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September 28, 2008
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Simon Pegg making friends
British actor stars in new movie that is to Vanity Fair what The Devil Wears Prada was to Vogue
By JIM SLOTEK - Sun Media


Simon Pegg catches up on his reading.

Fame came slowly to Simon Pegg, an ex-film student and admirer of American pop culture, whose dissertation at the University of Bristol was on "Marxism in Star Wars and Related Works."

"You feel it rise like temperature when you walk down the street in London," Pegg says. "Heads turn and whisper and it gets more and more, it gets where it's difficult to go into a pub or something, and that's always a shame," he says with a laugh.

"It's particularly when I'm with Nick (Frost, Pegg's comic sidekick in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). And Nick's my best friend, so we hang out all the time."

But it's the overnight version of famous bestowed by the Hollywood fame machine that is the rub of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People -- a film that is to Vanity Fair magazine and the fatuous Hollywood star system what The Devil Wears Prada was to Vogue and the vapid fashion industry.

It's based, in somewhat airbrushed form, on the real-life book of the same name by Toby Young, whose version of his short tenure at Vanity Fair hinges on his refusal to write puff pieces on young stars and starlets (and submit them to the subjects for approval).

In the movie, Toby -- now named Sidney -- sells his soul more decisively, ending up on the arms of starlets at award shows before being saved by the love of a good woman (Kirsten Dunst).

Many of the characters have obvious real-life counterparts -- including Jeff Bridges, who plays Clayton Harding, a one-time satirist of the Establishment who becomes part of it via his glossy sycophantic magazine, just like Canadian-born Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. And then there's shark-like PR queen Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson) who is cut from the cloth of feared "suppress agent" Pat Kingsley, the person who kept people from writing bad things about Tom Cruise all those years.

"You can relate to Sidney, and arrivistes like him. The irony of the film is he wants to get in, and once he's in, the other side looks better again. It's a kind of blessing and a curse existing in that world because it's erratic and infested with sharks and not entirely enjoyable all the time.

"You see these people who crave fame and go out to get it via TV shows (like American Idol). I think the people who go into those talent shows and are genuinely talented, that's a legitimate way to get yourself noticed. But people who do it just to be famous get a shock when it actually happens to them, because they find out it's not as much fun as they thought it would be."

Pegg doesn't know for certain, but says he hears "Graydon was pretty pleased that Jeff Bridges was playing his alternative reality." To the film and book's assertion that Carter "sold out" and became what he mocked, he said, "I'm sure Graydon Carter would probably say 'Fair enough.'

"There's no love lost between him and Toby. In the film, the relationship between them is more sort of parental in a way. I think it's a son disappointed in his father and a father disappointed in his son. The real relationship is acrimonious."

Not that the "alienating people" part is entirely an act of nobility. Young seems capable of doing it for sheer fun -- finally, and ironically, being banned from the set of the movie.

"Toby is great, and I've been out with him a few times. I don't see the side of him that rankles people. I just get this sort of amusing study of an intense man whom I've always had sort of fun with. He came on set and asked Kirsten if she'd fallen in love with him yet. And Kirsten hadn't been formally introduced to him, so it's just like she'd been approached by this odd, bald-headed stranger."

Subsequently, Young "said to Bob (director Robert B. Weide) that 'I don't think I can come on the set (any more) without wanting to get involved. And Bob sent him an e-mail back saying, 'Well, don't get involved.' "

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is the second film (after Run, Fat Boy, Run) in which Pegg has been involved purely as an employee, without his creative troika of Frost and writer/director Edgar Wright. The third is J.J. Abrams' reinvention of Star Trek, in which Pegg plays Scotty (see sidebar), which opens next summer.

"It's nice to sit back and not have a production responsibility because that can be stressful. But it's tough in post-production because you start to see promotional material coming out that normally you'd have a say in. And stuff's coming out that you go, 'Oh, no.' I'm not a producer on this film, but it's hard for me not to start firing off angry e-mails if I don't like the poster or something."

Fortunately for fans of the trio, there's some collaborating on the horizon. "Nick and I have written a screenplay that I'm head-over-heels excited about. Greg Mottola, who directed Superbad is going to direct it. We're, hopefully, going into pre-production early next year. It's called Paul and it's going to be shot in New Mexico. It's about a road trip about two British geeks who get into this crazy adventure.

"And then Edgar and I are going to write our third in what we're calling the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy (both Shaun and Hot Fuzz featured both)," he says, withholding further details, though the title of the third is rumoured to be The World's End.

"Hopefully, we can get together soon. He's shooting Scott Pilgrim (Conquers the World) here (in Toronto) with Michael Cera. Scheduling time together is difficult because Edgar's been living in L.A. for the last year, working on stuff.

"We can't write remotely. Whenever we write we're sitting opposite each other and we literally hash it out. It took us 18 months to write Shaun of the Dead.

"But I want to get it going, y'know. It'd be so exciting to be doing the third go-round."

GREAT SCOT!

Add this to the Star Trek "canon," Trekkers. We now know where Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott came from.

Of course, he's from Scotland, duh. But where exactly has now been settled. He's Glaswegian.

"Half my family is Scottish and my wife's Scottish," says Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in J.J. Abrams' how-they-met Star Trek prequel movie.

"I had some leeway, and I made Scotty's accent Northwestern Scottish -- just above Glasgow, but pretty Glaswegian."

Chris Doohan, son of the late original Scotty James Doohan, "played my assistant on the ship. So I chatted with him a bit about his dad. I wanted to do something he would approve of, to do something in his honour, but not to impersonate him in any way."

We asked to hear a bit of his Glaswegian Scotty, but got a firm no, the same answer we got from Anton Yelchin when we asked to hear his Chekhov.

"All I can say is it was a stroke of genius on (Star Trek creator Gene) Roddenbery's part, because I know it came down to him being English or Scottish. And to have the engineer be Scottish was such a neat trick, because so much contemporary engineering came out of Scotland, such a small country. The televison, the radio, the telephone all came out of Scotland."

Of the movie itself, he says, "It was great, it was really incredibly exciting. We all felt we were part of something rather special, dealing with hallowed characters and an amazing legacy and felt a responsibility to do it justice.

"It's a serious entry into the pantheon. I think there was some kind of thought going around that it might be a kind of parody or something, going back to the old characters the way we are.

"But I mean, Galaxy Quest already did that really well. It doesn't need to be done again."

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca

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