Interview: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost from “Paul”
Interview: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost from “Paul”

The Massie Twins recently got to sit down with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for an exclusive interview to discuss their newest movie “Paul,” in theaters March 18th, 2011.

The Massie Twins: What inspired you to do this project, and how did Greg Mottola get involved as opposed to your regular creative counterpart Edgar Wright?

Nick Frost: What inspired us was essentially a lot of rain. We were shooting Shaun of the Dead and the weather was terrible. It was May back home, so we got hammered by the rain. We were standing under a tent getting rained on, and our producer said, “Wouldn’t it be great to make a film where it didn’t rain?” And that was that. We came up the idea to shoot in a desert, which became Nevada, which became Area 51 because of our love of UFO mythology, which led to Paul. His name was the first thing we came up with because it made us laugh that it was so normal. It stuck and was the only thing that never changed. There was ten minutes or so when we were gonna call him Fudge.

Simon Pegg: Even though he was gray and like every alien you’ve ever seen, he was just very regular and that became the defining point of the film – being alien. But it wasn’t Paul that was the alien, it was Graeme and Clive, these two British tourists who hook up with this mercurial figure in this Ferris Bueller sense that helps them become more human – the irony being that he’s not human. Our initial idea was to make an indie road movie, so we wanted an American director. We didn’t do it until Edgar went off to do Scott Pilgrim.

NF: Now what are we going to do? (laughs)

SP: (laughs) Exactly. Edgar likes to be in things from the very beginning and this had always been Nick’s idea and mine, so we’d agreed that we’d work with someone else. You know an Edgar Wright film when you see it – he’s almost in it because it’s so visual and kinetic. This film didn’t need or want that; it had to be more restrained, laid back, less hyper. If you saw Paul in an Edgar Wright film, he’d fit, because the style is so hyper-real.

NF: Paul could have been one of the cool kids in Scott Pilgrim.

SP: We wanted to offset the extraordinary appearance of Paul (we always wanted it to be CG) with a very mundane, bleached out interior of America – landscapes, gas stations, RVs – Gollum in Little Miss Sunshine.

MT: We’ve been to Comic-Con and it’s an absolute madhouse. How did you approach the filming of those scenes?

NF: We didn’t film there at all. We tried. Greg spoke to the fire marshal of San Diego and his exact words were, “No fucking way.” So we shot the exteriors in San Diego a month after the Con had finished and the interiors were built in a convention center in Albuquerque. We were lucky enough that a lot of the guys who show there stuff at Comic-Con came down and set their stands up.

SP: We shot it just after Comic-Con, so they literally went from there to Albuquerque. We had Sideshow Collectibles, Image Comics, Omni Press and a lot of Scott Pilgrim stuff. We recreated a very faithful Comic-Con.

MT: So they wouldn’t even let you film in Hall H?

SP: No, no. People get stabbed in there!

NF: We were lucky they let us use their font. We’ve been to Comic-Con a bunch of times and I think it would ruin it for normal Comic-Con goers to have a big film set there. If I was there and wasn’t allowed to go through certain areas because someone was shooting there, I’d be furious. You’d get attacked by a big rubber axe.

SP: It’s been hijacked by the film industry enough already, so filming there would be a push too far.

MT: Do Arrested Development and Saturday Night Live actors come in packaged deals?

SP: Arrested Development obviously became a hotbed of talent that people wanted to work with, as well some of the best American comedians.

NF: They’re mates, so they want to work together.

SP: With SNL, it just so happened that we new Bill Hader, who played in an effects test that we did, so we wrote Haggard for Bill. The studio suggested Kristen Wiig. We didn’t know who we were going to cast for Ruth. SNL doesn’t come to the UK, but we’d seen her steal scenes in Knocked Up. She’s the most amazing, funniest person ever. That’s where the people we love came from. We’re big fans of those shows – we are now, anyway – I get SNL sent to me every week. Joe Lo Truglio we’d seen in Superbad, and just loved that role.

NF: I think Greg helped a lot too, because he’d worked with a lot of them before.

MT: How was the green screen work and working with Paul, or rather the lack of Paul? Was Seth Rogen there the whole time?

NF: We didn’t really do traditional green screen work. We didn’t know what we were doing.

SP: Double Negative had an idea – they’re an Oscar-winning effects company in London. We wanted a very talkative, conversational kind of film. We had to figure out how that was done. We worked with Seth for about three weeks in Culver City with a motion capture suit doing the whole film on video, getting used to his presence. We worked with all the usual stuff, including the lighting, puppets, animatronics, small actors, balls, sticks and tennis shoes. Key to all of this was Jo Lo Truglio who came and did all of Paul’s lines, so we had an actor who we could evolve the script with.

MT: Was the script written with Seth Rogen in mind?

NF: It’s difficult to say because the idea had been around for so long… but… it wasn’t. We do this thing when we’re writing where we’ll act out the stuff. Some of the things sound great on the page but when you act it out it sounds weird or the melody of it is wrong. Whenever we did Paul we’d do an old guy voice. We thought, “maybe Rip Torn.” That’s what we thought throughout the writing. When we got to casting, the studio wanted someone who was more comedy relevant. We made a list and they made a list and Seth was on both. It made perfect sense. Seth essentially has the voice of a very old man. But he also brings a great set of comedy credentials and he’s a great improviser.

SP: It’s a testament to how good a job he did when I forget he’s in the film. When people ask who’s in the movie, I constantly list everyone apart from Seth. I don’t see Seth, I see Paul, and when Seth talks I say, “Why are you speaking like Paul?” I’ll be forever in his debt for doing such a beautiful job. He watched a lot of Neil Young and tried to be “actively laid back.” Seth added a bit of himself in there as well. Paul has Seth’s teeth, actually.

NF: It’s a performance.

MT: How did the design for Paul come about?

SP: From the very beginning we agreed he’d be ordinary. We didn’t want to put him in any marketing material and naively wanted him to be a surprise. We almost wanted him to be a disappointment. In fact, there was a version of the script when Clive faints instead of laughing and says, “Actually, I’m kind of disappointed.” And it was because we wanted this idea that Paul had come to earth around 1947 and had watched some television and decided to become an advisor on contemporary science-fiction and also part of a government sponsored program to acclimatize the human race to his face. The reason he looks familiar and we know what he can do is because he influenced it. Paul told Steven Spielberg to make E.T. heal people. V eats birds because Paul eats birds. Mr. Miyagi claps his hands because Paul claps his hands – not science-fiction, but he had a wide reach (laughs).

We asked Double Negative if Paul could look like every alien we’ve ever seen before. They took that idea and made an oddly unique little character. They couldn’t do black eyes, because you can’t emote with black eyes, so they made these amazing structures instead. They played with his skin tone, his muscles, everything. It’s like the design we’ve seen a hundred times but how it would look if it were actually real. And that’s what we wanted.