The new sci-fi comedy Paul originated with screenwriters, stars and long-time chums Simon Pegg and Nick Frost taking the piss, really. Sitting in a soggy English backyard while rain delayed the filming of their much-loved zombie rom-com Shaun of the Dead, the duo’s producer Nira Park suggested that next time they might want to come up with a story set in a location where the weather wouldn’t play havoc with the shooting schedule.
Quick as you like, Pegg reeled off a location (the desert), a storyline (two British guys find an alien and help him get home) and a central character (“Oh, and the alien’s name is Paul, because he’s so very normal,” smiles Pegg). Then he whipped up a quick sketch of said alien…flipping the bird, no less.
Seven years later, with Pegg and Frost’s other frequent collaborator, director Edgar Wright, off making Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, the two lads decided to bring together a cast of geek-friendly icons (everyone from Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman to Alien’s Sigourney Weaver), a respected director (Greg Mottola of Superbad and Adventureland fame) and a CGI extra-terrestrial with the unmistakable voice of Seth Rogen to create Paul, a road-movie comedy that also serves as a tribute to the films loved by Pegg and Frost.
While Paul may at first glance seem like the kind of project just right for Wright, Pegg believes the movie is better suited to Mottola, whose career has combined low-key indie pictures and mainstream comedies.
“While Shaun of the Dead was something Edgar and I developed together and Hot Fuzz was Edgar’s thing, where I came along for the ride, Paul was always mine and Nick’s thing,” says Pegg. “It was something Nick and I had together, away from Edgar. I don’t think his style really suited this film – we needed it to have a less fantastic, more laid-back style. If the film had been stylistically intricate, Paul himself would have looked less amazing. One of our pitches was [Mottola’s debut feature] ‘Daytrippers with an alien’. And then when we saw Superbad, it became a one-choice situation. He turned what could have been just a profane screwball comedy into something quite lovely by the restrained approach he took.”
Pegg and Frost are known as quite the team, having collaborated on Spaced, Shaun, Fuzz and the upcoming Peter Jackson-Steven Spielberg adaptation of Tintin as well as Paul, but they have also worked separately. One has to wonder if they ever surprise each other when they reunite after a long absence (it was three years between Hot Fuzz and Paul), and how their creative relationship develops as a result.
“Part of the reason our friendship is so long-lived is that I am constantly surprised by Simon, even though I know every atom in his form,” says Frost. “There will always be something he does, even when it’s just us hanging out, that makes me go ‘Oh, that’s fucking great’.”
Says Pegg, “I actually notice Nick more watching him in something like The Boat That Rocked than when we’re working together…”
“That’s because you stifle me!” mock-wails Frost.
“When we’re acting together, we play off each other and our performances are dependant – we use the chemistry we have,” continues Pegg. “But I love watching Nick’s work as an audience member. I’m like his biggest fan. His work makes me laugh like I don’t know him but at the same time I’m really proud because I do know him.”
“I think we’re quite aware as performers and writers that the ‘bromance’ shit is only going to last so long,” adds Frost. “And I think Paul is the starting point of us evolving towards what we’ll do for the next 10 years, 15 years or however long our working relationship goes on. We can’t be those characters forever. You have to evolve to survive or people will get bored. And I’d hate that to happen.”