Simon Pegg needs no introduction to 21st Century movie nerds. Since collaborating with Edgar Wright on TV’s Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, he’s become one of the most versatile character actors in film today. For proof, one need look no further than his latest role, as coldblooded, handlebar-mustachioed hit man Charlie Wolfe in director Kriv Stender’s Kill Me Three Times. I recently chatted with Pegg about the crime thriller (now available to watch on Ultra VOD, Google Play, and Amazon), as well as his return as Benji Dunn opposite Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossble — Rogue Nation (due out on July 31st) and as everyone’s favorite starship engineer Scotty in the third of Bad Robot’s Star Trek films (arriving on July 8, 2016); which will mark Pegg’s first time as a Trek writer. Here’s what the ever-affable star had to tell me.
NERDIST: Kill Me Three Times operates within a subgenre we haven’t see too much of lately: the Australian noir. Was that part of what made the project appealing?
SIMON PEGG: Yeah, I liked that it was essentially a film noir set in the place with the biggest, brightest sky on the planet. It very much followed the tropes of the genre but kind of offset them slightly and played with them a little bit. I liked the fact that the audience is being asked to ride into town with the bad guy essentially. Charlie, my character, is the audience’s way into the film, which is quite interesting. Because he is essentially a homicidal maniac. Which says a lot about the people that are in the town, because they’re all corrupt in some way.
On the page it was just powerful and fun to read, and I liked how the story develops. Kriv [Stenders] always said it’s like a rock song. It has verses. It has a first verse, a second verse, a third verse. You learn new things with each verse. It was something I think which only kind of increased in the edit, when they had all the material and they started to play with it even more.
N: Your character functions as a kind of black-clad angel of death. In some ways it almost makes the film feel like a spiritual sequel to World’s End, since that’s how you wound up in that movie — as a post-apocalyptic badass. Were you looking for that kind of role? After Hector and the Search for Happiness did you want something very different?
SP: Yeah, I did. [Laughs.] I looked at the role and I thought it would be fun to play somebody who was very, very different from most of the stuff I’ve done before. Charlie’s like a strange invader. He’s not from there. He’s very incongruous. He doesn’t make any effort to blend in or be kind of stealthy. He’s obviously read a book about hit men and thought, “Alright, I’m gonna be like that guy.” He’s kind of like the grim reaper really. Just his sort of audaciousness and lack of subtlety I thought was really fun. It’s always a challenge when you play a character like that to make him kind of likable and enjoyable. It’s almost like a method device, to employ somebody who’s known for comedy to play somebody bad. Because you’re always gonna be half expecting them to make you laugh, which is quite a clever device. Which Kriv was aware of when he employed me for this.
N: Since you’re known for having an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, did you find inspiration in any past screen hit men?
SP: Yeah, I saw him as a cross between Martin Blank in Grosse Point Blank and Leon in The Professional and a variety of other on-screen hit men. Just that sort of very suave, very cool, very methodical, incredibly amoral, super precise… I’d actually worked with Jean Reno that year, and talked to him a little bit about The Professional, or Leon, as it was called in Europe. I rewatched that film as well because I liked the way he plays a slight vulnerability. Which I don’t think Charlie has. Charlie is a complete f***ing killing machine. [Laughs.]
Kriv is very much a film nerd as well, and it was great to chat with him about his approach to the movie in terms of what’s gone before. It’s a film that wears it’s references on its sleeve, and that’s part of the joy of watching it I think.
N: Was Charlie’s mustache your idea?
SP: Yeah, it was my idea. For some reason I kind of felt like Charlie should have a handlebar mustache. Or maybe I just wanted to have one and thought it would be a good excuse. I had a conversation with Kriv on the phone before we met. When we started talking about the character, we had a couple of Skypes and some phone calls about who Charlie was, where he was from, what he should look like. Together we came upon this bizarre sort of figure. One of the things was he could have a mustache and slicked-back hair. I also have a scorpion tattoo on my neck, which you can only see if you look very carefully. But I realized once I had a mustache grown that it didn’t go with anything I had to wear. It’s a very hard thing to pull off, a handlebar mustache, unless you are a construction worker or someone who drives a truck. So any clothes I had just didn’t fit it. If you have a handlebar mustache, you have to buy clothes to match it. That’s my advice.
N: It requires total commitment.
SP: Yes. [Laughs.]
N: With a spoiler alert to those who haven’t seen the film… Was it fun to take out guys like Bryan Brown and Sullivan Stapleton who are well known for playing badasses?
SP: Yeah that was pretty awesome. [Laughs.] It’s a strange thing to be leveling a gun at Bryan Brown. It’s one of those rare treats that you get as a film actor sometimes. You find yourself in a really weird situation. Yeah, it was great. Because the whole thing is played out with such fun, you can’t help but have a good time.
N: We’re looking forward to seeing you in action once more in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. It appears we’ll again see plenty of Benji in the field.
SP: Oh yeah, absolutely. Benji’s been a field agent for a good four or five years now. So the idea is he evolves every time we see him in these movies. He was a schlub stuck in a lab, and then he got a taste for action when he helped Ethan get through Shanghai. So the next time you see him he’s enrolled in the field agent program, so he’s fresh out of whatever academy they go to. The Ghost Protocol mission was probably his second or third mission. But in this one he’s not wet behind the ears anymore. He’s been out there for a while. So he’s a different person, though fundamentally the same. But just a little bit more assured and a little bit more dangerous. That was really fun to play.
N: But he still brings the humor?
SP: Certainly. Because that’s his demeanor. If I ever play a character, and I often do, that sort of delivers some of the lighter elements, I always try and do it from the point of view of character rather than it be just meaningless slapstick or whatever. Benji’s take on it all is to be slightly bewildered and not take anything in stride. Scotty’s the same. He’s someone who’s [reaction is] “What the f*** was that?” rather than just being cool about stuff. So it’s always fun to play those characters because they’re quite realistic, you know. Their reactions are more truthful.
N: Speaking of Scotty… In the next Star Trek film you have a hand in all the characters, you get to play with all the toys in the toybox, since you’re writing as well as acting.
N: As a longtime fan, is this a dream come true?
SP: At the moment, I haven’t really had time to sit back and regard its coolness. Because we’ve got a lot of work to do, so it’s more about trying to get the thing done and do it justice. I’m kind of enjoying it to a degree. Because I feel like it’s forcing us to do good work. You can’t… Sometimes when you write a film you can procrastinate. You can sit back and watch movies or hang out and know that you have a big long time frame. You don’t with this. We have to get it written. Not only do we have to get it written we have to get stuff to all the heads of department so they can design things and build things and create characters. We need to cast it. So the second we finish a page, it’s sort of like, hand it over to production so they can start working on it. It’s a really, really interesting way to work. Not ideal, but it has its benefits I think.
N: Can you give us any hint as to the tone or vibe this Trek will employ?
SP: I think the most important thing is that it’s fun. The thing I anticipated most was the reaction people had when they heard I would be contributing to the writing: “Oh, it’s gonna be a comedy.” Star Trek was never a comedy at its own expense. The Voyage Home, was very comic but never at its own expense; it was slightly more broad in its comic approach. I feel like Star Trek has always been just fun and beguiling. There’s some fantastic moments of lightheartedness in the TV series, which people often forget. It won’t be as somber as The Motion Picture, but it won’t be as silly as The Voyage Home. It’s gonna be Star Trek. It will be Star Trek, and will push the positivism and the frontierism and the sense of adventure. And also try and bring new stuff to it as well. It needs to be what it is, and we’re gonna try and hang onto the spirit of the original TV show.
N: When the script’s development was in other hands, it was stated that this film would take place several years into the Enterprise crew’s five-year mission. But at this point is that yet to be determined?
SP: Yeah, that’s to be determined.
N: One last question.. Some folks have expressed interest in seeing William Shatner appear in the film. Would you like to see that happen?
SP: I don’t know. I would never want to do anything like that if it was just a gimmick. So that kind of thing is beyond the story really. The motivations for something like that aren’t correct I don’t think. If the story evolved in such a way that it required it, then absolutely. But only in that instance. It would never be done as sort of a…
N: A wink?
SP: Yeah. Leonard [Nimoy]’s presence in the first two films was necessary as connective tissue to the original films and television show. It was saying that this is the same thing and that this is not a complete reboot. People always call it a reboot. It’s not a reboot. It’s a continuation. And Leonard’s presence very much asserted that. But there’s been so many rumors about that kind of stuff. None of it’s true.
N: Thank you for your time, Simon.
SP: Thanks, man. I appreciate it.