Hollywood has no lack of famous Star Wars fans, but Simon Pegg has always been among the biggest, peppering his early work on Spaced and Shaun of the Dead with references to the original trilogy, and even going public with his story about confessing his Princess Leia crush to Carrie Fisher. So when Pegg was cast as Montgomery Scott, the engineer on the Starship Enterprise, in 2009's Star Trek, it seemed like an awkward place for a Star Wars nut to boldly go. As it turned out, it was just a preview of another, odder twist a few years down the road.
Pegg swears he doesn't know what Star Trek Into Darkness director J.J. Abrams is planning for Star Wars Episode VII, and he's even suggested that his role as Scotty takes him out of contention for a part in the Star Wars universe (I suspect he'll make his way in there in the end). But when I spoke to him a few weeks ago over the phone he did tell me about where he was when he learned that Abrams would be directing Star Wars, and how he got the director to confirm Trek won't be the older, less cool sibling left behind. We also talked about the serious sprinting Scotty does in one key action scene in Star Trek Into Darkness, what it's like being one of the older cast members, and why he, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost are being so vigilant about maintaining the secrets about their upcoming comedy The World's End. He actually gets pretty heated about it: "Anyone that’s trying to undermine or spoil something I’ve taken a long time to try to create, is the enemy as far as I’m concerned and I don’t owe them anything, least of all the truth."
Check out more where that came from below, and catch Star Trek Into Darkness in theaters this weekend.
They brought back the really sweet elevator shot from the first movie. I can’t remember who it is, but somebody steps in the elevator on one level and they step out on another level and it’s like the Enterprise is really there. But apparently that’s the way the set was built this time, like it was all connected and you could actually walk on the entire thing like it was a real space ship. Is that how that worked?
It was the biggest sort of Star Trek set ever built in terms of the ship. We’ve had bigger sets elsewhere for the hangar of the Vengeance and the red forest, but it’s the biggest the Enterprise has ever been rendered because you could walk from the bridge to engineering to the med bay and to the transporter room and there are whole systems of corridors built so we could do shots on the move and have a sense of continuity on the ship. So, it was really exciting when you were inside it because it was like being on the ship.
Well, you mentioned the bay of the Vengeance, where you’ve got the challenge of running across this place that really does feel like it’s the inside of an airplane hangar. When you go in there, what’s your reaction when you see the space you’re gonna have to jog across so many times?
Yeah, it was immense. It’s always very important to J.J. that we are surrounded by physicality, that we’re never really relying on too much green screen. Certainly from my experience in the film, there was very little green screen work done. We always had some kind of physical prop around us and we were always in touch with some solid object, you know, and that set that was down at hangar in West LA, which is essentially a gigantic warehouse that people use if a sound studio is not big enough. That was all there and when it was lit up, when the kind of emergency lights were flashing. It was insane. It was 100 meters long, it was like half a mile. It was ridiculous. I ran it three times, sprinted it as fast as I possibly could, and it was extraordinarily fun.
Fun and not completely exhausting?
Oh, I threw up after the third one because I’d only just had my dinner. We were doing a night shoot and I kind of...
J.J. has this thing where he makes you want to do your very best all of the time. He never demands it of you. He never kind of like plays any game in asking for it. He never even physically asks you to do it, but you always want to do your best for J.J., because it’s J,J,. So, I ran faster than I’ve run since I was a kid and broke the land speed record. All of the crew applauded and I felt really good about myself, because, you know, I’m the oldest of the crew members and then J.J. said, “That was great, Simon. Would you do it again,” and I was like, “Yeah, yeah, just give me one minute.” Then I kind of got my breath back and I did it again and then I did it again and then I had excuse myself and go throw up.
When you say you’re the oldest of the crew members, does that make a big difference for you, you know, that everyone else is younger than you?
I think, no, not really. Anton is the youngest and I’m the oldest. Me and Karl are kind of the oldest, as is in the script, really, Bones and Scotty are slightly older. There’s nothing when we’re hanging around with each other that would suggest that anyone is older than anyone else, but I always know that I am. Psychologically I’m like, “I have to keep up with these kids.”
Do you ever have to beg and say "Please let me go back to engineering and talk on a phone" ?
I think Scotty is always happier to just to stay in engineering. That’s what he loves. He loves his technology and his quantum physics. If he had his way, he would never have to engage in these kind of adventures and I think that’s what makes him kind of a fun character to play, because he reacts in those situations kind of more like we would react. shocked and amazed and a bit freaked out.
Well in the original series, you watched James Doohan kind of put on weight exponentially throughout the series. You've got a lot of leeway there.
Well Jimmy did it, so I should do it myself.
Where were you when you found out that J.J. Abrams was going to do Star Wars, that it was official, and what was the first thing that ran through your mind?
I was at the movies. I was watching a documentary about Graham Chapman, one of the Monty Python team and I got an email to say that it was happening and I phoned him, no, I emailed him straightaway and I said, “You’re not going to forget us, are you,” and he kind of said, “Of course not.” I just needed a little bit of reassurance.
So you found out around the same time the rest of us did?
A little bit before, I think. It was when it was kind of being thrown around and I emailed and said, “Is this happening,” and he said, “I think so,” and you know, you immediately think, “Oh, you’re going to be off doing that and you’re going to forget...all of a sudden Star Trek is going to be like the older, less cute sibling” J.J. is just not like that. He’s so committed to everything he does. He never does anything by any halves or anything.
With The World’s End coming this summer, I don’t know if this is something you guys have done intentionally, but you guys haven’t really revealed anything about what’s happening beyond it being a pub crawl. Is that knack for secrecy something you picked up working with J.J. Abrams for so long? Are you even being intentionally as secretive as it seems you are?
Oh, absolutely. I’m a big believer in protecting the experience of the audience and fending off the efforts of people who would just seek to ruin films because they want to sell more advertising on their websites. There used to be a time when the film media worked for it and I think there’s a huge element that works against it now, by this whole idea of spoilers. They’re exactly that, they spoil things and I think people tend to want spoilers because people like the path of least resistance sometimes, and I think they shouldn’t be easy for audience members. They should experience every moment of tension and surprise and see a film how it was intended to be seen by the filmmakers.
Eventually things are going to start coming out-- the trailer that is going to drop this week and the US trailer is kind of full of spoilers. When we saw it, we were like, “Oh, really?? You’re going to show all of this stuff?” They were like, “Well, unfortunately, people want to see the film before seeing the film,” which kind of breaks my heart in a way, because it means no films ever get seen the way they’re intended to be seen, because things always have to be spoiled. If we had our way, then when we were promoting Paul, we never would have said there was an alien in it. We kind of wanted to surprise to be as surprising to the audience as it is to the characters Nick and I play, but it just doesn’t work like that anymore.
So, you just try to protect as much of the film as you can and I figure the people that want to spoil things, they kind of think you’re involved in some kind of guessing game where if they get it right, you say, “Yeah, well done,” but they’re not. It isn’t a game and I don’t owe those people anything, anyone that’s trying to undermine or spoil something I’ve taken a long time to try to create, is the enemy as far as I’m concerned and I don’t owe them anything, least of all the truth. So, yeah, we’re going to protect it as much as we can.