Very close encounter

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Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are hoping to recreate the success of Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz with their alien road movie, Paul. Susan Griffin enjoys a close encounter with the famous friends

Sitting side by side, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost lay claim to the kind of easy banter that results from long-term friendship.

Pegg, wearing jeans, T-shirt and a baker boy hat, puts his arm around his mate’s shoulders at one point, proudly proclaiming: “Nick and I have worked together for 10 years and we’ve been friends for much longer.”

For cinema viewers, their off-screen chemistry has conjured up comedy gold, firstly with the small screen success of Pegg’s late Nineties TV show Spaced and then zombie comedy Shaun Of The Dead in 2004 and spoof police picture Hot Fuzz in 2007.

Now they’re hoping to repeat the success with their latest movie Paul, which marks the first time they’ve written a feature film together.

“Writing a film and then making a film is tough,” says Frost, 38, also dressed down in jeans and a T-shirt. “Yeah, we had a couple of creative barneys,” agrees Pegg, 41.

“In fact we were tearing each other’s throats out a second ago,” he jokes, shaking a fist at Frost’s face, before his friend continues: “The good thing about being best friends is it enables us to get over it, and not to let it eat you up inside until you’re an old man and living in a bedsit drinking yourself to death.”

Pegg explains the collaboration has proven an interesting experience. “We’ve slightly changed the dynamic of our characters in this one. In the other movies, which I wrote with Edgar Wright, I played the main character and Nick is the sidekick.

“But this film is very much a double header. If anything, Nick’s character is slightly more dominant and confident, whereas mine’s a bit of a wallflower at first.”

Directed by Superbad’s Greg Mottola, the film revolves around an alien smart-ass named Paul, superbly voiced by Seth Rogan, who’s been locked up in a military base advising world leaders about his kind for the last 60 years.

When Paul worries he’s outlived his usefulness and fears the dissection table may be drawing uncomfortably close, he escapes and hitches a lift on the first RV that passes by.

Fortunately for him, the RV’s driven by Clive (Frost) and Graeme (Pegg), two sci-fi fans who’ve been saving for decades to make their pilgrimage to America’s UFO heartland.

Frost describes the film as “a love letter to Spielberg and a love letter to fan boys”. Pegg adds: “And girls. We didn’t want to exclude anyone. If you’re a fan of the sci-fi genre then perhaps you’ll get a few more things. If you’re not, then it’s a road movie with an alien, me and this guy.

“It’s not important if you don’t get all the references. The film is rich in intertextuality with other films of its kind...”

“Woah, woah, woah,” says Frost putting his hand up. “Slow down Professor Egghead.”

Pegg continues anyway. “There are lots of little nods to other science fiction films and that’s because it’s a tribute to a certain kind of film, that kind of mid-Eighties Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, John Landis kind of caper film.”

Spielberg does in fact make a cameo appearance in Paul. “It wasn’t the worst day of our lives,” says Pegg, recalling the day the legendary director, who Frost and Pegg have been working with on the big-screen adaptation of Tintin, requested a role in their movie.

“We asked him to read,” Frost deadpans. “It was between him and Roland Emmerich and Steven got it. He did the best reading - ‘This is Steven Spielberg reading for the role of Steven Spielberg’.”

Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman and Blythe Danner also star in the film - as does Alien star Sigourney Weaver.

“Probably the most famous line in Paul is Sigourney’s ‘Get away from her, you bitch,’ [a line from Alien] which Blythe says,” Pegg reveals.

“I think I said to Sigourney, I’m going to use one of your most famous lines and she was like, ‘Bring it on’. I was just geeking out like crazy. It was like all our Christmases had come at once.”

Pegg at this point would like to add: “I think we’re higher functioning nerds than Graeme and Clive. We’re married for a start and don’t live alone.”

Frost was Pegg’s best man when he got married in 2005 (he and his wife, Maureen now have an 18-month old daughter) and Pegg returned the compliment when Frost married executive producer Mariangela.

The idea for Paul originated during the rain-sodden Shaun Of The Dead shoot when Pegg joked he’d like to make a movie “somewhere it never rains, like the desert”.

In fact they ended up shooting Paul in New Mexico, which Pegg described as “one of the most changeable places in the world”.

He says: “It would be blazing sunshine one minute and 20 minutes later there’d be hailstones the size of golf balls.”

They’d had a taste of life in this inhospitable climate during a road trip across America’s West before writing the script.

“So much happened to us on that trip that’s in the film,” says Pegg. “We hit a bird, we got slightly terrorised by some weird guys.”

Frost adds: “We had barbecues every night,” before confessing that they weren’t prepared for the sheer size of the US.

“You look at it on a map and think, ‘All right, we can probably do that in three or four days’. Then after a day’s driving for 10 or 11 hours, you’ve only gone 300 miles and you’ve got to travel 2,000 miles.”

On their return, Pegg and Frost watched more than 50 movies about aliens and road trips. “Then we just sat opposite one another and banged it out, line by line,” recalls Frost.

“For a time, Simon went off to do How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, and so I went away for a couple of weeks and wrote a big 180-page script. When Simon returned we completely deconstructed it, kept what was good and what was bad was elbowed but we discussed every single line, sometimes for hours.”

“We didn’t write stuff for the sake of it,” stresses Pegg. “The film is referential because the idea is that Paul has influenced every sci-fi film.

“It’s very clever when you think about it,” he laughs.

Paul himself was obviously the result of CGI wizardry, but it was essential they found the right voice for their little green man.

“At first Paul was much older and grumpier, much more of a curmudgeon than he is now,” says Pegg.

“We spoke with the studio and they were keen that it was someone relevant to the comedy audience and suggested Seth. I love his performance in this movie, it’s so sweet and sensitive.”

As Frost says: “If people can forget Paul is a CGI character within a few minutes of meeting him, then we’ve done it right.”