Simon Pegg is slim and fit, BFFs with Tom Cruise and hangs out with Chris Martin. He’s got nice teeth, he drinks sparkling water, he probably has daily chia-seed-and-kale therapy wraps. It used to be so different. He was the quintessential noughties English everyman – one of us. A mate. And now he’s changed.
Before meeting, we expect the Hollywood to shine through, the arrogance to prevail. But it turns out, he’s really lovely. Infuriatingly so, in fact.
Pegg rose from playing independent British comedy bit parts to writing one of the defining sitcoms of the past 20 years, Spaced. A few years later, he was writing and starring in Shaun of the Dead before making the leap to Hollywood stardom. And if that wasn’t enough, he then went on to get cast as Scotty in Star Trek and got to feature in the latest Star Wars – both the stuff of bucket lists for any self-respecting nerd. Now, he’s only gone and co-written a Star Trek movie. That’s some serious dream-come-true stuff, right there.
What was going through your mind when you took on this project?
It was a catch-22 in a way. I found writing Star Trek borderline terrifying, but at the same time, I couldn’t say no. It was: I’m going to have to embrace the terror to do this. Because it’s something I really value and care about.
What scared you about doing it?
Just being given the keys to this kingdom. It’s a gigantic, historically loved, 50-year-old story. In all of its iterations, it’s probably the most significant science-fiction anthology of the modern age. To be given access to that in a creative capacity felt daunting.
You don’t want to be the guy who messed up Star Trek, I guess.
No! Absolutely. But then it’s frustrating as well when we get put in that position, because this film isn’t down to me. It’s down to a lot of people and we don’t want to be the group that’s seen as messing it up. People have specific expectations and a specific sense of entitlement as well.
So you’ve done Star Trek and been in Star Wars. Are you worried about where you go from here?
I had an odd sense of ennui after I finished Star Trek. I got home and thought: What do I want to do now? I genuinely didn’t really know. I kind of felt that I’d ticked a lot of boxes. So I think I’m going to evolve, and maybe I’ll retire from nerddom. You know, I’m an old guy now and I don’t feel the draw towards childish things as much as I used to. I would like to do more, maybe branch away to drama.
Is there a worry, with all of your success, that you can’t write characters as appealing and universal as the ones you created in Spaced?
There’s a worry about that, absolutely. I think with writing you have to tune into the truth. I couldn’t write a Spaced now, or about teenagers now, I don’t understand them. I’m not there. I think if you ever write from the standpoint of speculation, it isn’t going to feel real.
So what does that leave you writing?
I guess stuff about being a father, having a mortgage, all that sort of stuff. I don’t know. Life changes, and my life is very different.
Do you ever get tired of being labelled as a nice guy and a nerd?
“Nice guy”: there’s a faintly anaemic feeling about that. It’s very beige. I just try and be a good person as much as I can. You hope to treat people as you’d want to be treated. I can’t quite get with people who don’t mind about upsetting people. People with little empathy I find confusing.
Now that the film is out, are you looking forward to a bit of anonymity, to it just being over?
I curse myself because there is that line in Spaced that says every odd-number Star Trek movie is a dud, and this is an odd number: Star Trek 13. And I just know that even the most truculent hater out there will watch the film and maybe really like it, but say, “He was right – it is.”
The best of Simon Pegg
As Benji, the techy support for Ethan Hunt in his fight against the world’s wrong’uns, Pegg is our third favourite star of the franchise after Tom Cruise and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in the 2011 hit, Ghost Protocol. He reprised the role in 2015’s Rogue Nation.
Shaun of the Dead
One of the best-loved British comedies of all time, the 2004 cult classic flipped the then spate of zombie horror films on its head with an utterly brilliant look at how the Everyman might cope with the rise of the living dead. Pegg wrote it alongside long-time friend Edgar Wright.
Running for just two seasons at the turn of the millennium, Spaced tracks the uncomfortable domestic set-up of two Londoners forced to live as a couple to save money on rent. The gaggle of misfits that passed through the pokey flat spoke to a whole generation and the show remains a classic.