Simon Pegg Plays Against The Happy-Go-Lucky-Type In 'Terminal' [Interview]

Simon Pegg's charisma helps subvert expectations in Vaughn Stein's directorial debut, Terminal, a twisty crime movie with a fairy tale aesthetic. The actor and writer completely plays against type with his performance as Bill, a dying man who ends up in a diner heavy on neon lighting with the mysterious Annie (Margot Robbie). For Pegg, Bill is a deeply stark contrast to his past characters.

Simon Pegg is currently shooting a movie in Los Angeles, titled Lost Transmissions, so we recently had the opportunity to sit down with him to discuss Terminal, which co-stars Mike Myers in a similarly unexpected role. When Myers was cast after Pegg signed up, the Shaun of the Dead star thought, "This is like comedy people suddenly going very dark." In our full interview, Pegg also told us about acting with Myers, his work on major franchises, his thoughts on method acting, and making his directorial debut later this year.

What did this world and story read like on the page?

The thing I really liked about it actually was ... The world is alluded to, obviously, in the script as much as it needs to be for the production designers to get their inspiration, but what really appealed to me was the dialogue. It felt theatrical. For someone who spends a lot of their time reacting as I do, you know, "Go left, Ethan and set your phasers to stun", it was nice to see some really, really chewy dialogue that was twisted, and a bit strange and felt like a little dinner theater play that you might see somewhere, and that's what really drew me to it. Also, the fact that it was a group of young people making their first feature. They pulled themselves up by their boot straps, called themselves producers, and have their secret weapon in Margot as well which gave it some momentum. That really appealed to me.

Does sitting down for most of your scenes ever feel restricting or freeing in any way?

It was interesting because there's a lot going on in those scenes and I like the fact that they were quite sedentary ... We get up a little bit, we start to loosen up, but I liked it. I like that sitting across from each other stuff. That sparring. It just felt fun and I like the fact that we were restricted in our physical movement because you had to say so much internally. The character's journey, Bill's journey, is a revelation eventually. You want the audience to like him before you find out the truth.

Was there a lot of debate over how much to telegraph in the first hour?

If you were thinking about who you were playing, and that character has certain negative attributes, you could try and telegraph that. But I think that that's the wrong decision. If you play a villain like a villain, then you show all your cards at once, whereas it's much more seductive. As is often the case, evil people are often quite charming. Do you know what I mean? So, that was fun to play. I didn't think of any of the bad stuff, it was like make him nice, make him lovable, and that will hurt you when you get to the truth.

Before shooting, did Vaughn Stein show you any concept art or visualize for you what he had in mind?

I saw a little bit, but I went to meet Vaughn for lunch after I read it and we had a big chat about it. Discovered that we worked in the same university course in Bristol, which bonded us immensely. I just really liked the way he spoke about it, and I liked his passion, and I got what he was trying to get across. I liked the dystopia, I like that word, I like a bit of future nuance, that all appeals to my sci-fi fan side. Even though it's not really a science fiction movie, it had a kinda odd, possible future, quality to it, which was good. It had Neverwhere feel which I liked. It could be a classic film noir. It could be something set entirely in a weird post-apocalyptic London. So all that stuff I find intriguing.

What is it that usually convinces you to want to work with a director after meeting them?

Conversation usually. You know, you get an idea of knowing that somebody is sure of what they want, is in it for the right reason, has some kind of vision and some plan for it. Knowledgeability about film and what have you. You kinda look for those things. What I really love is meeting a director and then fully trusting in them. Knowing that you're getting on board their bus and going along for the ride, trusting in their instinct, all this other stuff. But ultimately trusting their ideas.

Being a writer, does that effect how you look at a script and consider a role?

Sometimes. I mean, I like reading the script and offering up ideas if there's anything. At the same time, I like to hold that back, and trust that they know what they're doing and not be so presumptuous and think that I know better, you know? It's fun when you have faith in someone to just let them take the reins, not be too much of a control freak, 'cause you don't always know better as an actor. You're thinking in the moment, but you're not thinking of the big picture.

When I write with Edgar, we have everything so planned out so that something that happens in act one very precisely pays off in act three, and if you don't say it right then this isn't going to work. So, if an actor comes in and says, "I think I should say this," we're like, "No [Laughs]. You can't." It was the same with Star Trek, it was the same kinda thing with the way that we wrote that. We were very open with the cast and said, "Look, come and speak to us and if you have ideas, we're all for it because we're on such a tight time-frame, we appreciate any input. But at the same time, you really need to say this here, because that is going to pay off later."

Star Trek Beyond has become one of those movies where, if it's on TV, I'll watch it. It's such a fun movie.

Such a fun film to make. Hard because it was a short writing period. By the time we got to set and we had the bare-bones of the script, Doug [Jung] and I had just worked really hard, and the cast worked really hard, and Justin [Lin] was amazing. I'm so proud of that movie.

Simon Pegg Terminal InterviewAs big as it is, I love that the best scenes are characters talking in a cave and a bar.

Yeah, absolutely. I think that works with Mission Impossible, as well. McQ [Christopher McQuarrie] as a writer who wants make the stuff that's just people talking as exhilarating, as engaging, as the stuff when Tom is hanging off somewhere, or someone's about to die, that's his mantra.

His movies seem to move like clockwork. They're so well-structured. Is there room for improv or changes during film?

Dialogue, yeah. He's a structure master, McQ. He can take a script and tell you exactly where it doesn't work. He's the perfect person to make the movies we're making at the moment, because essentially what we do is we devise these moments that are gonna be the big signature moments of the film, and then kinda find a way to make them all work together. That's sometimes a very difficult way to work, because you can end up with a film which just lurches from set piece to set piece and feels a bit uneven. McQ knows how to engage with those big moments and make them mean something in comparison to the smaller, quieter dialogue moments. He's just the ground-master which is why he's come back to do another one after, for the first time ever we've got two films by the same director.

I'm looking forward to it. Since Terminal is such a dialogue-heavy movie, did you have any rehearsal time?

We had lots of rehearsal with Terminal. That was great. On a film where there's lots of dialogue like this, you wanna be able to sit down prior to shooting and go through it a few times because you wanna find the rhythm and the character. It's much more important to rehearse when you're approaching the script like this, I think.

Margot and I just got in the room and started kicking around our own motivations with Vaughn, who's also the writer and the director. Which is great because we were able to say, "Hang on, I think this might be a little too much at this point," or, "Maybe Annie doesn't feel this way about him at this point." Being able to get to set with all those problems solved was great, it meant that we could work faster. Which, on a 27-day shoot, whatever it was, you need to do.

You also have a scene scenes with Mike Myers. I can't think of a better way to ask this question right now: what's he like to work with?

I was kind of excited to meet him. He's Mike Myers. I felt like I'd kinda almost met him a few times, and I didn't know if he knew me. He's quite an enigma, Mike, 'cause he's a bit reclusive. We got into the rehearsal room and he was lovely, he was really jovial. He's very concentrating. He has a process which is important to him, particularly with all the prosthetics and stuff. He's a bit more method than I thought he'd be. But then we were both of us playing against happy-go-lucky type and, for both of us, it was a job that we wanted to really concentrate on. But he was really fun and also doing reverses with him was really fun 'cause he'll surprise you with things and keeps you on your feet. Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised.

Simon Pegg Terminal Interview - Mike MyersHe's method? Does he stay in character?

Well, a little bit. When he was Clinton, as the janitor, you can see he's getting into it, which a lot of actors do. I respect that, and he wasn't method to the point of being obnoxious, but he was taking it seriously.

It's funny, people now always assume the worst when they hear "method actor."

Yeah, you think of pretentiousness, and I think some method acting is probably unnecessary. I guess, it's a personal thing. But he certainly wasn't like that. I watched that film Jim and Andy recently, and that whole process ... I love Jim Carey, I think he's an extraordinary virtuoso performer, but that was like, "Wow."

[Laughs] I had mixed feelings watching that. It is a great performance, but I don't know, as long people were OK working with him... What do you think of going that far?

I was of the Olivier school of thought, "Just act, dear boy." Ultimately, acting is just pretending. That's what you do, that's what you've done since you were a kid. Ultimately, you just switch it on. There's nothing wrong with preparation and research and that kinda stuff, it's important. But ultimately, that degree of insanity ... I dunno. I dunno what the performance would have been like if he hadn't done that.

Yeah, maybe it wouldn't have been as good.

Maybe, we'll never know. It might have been nowhere near as convincing.

What's the most you've immersed yourself in a role?

I'm actually doing something at the moment here in L.A. I'm shooting a movie about a guy who has schizophrenia. I feel like approaching a role like that, which is actually something very, very serious, I couldn't just walk in and guess. I've done a lot of research, and I've spoken to schizophrenics and researched the condition, 'cause I wanna be authentic, I don't wanna just act crazy. That'd be a terrible thing to do. I don't walk around pretending to be schizophrenic, but I certainly immersed myself in that a little bit more than say playing Benji who's just a secret agent.

It's about a music producer, right?

Yeah, it's based on a true story and it happened here in L.A. We're just shooting at the moment and I'm really enjoying it. Katharine O'Brien directing, and it's great.

Do you enjoy shooting in L.A.?

I love it. It's so rare. I say rare, I did it on Mission and Star Trek one and two, but it's so rare that you can shoot movies in LA. A lot of TV here, but generally everyone shoots in Atlanta or New Mexico, or London mainly now, thankfully for me. [Laughs] I get to stay at home.

Are you writing anything at the moment?

I'm working on something I'm gonna direct, actually, at the end of the year. That's written by someone else, but I've been working on the script with the writer and that'll be my first directing gig, which I'm excited about.

That's great to hear. Did it just feel like the right time to finally direct?

I've been waiting for the right thing, and Nira Park who is my long time producing partner, right back to Spaced, she just emailed me a couple of years ago and said, "Read this. I think you should direct it." You know, out of the blue. I read it and thought, "Yeah, you're right." So we're trying to get that underway.

After all your experience, I'm sure you feel ready.

I cannot wait. I cannot wait to be behind the camera. I don't wanna be in it. I don't wanna make any cameos in it, I just wanna be right behind the scenes and make a movie.

Terminal is now in theaters, and you can watch the trailer over here.