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April 18-24, 2007

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Bring Heat

Richard von Busack talks to Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg about their police comedy 'Hot Fuzz'

Director Edgar Wright and stars and co-writers Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are the triumvirate responsible for Shaun of the Dead and their new film, Hot Fuzz. Despite the title, the film delivers phenomenally assured filmmaking. It mixes the best kind of desperation-is-the-English-way comedy with sudden blasts of gore and an eloquent command of the comic vocabulary.

In Hot Fuzz, Frost, Pegg and Wright parody the wretched excesses of American rogue-cop movie, which they've blended smoothly into a send up of the genteel English countryside murder mystery. Somehow, these expert comedians have it both ways; Frost, Pegg and Wright lampoon the worst of these genres while celebrating the best of them.

METRO: Hot Fuzz is so much better built than the movies that it's satirizing.
EDGAR WRIGHT: In what sense?

METRO: In the transitions, in the matching shots, .in the two separate drunk scenes taking place across town from each other, both lashed seamlessly together with editing.
WRIGHT: We worked on those things; we scripted the visuals to make sure that the transitions were really slick and that we'd have rhyming things going on. We had the idea of two characters bonding, whilst another character is being killed, just to keep the thrill of events going even in the bonding scenes.
SIMON PEGG: We've always been a fan of transitions. We wanted the film to flow in a certain way, to throw out connections for the audience to pick up upon, though without being too prescriptive.

METRO: How did you do the script? I wondered if it was something like the way Connie Booth and John Cleese scripted Fawlty Towers, with a schematic diagram on a huge sheet of butcher paper.
WRIGHT: We'd write things out on a flip chart. Just like on Shaun of the Dead, we have setups that paid off. It was something you could count on—the fate of the characters, who predicted what would happen them. Lots of foreshadowing—it comes from the films we like, such as Back to the Future and Raising Arizona, where there are great setups and pay offs. We wanted a sense of inexorable doom, instead of a string of episodic events leading to one climax.
PEGG: Also we can set a lot of things up that in the final half-hour, so there's a never-ending line of payoffs as the film ends. And the [cop-movie] genre we're tackling in Hot Fuzz is loaded with multiple endings.

METRO: When you were making this, were there visual gags that didn't quite read?
WRIGHT: Camera lenses won't let you visualize something the way you saw it in your head. When that happens, you have to let it go. In one of our favorite gags in the script, the location didn't work: Sgt. Angel saying, "My office is out on the street!" The location we were in didn't have another street as such. It was more like a yard. That's why they call it murdering your babies—cutting your favorite scene out.
PEGG: George Lucas did that.

METRO: He murdered a baby?
WRIGHT: Yes, you can spread that rumor that George Lucas murdered a baby.
NICK FROST: [Referring to The Phantom Menace]: Yeah, he did murder his baby—20 years it took him...

METRO: The soundtrack of Hot Fuzz is also very exciting. It is based on that Scorsese/Stone model of putting about 70 songs in there, and at the same time the music is more like a commentary on the action, rather than some sonic force bulldozing the film.
WRIGHT: It's about mood, really. A lot of the tracks in there are glam rock from the 1970s. It's supposed to give the idea that the town of Sanford is slightly stuck out of time. Also that glam rock—the Sweet and T-Rex—has a glitter beat which seems tailor-made for scenes of a policeman plodding along. We have that phrase in the UK, to name a cop ...

METRO: "Policeman Plod"?
WRIGHT: You never really hear that phrase in the States.

METRO: I read it in Viz comics.
WRIGHT: Ah, you're up to speed. "Policeman Plod" because they literally plod along. That glitter beat seems to go with it [Wright hums the chick chick chicka beat of T-Rex's "Rock On."] Eighty percent of the soundtrack was something that we were listening to when we were writing.
PEGG: We had our second reference to Dire Straights here, following the Dire Straits record we threw at the zombies in Shaun.
WRIGHT: The rest of David Arnold's score was the perfect pastiche. He approached the music the way we approached the script: it's funnier if you do it straight-faced. You could take Arnold's score and put it on the action script, and it would totally work; it would be rousing and great and nothing inherently funny in it. Musically, the film gets more American as it gets along.

METRO: At the same time, the Englishness is noticeable. There's a new wave of English films that concentrate on the prosperity of London—the films are never complete without at least one shot of the London Eye and the Gherkin building.
WRIGHT: We had neither!

METRO: I miss how British films do what American films rarely do. That is, to focus on the small scale, hung-over and despondent side of life.
PEGG: We filmed in the London that people live in, not the London that people visit. In Shaun of the Dead, we wanted to get the idea of action that was happening away from the SWAT team and the army. That was one of the overriding observations we made making Shaun: somewhere else in the city there was a much better film taking place, in a popcorn kind of ways. Instead, we as an audience got stuck with this fucking loser from the electrical [appliance] shop, his girlfriend, and his best mate.

METRO: Aside from the fact that Shaun was filmed at Ealing studios, it struck me that Shaun was a graphically violent modern version of an Ealing comedy. Liz's housemate could have been the grandson of the exacting, finicky bore Kenneth Mars plays in Genevieve, and there's also the mother who feels she mustn't grumble over something as small as a zombie bite.
WRIGHT: One of the films we watched in preparation for Hot Fuzz was Passport to Pimlico (1949), a comedy about a small neighborhood where people had their own law and way of doing things. Hot Fuzz is simultaneously more English and more American than Shaun of the Dead; what's alien in England is familiar here, and it'll be the opposite in the U.K.

METRO: In satirizing Bad Boys II, you did manage to make something amusing out of one of the most painful films I've ever seen.
FROST: I kind of admired Bad Boys II on the painful level. It deserved some sort of medal for willful destruction. I could see how someone would just consider it painful to watch.

METRO: And there's also your recreation of the emotional climax of Point Break.
WRIGHT: Keanu Reeves' greatest moment on screen.
PEGG: It's my greatest moment on screen, too. [Laughs.]
FROST: I'd love to have Keanu Reeves see it.

METRO: I've read that Timothy Dalton considered Hot Fuzz more fun to work on than the Bond movies. I always thought he deserved more praise, and that the real problem with the two 007 movies he made were that they weren't cosmic enough. After you've been blowing up diamond-encrusted satellites, it has to be a comedown to be sorting out minor Central American drug dealers.
WRIGHT: In the wake of Casino Royale, a lot of people are re-evaluating Tim's first outing as Bond. Tim was dragging that franchise out of the cesspit of self-parody...
FROST: ... and low rent "Carry On" movie jokes...
WRIGHT: ... and I think Tim is to be thanked for that. The weakness of the second one, License to Kill wasn't his fault; they always scapegoat the actors. I think Bond has found his critical home in a grungier version instead of sillier version. And you can say Timothy Dalton was doing that years ago. On set, he didn't talk about Bond much, except that at one point he'd say that whenever he went into the bar, some wag would ask, "Martini, shaken not stirred?" That must be part of the millstone of being Bond. Despite the Bond stuff, I thought he was great in Flash Gordon, very dashing and funny. I was more excited about working with Prince Barin.

METRO: There's one moment in Hot Fuzz that's particularly adroit, in which a hapless and yet very deserving victim is struck with a large chunk of a medieval church.
PEGG: The crowd pleaser, we called it.

METRO: I was in a crowd, and we were indeed pleased.
WRIGHT: It was a combination of CG and special effects. We did have a prosthetic head of the actor, a heavy prop stone, but the rest of it was CG. Then there is a shot with the stunt man, wearing the stone in question, staggering and falling flat on his face. A quite dangerous stunt, since his head was restricted, and he could have injured his neck.
FROST: His head was turned sideways under the prosthetic.
WRIGHT: The physical head splat was impressive on the day we shot it, but one thing you can do with CG is tickle stuff so it looks better. With CG, it doesn't have to be a big dinosaur, you can do little subtle things.

METRO: A truly spectacular death by misadventure. I kept thinking of The Naked Gun movie—which one was it? where a fireworks factory explodes, and Leslie Nielsen comes out with a megaphone: "Nothing to see here, folks!"
PEGG: It's the first Naked Gun. In a way that's why we didn't do that kind of thing, because it had been done so well before. What we kind of do in Hot Fuzz is more like a valentine to the police movie.

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