Nerd, dad, superstar
PUBLISHED: 12:06 28 July 2015 | UPDATED: 15:27 11 August 2015
AP/Press Association Images
Hertfordshire's Simon Pegg has risen from cult TV to key roles in some of the film industry's biggest film franchises. But he says it's family, not work, that drives him on
Once upon a time, Simon Pegg was everybody’s favourite underdog. Read anything about him and more often than not you would see the phrase ‘self-confessed nerd’ in there somewhere. Yet that reputation is in danger of looking outdated. Yes, there’s still something of the everyman about the 45-year-old; the type personified in cult Channel 4 comedy series Spaced and hit films Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End. But with his latest roles he has become an action star in some of the film industry’s biggest franchises. Pegg is showing a different side. The British actor has been rubbing shoulders with A-listers on some of Hollywood’s biggest projects, including Mission Impossible and Star Trek.
Sitting on a couch at the Soho Hotel, London, in an unassuming black t-shirt and jeans, he looks much more physically imposing than the Pegg of Run, Fatboy, Run. ‘I was in training for Mission Impossible, which I actually quite enjoy these days,’ he explains, clearly surprised at his own enthusiasm. ‘I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m certainly a little more useful than I was in the last movie! I get more involved.’
Such is his stature in LA that there is even talk of him being involved in the new notoriously secret upcoming Star Wars film; potentially making it a hat trick of high-profile franchises for the Gloucester-born actor.
‘That’s just a rumour. Everybody thinks because I’m friends with (Star Wars: The Force Awakens director) J J Abrams, it means I’ll automatically be in Star Wars. But that’s not to say I won’t be...’ he grins.
Pegg is at a loss to explain where it all went so right. ‘I’m more surprised than anyone else,’ he laughs. ‘This was not my career plan, because I didn’t have one. Things just sort of happen and you go with it. And something else happens and you go with that too. And somehow you find yourself in a place where you think, “How did that happen?”’
The upshot of his latest roles is inevitably an increased level of fame. Pegg has always enjoyed a committed cult fandom, principally from Spaced, but nothing prepared him for true red-carpet status.
‘A bit of a strange feeling to have,’ is how he describes celebrity, and you know you’ve reached peculiar levels when Tom Cruise is a good friend. Is he on Pegg’s speed dial? ‘Not mine. I mean, I could be on his (laughs). Maybe.’ Late night trans-Atlantic correspondence from the Top Gun star is not unusual though; ‘From time to time I’ll get an email from him, and it will be the middle of the night and my wife will be like, “Turn off the light!” and I’m frantically typing, ‘I can’t, it’s Tom’.”
Pegg recognises that he’s not in the same stratosphere as Cruise – ‘he’s a star, I’m not’ – but then he doesn’t aspire to be. Fame for fame’s sake doesn’t interest him. ‘A lot of people see it as an end in itself and fame should never be seen as that. It’s a product of something; an outcome of something that you have to deal with.’
He describes the effect of fame as ‘like radiation is to people who work in a nuclear power plant’, which he admits might be a bit of a ‘heavy’ analogy, but one he is happy to run with. ‘It’s something you have to contend with that isn’t necessarily a positive thing. That said, fame can also be extremely positive, unlike radiation,’ he laughs. ‘Sometimes you get special help in shops, or you get free stuff or people are nice for no reason. But it can make crowds very different and you can’t go into pubs any more. There are pros and cons to it. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.’
Don’t mistake this for the ungrateful grumblings of a celebrity, however. ‘My job is something I love but it’s very important to have a life as well. If you don’t have a life, all you are is work. Genuinely, I love work, and I feel lucky to have it and I enjoy it. If going from job to job makes you happy, you are a success. If you are unhappy, because all you do is work, you aren’t a success. Success is built on entire happiness. You could be the richest person on earth and be suicidal or be shovelling donkey s**t and loving it and be happy as a result.’
Success, Pegg insists, is now measured ‘by how happy I am, not what I can do or who I work with’. Part of this philosophy was leaving London to move to the Hertfordshire countryside near Hertford with his wife, music publicist Maureen, and their daughter Matilda. It is this, and not Hollywood, that has become the centre of his world. ‘What really matters to me is my home life, having somewhere stable and loving to go back to. I’m quite traditional. I love being married and having a kid. I love being a dad and all that comes with that.’
It turns out Matilda could be a chip off the old block, something which pleases Pegg immensely.
‘It’s probably the best bit of being a parent, when you go see your kid in a school play,’ he grins. ‘Tilly played Mary in the nativity, I can’t even describe it, the whole rope round the head, she was Mary. I was so proud. Even when she was bashing baby Jesus’ head against the stage to the music, I was so proud. That’s my girl.’
All this suggests that if Tom Cruise suddenly stopped emailing and Hollywood forgot to answer his calls, Pegg would be more than happy with his lot.
‘Absolutely,’ he confirms. ‘I mean, I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that but in this game, it’s more than possible. But I’m so lucky. My job would be my hobby if it wasn’t my job. The way I see it, as long as people are happy to see the films I make, then great. And when they don’t, I’ll just go back to amateur drama.’ A noble sentiment, but the county’s am-dram clubs shouldn’t get too excited – Hollywood isn’t finished with Mr Pegg just yet. >>>
See Simon Pegg in Man Up in cinemas now, and Absolutely Anything from August 14.