[20 April 2007]
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
For all the incessant profanity in Edgar Wright’s movies—2004’s “Shaun of the Dead” and this weekend’s “Hot Fuzz”—there is a certain expression the director and his writing partner, Simon Pegg, would rather never hear.
“The one word that we bristle at is `spoof,’” said Wright, whose first film was a loving homage to the zombie classic “Dawn of the Dead”; with “Hot Fuzz,” he takes on the cop genre. “And only because unfortunately `spoof’ seems to have become synonymous with a particular strain of sub- sub- sub-Zucker Brothers humor. ... That style of humor has become so tired, and I think that’s what most people think of when they say `spoof.’”
Indeed, “Hot Fuzz” is bereft of the zany antics that run rampant in the sort of films—think “Date Movie” or the “Scary Movie” franchise—that take their cues from Zucker classics such as “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun.” Wright’s sophomore feature is more an appreciation than a satire of the likes of “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon.” It stars Pegg as Nicholas Angel, a cop whose spectacular arrest record is making the rest of London law enforcement look bad in comparison.
To remedy this, Angel’s superiors ship him off to the English countryside, where he’s partnered with hapless local officer Danny Butterman (played by Nick Frost, also Pegg’s wingman in “Shaun”) and tasked with tracking down missing swans.
There are myriad references to other films in “Hot Fuzz”—everything from “The Wicker Man” to “The Professional” to “The French Connection” gets a nod—but most prominent is “Bad Boys II.”
Wright’s open affection for trashy escapism like the Michael Bay-directed police drama with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence is part of why he describes his work as “more like funny genre films.”
“Because basically, we don’t break the fourth wall, we don’t kind of, like, wink at the camera. So there’s a rule to (the movie) that it does have proper plot and characters.”
“When we write, we write as writers,” Pegg said. “In that, we’re not writing for me to grandstand, for it to be a vehicle just for me. We’re thinking of the picture as a whole, as an entity in itself, and that is made up of lots of different parts. ... A lot of our comedy comes from the fact that it’s played absolutely straight, and the humor arises from that. Rather than goofing around, or pulling faces, or being silly. Obviously, there are elements of slapstick here and there ... it’s a sort of tonal thing that we try to do.”
The success of this formula in “Shaun of the Dead”—its worldwide gross was $30 million, about five times its budget—afforded Wright and Pegg, who had previously collaborated on the acclaimed TV series “Spaced,” newfound recognition. Wright is one of several directors who contributed a fake trailer to the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez release “Grindhouse”; both are now part of his social circle. Rodriguez scored two key scenes in “Hot Fuzz”—as with Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” he was paid $1 for his efforts—and Tarantino has held a series of private movie nights for Wright.
“I think that’s (Tarantino’s) favorite thing to do,” Wright said. “Where some people are like great chefs, and will say, `Come round and I’ll cook you dinner,’ Quentin’s thing is to say, `Come round and I’ll show you some movies.”“
Among the themes: Horror films, and some British productions Tarantino didn’t think the 33-year-old Wright had seen—“and I hadn’t,” Wright said. “The third time, and this is why Quentin is on the (closing-credits acknowledgments) at the end of `Hot Fuzz,’ was I was in town and he said, `Hey, since you’re writing this police film, why don’t I show you a double bill of police films?,’” Wright recounted. “That was just me and him in his screening room at his house watching Walter Matthau in (1973’s) `The Laughing Policeman’ and an Italian film called—best title ever—`Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man’ (1976). Which was amazing.”
Wright’s new fan base extended to celebrated actors, as Shaun helped “Hot Fuzz” to round up an astonishingly good cast. (Their budget also doubled to $15 million, but, as Wright points out, “You could still make 8 ½ `Hot Fuzzes’ for one `Bad Boys II.’”) In addition to credited actors like Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine (“In America”) and former Bond Timothy Dalton, if you pay very close attention, you’ll also catch cameos by Cate Blanchett and “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson.
“That’s a nice position to be in,” Wright said of the caliber of actors who flocked to “Hot Fuzz.” “Jim Broadbent had approached Simon at the BAFTAs to say that he liked `Shaun of the Dead’ and that he’d like to work with us in the future. Paddy Considine ... he only ever plays very intense roles until this point, and meeting him in person, he’s so funny, and so engaging, and so silly, so we (thought we) have to write him a comedy part, which is what we did. He’s one of those guys anyway, there’re quite a few of them who are comedians like that. Stuart Wilson (of “Death and the Maiden” and “The Age of Innocence”) is quite a comedian, who’s in `Hot Fuzz’ as well, that people go, `Ohhh! That was him.’”
Asked why they chose to make another English film rather than a Hollywood studio production, Pegg joked, “Because we’re English.”
“We did have offers and stuff, but (“Hot Fuzz”) felt like the right thing to do, really,” Wright added. “It felt as well that ... if you have a success with your first film and then you kind of consolidate that and say, `Right, what have we always wanted to do?’ And this is it, really. It was nice to be able to do that in the U.K. rather than have to go to Hollywood to do a bigger second film.”
Pegg said there’s a misconception that Hollywood should be the goal for every director. “I think a lot of filmmakers almost make the mistake of ... seeing their first (movie) being the means to the end, and Hollywood being that end. It’s not necessarily the case,” he said. “It would be nice to carry on making films where we live and where we’re from and about our life experiences, but still be part of the film community. You know, it’s not like you have to validate yourself by somehow coming to America. It is a brilliant and prolific center of moviemaking, but if you’re not from here, you don’t have to compromise yourself in order to be filmmaker.”
But many directors don’t seem to agree. At the Cannes Film Festival, Wright said, “Somebody asked (Tarantino) about the British film industry, and he said there is no British film industry, because any time a director has a hit, they (rush) off to Hollywood, and they become Hollywood directors.”
Wright will allow, however, that he and Pegg could be persuaded to do the same: “That said, if Jerry Bruckheimer comes a-calling and says, `Listen, Michael (Bay) can’t do “Bad Boys III”—are you and Simon and Nick up for it?’...”