In Edgar Wright’s British science-fiction comedy The World’s End (rated R, out Aug. 23), a middle-aged alcoholic named Gary King (Simon Pegg) persuades his estranged childhood pal Andy (Nick Frost) to return to their hometown and embark on a 12-bar pub crawl. Predictably, when they and three more chums (Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan) arrive back at their old stomping grounds, things aren’t quite as they remember. Less predictably, this turns out to be because the town has been taken over by killer robots hell-bent on making the local population behave (or else!).
The World’s End, which is full of booze and mayhem, is the final entry in what Wright refers to as his ”Cornetto trilogy,” following the zombie romantic comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004) and the cop farce Hot Fuzz (2007). What is it that binds this loosely connected series? Well, there’s the presence of Wright, Frost, and Pegg (who plays Scotty in the recent Star Trek films). There’s the popular-in-the-U.K. ice cream treat that gives the sort-of franchise its name. And there’s a running visual gag involving garden fences. Given their low-ish budgets, the two previous films — which, like World’s End, were written by Wright and Pegg — performed creditably, with Shaun of the Dead grossing $13 million here and Hot Fuzz raking in $23 million. But such statistics tell only half the story. People who like these films — this admittedly British writer included — really like these films. They boast a beguiling combination of sharp, geek-friendly, movie-referencing comedy and ambitious action set-pieces more Michael Bay than Mike Leigh. And in Pegg and Frost, they feature a pair of roommates-turned-leading men whose offscreen friendship helps imbue the movies with a remarkable amount of heart, regardless of the characters they happen to be playing.
How ardent are some fans of the Cornetto trilogy? When I attended a double bill of Hot Fuzz and World’s End in Philadelphia earlier this month, one twentysomething couple told me they had resolved to make it to the screening and the Q&A that followed even though their apartment had been gutted by a fire just a few days earlier. I mentioned the couple when I later caught up with Pegg, Frost, and Wright at a New York pub, and Pegg accepted the inherent compliment but then added, not unkindly, ”What else are you going to do? Sit in the rubble?”
You’ve spent much of this summer promoting The World’s End in America. What kinds of gifts have you received from fans?
Simon Pegg Somebody gave me an amazing full-scale Shaun of the Dead Boba Fett helmet. It had a cricket bat instead of his targeting thing. I’m taking it home and putting it in my ”man room.”
Edgar Wright We haven’t had any hash brownies this time.
Nick Frost We definitely have the reputation of being the Phish of filmmakers. You get people shouting at Q&A’s, ”I brought you some space cakes, man!” For future reference, though: Cash or camera stuff is always good.
The three films barely feature ice cream at all. How did they become known as the Cornetto trilogy?
Wright We put that joke in Shaun of the Dead where Nick asks for a Cornetto first thing in the morning. When I was at college, it was my hangover cure — probably still is my hangover cure. Then we put it into Hot Fuzz because we thought it would be a funny recurring thing. One journalist in the U.K. said, ”Is this going to be your theme as a trilogy?” and I said, ”Yes, it’s like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy. This is the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy.” It was just a joke that stuck.
What was the inspiration for The World’s End?
Wright When we were shooting Hot Fuzz, I’d gone back to Wells [Wright’s own hometown, where much of Hot Fuzz was shot]. It’s very pretty and timeless, and yet I had to digitally erase a Starbucks, which hadn’t been there when I was last there.
Pegg People think we choose the genre first every time, and it’s not true. We find the stories first. The notion of alienation from your hometown taken to its literal conclusion was how we got to science fiction.
Wright Americans tend to generalize all Brits as drunks. And you kind of think, ”Well, yeah. Probably.” [Laughs] We thought it would be a funny idea to do a sci-fi film where even the people who are going to be your saviors are hammered.
Simon, you don’t drink anymore. Was it strange filming in pubs for weeks on end?
Pegg No. I don’t mind being in pubs and stuff. I haven’t had a drink in three years. I have stopped being Gary King. It was always going to be no alcohol on set anyway. People often ask us, ”Was it real beer?” Of course it wasn’t.
Wright The movie is essentially Gary King bringing about his own intervention.
Pegg It’s not in any way unintentional that there are 12 steps to him having this showdown with a higher power. Every now and then people will see it and go, ”I really want to go on a pub crawl.” And I think, that’s really not what we were getting at. It’s not a love letter to alcohol at all.
Simon and Nick, it’s clear that you were doing a lot of your own stunts in the fight scenes. What was that like?
Frost We always get cross when they suggest that we couldn’t do stunts. For me personally, you turn up and there’s a thin stuntman wearing one of those [fake] sumo suits, those weird things where you look like Violet Beauregarde after she’s turned into a blueberry. You say, ”Who’s that guy doubling?” and they sort of shuffle uncomfortably. I’d rather get killed doing it myself than know how fat I am.
Up Next For the Cornetto Chums
Simon Pegg He’s set to shoot sequels to Mission: Impossible and Star Trek next year.
Nick Frost He recently wrapped the first season of a British sitcom, Mr. Sloane.
Edgar Wright He’ll direct Ant-Man for Marvel.