talking about it as a trilogy forever, but these days, there’s no such thing as a trilogy. You’re always going to get the fourth one. But you‘re like "No, no, no. This is it. We’re going to blow shit up."
The thing is, when you sort of say, "Oh, we’d love to do a third film together," you’ve sort of made a promise to the fans, but more importantly and crucially, you’ve made a promise to yourself. With this movie, we always wanted to do it, but we also made the decision that we should not do it straight away. We should go off and do something else and then come back, and also get older, like so it would be, I think we wouldn’t have written the same screen play 6 years ago.
So you might have a new perspective after some time.
Yeah, and I think in a way because the film is about friends reuniting, the fact that me and Simon went off and did different films and then came back, added to the emotion in the movie. I had a chance to do Ant-Man two years ago, but I put it on the back burner to do this. Aside from the fact that I wanted to do The World’s End, you know, you probably read about this in an earlier interview, out executive producer got ill and he was the person who basically gave us our break, and suddenly it hit me so hard in terms of on a number of levels. If something terrible happened and I had not made good on my promise that I’d do a third film, I would never, I would regret it forever. We owe this man our career, because he saved Shaun of the Dead from like turnaround, and he wants us to do another movie. We want him to see it and let’s make this movie. So, I went in to Marvel and said, I really want to do Ant-Man, but I can’t do it right now, and this is why, and they said, that’s very laudable, like we totally understand. Of course we want to make the movie anyway, but that’s something else personal coming to it. The great news is that he is fine and he likes, and loves it and is as proud of it as we are.
It’s hard not to read into this you guys putting away your own past and making this. Do you feel like it’s kind of closing a chapter on a part of your life?
I think so. I’m 39 and stuff, so you kind of feel like that thing where people say, "Oh 30 is the new 20. 40 is the new 30." You kind of think, how long can that go on? When we came up with the idea for the story, and-- it’s not supposed to be a heavy, heavy movie, but there is a thing about like so much of our culture at the moment is about nostalgia and so many films are essentially about like remakes of movies that we loved when we were kids, toys that we had when we were kids. Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing and it can’t inform everything, you know. Rosamund Pike says, in the movie, you’ve got to look forwards and not backwards and it’s something like, we got to go forwards, you know. There’s very little to be gained from going backwards.
But now, as the guy who’s going to make Ant-Man, do you feel like that’s going to get thrown right back at you being like, this is a character that people loved as children.
You know what, like because there’s never been a film adaptation of that character, I think it’s OK. If it was a remake of a film from 30 years ago, then I would be a hypocrite, but because it’s never been made into a movie ever. And also, to be honest, there are elements in that script that actually do continue themes from the other movies, an unlikely hero, a chance at redemption, and so, it’s not something, it’s going to be, it will be different, but I think it will still feel like one of my films.