Arrested Development: Edgar Wright Flashback

Seven years ago, MovieMaker interviewed British director Edgar Wright about the second part of his Blood and Cornetto trilogy: the devilishly sharp cop-movie parody Hot Fuzz. Today Wright turns 40, and to celebrate his singular cinematic style we’re revisiting this typically droll conversation between the director, his longtime collaborator Simon Pegg, and writer David Fear.

British writer-director Edgar Wright and actor-writer Simon Pegg’s affectionate satire of zombie movies, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, revolved around a simple question: what would happen if an average bloke was suddenly thrust into your typical the-dead-have-risen-and-they-crave-ourdelicious-flesh scenario? with their latest film, Hot Fuzz, they reverse the equation: what would happen if an extraordinary man-in this case, London’s most dedicated supercop-suddenly found himself stuck in a town where nothing ever happened?

The fuzz in question, one Nick Angel (Pegg), is shuffled out of the big city due to the fact that his “400 percent higher arrest rate” is making the rest of his precinct look bad. Stuck in the quaint village of Sandford (actually Wright’s hometown of Wells in Somerset), Angel passes the time by busting petty shoplifters, chasing errant swans and trying to keep his dim-witted partner (Shaun co-star Nick Frost) from shooting himself in the foot. Then a series of mysterious “accidents” start happening in the village, corpses start piling up and… oh, it’s on!

Having gently ribbed the horror films they grew up on with their first film-and quickly earning such famous fans as George Romero and Quentin Tarantino, who allegedly hosted a number of private screenings prior to the comedy’s U.S. release-it seemed only natural that these two self-professed cinegeeks would turn their attention to another seminal genre of their formative years. Namely, the overblown action flicks that have made Jerry Bruckheimer a rich man and buddy-cop films like Lethal Weapon, in which there was always a cute quip, fiery explosion or squealing electric guitar score around every corner. Any moron can make a cheap parody like Scary Movie; it takes some true fanboys, however, to put together a comedy that both ribs these guilty pleasures and delivers the goods, something Hot Fuzz does in spades. Yes, Pegg and Wright seem to be saying, the idea of one man dispatching an entire army of thugs with a machine gun that never runs out of ammo, or of a cop firing two glocks while jumping out of moving car is totally absurd. But in the name of the father, the son and John McClane, don’t these movies still kick some serious ass?

David Fear (MM): What inspired you to take on the whole idea of these Hollywood blockbuster action movies?

Edgar Wright (EW): There’s been a dearth of British cop films over the last 30 years… We’ve had loads of British gangster films, but hardly any on our police because they aren’t considered that cool. America, Hong Kong, even France-they have their super cops, but we don’t have ours. So we wanted to even the balance out a bit.

Simon Pegg (SP): British criminals are the ones with guns. Our cops just have batons, which aren’t nearly as sexy.

EW: Batons can be sexy under the right circumstances. (laughs)

MM: That’s a pretty Freudian retort, Edgar.

SP: If you had a cop jumping over the hood of a car while throwing two batons at once…

EW: That’d be hot!

SP: …they’d be some seriously hot fuzz.

MM: Do you guys remember the first action heroes-or specific action movies- that made you want to single-handedly take on international terrorists or drug runners?

EW: I don’t know if Dirty Harry (1971) is technically too early to qualify, since I tend to associate the golden age of action movies with the ’80s. But yeah, Inspector Harry Callahan was the first action hero who made me want to run around blowing away bank robbers and junkies. (laughs)

SP: Die Hard made me want to be under siege in a building.

MM: I’m guessing that you both sat down and watched a lot of vintage action flicks while you were working on the script?

EW: There were three stages: First there were the films that we had both seen and wanted to rewatch again, like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. Then there were movies that I’d seen and wanted to show Simon. Finally, there were obscure films that neither of us had seen, which was a justification for going on Amazon.com and buying a host of panand-scan NTSC tapes. We watched all the great films… and then the ones with Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal.

MM: That is some serious dedication.

SP: Believe me, it took some doing.

MM: What, in your opinion, constitutes a good buddy-cop team?

EW: There’s got to be chemistry. With any of those buddy films… no matter how many slam-bang action sequences, if there’s no chemistry, you’re screwed. I mean, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover make for an odd double-act, but they are the reason I think Lethal Weapon works as well as it does.

SP: If you watch the later entries in the series, it seems like they were making them simply because they wanted to get together and have fun. I bet you the reunion aspect probably played as much a part of getting Gibson and Glover to come back as the notion of cashing in on a franchise did.

EW: That, and the chance to say Shane Black’s smart-ass one-liners! People, you have to give it up for Shane. Where would we be without The Last Boy Scout?

MM: Where, indeed.

SP: Edgar always says, and I agree with him, that it took a certain kind of genius to contrive the ending of The Last Boy Scout, in which a man falls into a helicopter’s blades… from above the helicopter! That’s brilliant.

EW: It’s never recognized as being the first truly ironic film of the ’90s… an action film that bites the hand that feeds it. Bruce Willis even has a line about how “you can’t just kill a guy, you have to say something cool afterwards.” Everyone talks about how Scream deconstructed the slasher flicks, but The Last Boy Scout was working the meta angle way before that.

MM: You could say that’s what you guys do as well, only the meta-critique is couched in comedy. both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz function as wink-wink pisstakes on their respective genres, even as they still try to deliver an actual genre film.

SP: Right! There’s certainly an aspect of having our cake and eating it, too. I mean, we come from a comedy background, but I’m a huge fan of zombie films, especially George Romero’s Dead movies. So when we started to make Shaun of the Dead, the goal was to be funny and make a genuine zombie film. It was the same thing with Hot Fuzz. I know I’m never going to be the lead in a big Hollywood action film… I’m the geeky computer guy who explains things to the hero. (laughs) So we thought, okay, we’ll make one of these movies ourselves, only we set it in a rural area of England and also play it for laughs.

MM: Most spoofs condescend to the material they’re mocking. you guys have affection for what you’re poking fun at.

SP: We always bristle when people refer to our films as “spoofs.” The idea really is to try and emulate the real things as closely as you can. I think the most effective satires are the ones that at least have empathy for their subject, if not downright affection. And Edgar and I love horror films and action movies, so no problem there.

MM: You must also have a soft spot for those Tony Scott-style, flash-cut montages… only instead of gunfights, it’s people opening doors, pulling pints in a pub…

EW: …and filling out arrest forms. When we were doing research, we asked a lot of police, ‘Which part of your job have you never seen on-screen?’ And they all answered, “Doing hours of paperwork.” That immediately sparked off the idea of showing the most mundane aspects of law enforcement in the most amped-up, overcaffeinated way. And some people have said those scenes are a great dig at Tony Scott, but I fucking love his movies! Even Domino, which everybody else seems to hate. I think it’s great.

MM: I’m sorry, but you do realize that I’m recording this conversation, and what you’re saying will be printed in a magazine, right?

SP: (laughs)

EW: Oh, I’m not afraid to go on record right now and say: I love Domino! Tony will read this, right?

SP: The magazine is called MovieMaker, and he does make movies, so I don’t think he has a choice.

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MM: Now that you guys have made an action movie, albeit one on a much smaller budget, do you find that you have more admiration for the guys who choreograph, say, whole city blocks or football stadiums blowing up full-time?

EW: Oh, absolutely. I mean, even though I’m not crazy about all of Michael Bay’s movies, I have to give it up for him in terms of being a field marshal, leading these huge armies of technicians to accomplish something on a grand scale. Once you’ve done it, you realize just how hard it is. Though our movie probably cost a tenth of what Bad Boys 2 did.

SP: It’s the same thing with actors in these movies. A lot of criticism gets leveled at guys like Jean-Claude Van Damme, who wouldn’t be considered an actor with a lot of range. You’re not going to see him playing Rain Man, for instance. (laughs) But from a physical standpoint, what he does is impressive and you realize that that is what watching a lot of these films is about. It isn’t about an intellectual engagement with the script, it’s about seeing someone’s incredible physical prowess on display. There’s room for that as well.

EW: You want to talk about impressive physical feats, you should mention Paddy Considine’s moustache!

SP: Oh my lord, that thing was monstrous! He grew that facial hair. It’s not a prosthetic prop, that’s his actual bushy upper lip.

EW: It’s the Brando of moustaches. (laughs)

SP: He’s truly committed to his craft.

MM: Last question: you’re both taking on diamond smugglers and they’re making a run for their yacht. Here’s the catch: there are only three guns between the two of you, which means only one can leap through the air and fire two pistols at once. Do you do the Chow yun-Fat move yourself-or throw the gun to your partner so that he can do it?

EW: Wow, that’s a tough one.

SP: I should point out that, to be honest, Edgar never got to handle or fire a gun throughout the entire shoot of Hot Fuzz. Much to his chagrin, I imagine, since he was watching me and Nick [Frost] have the time of our lives with these ridiculously huge weapons on a daily basis. So I would keep both pistols and perform the two-gun flying dragon move myself, so Edgar wouldn’t end up hurting himself.

EW: Well, wait a minute! Could we share the same gun and sort of leap together, with one finger each on the trigger?

MM: It would certainly make things more homoerotic…

SP: …which is a necessity if you’re in a buddy-cop movie.

EW: When you jump through the air with your partner and fire the gun at the same time, that move is known as “the mandragon.” (laughs)

SP: I do believe you just coined a term, Edgar.

EW: We’re putting that in the next movie- no matter what. MM

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