Already an established comedy star in Britain with the hit TV series “Spaced,” Simon Pegg made a strong trans-Atlantic impression with the films “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” Now he’s pushing further into the mainstream as the lead in the romantic comedy “Run Fatboy Run” opposite Thandie Newton, and beaming up into the role of “Scotty,” chief engineer of the starship Enterprise, in the upcoming “Star Trek” movie.
One of the few comic actors who regularly writes his own material, Pegg reworked “Fatboy” from an original screenplay by Comedy Central stalwart Michael Ian Black. Checking in from Los Angeles, Pegg said that the advantages are enormous for an actor who creates his own scenes, and for a writer who can’t be kicked off the set.
Run, Fatboy, Run
Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Hank Azaria, Dylan Moran
(Picturehouse; US theatrical: 28 Mar 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 7 Sep 2007 (General release); 2007)
“I think it’s the best way to work. You don’t have to defer to anybody,” he said. “You can write to your own strengths. It optimizes the filmmaking process. I’m surprised more actors don’t do it.”
Reminded that most performers probably don’t have the writing ability, he replied dryly, “Oh yeah, I didn’t think of that.”
A large part of his comic persona, Pegg believes, is his ordinariness. “I’m an average-looking kind of guy. You can pitch yourself as being an everyday Joe, and in this day and age that kind of character is becoming more and more of a protagonist.
“With the rise of reality TV and video cameras, we’re demystifying the filmmaking process. Often you’ll find quite regular people at the center of film stories now,” particularly in comedy with the likes of Seth Rogen and Steve Carell. “In that tradition, it’s been fun to write about quite mundane people having comic adventures.”
In “Run Fatboy Run,” Pegg plays Dennis, a man who five years after deserting his pregnant girlfriend at the altar tries to win back her affection by completing a marathon. Adapting Black’s script by moving the action from New York to London and adding more ironic British humor was an enjoyable challenge, he said.
“The notion of trying to translate it into a British setting was really fascinating to me. And Dennis does such a heinous thing at the top of the film, the idea of trying to make him sympathetic really appealed to me,” he said. “I liked the idea of writing a romantic comedy, a genre that’s quite easy to make fun of. But I thought, `Let’s do one and not make fun.’ They’re light and fun and emotionally manipulative in a good way.”
Thandie Newton plays Libby, Pegg’s ex, who has moved on to a relationship with Whit, a wealthy, overachieving athlete played by Hank Azaria. Balancing the film’s character study of a hapless slacker against the female-centered demands of the genre took some work, Pegg said. “(Dennis) can’t believe he’s with her and believes marrying her will be to her detriment,” he said. “That’s the reason he decides to run away rather than face up to the fact that she does love him and he needs to earn her love.
“We didn’t want Libby to seem shallow in that she’s chosen Whit. In the first draft of the script Whit was immediately a sleazeball, and we wanted him at least from the outset to look like a viable proposition. He’s funny, he’s friendly, he’s polite, well-off, handsome, everything Dennis isn’t. That makes it more interesting or the audiences as well, because it’s not so easy for them to set their allegiances. They wonder which guy they should root for.”
With its immature antihero and slick traditional romcom construction, “Fatboy” could be a gene-splice of Britain’s reigning comic novelist Nick Hornby (“About A Boy”) and screenwriter Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”). The film seems tailored to move Pegg from a cult hero into the ranks of mass-market leading men, but he insists that that was not the goal.
“I don’t have a game plan,” the 38-year-old actor said. `What I do is go into work in the morning and love that. The consequence of that is less relevant to me. I just want to make films that I like watching. I don’t want to be propelled into the mainstream particularly because I’d rather just do the stuff I do and be left alone.”
Pegg’s first two films were close collaborations with England’s top comedy director Edgar Wright. “Fatboy” is the directorial debut of “Friends’” star David Schwimmer, who acted with Pegg in “Big Nothing,” a 2006 crime farce that lived up to its name.
“I wasn’t worried at all” about Schwimmer stepping behind the camera, Pegg said. “I knew he certainly could direct actors. He had directed episodes of `Friends’ and came out of an extremely prolific group of comic actors. He definitely knew his f-stops from his 40mm lenses, so I was put at ease very quickly.”
Pegg recently completed filming J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” prequel, an experience he called “a dream come true for me” as a fan of the show. His interpretation of the iconic character of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott was to play the role as genuinely as James Doohan did, he said.
“I tried to approach it as (Doohan) did when he first picked up the script. Look at the character and who he was rather than try and do an impression of James Doohan,” he said. “I didn’t want to undermine James in any way; he’s created one of the most enduring figures in modern science fiction.
“We’ve gone in there absolutely adamant that the spirit of the show’s going to remain intact. Seriously, not with a hint of parody, this is a `Star Trek’ film. It’s nothing but.”