The idea for a buddy road trip comedy involving an alien is something Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead ) have been kicking around for years. It had been on the back burner while they went on to make Hot Fuzz, and now finally the long gestating notion of two British comic book/alien-loving geeks traveling around America visiting the most famous 'alien encounter' locations comes to the big screen with Paul, directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad).
Frost and Pegg have done a zombie film (which was actually a parody of romantic comedies), an action/cop movie, and now a sci-fi adventure. But it's not like they're moving down a checklist ticking off one genre before moving on to the next. No, Pegg says that actually what they're doing is simply making the films they want to see. And together at the SXSW Film Festival, Pegg and Frost talked about the latest film they want to see, and that they hope audiences will be equally as enthusiastic about: Paul.
On the pop culture references in Paul:
Simon Pegg: "It's never planned. We don't have a checklist of things to mention. Basically, our frame of reference is popular culture, so whenever we liken something to something else, all our metaphors and similes come from popular culture. So we go into a bar and it's a little bit scary and we'll go, 'Oh, it's like the [Star Wars] cantina.' Or I was running away from these guys and it was like The Matrix. We sort of immediately go to those touchstones in order to create our reference palette. That's why the references are there. There are more probably than I realize in there. We're making a film that has obvious progenitors and we don't want to pretend that we're somehow being completely original. This film owes a lot to other films."
Nick Frost: "Also, Graeme and Clive live in that world, too, where they are big fans of Star Wars and Close Encounters. So, in many ways, their points of reference are ours."
Simon Pegg: "We wanted to acknowledge that this film is, in many ways, a tribute to our own love for this kind of cinema, and as such we are saying, 'Yes, we know those films exist.'"
On the films that inspired them:
Nick Frost: "Close Encounters, that and E.T. I know that Simon and Edgar [Wright] watched quite a lot of those kind of films to get Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz where it was. We kind of knew what we wanted for this. We've been watching Star Wars. How many times have we been watching it together? Lots and lots, so we kind of had a rich palette to draw from. We were kind of ready to go. But, for me, Close Encounters and Star Wars kind of defined my childhood and my move kicking and screaming into adulthood."
Simon Pegg: "For Shaun of the Dead, we had to watch a lot of those movies because we had to learn how to make one. We had to watch a lot of well-structured films to figure out how to make our own kind of movie. We were coming from TV, which was a different discipline. For Hot Fuzz we watched a lot of action films because we wanted to learn the lexicon of action cinema so we could speak it fluently in the context of a British village. That film was more of a satire because it was taking on those grand themes from American action cinema and putting it into different context. With Paul, we kind of felt like we already knew all that stuff. That was already in our subconscious. What we needed to do was drive across America in an RV, and that's the research we did for Paul. So, cinematically speaking, all the references come from the subconscious love of that kind of cinema."
"I watched Back to the Future recently and realized how much that film had inspired Paul in terms of structurally and the way that the tension accumulates and the additional threats as you go, and the fact that it starts with a clock."
On the influence of Easy Rider on their film:
Simon Pegg: "The scene around the fireplace is kind of like Easy Rider, you know, where they're sitting around smoking a joint. Easy Rider and Duel are playing as a double bill at the theater. When we walk up the street with Paul dressed as a cowboy, we were just about to pass by the courthouse where Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, and Dennis Hopper meet. So there's a big Easy Rider thing going on there, yeah."
On their perception of America from their roadtrip:
Simon Pegg: "We live in a country where you can travel end to end in a day. There is no RV culture at home because you don't need one. You can get to the hotel in the south to a hotel in the north in a day, if you want. Whereas America is the size of Europe and yet there are no borders. It's essentially 50 different countries, although you speak pretty much the same language and share a similar cultural heritage. But, it is a place where you can drive and drive and drive, and it just blew our minds, didn't it?"
Nick Frost: "Also, we're not new to America. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, all our cultural touchstones were American. In many ways we knew this country as well as our own. What we didn't know is a) how big it is, and also the geographical diversity of it, and how utterly beautiful it is. We had a day called 'Wow Day' where every ridge we went over was amazing. We have a place called the Lake Districts at home, which is a local beauty spot, and you can never be alone there. You get there and there's like a thousand cars in the car park. But there were days when we were utterly alone in a landscape which, perhaps, no one else has looked at for 200 years."
Simon Pegg: "We had an RV that was about a 100 times better than that one [in Paul] to do our actual trip. It was modern and beautiful, and we killed it in nine days. Imagine doing that in a car."
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Paul hits theaters on March 18, 2011.