Simon Pegg on why Spaced will never return – and what that Quentin Tarantino fight was really about
The Mission Impossible star also reveals the real-life origins of new Amazon series Truth Seekers.
It’s a surprise, and a welcome one, when Simon Pegg turns down the offer. Asked by a producer if he wants a publicist by his side, a suggestion other actors increasingly take up for on-set interviews, he politely declines.
Instead, Pegg welcomes me alone into his modest trailer, a small hut sinking slowly into the mud outside an abandoned Shredded Wheat factory – the rat-riddled building where filming for comedy-horror series Truth Seekers is underway (pre-lockdown).
The reason Pegg is happy speaking away from prying PRs soon becomes clear. And it isn’t because he’s learned to avoid making eyebrow-raising comments during his lengthy Mission Impossible press tours. Quite the contrary: within a minute he’s joking about the rat problem on set and how Symle – Truth Seekers’ fictional broadband company with veiled occult connections – “is definitely no way related to Sky”. It seems Pegg is just extremely comfortable to talk openly and undisrupted.
And that’s how he continues: good-humoured, insightful, jovial and, quite simply, a delight to speak to.
It’s easy to see why Pegg is in such good spirits, despite the fresh downpour that’s just started outside. Not only is Truth Seekers the first title to be produced by his new production company, Stolen Picture, but the series also reunites him with Cornetto Trilogy collaborator and best friend Nick Frost.
As Pegg explains, Truth Seekers represents much more than the duo’s first TV show since Channel 4 cult sitcom Spaced. The eight-part Amazon Prime Video series – which follows a broadband engineer (played by Frost) who documents ghost hauntings on YouTube – is actually based on some of the pair’s happiest memories as flatmates.
“In the early '90s, Nick and I would go off to an abbey or something in my little Renault and smoke a doobie and pretend to chase ghosts,” Pegg recalls, unable to resist grinning at the memory. “That was always something that we really loved doing. We used to go out on little adventures together.”
With a laugh, he adds: “I really missed that! Now we're all married with kids and sh*t, it's impossible!”
Indeed, several decades on, there’s no denying Pegg has changed. Now 50 years old, he’s a long way from playing bleached-blonde slacker Tim in Spaced. He’s a bonafide Hollywood star, with friends including Tom Cruise and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. He’s even achieved the so-called ‘nerd hat-trick’, appearing in Doctor Who (as the villainous ‘Editor’), Star Trek (Scotty in the JJ Abrams reboots) and Star Wars (Junkyard dealer Unkar Plutt).
In short: Simon Pegg is living his dream.
And he knows it. Despite seemingly unfazed by fame, Pegg is fully aware how much his life has changed. In fact, when asked about the possibility of a third series of Spaced, he’s quick to shoot down the suggestion for this exact reason.
“I don't know if we could write it with the same degree of honesty that we did with the first two series. Because we were those people at the time. Now we're clueless film actors that aren't really in touch with reality,” he says.
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“It was such of its time, it would be such a strange thing to do now.”
Yet, it's not only Pegg's circumstances that have changed. In recent years, his comedy instincts and writing have also transformed, with Truth Seekers, in particular, marking a major departure from earlier work.
Firstly, there’s the role Pegg gave himself: it's tiny. Although penning the series with Frost (alongside James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders), he takes the background part of Dave, boss at aforementioned broadband giant Smyle. It’s instead Frost that leads a cast including Samson Kayo (as apprentice Elton), Julian Barratt (paranormal lecturer Dr Peter Toynbee) and A Clockwork Orange’s Malcolm McDowell (or, as Pegg calls him, “the actual f**king Malcolm McDowell!”).
However, rather than the fresh cast, it’s the show’s unexpected tone that stands out most. With Cornetto Trilogy director Edgar Wright replaced by Criminal’s Jim Field Smith, many of the calling cards of Pegg and Frost’s previous films are missing, from the whip pans to crash zoom montages. Even the broken fence gags have been dropped.
“Don’t worry, I'm not beyond falling over,” Pegg reassures. “It's a comedy staple and I worship the ground it falls on. But I think with this we're distinguishing ourselves from our work with Edgar […] It’s going to feel different.”
How so? Pegg explains that rather than packed with the fast-paced cinematic jokes of Spaced, Truth Seekers is closer to wry subtly of horror-comedy anthology Inside No. 9.
“Sometimes there's not even any jokes there. But [the show] is suffused with humour because each episode is ridiculous for some reason,” he says admiringly of the Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith hit. “The comedy is there, but their performances are so straight that it kind of defies definition.
“In this day and age, comedy has evolved so much, it doesn't have to fit into generic boxes any more. You can make a comedy that doesn't make you laugh in a weird way. And yet you still find really funny.
"I think ghost stories and comedy are bedfellows. They have the same structure. They both have a set-up and then an emotional pay-off – whether that's a laugh or a jump. They have the same DNA."
It’s here – exploring the theoretics of comedy – Pegg seems is at his most comfortable. Although, in full-truth, it seems hard to find a topic he isn’t happy to talk about. Well, that is until Star Trek is brought up.
It’s entirely understandable. When we speak, Pegg is living in the wake of a spat with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, the two trading words over the sci-fi franchise’s future.
Tarantino – who was seemingly set to direct an R-rated version of the space saga – openly criticised Pegg for telling fans any new Star Trek film wouldn’t be “Pulp Fiction in Space”.
“I get annoyed at Simon Pegg,” Tarantino, a self-confessed lover of Spaced, previously told Deadline. “He doesn’t know anything about what’s going on and he keeps making all these comments as if he knows about stuff.”
The director added: “[Pegg is] like, ‘Well, look, it’s not going to be Pulp Fiction in space.’ Yes, it is! If I do it, that’s exactly what it’ll be. It’ll be Pulp Fiction in space.”
Back in his trailer, Pegg’s smile finally drops when these remarks are mentioned. And when asked about the future of Star Trek, the pattering of rain on the thin roof is the only sound for several beats.
“I honestly don't know,” he says finally. “I know Quentin’s treatment is somewhat in the wind… It would be fantastic. But whether or not it happens, I don't know.”
Addressing his original ‘Pulp Fiction in space’ comments, Pegg then clarifies: “I was just saying the opposite of what people were assuming it was going to be. Then I heard this story that Quentin was mad at me!
“I haven't read his treatment [of Star Trek], but I’ve heard it's very 'Quentin Tarantino does Star Trek’, you know. And it’s everything you would hope from that.”
And, out of nowhere, Pegg’s smile is back. “Actually, I saw him at a Once Upon a Time in Hollywood thing,” he says. “I was like 'You're not mad at me, are you?' He was like, ‘No, man, no! The press are blowing it all out of proportion!' We had a good laugh about it.”
Casually, Pegg adds: “Actually, I have been cast in a Quentin movie before, but I had to drop out because I made a commitment to something else. It was a heart-breaking week because I had to make a choice between Tarantino and Steven Spielberg [for the film The Adventures of Tintin].”
The Tarantino role in question? Was Pegg, as is rumoured, originally cast to play Lt. Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds (a part eventually going to Michael Fassbender)?
“I'm not going to say,” he answers with a laugh. “But the person who did end up playing is a far better actor than me!”
While it’s still unsure if Pegg will ever join forces with Tarantino – or if an R-rated Star Trek movie could ever happen in some form – there is one project Pegg sees a future in.
“I'm thinking at least three seasons of Truth Seekers,” he says. “Nowadays you get things that go on for 10 years and then they run out of steam or they get cancelled.
“Now we're in the era of something being one season or two seasons, there aren't really any rules any more. If we can make a nice little one-two-three punch, that'll be great!”
It would be great indeed, if only for an excuse to talk again. But, for now, it’s time to part ways.
We say goodbye and he politely points the way back to set through the rain and mud. And then, Simon Pegg, sci-fi superstar and Hollywood celebrity, says: “I’ve got to go back to that Shredded Wheat hell hole too later!”
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