Simon Pegg on rewriting Star Trek 3, "geekdom" and playing a romantic lead
"I’ve become the poster child for the geek generation," says the Spaced creator, "and it’s not something I want to be"
It’s a busy day in Peggville. Out at Simon Pegg’s very big house in the Hertfordshire countryside, 40 minutes north of London by commuter train, there is bustle and stress. Gardeners roam the grounds, the cleaner is in, and Hollywood is breathing down the actor’s neck.
He was hired earlier this year to co-write the third instalment of the re-invigorated Star Trek film series. By 6pm today – when Los Angeles wakes up – he has to have cut 180 pages of the script down to 135.
“It’s pretty much a minute of screen time per page,” Pegg explains, as we carry tea and cake into the lounge he jokingly calls the Downton Abbey room. “Yeah, we’re gonna split it, Hunger Games-style, into parts one and two,” he jokes.
Pegg, who played chief engineer Scotty in the first couple of Star Trek instalments, was asked to work on the script by Hollywood director/producer JJ Abrams, the steward of both the Star Trek and Star Wars reboots.
“They had a script for Star Trek that wasn’t really working for them,” begins Pegg. “I think the studio was worried that it might have been a little bit too Star Trek-y.”
What does that mean?
“Well, Avengers Assemble, which is a pretty nerdy, comic-book, supposedly niche thing, made $1.5 billion. Star Trek into Darkness made half-a-billion, which is still brilliant. But it means that, according to the studio, there’s still $1 billion dollars worth of box office that don’t go and see Star Trek. And they want to know why,” he smiles.
Pegg understands that Star Trek’s 50-year vintage means it’s dismissed in certain quarters as stories for “anoraks”. “People don’t see it being a fun, brightly coloured, Saturday night entertainment like the Avengers.” And the solution? “Let’s make a western or a thriller or a heist movie, then populate that with Star Trek characters so it’s more inclusive to an audience that might be a little bit reticent.”
So, a discussion that began late last year led to the “complete jettisoning” of the existing Star Trek 3 script. “We started again six months before we were due to start shooting, which is insane! In fact...” he adds with a noticeable gulp, “we start shooting in Vancouver in four weeks – and we’re only handing in our first draft today.”
No pressure, then.
But Pegg – pop-culture obsessive, cineaste, film and TV player – knows better than most of his peers how his industry works. He’s a comic actor who can do “straight” projects (he’s Tom Cruise’s right-hand man again in this summer’s fifth Mission: Impossible movie, Rogue Nation) and a sitcom creator (Channel 4’s cult Spaced) who writes his own movies (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End).
And now, at the age of 45, he’s playing a romantic lead. He admits that he’s no particular fan of the romcom genre. But he was impressed by the script for Man Up – sent on spec by a TV writer, Tess Morris, to the offices of Big Talk, the TV/film production company of which he is a shareholder. And he’s relished being a leading man and, for the first time, a love interest in the movie (in cinemas on Friday 29 May).
It’s all part of a sort of personal rebrand, one that ties in with the stylish look Pegg adopted for the Radio Times photoshoot. Fresh from a morning run, Pegg admits that, “I’ve been married for ten years now and I didn’t want to just become a slobby husband for Maureen,” he says of his partner, a former music industry PR, with whom he has a daughter, five- year-old Matilda. “I thought I might as well try and stay fresh, keep her interested!” he hoots.
“I turned 40, quit drinking, and decided that I’d quite like to live a bit longer than if I’d continued with that particular lifestyle. I also kind of made a conscious decision to stop dressing like a teenager... he says, wearing a baseball cap, jeans and a T-shirt covered in coffee stains!”