Tim Bisley. Shaun. Nicholas Angel. Scotty.
Actor, comedian, screenwriter.
Geek Patron Saint, Simon Pegg, has worn many hats over the course of his extensive career. Now, he adds memoirist to his list of credits with the recently-released Nerd Do Well. Part memoir, part comedic genre fiction, Nerd Do Well tells the story of a little boy named Simon who knows exactly what he wants to do when he grows up…and actually gets to.
I had the chance to speak with Pegg as he was on his U.S. tour promoting the American release of Nerd Do Well. Here’s what he has to say about the book, how he really feels about the possibility of a third series of Spaced, and why he’s thrilled that geek girls are in the clubhouse!
Teresa Jusino: It seems a bit soon to be writing the story of your life, like getting a Lifetime Achievement Award when you have so much more to do! Why now?
Simon Pegg: As I say in the book, I didn’t set out to write it, really. I’ve been interested in the idea of a creating a book, whether that be a sort of a photo journal of movies, or maybe even a fiction… I’ve been kind of interested in doing that. And I met up with some publishers. And I found there were a couple of publishers who wanted me to write a book, who were interested in producing a book for me, which was kind of a motivation to do it.
Richard E. Grant wrote a wonderful book called With Nails, which is all about his first 5-6 films in detail and talks about the story of making them and what was going on, and I thought that could be worth doing, because it felt more work-related. But I found that I didn’t really have as many anecdotes, or I couldn’t get excited about talking about work. As much as I love my job, it felt like something that would be boring to read. The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that they were certain ironies in my childhood that, in terms of what happened to me as an adult, would be quite interesting to relate. And I had to then get over the fact that I would be sharing—I’ve always been a very private person, I try to keep my private life out of my work—and this would necessitate me actually talking about my private life. So I wrestled with that for a while, and came to the conclusion that… this is the kind of stuff that I would share with friends down at the pub, and it was also coming straight from me, and not being filtered through anybody. There was no ghost writer, and there certainly wasn’t a journalist I didn’t trust who was disseminating the information how they felt was right. So after going through that whole thought process [laughs] I finally thought “Okay, I’ll write the memoir.”
And so it’s not about my life, as such—it’s quite chronological, though it sort of skips about—but it’s more about the idea of an adult fulfilling his childhood passions, and there are some neat parallels that go on that I thought it would be fun to relate.
Teresa Jusino: What were the reactions like from family and friends to the book? Were there any surprises?
Simon Pegg: I tried to actually contact as many people as I could. I felt as I was writing it that I should actually get in touch with people I’d lost touch with and say “Hey, I’m writing this book.” That was an interesting thing, and quite lovely in some respects. I hooked up with virtually everybody I talk about in the book, including some of my teachers. I gave a copy of the book to my English teacher, Mrs. Taylor, who I use in the book, which was so nice, because she’d written a comment after one of my projects—”Perhaps you can do this when you’re published” and then to sort of, 25-30 years later be able to say, “Well, now I am published, and here it is! And here’s your comment!” That was a nice sort of circularity.
And I contacted Merideth and Eggy Helen [former girlfriends he mentions in the book], and all those people. And in some instances, I found odd moments of closure where I didn’t realize I needed it or even wanted it. And also found an excuse to talk to people that I missed, whose company I’d fallen away from just through distance and time. So it was a bit of a journey really, the whole thing.
Teresa Jusino: You bring up several anecdotes in the book that surprised me, such as The Swimming Pool Incident (Pegg and his friend were bullied inappropriately by two older boys at a public pool when he was a child), kissing other boys when in a group for a laugh, and briefly wondering if you were gay in college before you realized “No, I do like girls!” It’s rare that an actor of a certain caliber would be so honest about such things. Do you think men are more accepting of things like that now, or do you see this as a way to make that happen?
Simon Pegg: I just wanted to be honest, really. My agenda wasn’t anything more than just telling it how it is, and everything else be damned. I don’t care what people think about me in that respect, I have nothing to hide. And I’m sure there were things there that lots and lots of people can relate to. Nowadays, particularly in light of my screen relationship with Nick Frost, there are guys being a lot more open about being friends and not being worried about… I mean, guys who worry about people thinking they’re gay are probably gay, and that’s the root of their insecurities, when it’s actually fine to give your mate a hug, it doesn’t matter, you know? And also there are things that a) they’re quite amusing, and b) they fed into my emotional growth, which is part of the book in a way. So, no, I didn’t worry about that at all.
I tried to write it in a train-of-thought kind of a way. So the stuff that came out, I just permitted it.
Teresa Jusino: I’m not going to ask you about a third series of Spaced, but has the idea of Spaced in another format—like, perhaps a comic book—ever been discussed?
Simon Pegg: These things have been discussed. The idea of a Spaced movie was considered, but that was dismissed, because part of Spaced‘s character is that it’s a television show, and part of its appeal is that it exists on television and television is a very specific medium in which big things happen in small places. So those big cinematic gestures I could make that work so well on the small screen, on the big screen they would seem fairly commonplace. So, it wouldn’t feel like that would be the right way to go.
A comic book would be brilliant, but it would still take us sitting down and writing it. We’d still have to put the same amount of care and attention into a comic book as we would into the TV series. And time is so much of the essence these days. I barely have any time at all. And Jessica as well. We’d have to coordinate our lives—I mean, we’re not the same people we were. We have different priorities and different motivations now. As much as I actually adore hanging out with Jess still, to coordinate us sitting down in a room and writing a comic book together might be difficult, and probably not as worth our while, really. I mean, we’ve got families to look after, and we’ve got to bring the bread back home!
Yeah, it’s something I regret enormously that we didn’t get the opportunity to make a third series. We didn’t purposely quit, too, it’s just that circumstances conspired against us. The process of making Spaced was extremely wearying. We were making what was essentially a three hour film in eight weeks. That is just an absurd work load. We were doing over 2,000 set-ups a series, and although we were working on video, it was still very labor-intensive, and we weren’t being given a particularly huge resource pack. We didn’t have enough money or time… and I’m not talking about what we individually made, that’s irrelevant.
I mean the money we were actually given to make the show was such a shoestring that we had to really stretch things. We didn’t have any trailers, nowhere comfortable to sit, we were hanging about on a bus and sitting on the curb. While I look back on it very fondly, by the end of the second series—which was more ambitious than the first—we were emotionally wiped out, and Edgar was in bits, and we really needed a break before we did it again. And whilst we were recovering, Edgar and me decided to start this little side project that felt much more conducive and much more suited to what we wanted to do, and felt a bit more suited to cinema than to television. Television feels very throwaway. We worked so hard on Spaced, and we’d poured our hearts and souls and sweat and blood into it, and then it would be on Friday nights on Channel 4, and not many people would watch it and then they wouldn’t repeat it—and it felt like banging our heads against a wall.
It kind of was upsetting in a way. Suddenly, we were offered the choice of working in this world that felt more intensive and more suited to our work ethic, that would give us more opportunity to do what we wanted to do, or working in a medium that essentially was a nightmare. [chuckles]
And so, that was it. And then we missed the boat, and Spaced 3 never happened because of those factors.
Teresa Jusino: You’ve already been in an episode of Doctor Who. Have you ever been approached to, or would you ever want to write a Doctor Who episode?
Simon Pegg: I haven’t, actually. I think I probably would, but I’d want to go and do lots and lots of homework. I mean, I’m a Doctor Who fan, but my knowledge of it probably isn’t exhaustive. I would want it to be true to canon and all that kind of stuff, so I’d have to do lots of homework, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing, because that would probably mean watching a lot of Doctor Who! But no, it’s never come up, actually. I voiced over the making-of documentary that went along with the first series, but that’s as far as my ancilliory association with it went.
Teresa Jusino: What’s your next project? What’s World’s End, and how is it coming along? What is the next genre you’ll be taking on?
Simon Pegg: I’m not sure, actually. World’s End is the title that’s been bandied around. Edgar sort of dropped it in the interview and suddenly everyone lept onto it like a piece of meat being thrown into a pool of piranhas (such as the internet is these days), and it’s kind of out there as the title. We’re not planning on picking a genre and doing what we did with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. I don’t think Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are the same thing, really. Shaun of the Dead isn’t a genre parody. It’s a genre film that happens to perhaps make a comment on romantic comedies, not really zombie films. I’d say it’s a zombie film. I think Hot Fuzz is more of a sort of parody, in that it takes a very bombastic American cinematic genre and places it in a different context.
But the third one, it might not be a comment on film at all. It might just be about the story. I mean really, Shaun is about being just into your thirties, and Hot Fuzz is about having to switch off your brain a little bit to be a more well-rounded human being. And so, World’s End might be something more character-related like that. I think it’ll be about the concerns of our age. If Shaun was about being in your late 20s, this film will be about turning 40. It’s gotta be about the story first and foremost. We’re not “the guys that do the thing with the films.” We just happen to like genre cinema, and often use that to express ourselves.
Teresa Jusino: As the father of a future Geek Girl, what’s your take on the current Geek Girl movement that seems to be happening in the United States?
Simon Pegg: I think it’s great. As always, the female side of things has to follow after the male, because we live in a patriarchal society and, as you know, you have a harder time. But it’s great. It’s another moment of empowerment. Just as we’ve gotten to a point where guys can talk about the things they love without being ashamed of it, then women are feeling the same thing. And it’s great, because it’s creating a new layer of female geek output, you know? There are new characters, and new types of genre fiction that are tailored specifically for and created by women, and that can only be a good thing. ’Cause guys can get a kick out of, you know “They’re here now! They’re here!” [laughs] Men can enjoy that, too! I love the rise of the Nerd Girl. I’m very excited about that.
Nerd Do Well is available from Gotham/Penguin wherever books are sold!
Teresa Jusino is Daisy Steiner. She can currently be heard on the popular Doctor Who podcast, 2 Minute Time Lord, participating in a roundtable on Series 6.1. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor or Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! 2012 will see Teresa’s work in two upcoming sci-fi anthologies. Get Twitterpated with Teresa,“like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.