Simon Pegg came to Cannes to promote his new film How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, which also stars Kirsten Dunst and Jeff Bridges. It’s based on the true-life account of British journalist Toby Young, who is famous for being a failure; he worked at Vanity Fair for five years before getting fired by his boss Graydon Carter for being utterly incompetent. Young had the last laugh though as his memoir of his time at the magazine became a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic.
A fortunate few were allowed to see exclusive footage from the film with Pegg, Toby Young and producers Stephen Woolley and Elizabeth Karlsen in attendance. Three sequences were shown, one from the beginning, middle and end of the picture.
The event turned into the type of shambles that is a feature of the book when the projectors broke down midway through the first sequence. Finally working again, the best footage featured Young at a fancy dress party where invitees had to come dressed as their favourite dead person. It’s clear that changes have been made to the book. Toby has been renamed Sidney and Vanity Fair is now been replaced by a magazine called Sharps.
Toby Young said of the changes, “I think from screenwriter Peter Straughan’s point of view that to call my character Toby Young would have forced him to try and keep close to the facts as relayed in the book. In actual fact the film is loosely inspired by the book rather than an adaptation.”
Young has cultivated a reputation as being hard to get along with and from the no-holds-barred way that the producers and Simon Pegg were bad mouthing the former Vanity Fair journalist at the event, it seems like it’s part of the marketing tactics to paint Young as a beast. Stephen Woolley weighed in, “As soon as we read Toby’s attempt at writing a script we fired him. But we said that whatever happened he’d be involved. But then he started coming to the set with a laundry list of items that he thought should be changes and said could not happen and so we had to ban him from coming.”
Even Pegg, who has a reputation as the nicest Brit in cinema, got in on the Young bashing: “I think that what Peter Straughan did with the screenplay was to essentially take the series of anecdotes that appeared in the narrative structure and apply some movie conventions and shape the character in the film so that it isn’t Toby, but a more redeemable likeable guy that you can root for. One thing I would have to say about Toby is that at the very least he is a self-confessed t**t.”
The book is cynical and deadly funny and much is made of Young’s chronic inability to find girls, but from the 15 minutes of footage that we were shown it’s clear that the film has morphed into a romantic comedy and sparks fly between Pegg and Dunst. Young confirmed this impression, saying, “Where the film completely parts company with the book is in the third act where suddenly I start succeeding at the magazine, wear cool clothes an start dating beautiful girls. None of that ever happened. I was fired.”
But Stephen Woolley once again was at odds with Young, “It’s ambiguous as to whether he succeeds and his character is not as good with the ladies as Toby suggests.”
The final word of the event was left to Pegg, “It also says something about people’s regard of celebrity and that world and about the hypocrisy of those people that hate it and want it at the same time.”