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Paul

Directed by Greg Mottola

Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen

Rated R, now playing

Last Tuesday, I had the chance to sit at a round table interview with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, the comedy duo starring in and directing the upcoming alien comedy film Paul. The duo is perhaps best known for their two previous works, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, part of their Blood and Ice Cream trilogy. We spoke to Nick and Simon about a range of topics, from what it was like to work with the actors in Paul, to American culture, to 6 headed babies.

Does it ever get to the point where the American accent drives you up the wall?

Simon Pegg: I love it, actually. If you look at all our references of stuff we allude to, it’s all exclusively American stuff. As Englishmen we grow up on a diet of American culture. You’ve got this amazing resource; a country that’s 100 times as big as ours and speaks our language, so I’m used to it.

Nick Frost: It does get a bit tiring if you watch Food Network. Especially when the commercials come on, and the cynical marketing people pop up and use 1000 words to describe a red pepper.

You went on a road trip of the western United States to prepare for Paul; what was the most surprising thing you found?

SP: We found a 6 headed baby, that was really…

NF: Yeah, that was weird.

SP: I think we were most shocked by the sheer size and scope of the nation physically. We live in nation that you can literally travel across in a day. In this country, you can travel a whole day and not see a single human being, and that was awe inspiring. When you see what’s in between this extraordinary landscape, it’s vast and terrifying, and you get a sense of what’s behind the American psyche, the pioneer attitude and forward momentum that this country has; it’s in the very rocks. And everyone we met were incredibly welcoming and warm, apart from the mother of the six headed baby who drove us off with a pitchfork. The idea of writing the film without this trip was an absurdity.

Who selected Seth Rogen to be the voice of Paul, and did it change the writing at all?

NF: We originally wanted a deep gruff voice, like Rip Torn, but you realize you’ve gotta get this film made, and you go to Universal with Rip Torn, and they say no. So we had to compromise; they wanted someone who was comedically relevant, we wanted someone with a deep gravelly voice. Seth was the only person who fit both ends.

Was it difficult to get Steven Spielberg to do a cameo?

SP: It was his idea! We were gonna do this concept that Paul was going to be a cultural influence on a lot of science fiction, especially giving Spielberg a lot of his movie ideas, and when we told him this, Spielberg’s eyes lit up, and he said, “Maybe I should be in it’” and we were like, really?

Do you ever have a concern about meeting a personal idol of yours, and finding out that they aren’t what you hoped they would be?

SP: Someone had a very interesting point, which was that perhaps Paul is a metaphor for meeting our idols, because it’s like something fabulous steps out from the dark and turns out to be quite ordinary. And in a delightful way, every time we’ve met our heroes, they’ve been down to earth. Spielberg, Tarantino ... everyone who we’ve really wanted to meet has not disappointed us in the fact that they have not been a dick.

NF: I think you have to take into account that everyone is in some way, flawed, and if you go in with that in mind you’re never really going to be disappointed.

Were all of the Kristin Wiig parts scripted or ad libbed?

SP: Very much ad libbed. We had many conversations of whether “titburgers” was funnier than “dickmilk.”

NF: If someone had taken a picture of me and Simon and Greg [Mottola] and Kristin staring in front of the television, you’d say “Oh, these are filmmakers,” when in fact we were talking about what was funnier, titmilk or dickburgers.

Nick, your character Clive in Paul, in comparison to the bumbling sidekick in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, is a much more serious, emotionally affected character. Whom do you personally identify with more, or are both really far off from your true self?

NF: I think I’m going to sound like an idiot when I say this, but you need to bring a bit of yourself into everything you do, or otherwise people will see through it as not very realistic. The closest thing to me was probably when I did a BBC adaptation of a Martin Amis novel called Money, and I’m probably nearest to that man.

SP: He’s basically an insane, womanizing drunk.

NF: Doing a lot of comedy and being seen as a bumbling sidekick, it was great for me to be able to play what was essentially a lunatic, a man falling ill before your eyes. Non-comedy is a struggle, you’ve gotta look inside yourself and really pull from that.

Last question … Star Wars or Star Trek?

SP: You know I can’t answer that.

Paul comes out in theaters today.