NEW YORK — As they burst into the room together — boisterously — Simon Pegg and Nick Frost looked like they could be a pair of blokes fresh from a rugby match out for a few pints at the local pub.
Pegg, the wiry, feral, fast-talking wise guy in black T-shirt, and Frost, the lumbering, good-natured lug in the red Adidas jacket, have been pals for 20 years and have honed a riotous Britcom style of patter that seems to come tripping off their tongues as they make the rounds talking up their latest movie.
Appropriately enough, it's a pub-crawl comedy called “The World's End,” and it's the third in a nominal trilogy that started with 2004's zombie-whacking “Shaun of the Dead,” followed by 2007's city-copper/country-copper caper “Hot Fuzz.”
At first blush, “The World's End” sets up as a “Big Chill”-style reunion picture in which Pegg's rabble-rousing man-child Gary King pulls together a band of reluctant mates from his high-school glory days to complete “The Golden Mile,” an epic 12-stop pub crawl that they fell short of finishing in their youth. The final stop is the fabled pub The World's End, and it gives ample hint of the over-the-top, apocalyptic adventures awaiting these middle-aged imbibers.
As with the first two films, this script was co-written by Pegg and Edgar Wright and directed by Wright, and while each movie tells a different story with unique characters, the three are loosely linked in style, theme and connecting gags.
“After ‘Shaun of the Dead,' we never would have been so arrogant to think we'd be given the opportunity to do a trilogy,” Pegg said during press interviews hosted by Focus Features at a suite in the Waldorf Astoria. “When we came to do ‘Hot Fuzz,' we realized that what we'd done is create two films that were sort of tonally sequential — not direct sequels — but were thematically linked.
“So we began thinking if we could make a third one we could have three films that you could conceivably regard as a trilogy and see that we were developing and refining certain ideas over time, in the same way that a filmmaker like Woody Allen went off and returned to similar preoccupations that he has,” Pegg said.
“We thought if we did it succinctly over three films it would be something that perhaps hadn't been seen before,” Pegg said. “Even to the point of having a joke that takes place over three films. So the fence gag (in each film a character takes a comic shortcut by jumping over — or through — a fence) is like a three-part gag. And comedy often is constructed by the Hegelian ‘thesis, antithesis, synthesis' thing. So we kind of figured that would be good. It sounds lofty, but really it was an accident.”
But enough with this brainy analysis, Frost interrupted. He wanted to talk about the film's rousing martial arts — what he calls its “punchin' and kickin'.”
As the five pub pilgrims — Pegg's Gary, Frost's Andy and pals Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) — zigzag through the quaint village streets of little Newton Haven, the pints pile up and the fights (with some surprising adversaries) break out. And this required that the actors undergo rigorous martial arts training, for which the portly Frost said he was well suited.
“I played rugby from the age of 7 until I was 21 to quite a good level,” he said. “And then I kick-boxed when I was 30 for four or five years. And before this I did a dance film (‘Cuban Fury') with Rashida Jones, so I trained for seven hours a day for seven months to become — people are laughing as if they're kinda not sure, but no, it's true — seven hours a day for seven months to become a dancer and do that film. So in terms of learning vast choreographies, I was good. And the kickin' and the punchin', it was like a dream role for me in terms of the action.”
“He's good,” Frost said with a dubious inflection in his voice. “He has some nice punchin'. His skinny muscles needed a bit of work to get some more uplift. But it was beautiful to watch.”
“We trained with a guy called Brad Allan, who is one of Jackie Chan's stunt team, because we wanted to take on board Jackie Chan's cinematic style of fighting,” Pegg said. “Because (Chan) does all the stunts, it enables the character to be maintained throughout all the action sequences. Often in cinema when you cut to an action sequence, it will all be handed over to the stunt performers, and you'll get a lot of close-ups, cutaways, quick-cutting so they can hide the fact that it's not the actors, and by that they lose the characters that the actors have created.
“We wanted, like when you see Jackie fight, that it be us and we do everything,” he said. “So we trained with Brad and Damien Walters, who's an incredible athlete, gymnast, stunt performer. It enabled us to shoot the fight scenes in wide (shots) and longer takes so you see more of the action and it feels more fluid. And Edgar, Brad and Damien designed these incredible sequences whereby the camera just seemed to drift around the fight rather than cut in.”
No place for improv
Although their films have a very loosey-goosey feeling about them, the precise planning also extends to the script. No improvisation allowed.
“We write a very tight script, which we bring to set, and we film that script,” Pegg said. “We don't do any improvisation on set, because improv can often be about the individual and not the big picture. Improvisation can often happen at the end of scenes that are written and you lose the segue into the next moment.
“And often it will become an argument,” he continued. “It becomes about gainsaying, who can be the funniest in the moment, and improvisation draws everyone into a certain level of selfishness — sometimes, not always. So we do a little bit in rehearsals to get everyone comfortable with their lines, and if anyone has something new to bring to it, we'll feed that into the script. But on the day of shooting, there's no improvisation.”
“With improv, too,” Frost said, “you can literally hear the money trickling out the bottom of the camera while people are improvising for two minutes. ZZZZZ. And you'll never use it. Because the way we do cuts and edits, everything has a hard out, and if we start improvising, that scene becomes too (bleeping) long.”