In certain circles, “from the creators of Shaun of the Dead” are powerful, powerful words. Rejoice, fans of smart, sharp, genre-tweaking comedy: Hot Fuzz -- the latest from writer-director Edgar Wright, cowriter-star Simon Pegg, and costar-slacker extraordinare Nick Frost -- is a worthy follow-up for the ever-growing cult of Shaun. Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a London supercop whose makes-everyone-else-look-bad ways get him shunted to a small town, where crime is limited to underage drinking and escaped swans. Or is it? Hot Fuzz apes British cop shows as well as American blockbusters that take law enforcement to ridiculously explosive levels, including Point Break, Lethal Weapon, and Bad Boys II. Recently, I sat down with cinema’s coolest trio du jour (apologies to Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, and Rose McGowan) to get the buzz on Fuzz.
San Francisco Bay Guardian: Grindhouse and Hot Fuzz are both films that pay homage to -- while reinventing -- certain genre conventions. Why do you think this trend is so popular with filmmakers right now?
Edgar Wright: I think they tap into the moviegoing experiences that really excited you when you were younger, and maybe the reason you’re excited about movies in the first place. In the same way that Quentin and Robert are trying to recreate a cinemagoing experience they had when they were young, [Hot Fuzz] is inspired by growing up on a diet of cop and action films, lots of American films but no British ones. So it’s also kind of a desire to redress the balance.
Cops Frost and Pegg swan around in Hot Fuzz.
SFBG: Why do you think there are no British cop films?
EW: Because British cops aren’t cool [laughs]. In a filmic sense, American cops are packing heat, which makes them cooler than British cops.
SFBG: Hot Fuzz is a comedy, sometimes to the point of parody -- but it’s also a legitimate action movie. Were you consciously aiming for this duality?
EW: I suppose it’s a similar thing to Shaun of the Dead, trying to make a film within a genre that happens to be funny. The characters and situations are funny, but the storyline of Hot Fuzz, you could probably just about play straight if you wanted to, but it’s really [Frost’s character, Danny Butterman] and Angel’s relationship that makes it funny, and also the events unfolding and the location that it’s in -- an idyllic, quiet, rural area and you’ve got increasingly bombastic carnage erupting.
SFBG: Most of Hot Fuzz’s shoot actually took place in Wells, the town where you grew up. How was the experience of filming on your home turf?
EW: It was very strange, but I think in the end it was very helpful because I was a hometown boy. I could probably get away with a bit more murder.
Simon Pegg: I think you’ll get the keys to the city.
SFBG: The film features several British acting luminaries, including Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Billie Whitelaw, Paul Freeman, and Edward Woodward. How was it working with them?
Nick Frost: It was amazing having them on set for the first time, because actors prepare in different ways before a scene starts. Timothy was very vocal. You’d know he was on-set because you’d hear someone off in the corner going “BAP! BAPPITY-BOO! LA-LA! WHOOOAA!” Preparing. I'm not a young man, but I'm a young actor, so seeing these people who have been giants in the film and television industry for years, you realize there’s a reason they’re as good as they are. Just watching them work was really nice.
SP: Of course we wanted to work with good actors, and I think we really lucked out with the cast. Jim had asked us after Shaun of the Dead if we’d consider putting him in a film, which was one of the stupidest questions I’ve ever been asked. So we immediately went and wrote [the character of] Frank Butterman for Jim, who is the nicest man in the world and a fantastic actor. They all are. It was a relief to have all them on set and to find them to be utterly professional and likeable. For us as film geeks, we were also seeing Mrs. Baylock from The Omen, Prince Barin from Flash Gordon, Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Sergeant Howie from the original Wicker Man -- it was a real thrill for us to be working alongside them.
SFBG: Considering Shaun’s popularity, do you think people were surprised that you didn’t make another horror movie, or a sequel?
EW: I think, because every film takes three years essentially to make, it would be -- you know, to spend six years of our lives on the same idea would have been a mistake. We have so many stories to tell that you just want to keep moving on.
NF: Most of the [Shaun] characters died, as well.
I walked like a zombie: Shaun of the Dead's cast.
SP: Plus, I don’t think we wanted to be specifically tied to one genre -- even if we do comedies every time -- and be known as the horror guys, the guys who do horror comedy. We are essentially comics but it would be nice to flip between genres and types of film, and types of comedy as well.
NF: [Interjects, jokingly incredulous] There’s more than one type of comedy?
SP: [Deadpan] Yeah. What’s interesting is, the dynamic of Shaun of the Dead is different to Hot Fuzz. [Shaun] is still working within a genre, but we’re not really commenting on it or parodying it. The genre is part of the setting. It’s not a comedy about zombies, it’s a zombie film that happens to be a comedy. The kind of mythology of the zombie film is completely intact with no comment about it whatsoever. It’s just there as a context. Whereas with Hot Fuzz, we do make parody here and there of some of the more outlandish conventions of action cinema. But nevertheless, people are now calling us the genre guys, and the question we get asked the most is, “You’ve done zombies, you’ve done cops, what’s next?” People just assume it’s going to be period drama or sci-fi.
NF: Or cowboys.
SFBG: Romantic comedy?
SP: Romantic comedy is Shaun of the Dead. If we were spoofing anything in Shaun of the Dead, that was it.
SFBG: And you have some cowboy-ish moments in Hot Fuzz...
SP: Yep, High Plains Drifter.
SFBG: Would you ever do just a straight-up comedy?
EW: It depends on what the story was. The theme isn’t everything if you haven’t got a hook or an angle on it that you want to do.
SP: Shaun of the Dead happened because we got to a period in our lives where Nick and I were spending a hell of a lot of time in this one pub, and we just kind of didn’t want to do anything else. Our respective partners were getting a bit bored of having to go to the same place all the time because we just loved going there. And while we were there, we’d sometimes go, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if there were zombies outside, and we were in here with all the beer -- wouldn’t that be brilliant?” So the story really evolved before the concept. I think rather than those kind of one-dimensional parody films where they simply go from joke to joke, and hope that some will stick, our approach is to try and make a story with characters you care for so you can have moments without any jokes and still enjoy it.
SFBG: It’s not Scary Movie.
NF: Ew. Can you underline that in the article?
SP: That was the hard thing with Shaun of the Dead -- because it was in the horror genre, they kind of wanted to market it like a Scary Movie film. We had to fight some of the poster designs because they made it look like it was just, wacky-wacky-doo-dah.
Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do?
SFBG: I was watching the trailers before Hills Have Eyes 2, and someone yelled out “Shaun of the Dead!” when the Hot Fuzz preview came on.
SP: I don’t think Hot Fuzz would have been such an easy sell over here if it had been our first film, because even though it ends up being much more American than Shaun of the Dead is, it’s also much more British than Shaun of the Dead is. What we’re kind of hoping is that the groundswell of support for that film, which seemed to take place mainly on DVD, will be the thing that brings people to Hot Fuzz. I’ve been amazed at how many people have seen Shaun of the Dead.
EW: There’s always a few people who recognize you on the street.
SFBG: What do people say when they see you on the street?
NF: [Noo Yawk accent] Hey, Shaun of the Dead, right here!
SP: I ran into someone on the Sunset Strip who was wearing a Shaun of the Dead t-shirt. He was a bit stunned, and so was I.
Hot Fuzz opens Fri/20 in Bay Area theaters.