It's time, please: Edgar Wright reunites with Simon Pegg for pub-crawling sci-fi comedy 'The World’s End'

Edgar Wright, the genre-bending British auteur, found worldwide fame and critical acclaim with his previous films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. On August 23, Focus Features releases The World’s End, his newest feature about a boys’ night out ruined by the invasion of crazy, robot-like aliens. Simon Pegg plays Gary King, a British man intent on fulfilling an ambitious pub crawl he failed to complete two decades before. He convinces his friends to convene in their hometown for a repeat attempt of the marathon drinking event, which will culminate with a pint at the aptly named pub The World’s End. Once again, the quintet have a difficult time finishing the day of drinking, but this time their obstacle is the worst of buzzkills—and the fate of humanity is also in the balance.

It’s not every day that I get to chat with one of my favorite modern filmmakers about a few of my favorite things in the world: genre films, zombies, ’80s post-punk music and classic sci-fi novels. Film Journal International had an opportunity to geek out with Wright over the phone while he was promoting his new film in London, England.

Film Journal International: Where did the inspiration for The World’s End start?
Edgar Wright: The idea had been germinating for a while, but I remember I was on the Hot Fuzz press tour… I never really intended for these movies to be a trilogy, not until we had the idea for the third one, and then I thought, maybe there was a way of connecting the three films. When I was 21, I wrote a script called Crawl about a pub crawl, and I didn’t do anything with it—it was about a group of teenagers going out for the night and having an epic tour of their local pubs, a drinking quest. So I thought, what if that pub-crawl was just the first five minutes of the movie? And what if these friends reunited in their late 30s to try and relive the pub crawl, and then something major occurs that brings the quest into shaper focus? So that was the initial idea.

FJI: It’s not a disaster film, though—the title refers to a pub called The World’s End?
EW: Yes, it’s not a disaster movie, it’s an invasion film. It’s more in the vein of John Wyndham, more of a sci-fi film, Day of the Triffids, the things that we grew up with, genre movies and shows like “Doctor Who,” Village of the Damned, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Those kinds of films were on television a lot when we [Simon Pegg and I] were growing up, and we wanted to channel those ’50s/’60s sci-fi movies so the invasion happens, and then it gets bigger and crazier. [laughs] The key to the joke in the movie is that Simon’s character keeps finding ways to keep his friends on the pub-crawl—that is his priority, no matter what happens.

FJI: You and Pegg have collaborated on several projects—Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead and now The World’s End, in both an actor/director and co-writer capacity. How does this tightly knit working relationship manifest in The World’s End?
EW: It’s the first thing we’ve written together since Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and we’re both big fans of genre movies, so a lot of the comedy we write is drawn from personal experience. It’s very therapeutic, because we can write about these issues in our lives and we can laugh it all away! [laughs] We talk about things that we wouldn’t necessarily talk about in reality. The theme that runs strong through The World’s End and what we focused on in our writing was those bittersweet feelings you have when you get together with old friends, which can be great and kind of sad at the same time. Writing the script with Simon, we both get to make a genre film that we’re very passionate about and we also get to make a comedy that is very personal to us.

FJI: Pegg was a Goth in his youth—and so is Greg, his character in the film. Coincidence? [laughs]
EW: He did have a Gothy phase, yes! [laughs] He was very into Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus and The Cure. He had his Gothy phase in the late ’80s. In fact, he’s still a big Sisters of Mercy fan and we found out through the movie, because Simon wears the t-shirt. The lead singer of the band, Andrew Eldritch, is a big fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, so that really made our year! He doesn’t really wear eyeliner, but Simon did say that the Gary King costume in the film is the greatest costume he’s ever worn—he got to dress like an 18-year-old every day. He did look a bit tragic, dying his hair black—but he really pulled it off! He looks like a particularly cool Goth!

FJI: The soundtrack music that you both chose is all from between the late ’80s and the early ’90s. Does the film evoke this time period?
EW: The idea is that these five guys—four of them have grown up, and Gary hasn’t and he’s literally trying to drag them back into the ’90s [laughs]. He still has his tape from the times with all of his favorite hits. I wanted to use British music from the phase of hedonistic music during that period—Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, and a lot of those anthems like “Loaded” by Primal Scream. Gary lives his life by the messages in songs like that. [laughs] These songs are from that 24 Hour Party People vibe, and Gary lives his life like he’s 18.

FJI: Is it a balancing act trying to sell a film like The World’s End without giving away all of the jokes and major plot twists?

EW: It can be tricky, but the trailer is out and it does give a few things away. It was important for us to establish what we weren’t—we wanted people to know that we weren’t doing a disaster movie, and so that was one of the reasons why we weren’t shy about showing certain things. I’m fine about sacrificing some bigger gags for the sake of new fans coming to see the film. It’s a necessary evil. It was the same for Shaun of the Dead. And to be honest, when you look at old trailers, they’re full of spoilers! So many of them show the last shot of the film! [laughs] There are still a lot of surprises in our film, I think [people] will be surprised by what it is. I think essentially at its core the theme has to do with different people’s viewpoints on what Utopia is. It’s something different for each character in the film, and that theme ties in with the sci-fi genre very well.

FJI: I know that this is the end of your trilogy, but do you see yourself working with Pegg in the future, perhaps in a different capacity?
EW: Yeah, I think so. We’ve worked together so much, and with each project we’ve had a chance to get older and think of so many different scenes. It was really nice doing this film after a six-year gap, because we could talk about very different things. With Shaun of the Dead, we had a character that was turning 30 and he had to become more responsible, and in this one it’s about a character facing 40 and he wants to be more irresponsible, he is kicking back against being an adult. I’d like to work together again absolutely, and we’ll see where that ends up.

FJI: We’ve seen robots in the trailer, and we’ve also seen blue blood!
EW: Yeah, I don’t want to say too much about that because I’d like for those aspects in the film to uncover themselves, but I will tell you about the gloop, which is the blue blood. The reason why we chose blue—I wanted the characters, as they get drunker, to regress to their teenage selves and one thing I remember very vividly from school is ending every school day with my hands covered in blue ink. I had inky hands every day, and then the ink would get on my face…I would be covered in it! This image is really funny to me, and it is very childlike, so I thought using that for the characters as they regress was very appropriate.

FJI: You’ve had quite the career—your films have all been really diverse and interesting. How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer and a director on this film?
EW: I don’t know, actually, I think that’s for other people to decide. I’m very pleased with this script—with this movie, I’ve had the chance to make a universal film, but it’s also very personal. I’ve been able to express things that I’m passionate about, and that resonates with people. I think with The World’s End, people will be able to relate to Simon Pegg’s character. People are going to say, “I was that guy!” or “I know a guy like that” and I think that’s nice with a comedy film, that people can relate to it and it resonates with them. I’m hoping that this movie makes people want to call up their old buddies and get together.

The above interview with director Edgar Wright was conducted by Lianne MacDougall, aka Lianne Spiderbaby, and first appeared in our print edition in mid-July. Film Journal International is aware of the serious charges of plagiarism against MacDougall. We have verified the authenticity of the interview and publish it as a service to our readers interested in the release of Wright's upcoming film.