Senior Theatrical Editor
Getting Down with the Fuzz
An Interview with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
I canít say conducting roundtable interviews is ever easy. When you get more than three journalists in a cramped hotel conference room trying to ask questions of one or more filmmakers, the results arenít very pretty. Junkets are even worse, ten, twenty sometimes fifty people all in one space doing their best to get a question in to a panel of performers (actors, directors, writers, whatever) before a publicist gets up front and ends the Q&A.
Thankfully, there were only six of us sitting at the table in the downtown Seattle W Hotel interviewing Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for their latest satirical mash-up Hot Fuzz. It wasnít perfect or beautiful, but when the film is a loud, obnoxious, brutally violent and fitfully funny action farce like this one it probably shouldnít be.
(For the sake of this piece, the Round Table speaks as one voice. Just know I didnít ask the majority of these questions. If you think you can figure out which ones are mine Ė there are three Ė feel free to let me know. Iíd be curious to see if anyone gets them right.)
Round Table: They said they had coffee in the room while we were waiting. It seemed to us, especially considering Hot Fuzz is a cops and robbers satire, they should have had some donuts in here as well.
Edgar Wright (Director/Co-Writer): Yeah, yeah, yeah. That would have been a bit thematic I suppose. [chuckling]
RT: At the very least maybe they should have had some Guinness.
Nick Frost (Actor): Well, you know, weíre trying to lay off that stuff just so we can be sparky in interviews.
EW: For the record, I for one did not come to the United States to go to English Pubs. Not my idea of fun.
RT: Actually, they turned the video arcade into a bar down the street.
NF: And they still have video games there?
RT: Yes. Sure.
NF: Weíre there. [gets up from the table as if to leave as the room fills with laughter]
[sits back down] Weíre actually off to the ballgame [Mariners versus Athletics] after this. Looking forward to that.
RT: That should be fun.
So [directed at Nick], when youíre trying to channel someone like Keanu, how do you get in that headspace?
NF: Free your mind of all thoughts. [laughter] I looked at a picture of a broom for inspiration.
Simon Pegg (Co-Writer/Actor): You just thought of one word, didnít you?
SP: Whoa. [laughter]
RT: There is a bit of gore in this movie. Iíve also heard thereís a lot of The Wicker Man in it as well. Can you speak to that a little bit?
NF: It [The Wicker Man] was the first film we watched during our 138 or so film marathon.
EW: And The Wicker Man was really the last British film to have a uniformed police officer as its lead, which is something we wanted to rectify with Hot Fuzz. I mean, there is a sort of a horror streak to it, but basically the idea was within [the narrativce] we wanted to sort of cover all the bases of all the cop films be it like fish-out-of-water, conspiracy, thriller, buddy cop or serial killer thriller. Particularly, after Halloween you had kind of a lot of cop versus serial killer films; from Dirty Harry versus the Scorpio killer all the way through Seven. I was liked those type of cop films. And, it was a lot of funs to throw in references to Italian horror cop films as well.
RT: you have to think a little bit, however, that considering the level of violence and gore in this film do you wonder sometimes if youíve gone a little too far for this genre or are you really happy with it?
EW: You know, thatís kind of funny because the inspiration for a lot of this came from the 1980ís and 90ís. If you look back at those films a lot of them are really hard Rís. Even Beverly Hills Cop is really violent, particularly then if you factor in Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Robocop, The Last Boy Scout.
The Last Boy Scout I think is really the one is the apex of that particularly streak. They werenít PG-13ís back then. The cop films were really R-rated for language, sexual content and violence. We skip the sexual content and give you an extra helping of violence. Itís the banquet without the vegetables. [laughter]
NF: Youíre getting three portions of beef and no veg. [more laughter]
RT: I think the violence was more reminiscent of Monty Pythonís ďSalad DaysĒ sketch.
EW: Oh, good call! Thatís Peter Jacksonís favorite Monty Python sketch. Thatís what inspired Bad Taste and Brain Dead, that particular sketch.
And, absolutely, thatís really the thing, especially if youíre doing violence that is comic. You end up going more over the top, and the more over the top you go the funnier it gets. Particularly like the ďChurch SequenceĒ [here], itís absolutely when you have the chance to go for it. Itís such a combination of physical and digital effects, and with these digital effects you can really control the amount of blood. Youíll be in the meeting where youíll get three options, and number one is only a little bit of blood, number two is more blood and number three most blood possible. Thatís when you go, ďThree!Ē [slaps hand to table loudly] ďMaximum amount of blood, please.Ē [more laughter]
And it makes it funnier. Just makes it more of a release. Itís kind of like Kill Bill Vol. 1. Itís so over the top, and the blood is so red and kind of so unrealistic, it just kind of makes it more cartoonish. Itís almost like youíre getting into Itchy and Scratchy territory.
And the action films are really no different! There is very little difference between the desired effect at the end of The Last Boy Scout where Taylor Negron gets pushed into a helicopter, which is just a big Road Runner stunt. [laughing] Thereís nothing different in the intention of that sequence then there is in Road Runner cartoons.
SP: And, also, there is nothing better than sneaking into a theater and hearing the audienceís reactions at certain points. ďOh!Ē ďAye!Ē ďOh my God!Ē They donít expect it to happen.
EW: But, weíre all of the age groups [pointing at himself and his two compatriots] that kind of looked at those films and mostly saw them on VHS. It was like that illicit thrill of watching an adult movie or an adult thriller. Just in Austin we had this [festival] of like the Hot Fuzz of cop films and one of the ones we showed was Sudden Impact, the fourth Dirty Harry film, which features the most ridiculous impalement at the end. These films are exactly like that, especially post Halloween.
RT: Did you have to cut anything in terms of the MPAA to get a rating?
EW: Not at all.
In the U.K., both [Shaun of the Dead and this] were rated 15, which is really the equivalent of a PG-13, so thatís even one down from the 18 [here]. And, I think the reason is because that, even though they are violent, they are essentially good-natured pictures. Films that usually get the highest ratings and are the hardest hit are the ones that are literally nasty pieces of work. While I kind of liked it, you can see why something like The Devilís Rejects the censors come down on like a ton of bricks; the morals a lot more cloudy and murky. Where, in this, Nicholas Angel is out for justice and justice is done at the end.
SP: Violence is like the C-word in films. If you use it in a kind of common way itís okay where if you get some venom behind it than it becomes worth censoring.
NF: Itís the intent as well.
SP: Yeah. It really is the intent. And, obviously, Shaun of the Dead we were going to get an 18 [in Britain] but then they lowered the criteria for the rating a little bit for us and we got a 15. And, we wanted it to get an 18. [laughter]
EW: We were actually slightly worried that a zombie film that was a 15 would be considered not good enough. So, we were worried when it got a 15. But, it was actually great, because a 15 means more people can go and see it.
SP: We actually contributed to the erosion of morals in the U.K. [more laughter]
EW: I feel like there is also a slightly subversive element to all of this. You want people who wonít normally watch those sorts of things to see a person get decapitated in spectacular fashion.
NF: I just wish I would have gotten to say the C-word more. [laughter explosion]
RT: Did you all three work on the fake film trailer for Grindhouse?
EW: Yeah, we did. I wrote, directed and edited it, actually, and then Simon and Nick are both in it which is cool. Simon is under heavy monster makeup so youíd have to be really on the ball to spot Simon, while Nick is, on the flipside, completely naked. [laughter]
RT: It looks kind of Omen-ish.
EW: No, itís not really The Omen. To be honest, there is one shot of everything in my trailer. The joke of it is that it is absolutely nonsensical, like one of those European horror films from the 1970ís be it British, Spanish or Italian that you watch and think, ďWhat the hell is that about?Ē Itís a haunted house and itís got cannibals in it, kind of like the Marion Barber films or like The Legend of Hell House.
I deliberately put in as many random elements as I could think of so it would be one of those films where what is selling it to you tells you nothing about the plot. It involves vampirism, possession, cannibal men, creepy kids, people with milk stigmata, an adult baby covered in its own feces eating a plastic dollÖ
RT: Isnít the tagline something like, if youíre thinking about opening the door, donít?
EW: Yeah. It basically like in the Ď70ís when American International would open their films in the States and theyíd change the title to something more sensationalistic and they would do a rather aggressive voiceover, and thatís basically my trailer. The British title would be something really boring like, ďAn Incident at Cot Hall.Ē [laughter]
Thatís the thing, theyíd used to have these films like The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Donít Speak Ill of the Dead or Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, and then when theyíre released in the States itís called [lowering his voice like an ominous voiceover artist], Donít Open the Window! And thatís the type of nonsensical, aggressive title youíd find, and thatís what we were going for [in Grindhouse].
RT: So, on a different note, whatís cooler for you [towards Simon], having a cameo in a George A. Romero zombie flick or beating up James Bond?
SP: Beating up James Bond. [laughter]
I mean, it was brilliant being in Land of the Dead in a completely different way then to be beating up James Bond, but the latter was certainly a thrill and half. It was a thrill to work with all of those guys, all those veterans, like Timothy [Dalton] and Edward Woodward and Billie Whitelaw and Paul Freeman and Stuart Wilson and Ken Cranham. It was fantastic fun. We never once lost sight of who they were or how lucky we were to have them. It was great.
RT: It was great, actually. You have all these horror and action icons in the film, and after all the blood and guts and death and gore you donít actually kill any of them. That was terribly amusing.
EW: [in deadpan] Angel is just one good cop. [laughter]
SP: I will not take a life. [more laughter] Under any circumstances. I just canít do it. Well, other than that once when I killed Garth Jennings, but that doesnít really count. [even more laughter]
RT: Now that weíre almost done with press for the original, when can we expect the sequel? When is Hot Fuzz two coming out?
EW: I donít know, you keep saying the original Hot Fuzz and Iím starting to wonder if this is a remake. [laughter]
Seriously, though, I donít know. It would be a tricky one much like Shaun. Shaun of the Dead we could never do a sequel to because everything really goes full circle. In Hot Fuzz once the characters have gone through their journey itís really hard to start a second film at that point. The real reason the title for Hot Fuzz comes up at the end is because it has really taken two hours to get to the point where it actually becomes Hot Fuzz.
I mean, once Danny and Angel are in the car in super-charged cop-mode there really isnít anymore journey to make.
RT: But, come on now, what about Bad Boys II?
EW: Well, yeah, now, sure, I knowÖ [laughter] If they want to give us a $130-million to make Hot Fuzz II then, sure, Iím in.
NF: Of course, if they did that then the sequel would just be two hours of things just like the last half hour of the first film. [more laughter]
EW: Maybe it would be just one long sequence, like in Crank. Weíd have to shoot it on one long take. It would be like the Hard-Boiled steady cam shot for like two hours. [laughing continues]
RT: So, no sequel. But, youíve done a zombie film. Youíve now done an action film. What other genre are you going to attack next?
EW: I think the thing is we try and look at it in more of an organic way; we donít have a sorting hat in the office and pick genres out of it. It really has got to be about something we have affection for and there has to be a story to tell that we can hang it all on.
In a strange way, both Hot Fuzz and Shaun come from personal places. Shaun is more obvious because it is about turning thirty and having commitment issues and it is about relationships, where Hot Fuzz is a return. Me and Simon both grew up in that area where the film is set, and in a strange way it was like making a film about where we grew up even though it is bombastic and ridiculous. There are still elements of that small town mentality that I grew up with.
SP: This film is slightly more parodic than Shaun of the Dead was. If we were making fun of anything in Shaun of the Dead it was romantic comedies. If you watch the film, the zombie abreact is completely and totally in place, and there really are no jokes about zombie films in it; itís just a zombie film thatís a comedy as well.
With Hot Fuzz we do poke fun at things occasionally, like the never-ending magazine of bullets, the propensity to fire at each other for hours and not hit anything, car chasesÖ
EW: Characters who have vital information but are going to tell you about it in five minutes and not immediately, that sort of thing. [laughter]
SP: The scene in the churchyard, most people think it is an Omen reference, but it is really a reference to Death on the Nile, isnít it?
EW: Yeah, yeah. Thatís the thing, in terms of Agatha Christie that is for a lot international releases that is the view of what rural England is like, a place like from those ďMiss MarpleĒ shows. And, I love Agatha Christie, and while we were writing we watched all of the Hercule Peroit films, which are really good films, but the idea of marrying that with the overblown, aggressive nature of recent action films is what we thought could be really funny.