Simon Pegg on fame, family and filming Star Trek
We caught up with Simon Pegg in July 2016…
For someone who cut his teeth as a stand-up in the back-street comedy clubs of England, Simon Pegg, 46, seems to be taking his current worldwide acclaim in his stride. If he feels like one of the most successful British exports to Hollywood, you’d never know it, as he walks unassumingly into the restaurant where we’re having lunch.
Perhaps, under different circumstances, he’d be buzzing to tell Balance about the new Star Trek movie, which he both co-wrote and stars in, but since the death of his co-star Anton Yelchin, aged only 27, in a freak accident last month, Simon has struggled to think of much else.
‘Today wasn’t something I was particularly looking forward to,’ he admits. ‘It hasn’t been easy since losing Anton and the thought of having to put on a smiley face to promote the movie seemed impossible.’
After three Star Trek movies, the cast and crew are like family to Simon and having filmed the last instalment in Vancouver, where they lived, worked and socialised together, the bond was even stronger. ‘It just doesn’t feel real,’ he says. ‘I’ve lost people before, but it has mostly been expected, so when someone is taken in this way, I honestly felt like the world was going to stop. It obviously doesn’t, and life does have to go on, but it has completely changed my perspective on what’s important and what’s not, and has just made me want to gather up all my loved ones and make the most of the time we have together.’
DOWN TO EARTH
His loved ones include his wife of nearly 11 years, Maureen, and their little girl Matilda, seven, who, despite Simon’s meteoric rise to fame since starring as the eponymous hero in cult movie Shaun of the Dead, live a very normal, quiet life in rural Hertfordshire.
‘I wouldn’t want it any other way,’ says Simon, at the mere suggestion that surely LA must be calling? ‘I lived in London for 23 years and it’s a fantastic city and one of which I’m very proud, but I grew up in Gloucestershire and I love the peace and quiet rural life offers. LA is a lovely sunny city and I love New York, but right now America is looking at a reality TV star being President and I think even they are wondering, “what the heck is going on?”’
Luckily for Simon, most of his films are shot in Europe now, even the last sequel in the Mission Impossible movie series was filmed in Austria. So on the odd occasion he needs to travel further afield, he’ll either take his family with him or the five-week rule is introduced, which he never breaks, ‘no matter what it’s for’.
He explains: ‘I had extremely loving parents so I understand the value of love being expressed and of being ever-present in my child’s life. Children don’t come with instructions – they should, but they don’t. Some good friends of ours had their first baby last week, and as they left the hospital I said to them, “when you get home, you’re going to have the biggest WTF moment you’re ever going to have!”
‘But once you’re over that,’ he continues, ‘the rewards are endless. Every day, for the past seven years, I’ve woken up with the same feeling I used to get on Boxing Day as a kid, when I realised I had all those amazing new things to play with.’
If it isn’t already obvious, Simon doesn’t buy into the world of celebrity, and despite being (very) good friends with Tom Cruise, and Matilda’s Godfather being Coldplay’s front man, Chris Martin, he is fiercely protective of his family’s privacy.
‘I don’t regard myself as a celebrity as it’s not what I do for a living,’ he says. ‘I’m an actor and writer, and while being in the public eye is a consequence of that, it’s not my job.
‘I would never put my daughter in a magazine or expect my wife to participate in my public life because they haven’t chosen to – though having said that, my daughter did get up on stage at Glastonbury to sing with Coldplay last month! I was so incredibly proud to see her up there and find it hilarious her first time at Glastonbury was as the headline act!’
ONE FOR THE TEAM
Although the pair have been firm friends since bumping into each other 18 years ago, when Chris approached Simon as he was ‘someone he liked in Channel 4’s Spaced’, and Simon had spoken to Chris as ‘someone who was in the new band he liked’, Simon still ruffles with pride at what Chris has accomplished.
You would have to assume the feeling is reciprocated as, after all, how unlikely is it that two friends would enjoy such simultaneous career trajectories?
‘It’s very weird and very peculiar,’ says Simon. ‘We’ve been able to enjoy each other’s progression and grow wiser together. It’s given me an enormous amount of pleasure to see Coldplay become a global proposition.’
So does he feel the same sense of satisfaction at his own world domination?
He squirms ever so slightly in his seat. ‘I’m not into the whole back-patting thing,’ he says. ‘I’ve always tried to remain fully aware of what my part in this machine is. The danger in being on the cosmetic side of this industry is we’re encouraged to believe we are the most important cog in the wheel, but we’re not. And if you fall into that trap you’ll lose the plot. Every TV show and movie is a huge collaboration and the actors are just a tiny part of that.’
Perhaps what keeps Simon grounded is that he’s in the unusual position of having a foot in both camps. For the third and latest in the rebooted Star Trek series – Star Trek Beyond – he’s taken on the monumental task of writing the film as well as starring in it, although as he freely admits, starring in it was the easy part! ‘Star Trek fans are very hard to please so I knew what a massively pressured gig it would be and what was at stake, but I thought it would be churlish to turn the opportunity down.’ However, even though Simon thought he knew what he was taking on, the mountain quickly seemed impossible to climb.
‘It was an infuriating and stressful process,’ he admits, ‘and one which I resigned from at least three times. I was filming Mission Impossible during the day, having conference calls with my co-writer in LA at night and the conditions just weren’t conducive to doing the job well.
‘I had moments when I thought, “this can’t be done” and to have that level of anxiety and sense of complete helplessness was, at times, overwhelming. If JJ Abrams, the producer, had let me, I would have walked away, but thankfully he talked me down from the ledge and I worked my way through it.
‘Having good friends around you in situations like that is invaluable as they can be objective and talk sense into you.’
Simon is the first to admit that his emotions are very up and down, which beggars the question how he emerged from the British stand-up circuit, relatively unscathed in the first place?
‘It’s a funny thing,’ he laughs. ‘If you are confident you have good material, and can get past looking terrified, you know you’re going to make the audience laugh – that’s what they’re there for after all. You have to portray the right body language that says, “relax. I’m going to make you laugh for the next 20 minutes”. And if you manage that, they’ll be putty in your hands!’
And there’s no doubt, Trekkies will be won over, too, by the Starship Enterprise’s latest escapades, as even Simon gives himself a rare back-handed compliment.
‘I’m so pleased I didn’t give up on it, because the anxiety gradually turned into excitement, and excitement has turned into enormous pride at the finished result. So it’s all been worth it in the end!’
LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION
1. Knocking ’em dead
With his best pal Ed at his side, Shaun is put to the test to protect those he loves in a struggle against zombies. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
2. Scavengers, beware!
Junk dealer Unkar Plutt punishes any thugs who bargain too forcefully or partake in unauthorised trade. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
3. Beam me up…
Scotty and the USS Enterprise crew get stranded on an unknown planet with a mysterious new enemy. Star Trek Beyond (2016)