Boldly Going Where No Geeks Have Gone Before

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost  in “Paul”

Paul may be a road movie that veers and swerves across the heart of America, from San Diego to New Mexico to the stunning vistas of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, but it has its origins in a much more intimate setting: a garden in Crouch End, London, all the way back in 2003, where Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were filming their new movie, a little comedy about zombies called Shaun Of The Dead.

“We were in the garden doing the records throwing scene,” recalls Pegg. “And we were having trouble with the weather  because in May in England it’s so changeable.”

So, during a break Nira Park, the film’s producer, asked the duo – best friends since they met at a Mexican restaurant in 1993 – what they wanted to do next. They spitballed a number of ideas, including a film about two British comic book fans who encounter a genuine alien while on a road trip across the States. Pegg even drew a poster of the alien giving the camera a middle finger. The alien, and the film, was called Paul. “Five years on,” laughs Pegg, “I walked onto set and thought, ‘this is exactly how I imagined it.’”
But the road to the roads of America was not an easy one, as Pegg and Frost filled their time with other projects, including Hot Fuzz, another film with Shaun’s director, Edgar Wright. “Paul was on the back burner,” says Pegg. “We could do that one day, that silly little idea we had. It was like a pub chat pipe dream. Then Nira said Edgar was going off to do Scott Pilgrim, and Nira said, ‘why don’t we do Paul?’”
And so they did, with Pegg and Frost – who would be writing with his friend for the first time – embarking upon a road trip across the States in a battered RV that proved utterly invaluable. “It got us an education entirely,” says Pegg. “We started off writing on the RV and watching The X-Files as we went along. Then, gradually, we realised that everything we needed to do and see out the window.” Frost laughs, in agreement. “The writing lasted two hours.”
Elements that Pegg and Frost experienced along the way included a trip to the Little Ale’i’nn, a sci-fi themed café near Rachel, Nevada, and a trip to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, the flat-topped mountain that served so memorably in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. They also channelled their experiences at the San Diego Comic-Con into the opening of the film, and their characters, the sweet and naïve aspiring comic book creators Clive Gollings (Frost) and Graeme Willy (Pegg).
“They were a lot geekier to begin with,” says Frost. “But we knocked them back to what you see.” “They’re a strange amalgam,” concurs Pegg. “They’re our geekiest selves, I guess. If we put anything of ourselves into them, it’s a projection of our most avid fanboy sides. And we put another side of ourselves in there, too, an interest in paranormal activity.” Frost nods. “We imagined that it was just literally the two of them all the time. There’s only one other guy they know. And when you see them dancing round the campfire, the stage direction says, ‘it is the first time that Graeme and Clive have ever danced.’ I was watching it last night, thinking, ‘that’s right!’
The Pegg-Frost friendship resonates in the relationship between Graeme and Clive (“There’s a great love between them,” says Pegg. “We channelled a bit of our romance into it, didn’t we?”). But the film itself also took their friendship to new areas, as the two wrote together for the first time. Not that those areas were always welcome. “There were big arguments,” admits Frost. “I think that’s how it’s meant to be, right? It would be weird if there wasn’t a big disagreement.” “The thing I remember is having this big argument over the Vasquez Rocks thing,” recalls Pegg, referring to a scene that takes place early in the film. “It was a silly thing. That was a real big blow-up which lasted an hour or two. Then you have that cool-down period where you don’t want to talk to each other but you don’t want to fight, but then you have a cup of tea and it’s all fine.” Frost smiles, “One of us would say something really funny and then it’s forgotten.” “Yeah,” agrees Pegg. “It was mainly just pissing ourselves laughing.”
The film, though, isn’t called Graeme & Clive, it’s called Paul. And, from the off, Pegg and Frost were focusing on their title character. An entirely CG creation, to be voiced by Seth Rogen, Paul went through a number of iterations before they settled upon turning him into a laidback slacker with an impressive array of swearwords at his disposal. “We had a few different ideas from the time we started writing,” concedes Frost. “He was a lot older, a lot meaner and he was a bit violent. But the longer the writing process went on, instead of him being this horrible character who upsets and shocks Graeme and Clive constantly, why don’t we make him more likeable? He’s cool, he’s been around a lot, he’s the most human character in the film.”
Pegg nods, in agreement. “Before Seth came on board, we were thinking of someone like Rip Torn. He was this old Jewish guy with tanned leathery skin, but now he’s just a cool dude, in the vein of Mork and ALF and those classic smart-mouthed aliens. But more real.”
Check out the movie trailer here:
“PAUL” is a United International Pictures released and distributed through Solar Entertainment Corporation.