'Paul': Simon Pegg And Nick Frost's Sci-Fi Love Letter
Consider it a romantic comedy. With the love interests being thirty year old aliens.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost bring their lifelong love of science fiction to the big screen in the alien new road trip comedy "Paul," creating a fusion genre as they craft an original story with plenty of homages to the past thirty years of alien movies. Shouting out "ET" and "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the writing/starring pair, along with director Greg Motolla and co-stars Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio and Seth Rogen, create their own adventure that's part buddy movie and part rewritten alien folklore.
The Huffington Post participated in a private press conference with a number of reporters, Pegg, Frost and Motolla, where all alien talk -- including the hot button issue of eating live birds -- was on the table. Here's the transcript, where it applies to the science fiction heart of the film.
Q: Since you got to know the cast, who was the most like their character, and who was the least like their character.
Motolla: Bill Hader plays a kind of straight laced, FBI, federal agent who, he's kind of like Gollum, he sees Paul as the ring as his way to glory, and he gets more unhinged and crazy as he goes along and kind of becomes a full on villain and a bit psychotic. And that's really who he is - he's really a psychotic guy. No, Bill is not like that at all.
But, you know, they were all playing variations of themselves to some extent. I'd say Simon and Nick - obviously they're not nearly as naïve as these guys, but they play very sweet characters in this film, and that's very close to who they are. And Paul is very much like Seth Rogen. He's foul mouthed and sarcastic and smokes pot. This is actually a biopic about Seth Rogen.
Q: Was this just a fun ride for you, or were you interested in this area - Area 51, extra terrestrials - before?
Motolla: I always loved the mythology of aliens. I believe they have to be out there somewhere; statistically speaking, there have to be other intelligent life forms. Whether they come and pull pranks on our livestock seems a bit unlikely, but I love the idea of aliens as folk lore.
Pegg: Of all the alien films that have come out recently, and we do seem part of a zeitgeist of alien cinema, I think Paul is the only one who would pass you a joint rather than shoot you in the head. The others seem to be slightly malignant. And Paul is the only one that is a bit benevolent.
Motolla: It was interesting when we test screened the film and people under a certain age, who had never seen ET, didn't know that aliens were sometimes nice. That was a revelation, I thought, oh great, let's keep ripping off old movies that are too old for the younger generation.
Q: If an alien did come down, what would you ask them?
Frost: I would ask them what they eat, and how they prepare it?
Pegg: I would I guess inquire about the secrets of interstellar travel. I mean, they'd have to overcome an extreme hurdle to get here. That's the thing - I think there's definitely life on other planets, without question, there's more chance of their being life than there is not, if you know what I'm saying, but the thing is, we may never meet just because the distances between our worlds is so enormous.
Maybe it's already here? Maybe it's already inside. You know, if the ship landed and the doors opened and like a shrimp came out, that wouldn't be any weirder than anything written by science fiction.
Q: A lot of science fiction is a road trip - Star Wars, Star Trek, etc - would you look at sci-fi as a whole and say there's always a road trip in there?
Pegg: I guess it's a journey into the future in itself. The very nature of science fiction is about pioneering into a time we don't yet know or a technology we don't yet know, and in that respect, it has the momentum of a journey. And so, yeah, it is, it's sort of uncharted territory, and that's what the road trip is all about, this sort of voyage of discovery. Yeah, in that respect, it's a metaphor for travel, science fiction, a metaphor for forward movement, forward momentum.
For us, it was just about, we wanted to make "Easy Rider" and put an alien in it. That was the kind of, to make Greg's first film, "Daytrippers," but instead of Liev Schrieber, have ET.
Frost: Let's take Kevin Costner out of "Fandango," and we'll put Paul in it. That's what we wanted to do, I think.
Q: There are so many references in the film. How did you guys go about what references you were going to get in there, were they little tributes, were they based on your favorite films? And what are those?
Pegg: It's more organic than that. We didnt have a checklist of films we wanted to name. Obviously we're appealing to our love of "Close Encounters" and "ET," but we didn't really set out to make any references. It's just that, that's our frame of reference, culturally, we grew up on cinema and television, and our sort of, what we defer to for our metaphors in life are those touchtones. So, you know... I think the Cantina Band music in the road house was Greg's idea and it was entirely that thing about, we're in a situation, we're strangers going into a bar, which is a bit unnerving, and the first thing that springs to mind is that scene in "Star Wars," so we had the dixie band play the Cantina Band music.
Frost: With Sigourney as well, once you know you've got Sigourney Weaver aboard, I think all three of us had that conversation: [whispers] "Why don't we see if we can get it in where Blythe says, "Get away from her, you bitch!" And we had that, amazing kind of, we were in a ski basin in Santa Fe, the three of us and Sigourney and Blythe and Sigourney was giving Blythe a line reading about how to do it, and I think all three of us, that's one of those moments where you think, "what an amazing job we've got!"
And then Sigourney starts talking about how James Cameron had only given her one take at that moment, so that "Get away from her, you bitch" you see in "Alien" is the one time she got to do it, and she was like, "I could have done it differently." And we were like, "WHAT?!" That's like the most iconic delivery of a line in cinema history.
Pegg: I think as well as us putting references into the script, I think there are also visual references that Greg leaves his lovely imprint and homages to Spielberg...
Motolla: Yeah, and things that are just kind of absorbed. I watched "Sugarland Express," not just "Close Encounters" and "ET" because we were shooting on not an unlimited budget and they wanted to move fast and I wanted it to feel like a road movie in certain times, in places, that morphs into a certain Hollywood film. And so yeah, I stole shots liberally.
Pegg: Don't say stole, say homage.
Motolla: I homaged shots from "Sugarland Express"
Q: What was with Paul eating the live bird?
Frost: Working with the idea that Paul has been around and perhaps kind of working with the film industry and the television industry for the last twenty or thirty years, it was our chance to kind of get a reference to "V" in the film. When you see that woman eating a bird, it's because Paul eats birds.
Pegg: Also, the fact that he brings something back to life, we wanted the majesty of it to be wondrous and then he just suddenly eats it. And we love the idea of him thinking the idea of eating a dead bird is horrible because immediately you think, oh he's right. And then you think, I eat chicken all the time, of course we eat dead birds! So that was Nick's joke, you have this wondrous moment of Paul using his resurrection powers and then, suddenly, he just eats it.
Frost: It's also funny, when you write it, you think oh that'll be easy, we'll just shoot it and that will be that, but, when you come to film that kind of thing, and you work out that there are laws here, that you cannot show an indigenous being eaten, and you have to kind of find a bird that is not indigenous to the States. What did we end up using, like a Dutch Starling or something weird.
Q: Paul ends up being the most human character at the end of the film, he's helping everyone to be better people. I was hoping you could explain the inspiration behind that.
Pegg: Yeah, the joke of the film is that the least alien person is the alien. He's the most at ease with himself, he's the most relaxed, the most well adjusted, the smartest guy. And he's the alien. It's Graeme and Clive are the aliens, they're the ones who have come over to this different land, this different world. Ruth is an alien in that she's lived this very cloistered life and suddenly the universe has opened up to her. It's suddenly, everybody is in some way alien and Paul is the catalyst that helps them come to terms with that. And we just thought that was a really interesting idea, that our alien hero was actually more human than they were.
Motolla: When I first read the script, I loved that about it, because in most films about aliens, when they're not coming down just to eat us, they tend to be these kind of godlike figures that are totally humorless and look like David Bowie and they're superhuman. They have advanced intelligence, these powers. And Paul, yes, has some of that, but the joke is that no matter how much any species can evolve, it'll still be flawed and annoying and irritating and a pain in the ass on a road trip. And I thought, I've never seen an alien like that, and I really like the idea that Paul is what an humans will turn into in five billion years and we'll still have the same problems.
Pegg: He's like a cross between ET and Bill Hicks.
Q: In the film, you make a very strong point to emphasize Darwinism over Creationism, and how close minded Kristen Wiig's character is at first. Why did you think it was important to make that point, science over creationism?
Pegg: I think it's mainly because we were interested comedically in the idea of someone having their worldview altered completely. And in order to do that, we had to have Ruth's particular faith be the very extreme end of Christianity, the literal interpretation of the bible, because by Paul's very appearance, that gets called into question, and that opens up the whole comedy of her trying to swear.
We're not trying to tell anyone how to think; I went to a cathedral school, I had religious people around me as a kid, they all had great senses of humor. We kind of like to think everyone has a sense of humor, and comedy is an arena where you can rehearse ideas that may not be comfortable to you in the real world. Like a roller coaster, you can experience fear and know you're not going to die. This is a really interesting idea: if an alien came down to earth, all of us would have to question what we believe about the universe. Because Paul has his creation stories as well, I'm sure his people have their creation stories.
Frost: It's not something we did lightly, as well as writers, we had to think about this and take it seriously and not be flippant about it. And as writers, if you start to censor yourself about certain things, where does that stop. I think it's more insulting to Christians to imagine that they wouldn't have a sense of humor.
Pegg: Everything's got to be on the table comedically as well. As long as you're in a position to talk about it, like you've experienced it, it should be joked about. If there is a God and he created us, he sure as hell gave us a sense of humor, so it's an insult to Him not to use it.
Q: What was it like working with Steven Spielberg on "Tin Tin," and do you plan on screening "Paul" for him at some point?
Pegg: Both Nick and I both worked on "Tin Tin," because we play the Thompson Twins, the almost identical detectives.
Frost: It's going to be the first time ever that we weigh the same, which is really cool.
Pegg: Albeit in the performance capture world, which is an amazing technology, and it was amazing to work with that, but not only with that, but with Steven. It was making "Tin Tin" that we talked about "Paul" with him. I showed him a picture on my phone of us with the alien head bust that we took on our road trip with us, and he was like, "Wait, what is that?" And I told him we're making this movie about this alien called Paul who, you know, you've had a direct hotline to over the years, and he gave you the idea for "ET" and "Close Encounters" and he's like, "I love that!" and he started riffing and was like, "Maybe I could be in the film?" And we were like, "What? Did you just say that?"
And then we really decided to laugh at the idea of Steven Spielberg literally phoning in a cameo, and I emailed him and said, "You remember when you said that to us? And you did say it because we taped it and legally you're obliged to go through with it." And he's the coolest guy, he loves making films, he liked the idea and of course, he'll see it, and he's very much a part of it, not the least because it's a tribute to him, but because he's in it.
Q: Talk more about yourself as aliens here, and how you coordinated the clash of British and American sense of humors?
Pegg: There is a percentage of us in Graeme and Clive; even though we're not the nerdiest, geekiest people in the world, sometimes, if normals, we call them normals, if regular people hear us they're like, "What are they saying? What language are they speaking?" We do have big nerdy elements to our characters, and we do love science fiction - we're not quite as nerdy and low functioning as Graeme and Clive are at first, they're literally in their own little world.
But in some respects, I think we've taken our experiences of coming over to America and working and doing our press tours and meeting people over here, we've taken those experiences and put them into "Paul." Because sometimes, it's easy to forget that we're foreigners; we speak the same language so you just have this natural feeling like we're related, or that Britain is an extension of America in some ways. And it's not - we are foreigners here. And sometimes, we feel extremely integrated, and sometimes we don't, that sometimes they think God, we're really foreign.