The British actor chats about his latest passion project, A Fantastic Fear of Everything.
Jet-lagged from his transatlantic flight, tattoos obscured by a deep Californian tan, his fiery copper hair swept back from his face, Simon Pegg sits before LWLies ready to talk about his new film, A Fantastic Fear of Everything. Locked in to the Mission Impossible and Star Trek franchises, the self-proclaimed sci-fi geek from Gloucestershire is making the films he watched so obsessively as a teen, and then wrote about at university. He tells LWLies how he did it.
LWLies: You wrote a dissertation at university on Marxist cinema. Is that a viewpoint you still hold?
Pegg: That was a long time... It was a Marxist overview of populist cinema in the '70s. I was using modes of criticism that were laid out by Marxist thinkers like Raymond Williams and Antonio Gronchea. It was a discussion of themes like consent and hegemony. The idea behind consent is that if you don’t critically objectify yourself from something, you’re consenting yourself to the ideas it’s putting yourself across. So, for example, if you’re watching a racist film and you don’t acknowledge the fact that it is racist, then you are guilty of being racist. There are certain themes in films like Star Wars and Raiders about big weapons and gender and sexuality. If you don’t watch those films and pick them out, then you are essentially agreeing with those standpoints. It’s all very studenty. Anything can be analysed. People say: 'You can’t really analyse Star Wars can you? It’s just a film.' The fact is, it isn’t just a film. It’s an expression of latent cultural fears, and it’s fun to pick all that shit out.
You act in those films, so you’re now part of that process. Is it strange?
Yeah it is. But you need to remember that George Lucas wasn’t ever making any comment about Star Wars. It just so happened that those themes were in there because they were in the cultural sub-conscious; gender, the notions of human sexuality, race and class. All that stuff is part of the dominant ideology and it needs to be picked out. When we did Shaun of the Dead, there were loads of things I could see that people would read in to. I could see its metaphors a little clearly as a result of my university metaphor.
Directors are always reticent about talking about decisions they made in films. Do you think they’re genuinely just reflecting culture back on itself?
It’s about opinions they have. If a director thinks a woman is just for rescuing, that’s exactly what will happen in his movie. If a director is homophobic, the gay character will be unlikeable or a joke. It always comes out. There was a lot of bomb fear in the late '70s and early '80s. That’s what people were worried about at the time, and there were a lot of films in the sci-fi genre which deal with ultimate weapons, be it the Death Star, the Arc, the Genesis Project. All that is the fear of big weapons filtered out into populist cinema. That fear became AIDS and then terrorists – at some point the horror became among us rather than and that fear can be tracked through cinema. It’s all out there to be analysed. It’s not hidden; it’s right there.
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Where does comedy come into that? Is there a want to make more political or gritty stuff?
Comedy is a difficult one; it has different functions. There’s an argument that comedy isn’t a great form of revolution because it gives people a none-serious environment to revolt. So you can have a practice revolution within comedy. You can slag off the Queen or the Prime Minister, but it’s not an active revolution. You’re not actively going out there to try and topple anything. You’re just enjoying rehearsing the idea of dissent. Whereas in Italy you look at a playwright like Dario Fo, who was filling stadiums with plays that were all about anti-government sentiment. Comedy has different functions in different places. It’s great entertainment. I’m not trying to change the world, I don’t think.
I don’t know whether I could. Ultimately we want to make people think, but what we make them think about isn’t that important.
Do you worry about the potential consequences of having two million followers on Twitter?
I don’t think the consequences are awful. You just shut the fuck up for a while if you get sick of it. What are they going to do?
How do you protect your privacy?
You have to give the impression of availability, while what you keep to yourself are the things that are really important to you. I never talk about my family. I mention them in passing, but I talk about my dog mainly, because it gives the illusion of intimacy.
What do you love about movies?
Sitting in the dark with a bunch of people you don’t know; there’s a wonderful community about that. I worry about things like 3D and the new frame-rate issue. There’s something to be said for film on film in the cinema, which is being diminished I think.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything is in cinemas now.