Since he and Edgar Wright unleashed their horror-comedy masterpiece Shaun of the Dead on audiences in 2004, Simon Pegg has become as in-demand a performer here as in his native Britain, not to mention something of an alpha geek amongst genre fans. His deeply-rooted boyhood love of the Star Wars trilogy, and subsequent frustration with the prequels, is nigh on legendary; he wrote a Marxist analysis of the original films as his undergraduate thesis.
His autobiography, Nerd Do Well, in which he relates his personal tales of growing up geek — interwoven with a hilarious alter-ego epic featuring himself as a dashing Bond-like adventurer with a robot butler and abs of steel — is released in the U.S. this week. Here's our interview with Pegg, in advance of his appearance at The Grove's Barnes & Noble on Friday:
You're very candid in the book with anecdotes about your childhood and adolescence. Were there any parts of your life (for whatever reason, good or bad) you knew you needed to address but had a particularly difficult time putting into words
The good thing about this book is that I didn't need to address anything I felt uncomfortable with, it was all a matter of choice, and as such I didn't have to tackle anything painful or difficult. It isn't a confessional or tell-all account, it's anecdotal, celebratory and fun. I have no desire to wash my dirty undies in public. My life is my business but that doesn't preclude me sharing some of it. I don't like discussing it with journalists because they are invariably attempting to discover something about me that can be spun into some sort of scoop. Writing your own story means there is no filter. I am the horse's mouth, as it were.
In addition to speaking in depth about your family and how influential they were on both your life and your creative choices, you have a lot of wonderful stories about teachers and other mentors who influenced you greatly. Did you hear from any of them after the book was released in the UK?
I managed to reconnect with my old English teacher Mrs. Taylor at a signing in Manchester. I tracked her down after another former teacher got in touch to let me know where she was. We met in the stock room of the bookstore before the signing and it was wonderful. She was white-haired but still had the effervescence and twinkle in her eye that endeared me to her as a child. I signed a book for her which pleased her no end as her family did not believe she had taught me. The joy of that reunion meant so much to me. I actually include a quote from her in the book, a comment she left at the bottom of a project I had written for her. The comment made mention of me becoming a published author and here I was 25 years later, signing my first book for her. That was a genuinely lovely moment for me.
What's the best autobiography you've ever read? Conversely, what's the nerdiest book you've ever read? (Ordinarily I'd say graphic novels count, but for the sake of the non-nerdy laymen who are going to whine “They're all nerdy!”, let's say just text novels.)
I love Bruce Campbell's If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. It's a very funny account of his adventures in the screen trade. It chronicles the extraordinary challenge of making the Evil Dead films, as well as his subsequent stint as a bit part player and character actor, not to mention geek icon.
The nerdiest book I've ever read is a tough one because I've read a fair few. I read a few of the contemporary Battlestar Galactica novelizations whilst I was plowing through the TV series. I was shooting Paul at the time and at the end if a long day, you need the literary equivalent of comfort food. The further adventures of Apollo and Starbuck were exactly that.
“The Adventures of Simon Pegg” saga is such a great, fully-realized adventure that you wove through the book. Let's say Nerd Do Well were made into a film, Adaptation-style: Who would play Simon Pegg, actor/writer/father/nerd, and who would play Simon Pegg, international man of intrigue?
That would be an extremely tough casting process, as I would have to employ several actors to play me through the ages. I guess I would step in towards the end. In terms of my rugged alter ego with the ridiculously good physique and devastatingly handsome visage, that's a toughie. Perhaps a Ryan would do it: Gosling, Reynolds, Philippe or Seacrest. I'd have to get them on tape, kissing their muscles and shouting at a posh robot.
Post-writing of Nerd Do Well, you've re-entered the Mission: Impossible franchise for the upcoming Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, where your character gets to get out from behind a desk and into the field action this time. Share with us an awesomely nerdy anecdote about that film that would have been in the book, had the film come first.
Whilst shooting the movie, director Brad Bird introduced me to our editor Paul Hirsch, informing me that this was the man who had edited [Star Wars:] A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. I then grilled him for about half an hour, during which time he played me a song from his iPhone. The track was “Avalon” by Benny Goodman, a song he had used as a place holder during a certain bar scene in the (truly) first Star Wars film. The saucy little jazz number sounded so much like the music heard in the Mos Eisley cantina, I realized that not only had Paul edited two of my favorite films he had had a direct influence on the soundtrack of that iconic moment. I was blown away.
Your daughter, Matilda, is almost two; your tweets seem to indicate that she's a bit nerdy about The Wiggles at the moment, but has she yet shown any interest in what you or I might call more “traditionally” geeky fare?
She's a little young at the moment but definitely displays the signs of a future geek girl. She has shows she adores and watches over and over again. She quotes and impersonates the characters. They may not be wielding lightsabers or blasters but it's only a matter of time. I'm looking forward to showing her a few things when she's old enough to appreciate them. I won't force it though. She can do whatever her heart tells her to. That's what I did.
Simon Pegg will appear at Barnes & Noble at The Grove for a Nerd Do Well reading and book signing on Fri., June 17 at 7 p.m.