LOS ANGELES — Simon Pegg is as close as you can get to a real-life geek superhero; his special powers include a real affection for Comic-Con culture and stepping into that imaginary world. As a boy, Pegg was swept away by his geek loves: live theater and the fantastical worlds of “Star Wars,” “Doctor Who,” “Jason and the Argonauts” and “Star Trek.” He now lives the impossible dreams of his youth, acting for Steven Spielberg and stepping onto the deck of the Starship Enterprise as Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot.
The 41-year-old Brit recounts his story with self-effacing charm in the new memoir “Nerd Do Well.”
Pegg can riff on cultural theory and the decline of the bourgeoisie in late capitalist societies as readily as he cracks up over a fart joke. There’s a goofiness in that combination that’s echoed in a fictional gag that runs through the book, a story about Pegg, “a rugged, sexually devastating superhero,” dueling a supervillain/vixen and accompanied by his robot sidekick, Canterbury (think C-3PO with an unfortunate earring).
“I liked including it as a means of undermining what is essentially a narcissistic exercise, writing a memoir. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it, even though I went ahead and did it,” Pegg said by phone from New York, where his book tour began last week. “For me, it was a way of subliminally communicating to the readership that I was well aware of what I was undertaking in writing a memoir and not to take it too seriously.”
At first, Pegg thought he would focus his book on his filmmaking experiences, shielding his private life. “As soon as I started doing that, I thought, ‘God, this is dreary.’ There’s nothing to report. It’s like I went in to work, someone said ‘action,’ I acted, I went back to my trailer, I had some lunch, I took the dog for a walk.”
Fans who are eagerly anticipating reading about his experiences working on, say, “Star Trek” may be surprised that there are few on-set anecdotes. He steps onto the Enterprise and then — that’s it! What was it like?
“It was an extraordinary thing to be part of that world,” he admits. “I do talk about how weird it was to speak to Leonard Nimoy when he was in character. That was super-strange, because he wasn’t just Leonard Nimoy, he was Spock, and to have Spock talking to you is utterly, utterly odd. I’ve known him since I was 9 — and he’s not even real!” He stops and laughs. “That’s hard to put into words, that.”
Pegg’s book comes in advance of his appearance in what may be two of the bigger movies of the year. He’s a costar of “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” with Tom Cruise and was motion-captured by Steven Spielberg for “The Adventures of Tin Tin: Secret of the Unicorn.” And he’ll be returning as Scotty in the next “Star Trek” film about which he can say nothing — not even the title — except that it’s coming in 2012. Blockbusters notwithstanding, he’s built a career acting and writing together, recently in the alien pastiche “Paul” and cop comedy “Hot Fuzz.” Yet he found writing a book was a very different experience.
“The one thing that I learned from writing this book is that it’s extremely difficult to write a book,” Pegg said. “I tried to write it between takes on a set. I tried to fit it in between the rest of my life, and that was impossible.”
So he went to his publisher’s office and sat there, working under the deadline-focused gaze of his editor. “With that level of discipline and concentration I banged it out in 3 1/2 months. That’s the other thing — it’s actually quite easy to write a book, if it is all you do. If you clear your mind of everything else, it comes out of you like a load of ectoplasm.”
The book’s endpapers illustrate his childhood daydreams — they’re Pegg’s own doodlings of Yoda from “Star Wars,” dinosaurs, spaceships and zombies. When he was growing up in England, Pegg said, “classic horror titles were dismissed as filth. It made them more mythic — it made the desire to see them greater.” His breakthrough with American audiences was with his film “Shaun of the Dead,” the 2004 cult favorite zombie movie that had a great part in bringing zombies, um, back to life.
In “Nerd Do Well,” Pegg brings childhood passions to life, injecting them with a sense of wonder that stretches across time. He has met Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia in “Star Wars,” once, as a fan at Comic-Con, an experience he details in the book. “It remains a great unfulfilled ambition of mine,” Pegg says. “I hope that one day we’ll meet and I’ll be able to relate to her on a sort of even footing as a fellow artist and writer. I’m sure she has absolutely no idea who I am and doesn’t even care — but for me she’ll always be my first love.”
Spoken like a true fanboy.