When the triumvirate of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright burst into American consciousness with their 2004 zombie-rom-com Shaun of the Dead, the cult hit established them as a three-headed, genre-bending geek super-team. The movie sent stateside viewers scrambling back to discover their previous collaboration, the TV series Spaced (which debuted in 1999 and aired for two seasons), and by the time their next movie, 2007's cop comedy Hot Fuzz, hit screens, the trio were entrenched as perhaps the greatest British bromance since John and Paul.
Wright, Pegg, and Frost retroactively branded their film collaborations the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy — without a shared story line, the only solid link between Shaun and Fuzz was a bit appearance by the British ice cream brand — and this weekend, the long-awaited third chapter in the series will debut stateside.
Each of their collaborations — beginning with Spaced — can be seen as a thematic chapter of a playful anthology about the long arc of a Gen-X dude's journey to semi-maturity. The World's End represents a graduation of sorts, as it finds the men making the leap across the great life chasm that is a 40th birthday and focuses on the pains of nascent middle age and the dangers of nostalgia.
The World's End has bits and inspirations from each of the three men's younger years, and though you'd be forgiven the mistaken impression that they've been friends since birth, it took until their mid-twenties for the trio to meet. Here is the story of those early days, both before the friendships locked into place, and then the heady first few years of their fledgling careers.
Those Heady Teenage Years In England...And Israel
Nick Frost: I had my 19th birthday sitting in the River Jordan, pissed out of my head, up near the headwaters near Mount Meron, up in the north of Israel.
Frost was in the midst of a two-year stint on a kibbutz in Israel, having retreated from a rough adolescence in East London; he dropped out of school at 15 to help support his ill parents, and needed a change.
NF: I was an 18-year-old kid with not much direction in the U.K., didn't really want to do anything. I had a friend called Brendan who had been on a kibbutz. He said, 'You should go, it'd be good for you.' So I went and I just loved it. It was like being in a labor camp. I'm an early riser, so I'm happy to get up early. You get up at 4:30, you do six hours of labor, and you're finished by noon. Perfect for me. You get the day off, there was a pub, you get all the free drinks you could want, free cigarettes. All my clothes were given to me. I liked the regimented life. I think I would have been all right in the army or prison. There's that thing about, you put your wash in on Tuesday, you get it back on Thursday. On Monday you get 200 cigarettes. You get three aerograms a week. I loved working on the land.
It was a big change from his previous party-hard lifestyle.
NF: I was a raver. I was a house kid. I think my first kind of party memories were being 16 and going to these big illegal raves in aircraft hangars in 1988. I loved the Stone Roses. I went to Spike Island when I was 17. I was a raver and an indie kid ... I went to the Hacienda, but I don't remember much about it. I remember sleeping in my mate Ian's Peugeot, because we had no money. We went up and had no money and we slept in his Peugeot for a bit, that's literally what I remember.
His future friends spent their teenage years in more domesticated, though no less formative, situations.
Edgar Wright: Here's the silly thing. I grew up six miles from the Glastonbury festival, and as a teenager, I never went. I think I was a bit square at that age, and if I'm completely honest, I was a little bit nervous about drugs. Because all I would hear is people talking about stories about going to Glastonbury and doing ecstasy, and then on the flip side, especially on the more conservative channels, you'd hear stories about people who died on ecstasy after drinking too much water. I remember thinking, I don't know if I want to do the ecstasy thing right now. I was definitely — as a teenager, at least — much more wary of drugs.
Simon Pegg: The 14th of February 1989, I was at university in Bristol, probably writing an essay on Woody Allen or something like that. It was the height of PC, I was probably a very conscientious young student, living in Bristol. I was still skateboarding, getting drunk and high and stuff, but I was doing it in academia, not living in the Middle East.
EW: I was already making amateur movies on Super 8, on video with my school friends. Maybe I was already out of college by then, but I used to kind of still go back to my hometown during college every holiday and hang out with my friends who I had been thick as thieves with as a teenager. The reason it's five friends in the movie is because I used to hang out with five friends in my hometown. I definitely used to drink a lot more than I do now, and I definitely used to go to the pub a lot more.
The World's End is about moving on from one's past life, and the guys — at their current ages — are split on whether they'd be friends with their 19-year-old selves, in the event that time travel could zap them here.
EW: I think yeah, I had the aspirations of what I was doing now, even then I was making lots of movies, and I made a low-budget movie when I was 20 [A Fistful of Fingers]. It's a very silly movie, and it was one of those things that was completely powered along by youthful naivety, because I think if I had thought about it any longer, it probably would have sort of completely collapsed. It was one of those things where I was very fortunate; it was complete luck that I got to make the movie in the first place. The only person who would give us any money to make a movie was a local newspaper editor who had seen my amateur movies and had just gotten some money from an inheritor, basically as a tax loss, he gave us £11,000 and we made the movie on that, until the money ran out.
SP: It was interesting when we got the boys to play our younger selves in this movie — they were such great guys, all of them. They were lovely, lovely boys, but hanging out with them, it was like, What do I say to you? It was like hanging out with my nephews or something. I hope that I would like me; I hope that if I met me, I'd like me in some way, or at least in a passing, sort of patronizing and affectionate way, but I'm not sure it's possible to be friends with people with whom you have such a vast gulf of different experience. I would hate to be 19 again.
NF: It's difficult to separate the two, because I still feel a lot of the same things he did. I'd say, "Don't be so fucking soft, don't be such a romantic. It doesn't feel nice to get your heart broken, you're not Woody Allen." But then we talk about this a lot, these last few weeks, because it's that weird thing with time traveling. If I changed anything, you might be sitting here with a giant hen. It changes things, if you were to change things up. I'd probably say, "Cheer up a bit, you fucking moody twat."
Ultimately, Frost — who intended to go to Israel for three months but wound up staying two years — was caught by Israeli authorities with a vastly overextended visa.
NF: Essentially I was given the choice, I could either get married or join the army. I didn't know any girls who I thought would marry me, and they wouldn't take me into the army because I was Catholic, so I decided I would go home. I met a nice Jewish girl named Cheryl — she was a Londoner, and I followed her home.
A Fateful Meeting, and Early Adventures in Comedy
When Frost returned to England, he went to work as a waiter at a Mexican restaurant called Chiquito's; fatefully, Pegg's then-girlfriend got a job at the chain taco joint when the couple moved to the Cricklewood section of North London. She introduced Simon and Nick, and the pair instantly hit it off.
Pegg says that he took his new friend under his wing, so to speak, and gave him an education in movies.
SP: For him, it was stuff like Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino, stuff like that. I was just done with doing a drama degree. I also took him out to comedy clubs because he wanted to be a stand-up comedian, so in that respect there were sort of things culturally that I brought to him.
NF: Yeah, I mean, it wasn't like My Fair Lady — we didn't sings songs about Woody Allen. Look, I was a different kid. I was a rugby player, I drank a lot, I hung out with big groups of men and we farted on one another and sprayed Deep Heat on each other's cocks. Even though I played a lot of sport, a lot of rugby, there was the other me where I'd come home and lock my room and get my Dungeons and Dragons figures out.
The thing that me and Simon bonded over, the little noise made by the mouse droid in Star Wars, I think we bonded so heavily over that because I had all these things that I watched and films that I watched and loved, and I thought, I can't tell anyone about it. No one else will get it. No one else gave a shit about Star Wars. So when he made that noise, it was like, I know exactly what you're doing! I think that's why it hit so hard.
SP: I always maintain that he educated me as much as I educated him ... He brought to me a huge amount of kind of wisdom and life experience, which he had in spades for someone so young. I was quite uptight when I was just out of university; I was very politically correct and sort of a bit staid. I'd been in a relationship with a girl for a long time and I lost a bit of my own identity, and Nick helped draw that back out again because he was such a force of nature.
Pegg had begun pursuing a career in stand-up comedy, and by the time he moved to London, he was on his way to making regular TV appearances and going on tour with stars such as Steve Coogan.
Eventually, Pegg convinced Frost to try his hand at the craft.
NF: Before I met Simon, I didn't realize that there was potentially a career out of being funny. For me it was something I used to make girls laugh or get tips as a waiter... I did 12 gigs. Six were pretty great, and six were terrible. Terrible! Even the good ones and the bad ones, I'd come off stage and I'd have the worst migraine in the world. It was having to get up in front of 100 people and tell jokes. It was a nightmare for me at that point.
SP: I think Nick could have been a good stand-up, but unfortunately, where he cut his teeth was in the absolute flames. I cut my teeth as a student amid friendlier crowds. I learned my craft, so by the time I was going out in front of more sort of unpredictable, potentially more difficult crowds, I had enough confidence to see me through.
NF: The six that were bad were so bad. They were terrible. At one, I kind of grabbed two blokes to fight them, because they got into a heckling war and I didn't know how to deal with it, so I jumped down and got a hold of them, and people got a hold of me and threw me out. I did another gig the day Lady Diana was killed, and obviously me and my fat mouth was there saying something that was awful — that was probably a minute and a half before I was heckled off.
SP: That's right. In the evening. Nobody was that happy that day ... I think somebody made a joke about Diana that night. Was it Nick? I think he went on with, "Jesus, who died?"
NF: I found it quite difficult that I was the funniest person in the restaurant I worked in, but that didn't necessarily equate to being the funniest person that these 100 people had ever seen. I think my problem was I was trying to be someone else. I hadn't found my own voice.
SP: Confidence is half the battle with stand-up. I've seen guys half as funny as other people storm audiences because they look like they know what they're doing. People you love offstage will go on to struggle onstage. That was it with Nick. He would lose the thing that makes him the funniest person I've ever met in my life, it would sort of fall away a little bit. He would act like a stand-up comic, and it would be like, that's not you, you're playing something now. And he would have nailed that if he kept going, but that was a hard thing to learn.
NF: I did a three-second gig. I was doing a day shift at the restaurant as a waiter, and the person who was going to take over for me was, like, an hour late, and so I was an hour late on my trip. And it was, like, an hour and a half across town and three separate buses to get to this gig. Pissing down rain. I got there late, I was fucking mad and moody, and when I walked in, there was an MC on stage and maybe 15 men all from the same soccer team, and they were just chanting at the MC and he was whipping them up into a killing frenzy. I came in and he literally saw me and introduced me straight away.
I came on, took the mic and said, "Hey, everyone!" And one of the soccer blokes, he said, "Fuck off, you fat cunt!" And it was the end of the day, so I just [put the mic back on the stand] and walked out and never came back. I was just done.
The Third Musketeer Arrives, And Spaced Takes Flight
After Pegg broke up with the girlfriend that had introduced him to Frost, the two friends became roommates; ultimately, they'd live together for eight years. Pegg continued at comedy, while Frost drove him to gigs and continued on waiting tables.
NF: I was good at it, I made good money, there were lots of cute waitresses, I could drink a lot. It was like my university.
SP: It makes me laugh now, when I look back at it. Now I have a child, and when I'm at home, there isn't a single moment of my day that is not active. I look back on it, like, what the fuck was I doing? What was I doing, when I didn't have any responsibilities or anything to do during the day? How did I fill it? I probably played computer games and went into town. It's really difficult to relate to that now. I can't imagine that time. I can't imagine anything more soul-destroying than having nothing to do.
Eventually, stand-up success would lead to TV roles for Pegg, giving him a modicum of fame. That's when Edgar Wright, four years his junior, entered his life.
SP: I found him kind of annoying. He came up to me in this comedy club and he'd seen me on TV and he said, "Hello," and I saw him again at something, and I remember thinking, Who is this guy? And he was kind of in our orbit, he was in our social circle suddenly, and I didn't know who he was or where he'd come from.
EW: Ha! It's because I was younger than he was; I think it's because he thought, Who's this kid? I met him at an after-party for Matt Lucas and David Walliams, the Little Britain guys, back in 1995. They used to do a show called Sir Bernard Chumley Is Dead & Friends. I met Matt Lucas at a comedy gig. And in fact, I wrote a script called Crawl at 21, and the reason I met him was because I said, "I've written this script and you'd be great in it," when he was 21 and I was 21. I never made that movie but I became friends with Matt and Dave.
Simon had been at college with David Walliams, so both he and Jessica Hynes [then Stevenson] were at this gig. I didn't know who Jessica was yet, but Simon I had seen on TV, maybe a couple of times, doing a routine about the West Country, which is where we are both from. So I went to say, "Hey, I saw you on the stand-up show, I'm from the West Country too." He was joking about regional news, and I knew exactly what he was talking about, and I said, "Hey, I saw your thing, it was really funny," and I'm pretty sure he was like, "Oh, yeah, yeah."
Walliams and Lucas invited Wright to direct their early series Mash and Peas. They were all part of the creative hive that was the Paramount Comedy Channel, which led to Wright directing a new series, Asylum, that featured Pegg and Jessica Stevenson.
SP: A few of the comedy people that had been attached to Asylum pulled out because they didn't like the idea of it treating mental health flippantly; they didn't really get the joke, so we lost a couple of performers, a couple of whom were female. I had worked with Jessica on a show called Six Pairs of Pants, and she had impressed me so much on that, I was completely in love with her as a performer and a person. I said to Edgar, "Look, I know this actress — she's not a comedian, but she's a brilliant actress." Because everyone else on that show was a comic, I said, "Why don't we see if Jess wants to do it?"
The answer was yes, and the end product — especially Wright's directing — impressed Pegg immensely.
EW: I was a little bit younger than them, and I think [Pegg] was like, This kid is directing? I think we got to know each other a little bit on Asylum, but the first time we'd really connected was at this wrap party. He had watched an episode and had seen it cut together and I remember it was really sweet, he came up to me and said, "You are a genius!" Maybe he wasn't sure that I knew what I was doing, and then when he watched it, it had taken him back, by the look of it.
Later, Paramount offered to develop a comedy around Stevenson and Simon, who had developed great chemistry on Asylum. The show would eventually become known as Spaced.
SP: We immediately thought of Edgar for the director. He brought his storyboards for the script to Jessica's house one day and he showed them to me, and I was just like, I'm going to work with this guy forever, because he just gets it.
EW: I just had taken their script, and I had just written and drawn lots of things into the margin. It was just sort of that I worked out the transitions and stuff. So I would draw these things and I said, "Oh, I thought this is a way of doing this" or, "I think this could be a transition to that." A lot of the stuff that's in the show, transitions between scenes, I had drawn them out, which I think they weren't expecting.
Simon would star as Tim, a slacker and aspiring comic book artist not far from his own personality. He asked Frost — who had no acting experience — to co-star as Mike, a wannabe military hero with a love of firearms; it was a character he often assumed far from any camera, just to get some laughs out of his roommate.
NF: They had to lie to the producers, because the commission and editors didn't know who I was — I had never done anything, I had never acted. They said, "Who's this Nick Frost?" Now, fortunately, there was another Nick Frost who was an actor, so they showed him that guy in Spotlight and they said, "Yeah, OK, fine." He was a big, tall guy. I was lucky.
EW: The scripts they had written were really good, and what I wanted to do was add an extra layer of the characters using pop culture as escapism. They're in a mundane, shitty apartment, but their escape is to kind of think in fantasy terms.
NF: I think for the first couple of weeks I never imagined anything would happen, until it got to the point that someone from the production team phoned me up and said, "Hey, just wanted to let you know that there's a table read next week." I was like, "What? What are you saying to me? What's a table read?" That was it, really. I remember the first table read, you do that thing where there's 30 people around the table, probably another 40 listening to it, and Nira Park, who's our producer, she stands up and says, "Hi, everyone, I'm Nira, I'm the producer," and you have to go around the table introducing yourself and telling everyone what your role and your character was. I just traced it all the way and it was just three away, two away, and I could remember hearing my heart through my fucking ears.
The character for me wasn't the problem; the problem was thinking, There are people watching me do this. That was my issue. I was embarrassed, you know, I thought, I'm not a big show-off, and I felt like I was showing off. But the more you do it, you just get better at it. Edgar told a story that I'd forgotten, he essentially came and gave me some notes and said, "I want you to do this one this way," and I whispered in his ear, "I'm not an actor."
Hometown Heroes? Not Exactly
After Spaced came Shaun of the Dead and then Hot Fuzz, along with several of their own projects, like Paul for Pegg and Frost; Star Trek for Pegg; and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World for Wright. Despite their great success, they haven't headed home to bask in their glories.
SP: I grew up in a town called Gloucester, where my mom still lives; I'm really trying to get her to come and live next door to me, so she can look after my daughter when me and my wife want to go out. No, I'd like her to come a little bit closer because she travels up to us a lot. But when I go home to see her, I realize that home as you knew it is a time, it's not a place. When you return to where you grew up, it isn't still where you grew up, it's somewhere else now. There's an odd sense of ennui you get when you feel at once familiar and distant from it.
It's like a relative with Alzheimer's disease: It's like going back and having someone you know not recognize you. And there's a strange sense of sadness and dissolution that we — both Edgar and myself — picked up on, going back to the West Country to shoot Hot Fuzz.
EW: Sadly, my parents moved away. They retired and they moved out of the area, so I have no link, no other family there. I used to go back a lot. I moved to London when I was 20 to edit [A Fistful of Fingers] — the first year after I left, I went back three times: summer, Easter, and Christmas. Then the next year, maybe just Christmas. Then the next year, I didn't go back. And every time I went back, I start to realize, as a teenager you go to lots of pubs and you think you're a local legend, everyone knows you here. You come back and realize you had zero impact on your town. It's not like you never left; it's like you were never there.
I remember saying to a friend of mine, about how I always feel so alienated in my hometown whenever I go back, I feel like I don't belong here anymore, and I remember saying to my friend, "Every time I go home, it feels like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, like they've replaced everybody in my hometown." And that comment sort of stuck.
SP: I don't have any contact with most of my school friends. A couple I still talk to and see, and occasionally we'll go out and have a meal, but those meals tend to be full of conversations about the past, because it's a chance to reminisce. There's nothing wrong with that. I don't really have any connection to my hometown, no. I left there when I was 16, so I've been away from it for over half my life.
Hot Fuzz was shot in Wright's hometown of Gloucestershire; an action comedy about a tough and emotionally distant cop who is farmed out to a seemingly sleepy village called Sanford, it proved a strange and eye-opening experience for the writer/director.
EW: In the script, Sanford had been written as a very timeless and rural and an idyllic place, and I thought, Yeah, kind of like Wells, where I grew up ... We can shoot there, that's amazing. And then there's one shot where Nicolas Angel is riding on the street on a horse, and then it's like, There's a Starbucks right in the middle of the shot.
In the last episode of Spaced, Pegg says, "The family of the 21st century is made up of friends." That has proven prophetic.
SP: I look at that and try to put my finger on what [has kept him, Wright, and Frost together], and I think it's possibly because we've become like family. The relationship we have with Edgar and Nira, our producer, and also Eric Fellner at Working Title, is a kind of familiar one. We are each other's home base. We'll go off and do other stuff and work with other people, but ultimately, we always reconvene together. And that's what forms the basis of our working relationship, a friendship. I think that's why we will always work together.