Simon Pegg has been a regular on our TV and film screens for many years working with his regular writer and director friends Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. Best known for his starring roles in the likes of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, he has also hit the Hollywood big-time with parts in Mission Impossible III and the 2009 Star Trek film. Here he talks to View’s Matthew Turner about his latest venture, alongside Andy Serkiss, as one half of Burke and Hare.
I couldn't tell from the footage I saw – which one are you? Burke or Hare?
Simon Pegg (SP):
I'm Burke! I'm the Burke, he's the Hare.
He's [Andy Serkiss] quite commanding in the footage I saw.
Absolutely. I think it's great. Andy is so well known but what he's really known for is not being him in any way – he's known for being Gollum and he's known for being Kong and he's known for being Ian Dury. He's such an actor who totally immerses himself in the role and can become another person, whereas with this, it's a little closer to him – not that he's a serial killer. You know, it's a human male – it's not stylised, it's an actual person, you know? Not that Ian Dury wasn't – I just mean that was a more sort of – you know.
Had you worked with an actor like Andy before, in that same way?
Yeah, I guess. I mean actors approach roles in different ways and there are lots of different – Andy reminded me a little bit of Paddy Considine, you know, he's very funny but very concentrated when it comes to the role. And in fact, at one point I thought Paddy when we were trying to figure out who could play Hare. You know, Paddy came to mind because it requires an intensity and a darkness, both of which those actors have. But fortunately Andy stepped in and we had the best time. I can't imagine him not doing it now, you know?
How did you get on with the accent?
It's a hard one. It's very specific, Northern Irish and we had a great voice coach in Jill McCulloch, who would sit with me and Andy and she'd never break – she'd keep speaking in the voice and she'd explain to us all about the vowels and everything and the intonation.
And we went over it – we had lots of red wine and sessions round at Andy's house just going over and over it, trying to get it right. I hope we've done it justice – I know it's always frustrating when you're listening to an accent. If you know the actor – if you know the actor's voice, it's distracting because you know they don't really sound like that. If you're from that part of the world and they're getting it wrong, it's distracting. If you're an actor, it's distracting, because it's another thought process you have to take on board – you're having to concentrate on the performance and getting the accent right. So it's a taller mountain to climb than people think it is. But hopefully we got it.
Was there ever the suggestion that maybe you'd just drop the accent and wouldn't do it?
No, because the thing is, it's set in Scotland, so if we dropped the accent, then it would become 'Well, why are they English, in Scotland?' They were known to be Irish. The important thing is that this is based on a true story and the closer to the truth it is, the better it'll work. Because it is an extrapolation of the truth, it's a romanticising of the true story. But it's really important to get as much of it true as possible, if you see what I mean, so the fantastic stuff works.
How was John Landis as a director?
John's just – you know, he's John Landis and it was a joy. It was really nice to work with an old-school Hollywood director who shouts a lot and works fast and gets things done and is very to the point.
These days a director will take you aside and just sort of talk to you quietly and suggest things lightly. Actors are so molly-coddled and just sort of expect to be treated well all the time, whereas John's like, no bullshit – he's just like, [American accent] “Do it again, you fucking cocksucker!” But he always does it with complete and utter goodwill and good intentions, you know? It was funny seeing who could get used to him, because at first you think, 'Woah, he's like really kind of shouty', but he's not – he's incredibly good-natured and insanely dedicated and just fun to work for. And he said, 'I work fast and I move on quickly and if you're not happy, tell me'. So if we'd do two takes and he'd move on, you'd have to say to him, 'John, please could I do one more?' 'Okay'. And then he wouldn't use that take. Because he'd know, the one before, he liked, so that would be it. Which was great – it's nice to have someone you can trust like that.
So his participation in the project was a large part of why you took it?
Absolutely. I liked the script but I see a lot of scripts that – actually, not that many that I like. Because I generate my own stuff, that always takes priority, so if a good script comes along, it'll have to be more than just that for me to do it. And often the director is always a draw. And with John it was a no-brainer, because he's someone that's influenced me as a film-maker and someone whose work I've always really enjoyed, so it was – you know, I remember watching American Werewolf In London in my friend's front room on VHS and, like, being amazed by it and to go from that point to actually being directed by him, for me, was an amazing journey, you know?
Do you have a favourite scene in the film?
I always love it when we work with Jess Hynes, because we're old friends. I love working with Jess because it brings back happy memories of doing Spaced, so any scene with Lucky [Jessica's character] in was fun. With me and Andy and Jess and Isla [Fisher] – if we were all four of us together, that was even more fun. But I love doing the scene with Jess when we come back – I think it's when old Donald's died, the first body – and she slaps Andy. That was really good fun.
What was the hardest scene to film?
SP: Oh, rolling the barrel around! (laughs) That got really hard at times. Running around cobbled streets in really flimsy shoes is really, really painful. But it was all good fun. It was very hard shooting in Edinburgh in winter, because what we did shoot over there – over the one week we were on location – was just like bitterly cold and just, like, snowing and raining and we all – we just had to keep in our minds the whole time, 'This is going to look spectacular', because it was so bad. It's going to look so authentic. But it's hard wearing a big coat that's soaking wet.
One more cheeky question. Would you play Ant-Man if they asked you to?
No. (laughs) Ed's not going to ask me to play Ant-Man! He wants some young – he'll want, like Chris Evans to do it or one of his new American buddies.
Evans can't be Captain America AND Ant-Man though.
Oh, that's true. Yeah, that's true. I don't know – I don't think I'd want to play Ant-Man. I think it would be more fun to play a villain in that thing. I'd like to play a villain. But no, they're going to want some good-looking young American. That's a Marvel movie – funny-looking British actors don't play a big part in that unless they're bad.
You can play scientists! Henry Pym's a scientist.
Yeah, scientists, but not scientists that turn into size-shifting superheroes. It's like Bruce Campbell should have played Spider-Man, you know?