Edgar Wright - RT's Dinner and the Movies Interview

An hour of chat with the Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz helmer.

by | January 11, 2008 | Comments

Edgar Wright - Photo by Bexy Cameron for RTDirector Edgar Wright is best known for his collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, which broke through with cult British TV show Spaced. In 2004 they hit the big screen with Shaun of the Dead, the trio’s attempt to give birth to the rom-zom-com, and it was the launchpad for their domination of the world. Its success internationally allowed the team to come back with Gloucestershire’s answer to Bad Boys II, the hysterically funny Hot Fuzz.

They’ve dubbed the movies the first two parts of a planned Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy – based on a popular brand of ice cream in the UK – which will eventually culminate with a mint-flavoured finale.

Wright cut his teeth on television as a director of shows such as French & Saunders, Is It Bill Bailey and Asylum. Since the phenomenal success of Shaun and Fuzz, he shot one of Grindhouse‘s fake trailers, for a surreal slasher movie called Don’t, and is prepping work on the big-screen adaptation of Jon Ronson’s book Them, and adaptations of comics Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and Ant-Man.

And when he’s not doing all of that he has played a zombie in George Romero‘s Land of the Dead and made frequent appearances in Peter Serafinowicz’ devilishly funny TV show Look Around You.

With the Writers’ Strike halting work on his American projects, Wright took some time last month to put together a series of special screenings at the New Beverly Cinema in LA. Dubbed The Wright Stuff, the series saw sell-out performances of some of Wright’s favourite films including Evil Dead II, Flash Gordon and Raising Arizona.

As part of our ongoing series of Dinner and the Movies conversations – which kicked off with our mammoth chat with Kevin Smith early last year and continued as we took Neil Gaiman out for sushi – RT brought Wright into our London office to sit down with us for more than an hour and talk about his career past, present and future. Alas, we didn’t provide Cornettos.

By popular demand we’ve provided the full version of our chat as an MP3 download for your listening pleasure. For those who prefer their soundbites in text form, we’ve extracted the juiciest morsels which you can find on the pages of this article.

On McSpaced – the US remake:

I remember having a meeting with Granada when we were making the show and they were going to do a pilot back then. Someone had written a version of the first episode of Spaced and I’ll always remember because they said, “We’ve re-versioned it and it’s a very funny writer who’s done it.” He goes, “Have you seen a show called Dinosaurs?” As soon as that was said I was thinking, Oh…

It’s different in the UK as it is in the US; I don’t have any format rights over Spaced, and Simon just wrote it. I probably shouldn’t go into the full legal thing, but the thing that just really annoyed me about that situation and the reason I spoke out publically against it was that there was nothing I could do to stop another company making it but what I really took offence to is that Wonderland, the company who make The OC and all that stuff, implied in the Variety article that me and Simon were involved when they had no contact with us whatsoever, so I was absolutely furious about that.

And never believe anything you see on Wikipedia or the IMDb, because even now on the page for the US Spaced it has us listed as producers and I’ve never even met these fucking people. A day after I put the thing on MySpace and it was all over the internet, they rang up my agent saying, “Hey, we’d love to get Edgar in to talk,” and it’s too late. I don’t want to be involved.

That show is so much about the people who made it. Not just Simon and Jess, but myself and Nira. When you boil it down to the plot of the first episode – two twenty-somethings pretend to be a professional couple – that isn’t the show. The show is Tim and Daisy and a huge percentage of that is Simon and Jess and it’s really personal to them.

On the third feature with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost:

The third film that me and Simon are going to write is UK set because I think it’s very important it’s set in the UK, it’s intrinsic to what we’ve done so far.

We have the idea and it was something that came to me during the press tour; I had a spark of an idea that was based on an old idea I’d had and I was thinking about that. And then I started to think of a new spin of it. I remember we were in Australia and I mentioned it to Simon as soon as I got off the plane and we just started brainstorming it immediately.

We haven’t started writing it yet but we have the plot worked out.

Read on for more highlights from our chat with Edgar Wright, or treat your eyes to a break and wrap your ears around the audio, which you can download at the link below.


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On the people that turned up for his New Beverly events:

I found that it sorted the men from the boys. When I sent out emails for it I definitely had a lot of respect for the people who turned up. You realise who your friends really are when the response to you scheduling a Flash Gordon screening with Timothy Dalton in attendance is that 50% of the people go, “OH MY GOD!” and then the other people don’t respond at all. You’re kind-of thinking, “I will never speak to those people again,” the people that weren’t impressed by that as a concept!

Doing that series was amazing and it was quite ironic in a way that because the strike in LA has pretty-much crippled the town, while I’d already agreed to do it I just had more time on my hands to actually put some effort into it in terms of getting the guests together. Timothy Dalton hadn’t seen Flash Gordon in 27 years and he was bemused I was showing it, as he’s always been bemused when I’ve talked about it!

On Grindhouse‘s split internationally:

Someone emailed me the other day to say they were showing Grindhouse at the Prince Charles [in London]. I thought, That’s brilliant! And then I discovered they weren’t, they were just showing the two films as a double bill. So I got in touch with The Weinstein Company and Momentum to say, “Just give them the print!” There is one in the UK because I showed it to the crew of Don’t in the summer. Hopefully I’ve arranged that they’ll get to show it at least once, but I don’t know why they don’t just show it properly.

I think the unfortunate thing is that there’s a difference between a film being moved and a film being pulled. Grindhouse was supposed to come out in June and you had every magazine covering it, and then it wasn’t on. And then when it comes back, it’s in two pieces. Momentum-wise, that just confused people. People that weren’t geeks didn’t necessarily know what the separate parts were or what it was supposed to be and people who did know what Grindhouse was were pissed off that it had been split up and they weren’t getting the extra stuff. It was unfortunate all round, really.

I know they wanted to do the split with the best of intentions and Quentin told me that my trailer wasn’t going to be playing when it was split up because they wanted Grindhouse to retain some sort of mystique that it would eventually be released on DVD and hopefully start playing in rep. I hope that’ll happen; if not now, then next year they’ll start playing Grindhouse in rep cinemas as it was supposed to be seen.

A still from Hot Fuzz

On doing a fake trailer for Eli Roth’s planned Trailer Trash:

I don’t know, actually. I wanted to do a trailer with the Andys from Hot Fuzz done as if it was a really scuzzy cop-film directed by Lindsay Shonteff or some sort of Michael Winner-style cop-film with Rafe [Spall] and Paddy [Considine]. I think there’s definitely more legs in the Andys. We talked about it at the time and I was saying there should be a spin-off trailer called Maximum Tache!

At one point I wanted to do one that was like a sixties morality thing; a swinging-sixties Reefer Madness type of thing. A take on all those films about the perils of London!

On casting big names in Hot Fuzz:

The idea with the casting came very early in terms of having stars in every part. It wasn’t a case of, “Oh we can get these people so let’s get this person playing the town doctor,” the idea was that you’d watch the film thinking, “Why have they got Billy Whitelaw playing that hotelier? That’s kind of a nothing part!” And most of the cast have played baddies in other films and that was the way we approached the casting in some respects – that these people had a presence so that when you’re confronted with them as a team it looks like the ultimate Top Trumps spread of baddies.

And usually with films that are star-studded, people come in and out and do two days on them, but pretty much everybody was on there for the whole shoot. You’ve got scenes like at the Church fete where everybody is in the scene. Billy Whitelaw and Paddy and Jim and Simon and Nick, they’re all there. Dalton is there just in the background saying, “Splat the Rat!” And it’s all important.

On working in America:

On one hand I’d like to be a filmmaker rather than specifically a British filmmaker. Quentin made a statement at Cannes a couple of years ago which caused a bit of controversy where he said there was no British film industry because anytime any British director makes a successful film they fuck off to Hollywood. There’s some truth in that. Obviously there are directors like Ken Loach and Shane Meadows and Mike Leigh who are sort-of commentators, but at the same time nobody really thinks any less of Alfred Hitchcock for spending two thirds of his career in Hollywood. This country couldn’t be more proud of Alfred Hitchcock.

I’d love to do both; I’d like to straddle. I don’t want to be like Robbie Williams and put on an American accent. He’s got an espresso addiction, and I so have I, actually! I read that somewhere, that he’d been admitted to rehab because he’s addicted to espresso and I was thinking, “Hey, I’m addicted to espresso! Maybe I need to go to The Priory as well!”

On hanging out with Nick and Simon:

We were on tour together for most of last year. I feel like we’ve all been in each others’ pockets for most of the year! People think we all live in the same house like The Beatles!

Simon, as an actor, gets to do three times as much stuff as me because we write together, and then he was filming Run, Fat Boy, Run while were editing Hot Fuzz. My part of the process is much longer than his. We stay in contact throughout the whole post.

A still from Shaun of the Dead

On how the Writers’ Strike is affecting him:

Just before the strike I’d finished a draft of Scott Pilgrim and a draft of Ant-Man; October/November. And I am a part of the WGA because I joined when I started working on three US scripts.

But I don’t know whether that means we’ll be able to start writing [the third Wright/Pegg/Frost collaboration] right away because Simon and Nick are writing something and Simon’s doing Star Trek. So I’m not writing it right now but we have the idea and we plan to start work on it quite soon.

The strike would be frustrating if it was affecting only me, but it’s affecting everybody. It’s everybody’s problem. And I totally agree with what the strike’s about because the whole residual issue is bullshit.

I think the key thing will be whether it disrupts the Oscars as well because I can’t imagine Hollywood will let that happen in the same way that the Golden Globes was completely cancelled. Ironically, the replacement for the Golden Globes telecast on Sky Movies is Hot Fuzz!

On a third series of Spaced:

It’s a fallacy that the show was cancelled because we had a chance to do the third one and we just didn’t write it for various reasons. I can’t speak for Simon and Jess but from my point of view I was just exhausted at the end of the second series. Both series were enormously all-consuming and at the end of the second one I was just done. I haven’t done any TV since because it just wiped me out, completely.

It’s six years now. I shouldn’t speak for Simon and Jess but from my point of view you couldn’t do a series now and pick it up from where the last series left off. We did that coda at the end of the documentary on the collector’s edition. I thought this, even at the time, that you could preserve those characters in their late twenties forever. Even The Young Ones quit while it was ahead. But that said, I was really impressed with Before Sunset and I thought I could happily watch one of those every ten years. But sometimes it just doesn’t work so well and you don’t want to see those characters grow old.

But every time the three of us get together, even while we were doing that making-of documentary for the special edition, we started brainstorming the first scene of a potential new one. But it would have to be a lot later and it’s kind-of a difficult thing to know whether you could go back. I don’t know.