Edgar Wright came to San Diego with cohorts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to show the Comic-Con crowd The World’s End, the final installment of a trilogy of films that began with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. The trio greeted a raucous crowd that had spent about 12 hours or more camped outside the theater to get an early glimpse at the Working Title-produced comedy that Focus Features bows August 23. Wright took a few minutes to talk with Deadline.
DEADLINE: You had the Hall H crowd at the Marvel panel frothing last year when you took the stage and showed cutting-edge footage of Ant-Man, which Marvel hopes will launch a new superhero franchise. The crowd loved seeing the protagonist going from microscopic to full size. But you pushed that movie and came to San Diego with The World’s End. How did that happen?
WRIGHT: I had a chance to do Ant-Man in 2011. Simon was busy with three franchises, if you count Tin-Tin along with Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. We had the story down and it was in the back of my mind that if we didn’t do this film soon it might never happen, and we owed it to the fans. But then something else happened. [Working Title partner] Eric Fellner was diagnosed with cancer. When I found out about that, I’d literally just finished another screenplay for him and it was on delivery that he told me. He has given me permission to tell this story. That changed everything. Eric was our knight in shining armor on Shaun Of The Dead. That film was in turnaround, developed by Film 4 and they’d gone bust. Lots of other British companies had passed on it. Working Title, ironically the biggest British company, came in and saved the day. He wanted us to do another film together; we’d even done the deal for it. When I found out he was ill, one of many emotions I felt was, if we didn’t make this film, and something terrible happened, I would never forgive myself on not making good on my promise to do it. I wanted Eric to see this movie.
DEADLINE: What did you do?
WRIGHT: Me and Simon began writing it the very next week; in fact, we wrote it in Eric’s office in Beverly Hills. He was having chemo and said, please take my office, do it there. We wanted to make the film anyway, but it became a very personal thing. The happy news is, we’ve made it, he loves it and he’s got a clean bill of health. He came out of that ordeal and went straight into a tough period where he made Les Miserables and our film. It informed the movie script. The film is about regrets and these guys saying, I’ve got to do this thing. That sentiment became personal. To Marvel’s credit, when I went to see them to tell them to their face I wanted to do Ant-Man but that I wasn’t doing it next, Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito said they understood. We’ll see you in a couple years, they said.
DEADLINE: The VFX have probably advanced.
WRIGHT: When people ask what’s the hold-up on Ant-Man, my stock line is I’d rather do it with 2015 visual effects than 2005 visual effects.
DEADLINE: Superheroes rule Comic-Con, and this movie is small by comparison. What does this fervent Comic-Con following mean to you?
WRIGHT: It is important because you almost have to smuggle in personal films under the guise of something else. I love horror, sci-fi and action, or I wouldn’t make these kinds of movies, but those designations are Trojan horses to make these personal comedies. Here’s a movie that’s about the bittersweet feelings of going home, the fact you can’t be an 18-year-old forever, but it’s amplified by the sci-fi paranoia element. It’s a great way to make genre movies that speak to people and there are things that resonate with them that they aren’t expecting. One of the reactions I’ve gotten from people, is, it really got me thinking about my brother, or a friend from school. The sci-fi movies I grew up with, they metaphor was very rich and they used to really mean something. David Cronenberg’s films, or John Carpenter’s films, or the Phil Kaufman and Don Segel versions of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, or George Romero’s early zombie films.
DEADLINE: You don’t find that in today’s genre films?
WRIGHT: Occasionally you’ll get a District 9, a film that is politically charged, but there is nothing going on beneath the surface with a lot of horror films. They are not about anything. We try to make these genre comedies that work on a deeper level. If you just want to go for the surface gags or the fights with the robots, that’s great, but the hope is that insidiously it makes you think. When you come to Comic-Con, you get that reaction from fans, they really get that and it makes us feel good because we know the movie is not ephemeral. Even with most comedies, you laugh for 90 minutes and you’ve forgotten about it by the time you’ve validated your car to go home.
DEADLINE: You give away some of the humorous aspects of the movie in your trailer, but that subtext is left to be discovered.
WRIGHT: People always talk about trailers and spoilers, but it’s not different than if you look at trailers from the ’60s and ’70s. The trailer for Psycho pretty much tells you there’s going to be a murder in the shower. Hitchcock says that to the camera, so this is nothing new for that necessary evil of marketing. When it’s done well, it gives you enough of a hook, oh, this is going to be about robots and aliens. But it doesn’t really tell you what the film is about and where it’s going.
DEADLINE: At your Comic-Con premiere, you and cohorts Nick Frost and Simon Pegg told the crowd that The World’s End was meant to follow in the spirit of truly British films. Which were touchstones?
WRIGHT: There were films I saw growing up, and people now get to see them because of the Internet. I remember when we first came to America with Shaun Of The Dead, it seemed like the only British programs people here were familiar with were Benny Hill and Are You Being Served? The last big export that meant so much to me was Monty Python, which could not have been more British and that was a big point of pride in the UK, that Monty Python could be so inherently British and travel worldwide. The ’80s and ’90s brought a wave of British movies, where you had to have an American star to increase international appeal. Some of that work but a lot of it didn’t. When we were making Shaun Of The Dead, there was pressure to make things easier on ourselves by casting a big star, maybe as the girlfriend…
DEADLINE: Like Guy Ritchie did by casting Brad Pitt in Snatch.
WRIGHT: Exactly. Sometimes like there it can work, but a lot of times audiences on both sides of the Pond will smell a rat. What was very encouraged when we showed Shaun Of The Dead here and internationally. They not only accepted the movie for what it was; they liked a window into another culture. We pride ourselves that in the three of these films we have always taken locations that don’t get big-screen treatment outside of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach films. We are proud to have made three films that are somewhat uncompromised and that people like and respect them for that.
DEADLINE: You’ve called this the Cornetto trilogy after a brand of ice cream, but the real connective tissue is about outsiders unwilling to conform and resisting the inevitable need to grow up. Will the three of you return with a movie that reflects how all of you have grown up?
WRIGHT: It’s a fair observation. We made this movie feel quite final. Without giving it away, it comes down to one last man, and someone who isn’t necessarily the best person to represent the human race. We like the character who’s the unlikeliest hero. In Shaun, that was a sad sack who worked in an electronics store and in Hot Fuzz, Simon’s character was completely humorless, almost like a robot. We wanted to go further here, taking somebody who seems beyond redemption. A lot of people have that person in their lives, the one you have to cut off, you have to say I can’t be around that person anymore, they’re bad news. And you feel guilty about it. We took that guy, at rock bottom, and made him an intergalactic hero. Keeping with that trilogy idea of one man against conformity. We see both sides of the argument, the idea that maybe the baddies in all these films had the right idea. Like, I’m happy to roll over for Apple products, but sometimes I wake up and think, when did you start running my life, Apple? I don’t like you being in charge of my record collection. But I would never go completely off the grid and when you write a film like this, you have to see both sides of the argument for your characters. The other guys in the group are all grown up with lives and wives and kids and the fact Gary is hanging onto his teens is tragic at the start but then toward the end you wonder if maybe he is like Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, going, “Fuck you all!”
DEADLINE: How does this reflect who the three of you have become since you were young and making Shaun Of The Dead?
WRIGHT: We did want to do something that reflects we’ve got older. When I watch most man child comedies, some are really good, but others show actors in their 40s who act like they’re 26. They have no significant others and can be the loveable stoners forever. It just feels false. There’s no attempt to go any deeper, there is no price being paid, and all significant others are taken out of the story to make it easier. Here, around the laughter, mayhem and special effects, is a character who’s a little more complex. We had a six-year gap between Hot Fuzz and this. I took my advance in 2007 for The World’s End, when it was first announced in the trades. Hopefully we grew during the time that passed.
DEADLINE: You said at the premiere screening this was inspired by your own pub crawl. How far did you get?
WRIGHT: Not far. That’s where the film becomes a fantasy, the idea of me getting through 12 beers. Simon and Nick in particular find it amusing that I’ve become so obsessed by this when in reality I am such a lightweight. What’s really pathetic is, I did it as a teenager and wrote a script about it when I was 21. In between Spaced and Shaun Of The Dead, me and Simon and Nick tried to re-create that pub crawl. And it went even worse. When I was 19 I got through six bars, and the second time it was four, and they had to carry me back to the hotel.
DEADLINE: Was vomiting involved?
WRIGHT: Probably. I don’t even remember. But only after it happened the second time, did it occur to me how pathetic it was that I was trying to re-create my teenage years. It factored in the script.