A quick word with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the British screen comedy duo whose third movie together - after zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead and cop spoof Hot Fuzz - is alien spoof Paul.
The movie has two English fanboys (them) whose American roadtrip is interrupted by giving a lift to a loudmouthed fugitive ET. It was made in between playing bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson in The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, the Steven Spielberg-directed, Peter Jackson-produced adaptation of the Herge comic book series.
Which is why they're in Wellington doing some post-production voice work on Tintin - and talking up Paul.
So what sort of voices do Thomson and Thompson have?
Pegg: That would be a spoiler.
I guess so. Can you describe in the broadest sense then?
Pegg: Well they are a pair of bumbling detectives ...
Frost: You can't see it but there are people here from Herge's estate pointing rifles at us so we can't really say anything about Tintin.
Funnily enough, the other Thompson Twins ended up in New Zealand too. Anyway, to Paul. Saw it yesterday and still tallying the in-jokes. Did you lose count at some point?
Pegg: There are less than you think. I think the problem is when you are willfully post-modern, when you actually accept the fact that you are working in a genre that has been eviscerated so many times, there are things that are going to re-occur. All we basically did was admit that. And how we did that was saying Paul has been on Earth for 60 years and he has been influencing popular culture so in actual fact he's...
...An infinite loop.
Pegg: Yeah. Everything has been retroactively stolen from Paul. At the same time people just assume everything is a reference and it's not. I mean there are less than people think. There was a couple of lines from Star Wars, a line from Jaws and a line from Aliens. Otherwise it was all pretty much ours.
Yes that Aliens line was something - and getting Gwyneth Paltrow's mum to say such a rude word was quite an achievement.
Pegg: Gwyneth Paltrow's mum swears like a docker. I can tell that you that for a fact.
The movie is quite the love letter to Spielberg...
Pegg: A little bit.
A little bit?
Frost: Yeah it's a big long slushy love letter to Steven Spielberg. Not just to him but Comic-Con, nerds and geeks and people like us I guess.
Pegg: It's more of a love letter to popular films and that genre of cinema really, the alien visitation movie. Steven has done two of the biggest of those ever, so immediately it becomes a homage to him. He's involved in the film as well, so we got to work with Steven and we chatted to him about his work on ET and Close Encounters and he was very willing to talk about it in a very interesting laid-back way. He doesn't crow about his achievements but at the same time he won't be falsely modest either. He'll tell you a story about it.
So if I was to start a debate that Close Encounters is Spielberg's best movie ever, what side would you be on?
Pegg: I would probably stand alongside you there.
Frost: It's difficult. How would you choose between Jaws and Close Encounters? Or how would you classify Close Encounters next to Schindler's List or Munich?
Simple. Which one would I want to see again and again?
Frost: Ah yes I agree with you on that.
Pegg: I want to watch Schindler's again and again and again ...
Right. And with Spielberg in this movie and Peter Jackson in Hot Fuzz, you seem to be working your way through the bearded directors of the world as cameos.
Pegg: It wasn't our idea, to be honest. We were telling him about Paul on the set of Tintin and this idea we had about him having a hotline to Paul and helping him with ideas for some of his films and Steven just like ran with it. He said "That's really funny. Maybe I could be in the film". I don't think we would have had the balls to ask him. We were in slight awe of him even when we became friends. Because he's Steven Spielberg.
A lot of what made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz funny was the English context whereas this is very much an American movie.
Pegg: Yeah and some of it reflects our experiences of going to America. Going to this fabled land in many ways reflects our own experiences.
Why does Paul smoke so much?
Pegg: Because we thought it would be funny if an alien smoked.
But come the 20th anniversary DVD reissue aren't you just going to have to take the cigarettes out like Spielberg did with the guns in ET?
Pegg: Not at all, no. We never got to talk to Steven about that. I wanted to know what his motives were taking the guns out of ET. I thought it was bit of a shame.