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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

I’m awesome. I wrote a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.

Nerds worth their 8 sided die know who Simon Pegg is.

From SPACED to SHAUN OF THE DEAD to HOT FUZZ to everything else the man has stick his pinkie in Simon brings his own unique humor to every project he’s involved in and HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE is no different. However, you mention the name Robert Weide and you would be likely to see the kind of expression reserved for a dog who has just been shown a card trick. Robert, director of HOW TO LOSE, is the director behind CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM and has even won a little Emmy gold because of his work.

When I had the chance to talk to these guys couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Even though it was a roundtable I wasn’t about to let that small quibble get in the way of me and my Spaced geek obsession. It was an odd thing, though, when I asked Robert a question about how hard it is to hold on to your vision as a director and producer of material. His answer both intrigued me and made me realize what must be happening on a daily basis in that goofy town.

Now, for those that don’t know the story of the film is as follows:

In this hilariously funny fish-out-of-water tale, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People tracks the outrageous escapades of Sidney Young (Simon Pegg), a smalltime, bumbling, British celebrity journalist who is hired by an upscale magazine in New York City. In spectacular fashion Sidney enters high society and burns bridges with bosses, peers and superstars. The film is based on Toby Young’s memoir of the same name and also stars Kirsten Dunst, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson, Megan Gox, Max Minghella and Jeff Bridges. Directed by Robert Weide, the film will be released by MGM Distribution Co. on October 3, 2008. After disrupting one black-tie event by allowing a wild pig to run rampant, Sidney catches the attention of Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), editor of Sharp, and accepts a job with the magazine in New York City. Clayton warns Sidney that he’d better impress and charm everyone he can, if he wants to succeed. Instead, Sidney instantly insults and annoys fellow writer Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst). He dares to target the star clients of power publicist Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson). He upsets his direct boss Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston) and tries to make amends by hiring a stripper to dance for Lawrence during a staff meeting. Sidney, of course, doesn’t stop there, finding creative ways to annoy nearly everyone. His saving graces: a rising, sexy starlet (Megan Fox) develops an odd affection for him, and in time, Alison whose friendship with him might be the only thing saving Sidney from torpedoing his career.

Both Robert Weide and Simon Pegg stopped by Phoenix a few weeks ago to talk about the film which comes out today.

QUESTION: How’s Arizona been treating you?

PEGG: Hotly. It’s been overwhelming for a pasty British man to walk into this incredible heat. It’s amazing. The first thing we saw last night was possibly the most spectacular light show I’ve ever seen in my life in that storm. We were having dinner at Mastro’s and eating possibly one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life and the whole place is being illuminated by this strobe light.

And there was this rumbling thunder.

QUESTION: But you were here a few years ago Shaun of the Dead. Different time of year, though.

PEGG: It was still hot. I remember – not quite like this – Nick stopped by and we stayed up at Camelback and I was really looking forward to coming back here. This is the only place on the whole tour I’m staying two nights and I’m quite happy to be here.

WEIDE: When I was packing yesterday my wife and I were talking about it’s great because it’s going to be one weather, two days, just one pair of shoes. I talked to her last night and said it was a monsoon last night and my clothes are soaking wet.

QUESTION: So, you said this is the last stop of tour so you’ve probably fielded every question there is?

PEGG: Pretty much. You can have a free cookie if you ask me a question I have not been asked before. Bob’s just joined me here. I started out in Boston and went to Toronto then Chicago and Dallas then here, so yea, it’s been pretty intense but I think it’s good to go places rather just stay in a hotel in LA and expect everybody to come to you. I think it’s important when you provide something it’s good to go out and pound the beat.

QUESTION: How much time do you split – are you here in the States a fair amount of the year now, or just for press?

PEGG: Just for press work. I’ve been out a lot this year – been back and forth for various reasons, but generally speaking I’m in London. I don’t have any plans to move here because you can just commute these days. The film industry is far more global than it was and films get made all over the world. You buy a house in LA and then suddenly you find yourself doing 5 months in the Isle of Man. So it’s kind of pointless. And, all my stuff’s there. My light sabers are there.

(Laughs)
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Can you talk about the movie itself? It talks about the idea about how Americans revere celebrity vs how you in Britain revere yours. You really want to write a hit piece and here we like to coddle our celebrities. Did you find any parallels or do Britians like their celebrities are certain way?

PEGG: I think it’s a generalization in some respects. I think that particular syndication that Sidney goes to work for behaves like that but I think there are publications in America that want to undermine their celebrities the same as in Britian. There’s a culture of disdain for celebrities in the UK but similarly there are magazines like Hello and OK that worship them unconditionally. But for the purpose of this movie, Sidney’s background is in one of snipe and take crack at celebrities and Clayton’s magazine, Sharps, is very much one of those that is greasing the wheels of celebrity and stoking the flames. I think it’s a very timely piece in a way. The movie itself is based on a book that was set in 1995. There was a memoir from 1995 and I think Peter Straughan is fictionalizing that and bringing it up to date and creating a fictional group of characters around the central character, who is called Sydney instead of Toby, and they do something of a satire of the nature of celebrity worship now which is at a completely ridiculous height. The snake of popular culture is most definitely eating itself. It’s a bizarre, frightening time.

QUESTION: What about your own celebrity? Going back to when you were here years ago you could go anywhere you wanted to go in this country. People would never recognize you but that is not the case now.

PEGG: The interesting thing about it is, I’m still pretty “cultie”. I was in Dallas yesterday and everywhere I went people would say, hey Shaun of the Dead, but just knew it was a movie I had done but didn’t say hey there’s that guy who I don’t know what he did but I know him, which I think is where things get slightly precarious when people start to resent the fact that they know you. And that’s where the sense of delusion starts to come. That’s when people start to think you are famous for what?

WEIDE: There’s a group of people now that are famous for just being famous. It’s not about work or anything they have achieved. They are celebrities because they are celebrities and this is how behind the times I am, I think it was three years ago maybe a little less when I turned to my wife and I said who exactly is Paris Hilton? Meaning, I had seen her picture everywhere and I saw her name everywhere but is she a singer, and actress? My wife tried to explain to me.

QUESTION: She’s all of that now.

PEGG: Yea, now she’s all of that but quotation marks perhaps.

But then I said is she famous just for being famous? And she said yes, but then said oh there was that sex video. Oh, then she’s a porn actress. She said, no not exactly but…

QUESTION: That’s her best talent.

PEGG: Clearly. I think they have been around for a long time to some degree, but more at the ridiculous end of celebrity culture as it is now is produce people that they are famous for something and are famous for being famous and they work at it, like Paris Hilton, Victoria Beckham. They work at it because they know that people do want to know about them. Who’s laughing really? They are making shit loads of money from just doing very little because people just want to know about them. We’re idiots for buying those magazines. Who cares what Paris Hilton’s vagina looks like? Idiots like men.

So there is an argument that you can have a crack at those people who are exploiting their celebrity or you can say well if we stop consuming what they do, then they go away so stop complaining about them.

QUESTION: But this movie makes an illusion to when Sophie walks through the pool that’s something Jane Mansfield did in the late 50’s to get herself famous.

PEGG: Yea.

WEIDE: And there’s that telling moment too – I heard people after screenings discuss whether that was an intentional ploy and I think the clue is Gillian’s dialogue as she’s coming out of the elevator when she’s on the phone with somebody saying bring the car around front and then she says never mind what I said before, I want it in front now. Meaning that it was sort of understood that she had walked through the pool, paparazzi would come after her and instead of sneaking out the back now she’s supposed to go through the front where she knows the photographers will be waiting and sure enough, as Sydney says, she’s everywhere. I have read those stories of celebrities eating in various places where they get seemingly ambushed by the paparazzi as they step out of a restaurant and it’s understood later that in fact they weren’t ambushed, it was the publicist that told the paparazzi where they would be.

PEGG: It’s interesting. When you look at a celebrity like Elizabeth Hurley, the genesis of her fame was the Versace dress she wore to the Four Weddings premiere. She went with the star of that film and completely upstaged him and the film that wore a dress that was held together with safety pins and now she’s the face of Estee Lauder and has kind of an acting career. But that’s all it takes really. That’s a stunt that’s on par with what Sofie does in the movie. Sofie knows what she’s doing. As Danny Houston’s character says, she’s going to go far. It’s just when you take it on in real life you are taking on a beast. If you want to swim in those waters, you have to know it’s absolutely packed with sharks.

WEIDE: I think fame is sort of like a Frankenstein monster. It’s something people think they want to create and then when it happens they have something quite uncontrollable. And there’s the one level if you eat at the Ivy in LA you know you are going to get snapped when you come out and perhaps that is fair game, I don’t know but there is that level of the true ambush for the people with the long lenses in the building across from you getting you while you’re eating or getting undressed, sunbathing or being with someone you shouldn’t be with, I think is the next level. I’ve seen pictures of Kirsten just coming out of her mother’s house in Hollywood walking to her car. She’s visiting her mom and there’s someone waiting across the street and I remember seeing pictures that she dropped her keys and this guy was in her way and a series of pictures of her picking up her keys and getting in her car and it was so unfair and people say if you want to be famous and want to be in movies, you are asking for it and I don’t know that you are asking for it. I don’t think they are. I think there is a certain level where people do deserve their privacy even their careers put them in the public eye.

QUESTION: You got to work with Toby Young?

PEGG: We hung out a little bit. I didn’t want to play him as him because not many people know who he is and Toby’s got a way that would be distracting on the big screen after a bit, and also, it’s Sydney – it’s a fictionalized version of him so I was able to have a few dinners with him and hang out and get under his skin a little bit a decide that that’s not the way I was going to play it. But Toby has mellowed. There was a time he was just very tenacious and just lead pipe cruel and thought that was the way to go and as a result continuing messing up.

QUESTION: The improvisations you get to do – did you have to stick to the script?

PEGG: We didn’t do much did we?

WEIDE: You would occasionally come up with something on the spot. There’s the business where you are on the phone ordering the credit card and basically each take you made up a new line. The one we went with was the Queen – yes, I know the Queen, she’s in my break dance posse.

PEGG: Oh yea.

WEIDE: And on each take he adlibbed some different line about that he knew the Queen and met at the Cub Scouts …

PEGG: Oh yea.

WEIDE: That was a treat in the editing room.

QUESTION: The scene when you call the landlady Mrs. Lebowski?

PEGG: Yea. No, actually that was in the script.

WEIDE: In the screenings that I’ve been at, one of the biggest laughs of the movie, if you have all seen the film be careful how you write this, is basically the scene where he is called on the carpet in Clayton’s office and waiting for him to come out and remember he is [redacted] (Ed. Note: Yeah, that was a funny part, actually.) and when we did that take, Simon said to me, because there is really no line there, that the idea the secretary would just be staring at him and said be prepared I have a line I’m going to say, and I won’t give away the line and you said that and the whole group just laughed during the take and it’s the biggest laugh.

CS: You mentioned doing Spaced there was a parallel when you talked about how the reception of how that television show brought you a lot of success over here and now you have this great career but you said there is a difference between these sorts of sharks in the water and American movie making culture vs. the kind of experience you had in the UK.

PEGG: No, I meant the sharks in the water thing is entirely to do with the celebrity culture. I think the movie machine here and in the UK are similar. We collaborate a lot because we have big studios in the UK, Bond movies, Potter movies, Star Wars movies are made there, Raiders and our crews – I’ve done movies in LA and half the crew has been British and I think the machine is a little – when you get into the studio system in America, I don’t know if this is where you are going, then it gets kind of – the producers are more like what you might expect. In the UK we only have one production company that can fund a movie entirely, which is working title. Everything else, like our film, had to be made by a conglomerate.

CS: Yes, lots of fingers in that.

PEGG: Yea. But I think I meant the shark infested thing is if you are going to get involved in being a celebrity and get caught going to those places to get people interested in your private life, then you are taking on a monster you know. Were you going to say the British are different?

CS: Not so much that, but the idea when you make a production over a year, somehow it turns into a beast – a lots of fingers in the pie – a lot of people saying, I want you to cut this out, cut that out – there’s certainly enough satire to go around. A lot of people have a lot to say about that final cut before it’s released to the public…

WEIDE: I think that’s inherent project to project. Not sure that’s just American anymore than it is British. Your situation with the Edgar Wright directed films you have a producer who is really part of your team, who is kind of helps protect you guys from any forces who might come in and try to…

And also a production company that lets us do whatever we want. I think the more money that’s involved, the more risk, the more people panic and want to stick their finger in the proverbial pie.

QUESTION: But then you have, but not to bring up Star Trek, but you can’t discuss in detail but JJ has a lot more control than a lot.

PEGG: I think you get people like JJ who they just trust and say I know you know what you’re doing because he’s proved himself with MI3 and they know – and because he’s done a particular kind of movie, he’s the absolutely perfect guy to do Star Trek. None of the other producers are going to question what’s he doing because they know if it fucks up the fans are going to be unhappy and JJ is a fan and he understands it. So in that situation it’s like, you do it. You just get on with it an do that. That’s why he’s given that autonomy. Also, he’s JJ – he has that manic enthusiasm you couldn’t possibly question.

QUESTION: Then you also hear the stories about on Gangs of New York the notorious fights between Martin Scorsese and Harvey Weinstein – that’s Scorsese when somebody told him what to cut.

PEGG: But that is also Harvey Weinstein.

(Laughs)

Have you seen Tropic Thunder?

PEGG: We are seeing that tonight actually.

WEIDE: In my little neck of the world, that was the greatest thing about Curb Your Enthusiasm, which everyone says well, that’s HBO and it wasn’t HBO so much it was Larry David not needing to do a TV series because he could stay home and count his hundreds of millions but it was the guy who created Seinfeld so he never had anybody telling him what to do because A) Larry would just say hey, get your own show and walk and once you create Seinfeld there aren’t many people who could take a position that they know more about comedy. I talked to other friends of mine who were executive producing or created series for network television and I told them the way we work with no creative interference, no notes whatsoever they would just start to drool because in the world of broadcast network television here in the states everybody has something to say right through writing, casting, production through editing and really never leave you alone. And if the show starts to falter at all instead of saying OK, we’re going to stand back, they just get more and more involved and it becomes pretty suffocating.

CS: That’s a brilliant comment. At what point in your career can say, “You know what, I’m not interested in having any of that…” If someone tries to make you capitulate early on I can see how that can easily happen but is it hard coming up through the ranks, sticking to your artistic vision? At what point do you muster that courage and say, “I have to stand firm.” At what point does that happen for you?

WEIDE: It’s interesting – my background having started through documentaries from the get-go I never really had anybody tell me what to do because documentaries aren’t supposed to be money makers anyway and my first things were for PBS and so when I started I didn’t have anyone tell me what to do and then I did a film 10 years ago that was a low budget enough film where I was left alone, Curb I was left alone, and oddly enough this film was my first experience of kind of having to listen to other opinions and people suggesting this and that and it was odd for me because you would think I had a lot of that and this point in my career, and I’m not a kid anymore, I’m going to be 30 soon…

(Laughs)

It was odd to hear people, and in some cases who really had no comedy credentials say I think this would be funnier, and you know you have to be a team player and listen to everybody’s notes and let them know they are being heard and ultimately have the backbone, conviction and the confidence to know what you are doing to weed out the bad notes and keep the good ones.

PEGG: One thing I always found when collaborating anyway, I write with Jim Wright and write with Edgar and Nick and when we work with Working Title that’s a close knit group there and sometimes something you are absolutely sure is right you’ll get or hear something from someone and say hang on I’ll reevaluate that and you realize that I think there was a note when we were making Hot Fuzz from one of our producers at Working Title to drop the female character because the romance in the film was about Danny and Angel and the bad girl and we realized the female character we’ve written was kind of token and it was an absolutely right on note. So, sometimes you might think as a sort of precious writer you say, you don’t know a thing, but come out with a very, very good point and taken on board. It’s just a fine balance when you are in a room and something you think belongs to you to actually have the courage to let it go and stand up for it I think.

WEIDE: The sort of typical network situation for television, I had an experience where a network bought a pilot script from me, absolutely wanted to make the pilot but I developed it for a specific actress and they knew it going in and they met her and liked her a lot and said go ahead but when push got to shove they got a little nervous about this unknown actress having a pilot let alone a series and asked me if I could cast the part and I said no, I wrote it for her. I’d rather do something else and finally the word came down from the head of the network that he would order the pilot that day if I was willing to cast the part and I said no and walked away and my agent said you realize what you are potentially walking away from and I said, yea I’m walking away from a situation with a network where they are going to try and tell me what to do every step of the way and make me crazy. The only real leverage you have in a situation like that is the willingness to walk away and if, and I’m not a typical TV producer, most of those guys they just want to get on the air, they want to get their pilot made and want to get a series on the air. I was sort of ambivalent about the whole thing anyway so it made it very easy to walk away – nothing heroic about it I just didn’t want to set that precedent and everybody thought it was the craziest thing to do but for me it was the easiest.

QUESTION: The last time you were here in Phoenix for Shaun of the Dead you talked about what would be Hot Fuzz – do you have any ideas that you are working on right now?

PEGG: Yea, Nick and I just finished something we will go into production with next year hopefully and will be shooting in New Mexico and Edgar and me will eventually get back into the office when we are done with our prospective other projects and come up with a third film which we are calling Blood and Ice Cream. I really want to get on with that. We finished Hot Fuzz and other things came up and we agreed to go do other things and then come back together and those things obviously take up time.

QUESTION: Can you share what that would be about? What about the working title?

PEGG: I don’t think it will be called that but when we spoke about Hot Fuzz on the Shaun of the Dead tour in Phoenix last that was like a year before we even started writing Hot Fuzz so people were like, Hot Fuzz, OK, where is it?

QUESTION: You didn’t even have a script?

PEGG: Yea, we had the idea and had the concept.

QUESTION: So that forced you to have to write it because people were writing about it?

PEGG: Exactly.

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