Interview: Edgar Wright
“It’s just funny being in America on Hollywood and seeing Crouch End, Somerset, Letchworth on the big screen.” Edgar Wright is describing the international success of The World’s End, his most recent comedy with regular collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The film, co-written with Pegg, mixes melancholic nostalgia with sci-fi action – all set in the fictional Newton Haven, but shot at distinctly British locations. It became Wright’s highest opener in the US box office, ahead of fan favourites Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. “The reviews were really strong in the States as well. That was really pleasing to me because it proved you don’t have to water down what you’re doing to please an international audience.”Wright is speaking to me and four other journalists in Soho Hotel. Sat around the table, it’s fun to imagine that we are characters from The World’s End, in the pub with Dictaphones instead of pint glasses. The night before, the “Cornetto trilogy” was played in full at the Prince Charles Cinema. These events aren’t uncommon. Wright attracts fans who want to watch his films over and over again, catching every small detail. The same cinema has held an all-nighter event (7:30pm to the following midday) that screened his work, including Fistful of Fingers and 14 episodes of Spaced.I ask if he, like the devoted fans who turn up to these events, enjoys rewatching his work. “I think I maybe watched Shaun of the Dead the first weekend it came out a couple of times with audiences,” he responds. “I don’t think with any of the films after that I ever sat with an audience. I just find it too nerve-wracking.” He and Pegg revisited Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz as part of the writing process for The World’s End, but he is yet to watch all three in a row. “It’s very fun, sort of, watching them back... I feel very fortunate that I had the chance to make them.” The recently released Blu-Ray of The World’s End includes a bonus feature called “Signs & Omens” – a montage with all the scattered clues viewers might have missed the first time. “And even then that isn’t everything,” he adds. “It’s a great thing to do both in the script and then in the production design, to keep layering details.”I’ve seen The World’s End twice now, and it’s even more apparent the second time – without the distraction of the genre twists – how Gary King (Simon Pegg’s character) maintains his inertia in the face of death. But the gags and fight scenes bear a surprising amount of emotional weight. Considering Wright’s credits are so heavily slanted towards comedy, would he consider a more serious film?“I guess so,” he reasons. “But it’s nice within a comedy to tackle dramatic themes that you might not be expecting – because, again, it’s more of a surprise.” He points out that Gary King is as much the film’s villain as the more obvious bad guys. “Yet me and Simon are very sympathetic towards him, and want him to pull out of his nose dive. As much as it’s about the apocalypse of the earth, it’s kind of about one man’s self-destruction. Any time you organise a pub crawl, you’re saying: this night is going to end in a complete fucking mess. When a 40-year-old man is doing it, you’re thinking something bad is going on – like if that guy wants to be a drunken teenager again.“Without giving too much away, the twist of the ending, everything they’ve been criticising that character for all the way through then becomes the thing that makes him the model human being. Everyone’s been saying quite right, “This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong...” and then when faced against the perfect aliens, suddenly Gary’s qualities are his saving grace.”Wright’s next project, Ant-Man, will be his first to shoot in the US. (Scott Pilgrim’s production took place in Toronto.) “Ant-Man was supposed to shoot in London, and London is full,” he explains, “because I guess that Pinewood extension got turned down. While the tax break is good for Hollywood films shooting here, it’s probably not that great for British films shooting in the UK. Some middle-low budget films are going to find themselves without a crew because all the American films are shooting here this year.“But I would love to be back, yeah. There’s even at least one of the ideas I have that is another British-set film. Ideally it’d be great to flip-flop between the two. I love shooting here. It’s great.”For those unfamiliar with Ant-Man, that knowledge gap won’t last long. The comic book adaptation will join the Marvel universe and already has a release date of 31 July 2015. In other words, don’t plan a picnic on that date and expect to eat sandwiches with movie buffs. The film is also set to be Wright’s largest budget. For contrast, I read an interview dating back to 2001; three years before his first film, the second series of Channel 4 sitcom Spaced was yet to air. Back then, he notes, “If you’ve had success, you can get complacent.”I ask the 2013 Edgar Wright about that quotation, considering his success has continuously expanded in the past 12 years, with little sign of stopping. And is there a point where you have so much success, there’s going to be a Timothy Treadwell moment that just ends it?“Wait – is Timothy Treadwell the ‘grizzly man’?” Yes. “The thing with not getting complacent, I always attribute it to: have you worked as hard as you can on each movie? I think on all of them I have. This one particularly was quite tough to make. Usually it’s taking something that’s difficult and ploughing into it even further.” He adds that shooting in the UK is particularly tricky. “Shooting night shoots is always tricky. Shooting fight scenes is tricky. Shooting prosthetics and special effects is always tricky.“It’s almost that thing of almost doubling down. We shot this on the same schedule – maybe even slightly fewer days – than Hot Fuzz, but with a more ambitious idea. We leapt into it like, ‘We can do this.’ I hope I’ve never got complacent. The day you knock off early... the day you go home early is the day you stop. The actors would hate me to say that.“And I would never be stupid enough to play with grizzly bears and think that they’re my friends.”When asked what kind of film he would like to tackle next, he immediately responds, “Grizzly bears.” The more serious answer is particularly teasing. “I want to do an action film. I’ve got an idea for doing an action film that’s very different. I’d like to do something that’s almost like a silent movie. Most of the movies I’ve done have been very verbal. You become aware – not that this is necessarily a bad thing – but it’s interesting how films that are very dialogue heavy just don’t travel in non-English speaking territories.“Something like Gravity is almost the perfect model for a film that can play in any language because it has very little dialogue. I’d like to do something like that because it’d be nice to rely on visual storytelling. All the films, including Scott Pilgrim, are all very dense with dialogue as well as visuals. It’d be interesting as a challenge to do the opposite.”Wright’s idea reminds of something he said earlier in the interview, that he finds a thrill in creating drama when it is least expected. He recalls a heartbreaking moment from Shaun of the Dead that I won’t spoil here. “I almost think people completely forget that scene because it’s so traumatic in the cinema,” he says. There is so much to discuss about his body of work, the DVDs and Blu-Ray discs contains multiple commentaries. That attentive detail is why so many fans know that when they queue at the cinema for an Edgar Wright film – even if it’s about grizzly bears – it will be the first of many viewings.The World’s End is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and iTunes.