Whether he’s storming Hollywood, dog-breeding for Beatles or comparing fame to radiation, there’s no doubt homegrown funnyman Simon Pegg is full of surprises
“I’m having a franchise year this year,” Simon Pegg snorts, throwing his hands behind his head. A chilly breeze whistles through an open window of the bright London hotel suite we meet in. He’s looking bulkier than usual, in a black tee and dark jeans; his biceps defined, sinewy veins running along his forearms.
“There’s Mission: Impossible 5, that’s coming to an end soon. And then Star Trek 3 [which Pegg is also co-writing] should go on ’til the summer. So yeah, I’m all about the franchise it seems.”
Not least with rumours of a star part in J.J. Abrams’ forth-coming Star Wars chapter?
“Well, that’s just a rumour,” he replies, flatly. “Everybody thinks that, because I’m friends with J.J. and he’s producing Mission and directed Star Trek I’ll automatically be in Star Wars, too.”
He clears his throat. “That’s not to say I won’t be. I’m just annoyed by the rumour.”
Leading roles in two big budget epics, rumours of a third; a sure sign the Gloucester-raised actor has truly made it.
“If you ever think you’ve ‘made it’, that’s when the trouble starts. I don’t think I ever will.
“I do like a good rumour though… The funniest was definitely Nick Frost and I breeding golden retrievers and selling one to Paul McCartney on the strict proviso that he call it Colin. Now that was pretty impressive. I’m actually kicking myself I didn’t frame it now.”
Indeed, Pegg still seems slightly disbelieving of his success. His 2010 memoir probably put it best with a three-word title: Nerd Do Well. Starting out on the stand-up circuit, his break, along with best friend Nick Frost, came with the quirky comedy series Spaced, before the pair hit big with zombie classic Shaun of the Dead.
His performance caught the eye of Abrams, who cast Pegg as snap, crackle techie whizz Benji Dunn in Mission: Impossible 3 opposite Tom Cruise, before moving onto the Lost creator’s revision of Star Trek. Simon took on the iconic role of Scottie, and his LA status was sealed. He’s since worked with Spielberg (Tintin), Tarantino (Grindhouse), has Cruise on speed dial, and is widely considered one of the country’s best comic exports, alongside Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan.
According to Pegg, however, none of this equates success.
“I love my job,” he says, “It’d be my hobby if it wasn’t my job. Sometimes I forget it’s my job and I say yes to things and then my agent says, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were doing this?’ And I think, ‘Oh yeah, I’m supposed to get paid for it.’
“But I’ve started measuring my success by how happy I am, not just what I can do or who I work with. What really matters to me is my home life. Having somewhere stable and loving to go back to.
“I’ve realised more in the last few years that I’m quite traditional. I love being married and having a kid. I love all that stuff. And that’s the most important thing to me. As long as I’ve got that, I can go to work and really enjoy my job.”
Married to music exec Maureen McCann, the couple moved in 2012 – with five-year-old Tilly and miniature schnauzer Minnie – to the sleepy Hertfordshire town of Hatfield after nine years in Crouch End.
“I wanted a more countrified existence. Somewhere that was a little quieter than what we were used to, a little more still.”
And is he missing city life at all?
“Well, it’s difficult to miss London when I still spend so much time there. Especially when I’m still less than 25 minutes away. And most of my last films have all been shot in the city: Absolutely Anything and Man Up. A lot of Mission: Impossible too [both Cruise and Pegg have been spotted filming the high octane sequel in locations including Piccadilly Circus and Camden Lock]. So I’m hardly pining.”
In breezy new romantic release Man Up, he plays a lovelorn soul, caught up in the confusion of blind date mistaken identity with statuesque beauty Lake Bell.
“It’s one of those scripts that you understand and identify with immediately because it’s personable and warm. And real. You don’t get that many these days which are actually about real people.”
While their chemistry fizzes on screen, some of the Capital’s most loved landmarks – the London Eye, the Millennium Bridge – provide a hazy, affectionate backdrop.
“We had a great time, shooting all over the city. It was almost guerrilla-style. One day on the South Bank, the next day down at Westminster. We were shooting scenes in Tube stations with people just milling around us. Looking at us, sure, but generally nonplussed.”
Does this ever sit unwell with the actor? Folk staring; feeling well-known?
“Yes and no. It’s a weird thing. 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.
“I describe it as what radiation is to people who work in a nuclear power plant. It’s something you have to contend with that isn’t necessarily a positive thing. Although fame can be extremely positive – unlike radiation.
“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 anymore. There are pros and cons to it. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
Really? Few people in his position have compared fame to radiation… “Am I the first?” he chuckles. “Well, that just makes me proud then, because I think it’s quite a suitable analogy. Perhaps a little dramatic…
“But don’t get me wrong, things are good. Real good. I’m not saying it’s perfect and I’m perfect, but it’s all working for me so I shouldn’t complain. The way I see it, as long as people are happy to see the films I make, then great. And when they aren’t, I’ll just go back to amateur drama.”
Simon Pegg, then, ladies and gentlemen: probably not coming to an am-dram group near you. Who knows?
Man Up is in cinemas next month