Simon Pegg is probably best known as Montgomery Scott (aka Scotty) in director J.J. Abrams’ hit reboot of Star Trek, but the Englishman has been a successful actor, writer and director for more than a decade. After creating and starring in the British sitcom Spaced in 1999, Pegg went on to co-write and star in cult favorites Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both featuring his hilarious longtime pal Nick Frost and directed by Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World).
This is a big summer for Pegg, who’s back as Scotty for Abrams’ big-budget sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, and for August’s The World’s End, which reunites him with Frost and Wright for the third part of the Shaun trilogy.
Pegg talked to me last week by phone from Seattle, where he was part of the Into Darkness press tour, which had already hit Berlin, London and San Francisco. Though obviously a weary traveler, Pegg came across as smart, funny and genuine. By the end of the interview I wanted to grab a beer with him and talk sci-fi well into the night.
CL: You’re back as Montgomery Scott in Star Trek Into Darkness. Was it easier to get into character the second time around?
Simon Pegg: A Little bit. The pressure is gone because we’ve already done it. But the pressure was still on to try and build upon the first movie and not just rest on our laurels. I wanted to evolve it and take it forward.
You’re character has more to do in Into Darkness, much of it off the enterprise, which is kind of a departure for Scotty, a character that’s mostly seen sweating it out in the engine room. What was your reaction when you first read the script?
Scotty’s always happier doing his thing in his space where he’s comfortable in the engine room. Early in the film Scotty calls Kirk’s bluff and gets kicked off the Enterprise. When he gets back it’s in disarray. It was fun to play. Scotty helps highlight Kirk’s rash decisions early on. The title is not about change of tone. It’s about Kirk’s naivety and lack of experience. In this film he makes a lot of decision that get people hurt.
About that title …
It’s not dark in the sense that The Dark Knight is an adult version of a childish thing. It’s more about confusion, uncertainty and the murky world of moral relativism. The good guy and the bad guy are both after revenge — which is good and which is bad? It reflects an attitude today about terrorism and asks questions about why people do what they do. What’s their moral compass?
When preparing to play Scotty, how much did you consider the work of original Scotty James Doohan? I don’t sense you’re imitating him in any way.
It’s an iconic role. You look at the character on the page and he was a Scottish engineer, and that’s what I’m playing. [Doohan] was the first Scotty and will always be the best as far as I’m concerned. I’ve become friends with his son Chris, who’s in the movie. It means something to me that there’s still a Doohan walking the corridors of the Enterprise.
Scotty’s alien sidekick Keenser is back as well. I love Keenser, and in both movies, I was kind of amazed at how rich the relationship between the two characters seems, despite limited screen time and the fact that Keenser has essentially one facial expression. How do you pull that off?
It’s funny, because he only was in that one scene in the first movie. JJ enjoyed it so much that when Scotty leaves Keenser there it was an incomplete story. He left his little assistant friend behind. A few weeks after we shot that scene I was sitting with J.J. off camera saying we should get him back. He should become a member of Star Fleet and they should work together. The costume designer made a little Trek uniform for him, and now he’s this odd little Jiminy Cricket that Scotty has. I really value that addition to the Scotty story that he’s made this friend.
What's the best place on the Enterprise to get a pint and wait for it all to blow over?
[Laughs.] There’s probably a bar somewhere. There was 10 Forward in Star Trek: The Next Generation. [Pegg thinks for a second, and I can almost hear him start to smile] Scotty’s quarters after hours.
I’m sure you’re getting some variation on this question ad nauseam, but I’m going to go there anyway: You made Mission: Impossible 3 and the two Trek movies with J.J. Abrams, who’s been named the director of the next Star Wars movie. How badly do you want a role in Episode VII?
It’s not something I really want to do. I kind of want to see it. I was disappointed in the prequels, and it would mean a lot to me to feel the love I had of Star Wars, which I haven’t had in a while unless I go back and watch the old films. The idea of J.J. doing it is so exiting to me. I don’t think being in it will help my enjoyment of it.
And nobody knew Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford; they had weight in there because of Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. If this film is populated by celebs, people everyone knows, it’s not going to help.
I will go visit set, though, abso-fucking-loutly. I’ll use my connection to J.J. to visit and get as close as possible, for sure.
You’ve got another movie coming out this summer, The World’s End, which reunites you with Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright. As a fan of both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz I can’t wait. How excited should I be, really?
If you’re half as excited as I am you’ll be jumping out of your seat. Early on we decided to try to make thematic sequels not direct sequels, and [World’s End] is our most mature work, our funniest, the biggest one. We’ve written three films now and we took everything we learned and put it into this.
Finally, how many times a day do you hear these words: “You’ve got red on you?”
One or two usually. I’m in Seattle and I saw [Shaun’s blood-stained] shirt hung up in a museum. Shaun was a little Brit movie that we didn’t know if it would get a release. To happen on memorabilia halfway across the world 10 years later is really something.