After playing Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott in 2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, Simon Pegg assumed a behind-the-scenes role on this summer’s Star Trek Beyond, co-writing the screenplay with Doug Jung. The writing process for Beyond was uniquely accelerated, with Pegg and Jung beginning work on their script in early 2015, mere months before director Justin Lin started shooting the film last summer. With Beyond out on Blu-Ray this week, Pegg got on the phone for a very spoiler-y conversation about the political implications of the film’s villain, the cast’s reaction to the sad passing of costar Antony Yelchin, and what franchise producer J.J. Abrams may have planned for Trek’s future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When I spoke to your co-writer Doug Jung, he mentioned that you had some far-out ideas in the initial scripting process. Was there anything in particular you remember that didn’t make it into the final version of the story?
SIMON PEGG: Krall, initially, was physically augmenting himself with bits and pieces of other aliens. That [idea] became him sort of rather doing it on a genetic level. Initially, he was a mishmash of various species and stuff life. The hypocrisy of him: A walking advertisement for integration, even though he’s against that.
Krall is really Balthazar Edison, an officer from the early Federation. How did you guys conceive that backstory, which is so rooted in a lot of ideas about Starfleet?
We liked the idea of them seemingly going where no one has gone before but actually finding themselves somewhere where not only someone had been before, but the Federation had been before. We wanted to play with the history and take a character from the beginnings of the Federation. And we didn’t want him to just be out for revenge. We wanted his motivations to be a little bit more complex. With Nero and with Khan, behind all this misjudged bluster, they kind of have a noble cause. One of them lost his wife and child. The other one was protecting his crew, and had this misplaced sense of loyalty, but was kind of just a little bit pissed off.
We liked the idea of someone being a little mad, and feeling passed over and forgotten. Someone with a terrible ego complex. It’s incredible to me how — and I would pat myself and Doug on the back endlessly for this — how Krall kind of utterly mirrors Donald Trump. You know, this sort of utterly fragile ego that’s projecting all of his own faults onto other people.
There are a lot of political ideas that Krall brings up about the meaning of Starfleet.
We took the standpoint that Star Trek has always been socially allegorical and politically allegorical: “Let’s mirror things that are happening in our culture.” That was something that was really important to us. We were looking at this notion of separatism versus integration and how, at the moment, there seems to be this pull away from this notion of global citizenship. It’s more about: “No, I need to take care of my own, my own group, my own demographic.” It feels like a very toxic time. In a sense, there were stirrings of that when we started writing, but it’s increased exponentially since then. It’s kind of frightening how quickly and how emboldened these people have become, this unapologetic self-ism.
You were comparing Krall to Donald Trump. I was thinking of him as a Boris Johnson-type figure.
Brexit, absolutely! What it is with Krall is: I don’t know if he necessarily believes in what he’s saying. Krall is just kind of angry, you know? He was a soldier, he fought in wars, he lost a lot of people, suddenly he’s got to break bread with the enemy. He disappears through a wormhole, gets marooned. He gets angry. Ultimately, his political posturing is a smokescreen. He really just wants to burn down the universe, and it’s because he’s pissed, you know?
He looks at the Federation in the same way that the right tend to take leftist ideas and just say they’re “bad.” Things like political correctness, which is just really not being a c–t, that’s all you’ve really got to do, don’t be an a–hole. That’s all it is! They say, oh no, political correctness, that’s bad.
Beyond ends with Krall vanquished. I wonder, if you’d written the movie this year, would there have been such a happy ending?
We wrestled with the end right up until almost before we shot it. Doug and I were trying to find a way for Krall to come good. We wanted him to, in his final moments, maybe help Kirk vent the Abronath into space. We just couldn’t get him to switch that quickly. We decided to have him look as if maybe he’s gonna help. He sees his reflection in the side of the glass, and he realizes that he is just a monster. Nero had a fairly vague sort of death. Khan was put on ice in case we wanted to bring back Benedict Cumberbatch. Doug and I said, “Let’s have our villain be completely destroyed.”
When I was rewatching the other Star Trek films this summer, I realized I had overlooked the fact that in The Final Frontier, Scotty and Uhura have some kind of a romance. At any point in the process did you feel like Scotty needed a love interest?
As a co-writer of the film, if I’d written myself any kind of romantic interest with Zoe Saldana, I’d have been thoroughly hauled across the coals! We did have a little reference, in a deleted scene on the DVD, where Scotty talks about going out for a drink with Lieutenant Romaine, and that’s a character from the original series that Scotty was romantically linked to.
Last summer you wrote an interesting essay touching on a lot of issues pertaining to modern geek entertainment. It was interesting to see, in Beyond, that both Kirk and Spock are wrestling internally with a lot of big ideas about Starfleet and Star Trek in general. Were the ideas you mentioned in the essay on your mind as you conceived those characters’ arcs?
It was important to Doug and I to make sure the film had some kind of heart, and something to say about the human condition. My fear is…I’m a big fan of entertainment. I don’t see pure entertainment as dangerous, or anything. But I do think we are in danger of becoming infantilized by our tastes. If what we are consuming isn’t particularly challenging, if it’s just fireworks display and stuff without any kind of substance, then it’s just gonna wash over us, have no kind of effect. Then we become zombies, and we all know where that leads!
There’s no reason why pure entertainment can’t also be thoughtful and have depth and something to say. It was important to Doug and I – and Justin was really keen on this also – that [Beyond] just had something to chew on.
Before Beyond was released, a fourth film was announced, which will feature Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s father, George. Have you heard anything about the next film?
It’s become a bit bittersweet, really, because we lost Anton tragically, and that’s deeply affected all of us. It’s going to be so difficult to do it again without him, but we’ve become so close over the years, and even moreso now. J.J. is J.J. He’s very secretive, and I think that this is something he was kind of cooking up, or has been cooking up for a while story-wise. I don’t know anything about it. I’m intrigued! Personally, I feel like I’m fascinated to find out. It would be interesting with Kirk, now that he seems to have got past his daddy issues, you know, come to a good place psychologically in terms of his relationship with his dad. I can only imagine how it will be to suddenly have to face him.