Teetotaller Simon Pegg plays an alcoholic drop-out, finds Sharon Stephenson
Does Simon Pegg have the fastest larynx in show business? Quite possibly. I've only got 10 minutes to interview the British actor but we manage to cover Wellington (having done several stand-up residencies and premiered two films in the Capital, he admits to being a fan), the weather (soggy), his hair colour ("I've had it lightened for an upcoming film"), and his beloved dogs, Minnie and Myrtle. He even manages to detour down random conversational alleyways about depression and London's heat-wave.
Pegg is in New Zealand to promote The World's End, the last of the so-called "Cornetto Trilogy", which started with 2004's Shaun of the Dead and was followed by the side-splittingly funny Hot Fuzz. For their third outing, Pegg and his long-time collaborators Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright have wrapped their zombie apocalypse in a pub crawl and a reunion.
"It's about five friends who rewind 20 years to repeat the mother of all pub crawls in their home-town of Newton Haven and, in the process, try to reinvent themselves and their friendship," says Pegg.
The premise is simple: one night, five guys and 12 pubs. But the boys' night goes badly wrong when the locals turn out to be body-snatching aliens determined to stop them from reaching the final boozer - The World's End.
On paper it sounds a bit silly and in different hands it might have been a shambles, but the self-confessed "British nerd triumvirate" turn it into a rollicking good time.
In the flesh, Pegg, 43, is exactly as I'd imagined: funny, self-deprecating and as endearing as an over-enthusiastic puppy. Nothing at all like Gary King, the character he plays in The World's End. Once the coolest kid in school, Gary is now a pathetic, alcoholic drop-out unable to move on.
"Gary's life hasn't turned out the way he thought it would, so he clings to this one night more than 20 years ago which was the pinnacle of his achievements. He is, frankly, incredibly irritating."
So a bit of a stretch, then?
"Not at all," says Pegg, roaring with laughter. "But there's a deeper tragedy with Gary than you realise. He's on the run from a psychiatric institution and has long anaesthetised his depression with alcohol and drugs. As an actor it's much more fun to play a character that you challenge the audience to love."
It's Pegg's sixth collaboration with Frost, a man he clearly adores, and the pair were last "seen" here in Peter Jackson's Tintin as the moustachioed detectives, the Thompson Twins.
For The World's End, they seem to have recruited every British actor with an equity card, including Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan as Gary's reluctant drinking buddies, Rosamund Pike as the love interest, Pierce Brosnan as the zombie leader and Bill Nighy as the voice of the alien computer.
It's somewhat ironic that a man who no longer drinks should star in a film about a pub crawl, but the godfather of Apple, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter, says his muscle memory is strong.
"I only gave up drinking when I became a father [daughter Matilda is four] because it didn't really tally with my responsibilities as a dad. So it wasn't hard to remember what it's like to be drunk."
With roles in Mission Impossible, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People and the Star Wars reboot, Pegg is part of the furniture in Hollywood.
But Kiwi audiences probably know him best from Brit comedies such as Spaced, Run Fatboy Run and Paul, in which he and Frost play ultra geeky sci-fi fans who find an alien while on holiday in the US.
He also found room in his CV to voice characters in the Ice Age animated series, Tintin and the upcoming Boxtrolls.
Yet despite having three successful zombie movies to his name, Pegg believes the zombie well has run dry. "I'm pretty sure this is our last zombie film. Everyone's doing it these days - the undead are running all over the place.
"But what I fell in love with about zombies has been lost with these new films. I think it's time to leave the corpses alone and move on ..."
The World's End is in cinemas now.