Today marks the official U.S. release of the culmination of what has been affectionately dubbed "The Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy" (or "The Cornetto Trilogy" if you want to be formal about it), The World's End.
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the British scribes behind the first two hilarious installments, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, are also responsible for the trilogy's final chapter, with Wright again directing and Pegg starring as Gary King, a struggling adult trapped in the glory days who rounds up his old mates to recreate a pub crawl that they never finished in their teenage years.
Unsurprisingly, Nick Frost co-stars as King's pal Andy Knightly a member of the band that's gotten back together to complete the pub crawl amid all the chaos and creepy changes occurring in their home town.
I recently caught up with Wright and Frost while they were in Philly to appear at an advance screening of The World's End. We discussed the culmination of the trilogy, debated the value of complicated binge drinking sessions, imagined what the Americanized remake might look like, and lamented the difficulty of going home after growing up.
This kind of turned into an accidental trilogy.
Edgar Wright: Well, when we made Shaun of the Dead, we were first-time feature-makers. Back then, it was just a real struggle to get it made. So, really, you just feel fortunate, like, "Oh, we get to make a feature film and that's amazing." We had no other scripts in the drawer. So, it wasn't until after Hot Fuzz that the idea for a third one came about. And, because we had a couple of linking, sillier running jokes like the ice cream and the fence-jumping, you start to think about it. And then we started to realize when we began work on the third one that there were themes that linking the movies: growing up, taking responsibility, the dangers of perpetual adolescence, and the idea of an individual vs. the collective. We sort of realized that there was a way to make a third one that wasn't just a stand alone film, but actually wrapped up those themes and made it final. When the idea came about to make a film about a man who desperately wants to be 18 again and go in the reverse direction of Shaun in Shaun of the Dead or Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz, it became a cautionary tale about what happens when you try to recapture former glories.
You mentioned that The World's End is kind of a reverse of the first two films. That's certainly true with [Nick Frost and Simon Pegg's] roles. You guys seemed to swap on this one, yeah?
Nick Frost: Well, we didn't want people to get bored with over-achieving, hardass Simon's character and dim, sidecracker me. That would be very easy to fall into. We're actors and we want to challenge ourselves. We just wanted to be different people, which, really, is the beauty of acting: being able to inhabit other people.
How did you enjoy it in comparison?
NF: Andy is, essentially, me when I'm on hold to utility companies.
EW: I can't imagine Nick having a row with someone from AT&T.
NF: [Laughs] There's a specific thing from home and that's, when you pay for parking by phone—bear in mind it could cost you $10/hour to park—and then just when you're about to hang up they—you've haven't spoken to anyone, by the way; it's just a robot—it says, "You have been charged a ten pence service charge." That's the thing that makes me pop the spinach can.
NF: Why? Why? What's that for? You've just charged me to park. And, to me, that's Andy. He wants an answer, you know. He wants to have a conversation with Gary. It, essentially, takes the world ending for Andy to get those answers.
It's not just Gary this time, though. The group dynamic is something that's different in The World's End.
EW: I think that's because it starts with an ensemble. Shaun eventually becomes an ensemble because they're in the pub. But, this one starts like that. Honestly, that just came about because that's what it was like. I remember a producer going, "Oh, can it just be four friends?" And I was like, "I want it to be five because, when I used to go to the pub when I was a teenager, it used to be the five of us." So, obviously, a lot of it is drawn on experiences Simon and I have had. I almost, like, recast my group of friends, though I feel I may be the Gary King of the group... without the dyed hair.
NF: Or the alcoholism, which makes it twice as bad. You have no excuse.
You say that you drew on personal experiences. Did you guys do a pub crawl while you were in production?
EW: Well, no. But, when I was 19, the drinking age in the UK is 18, not 21, I did a pub crawl in my hometown which had 15 pubs and I got through six. And I was the ringleader, it was my idea, so it wasn't like they carried on without me. It just stopped dead and ended in spectacular silliness. But, I didn't finish and that always ate at me, so I wrote a script about it when I was 21. About teenagers going out drinking. It was very much like a Dazed and Confused type movie. I never did anything with it, but then, much later, me, Simon and Nick tried to do the same pub crawl in my hometown and it went much worse. I think we made it through three or four. I think because of that, much later, I saw a richer comic potential in adults going back and trying to recreate something from their teenage years.
NF: I think, for me, there's something annoying about the pub crawl. I think there's something immature about having to hide a massive drinking session in amongst cardio. If you're really serious about sitting and having 12 pints just sit there and have 12 pints. I think it's a bit bonkers to walk around...
EW: It's about the quest!
I mean, when I was at school Penn State, organizing a bar tour was, like, a thing. Everyone would get matching shirts made—
NF: Like with their nicknames across the back.
Exactly. And there'd be a list of the bars on the back and it was a whole production. Most of the time it was too much work. Wouldn't it be better to just get drunk in a bar?
EW: [The British pub crawl] is mostly that same thing. They're mostly around towns with lots of bars or like university towns. In fact, like, the official T-shirt of The World's End is exactly like one of those Penn State things with all of the pubs on the back.
NF: I think we're also very lucky as grown men who have never hung around large groups of shot-taking p***y hounds. We have very sensitive, lovely friends who like the theater and cinema and we were all integrated.There were girls in the group. We were a group of friends, not just a big group of meatheads.
EW: I like the idea of the shot-taking p***y patrol, though.
NF: [Laughs] That's the next film.
EW: Shots, shots, shots shots shots shots, shots.
NF: Shots shots shots shots, shots.
EW: [Laughs] There's actually going to be an American remake of The World's End starring LMFAO. And Lil Jon.
NF: The P***y Patrol.
James Franco can reprise his role as the RiFF RaFF character from Spring Breakers.
EW: Yes, precisely. The American remake would be that, LMFAO, Lil Jon... who else?
NF: It would be sponsored by Monster... krunk.
Well, only because the real Four Loko is gone. Is there an equivalent you could use?
EW: I mean, Red Bull and vodka is still like a poor man's cocaine.
Yeah, but it's not the same because it doesn't come in a can with an intentionally misspelled word on the side. Like, "juice," but with a double "o."
EW: We had a thing, actually, called Hooch.
NF: Oh yeah.
EW: Well, Hooch was, like, literally, alcohol for kids. It was extremely controversial. Like, it looked like lemonade bottles.
I mean, that's kind of what happened with Four Loko.
EW: Yeah, but Four Loko kind of had that sort of Ed Hardy graphic so that d*****bags would drink it.
EW: Hooch was basically alcohol for kids.
The World's End is still referential, but it's there's more subtlety with this one. What shines through is the normalcy of the characters. Why is that?
EW: Well, Hot Fuzz is a little more stylized and fantastical. Like, they end up in the Hollywood world by the end of it and it becomes a bit meta. With this one, I think the ending is, probably, wilder than Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. So, in the beginning, I felt it was important to keep the characters grounded. I wanted to make the kind of film that you'd watch and go, "Wow. How did we get from 'here' to 'here'?" You're taking the audience on a ride. So, it's important for the characters to feel real and grounded because, as things get crazier, you want people to still be able to recognize that guy. Like, "I know that guy. That guy is me."
You say that, and the film is largely about returning to your hometown and having things feel different... was there a particular moment or instance in which you went back home and felt that?
NF: Not as much for me because I don't really have a hometown. Where I am now with my wife and baby is my home now, we've been there for eight or nine years. But, my mother came from a small town in Whales and I was kind of brought up there for a bit and then I'd come to London and then spend summers down there. For me, it was always a bit different. You know that time lapse film of a bowl of fruit dying? That's what it felt like going back, for me. It was kind of the same, but the women would have slightly fewer teeth.
NF: I never felt joyous looking back. For me it was always...
EW: I didn't know you came from the Appalachian Mountains.
NF: It just wasn't a pleasant feeling.
It's like when you're a kid and your parents take you to a smaller amusement park and you absolutely love it. Then, the next summer, you're a year older and they take you back to that place you loved and you walk in and go, "What the f***?" Everything just seems smaller. Less magnificent.
EW: There are so many ways that that feeling comes about. Not the Hot Fuzz town where I mostly grew up, but I spent some time in this coastal town called Swanage that I lived in until I was six. When I went back there—the biggest change—it was just smaller. I remember thinking that it seemed like I was in Gulliver's Travels. And, then, you just realize that it's just tiny.
The World's End opens in theaters on Friday, August 23rd. If you even mildly enjoyed Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, it's a must-see.