Hector and the Search for Happiness stars Simon Pegg as Hector, a comfortable, London therapist who one day decides to travel the world in a search for the things that will make him feel “happy.” The movie is fun but features a performance from Pegg that is really fantastic. Nerdist talked with the Star Trek and Shaun of the Dead star about taking on a more dramatic role, the search of happiness and working with a slew of impressive co-stars on the film.
Hector is, by far, Pegg’s most “actor-y” role to date and it’s a role that he does very well. Was more drama something he was looking to take on in his next project?
“I think its kind of partly what attracted me to the script,” said Pegg, “I mean, the idea of working with Peter Chelsom was the kind of primary thing because I’d been a fan of the films that he made in the UK, Hear My Song and Funny Bones, and the idea of getting to make a film with him was very attractive. The fact that it was a fairly meaty, albeit a comedy, but a meaty dramatic role was definitely part of my decision to day yes and as an actor it was really nice to get my teeth into that role.” In the film his character plays a psychiatrist and yet still finds himself going on a search for “happiness.” In Pegg’s mind, did those two things have something to do with each other while he was creating the character?
“I think it’s an interesting thing that Hector is in the business of happiness. He’s a guy who is supposed to be able to help people unlock their own happiness and yet he doesn’t have a clear idea of what it is or what it means himself. As a starting point of the movie I thought it was a fairly bold choice to have possibly the least sympathetic demographic in the world – the white middle class male – give him a problem because I think that if that supposed extremely privileged and comfortable type of person, if they can be unhappy then anyone can be unhappy, and also it kind of suggests that unhappiness is not just reserved for people who find themselves in dire straights. You know, happiness isn’t as easy as that and what hector finds himself in is in a crisis of comfort. He has a life which is extremely beige and has no variety and he has nothing to compare his supposed happiness to and as such sort of takes off on this journey, he says is to research happiness, but really what he’s trying to do is find out if he can be happy himself,” stated Pegg.
Pegg also explained that traveling the world on Hector’s journey for the film taught him a few things about appreciating life, saying, “Being in places like South Africa and China experiencing quite vast cultural gaps was really valuable and also just in terms of seeing people in different walks of life as they experience happiness it was a very interesting thing to see the kind of abject poverty that exists on the outskirts of Johannesburg and see people there with a more mature, clear idea of happiness is compared to the people living in more affluent areas was an interesting paradox. You think, oh, hang on, I thought money and comfort bought contentment and its not necessarily true. I think knowing what it means to be happy if it helps you be happy. Knowing the value of happiness gives you a clear idea of how to be happy and that was fairly educational.”
Hector also features some wonderful actors in small parts, from screen legend Christopher Plummer to Stellan Skarsgard to an unknown South African actress, Chantel Herman. How was it for Pegg getting to share the screen with so many different talented actors? Pegg explains, “Working with Stellan Skarsgard I knew that I was going to be working alongside a heavyweight and Stellan would bring his own brilliant style and character to the role [and] that was very exciting. I didn’t know Chantel [Herman] who plays Jamillah, the woman on the plane, I had never met before and I had no expectations of about what she would bring so when she delivered this really, really moving performance I remember it very clearly being a great day because it was very unexpected and I was very moved by her performance which helped my performance so that kind of stuff is also an aide to making a performance convincing. She was – they cast her in South Africa and she just delivered this wonderfully moving and memorable performance as this woman who feels lucky even though she’s very, very close to death, she feels lucky to have had so much life and it’s a sweet moment. It’s a moment which you could actually lift out of the movie and it wouldn’t affect the narrative in any way but it’s so important I think in the film.”
Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness, starring Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer, hits theaters Friday.