Busted Fuzz: A Q&A with Edgar Wright
Edgar Wright first came to prominence with the BBC series Spaced, which he created along with series stars Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. Three years later, he directed and co-wrote the feature film Shaun of the Dead with Pegg, which became an international success and established his reputation outside of the UK. He and Pegg reunited for Hot Fuzz, opening Friday, which aims to do to Jerry Bruckheimer what Shaun did to George A. Romero. Wright sat down at a recent press conference to talk about Hot Fuzz and other projects. A transcript of his Q&A session follows.
Note that while no monumental secrets of the film are revealed, certain minor spoilers occur throughout the text.
Edgar Wright: (Sitting down, and gazing at the sea of tape recorders placed in front of his seat.) Look at all this! I'm going to be a bit OCD here. (He immediately arranges the recorders into a neat row, organized by size and model.) This is like a game!
Question: (laughing) Are you like this on set?
EW: You know, it's kind of weird. I do this all the time in restaurants and stuff, with place mats and the like. I remember seeing that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry David pretends to have OCD, and thinking, "That's what I do! Maybe I have OCD!"
Q: Can you talk a little about shooting the [pyrotechnic-heavy] end of Hot Fuzz? Was it a challenge to you?
EW: Absolutely. The film cost about twice as much as Shaun of the Dead, but the ambition in the script is probably five times that in terms of the amount of characters, and the plot and the action. It was a challenge; I came out of it with even more respect for the kind of action directors that I love. Doing that kind of stuff is really tough, and doing it in the UK with the terrible weather was even worse. What's funny -- especially in that end shoot-out in the town square -- is that we never really had the roads closed off. We didn't really have the money to close down the center of that town. So with every shot you see, imagine fifty schoolchildren and old ladies watching from behind the camera. And lots of French exchange students coming through all the time. Really, really surreal.
Q: The style was so intense throughout the whole movie, even in the paperwork scenes. How hard was it to maintain that?
EW: All of the stuff I've done before is visually very dense, and I like things being very snappy and having lots of transitions and stuff. But given that this is in the cop action genre, and given the way that that's gone with Tony Scott and Michael Bay in the last ten years, it was a gift to go completely over the top. And I love [those guys]. I'm probably the sole member of the Domino fan club. With the recent Tony Scott films, I just like the fact that a sixty-year-old is directing like a twenty-year-old. And Man on Fire... the direction of it is absolutely crazy. When critics dismiss him as an MTV-style director, I think that does a bit of a disservice. And it is style over content sometimes, but the style is fucking amazing. I don't get snooty about different films because I appreciate different films for what they are. You can have something with long-held steadicam shots, and you can have Domino. There's room for both.
It was fun doing this because of that, like the paperwork scenes that you mention. The idea was to take the most boring aspect of cop work and make it so amped up. When we conceived of the idea, there was a show in the UK called Heartbeat, which is a really, um, boring show about a cop in the country. Real sort of Sunday afternoon TV. And so our thing was, "What if Tony Scott had to direct Heartbeat?" That was the thing: to take the really sleepy mundane end of cop work and amp it up. We did research with real police officers whilst we were writing -- lots and lots of police officers, both over the phone and in person. We went around London, into the sort of rougher neighborhoods, and we went down to the country as well. We had this questionnaire for all of them, and one of the questions was, "Which part of the job have you never seen dramatized onscreen?" Every single one of them said the paperwork. It's like fifty percent of the job. It's like being a teacher: actually teaching kids is only like half of it. The rest of it is going (makes a scribbling motion on the tabletop). That scene kind of evolved from there... I remember that we went to one rural station, and there was this tiny room where there were about eight police officers, hunched over their desks, writing. And they were all in their stab vests and stuff. It was this really forlorn image. So that was the idea behind that: to make the paperwork the most exciting bit in the film.
Q: How much of that was a specifically British take on this genre: filtering American conventions through British sensibilities?
EW: The whole thing is that basically. On the one hand it's very British, and on the other hand, it's trying to be very American. That's the joke. The film kind of mutates about halfway through, at that point where they watch Point Break and Bad Boys II. After that, it kind of goes off the scale. I mean, they fall asleep during Bad Boys II, which is quite amazing. (Laughter.) It's the loudest film ever, but Danny and Angel fall asleep during it. The idea was sort of like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix: Nicholas Angel is asleep and Bad Boys is sort of filtering into his brain. Like when you fall asleep with the TV on and start dreaming about what's on the TV. Angel didn't see the last half of the film, but he heard it, he woke up, and now he knows kung fu.
Q: Nick Angel is also the name of your music supervisor. Was that just a homage to him, giving your hero the same name?
EW: Yeah. Just the name: Nick Angel. It sounds like a great cop. That was the thing: even before we had the idea for the film, we had a meeting with him, and when he left the room, I said, "Simon -- Nick Angel. One good cop." So that was it. It's funny; we never refer to [the character] as "Nick" in the film.
He [the composer] was really pleased that we name-checked him... and then during the film, he started to freak out a little bit. He thought he was going to get the piss ripped out of him for the next twenty years. But now, you see the start of the film, with [the character's] commendations -- those certificates of outstanding work in Operation Crackdown -- [the composer] now has one of those on his wall.
Q: For the grislier setups on Hot Fuzz, where there any ideas where you said, "Oh no, that's too over-the-top, we gotta toss that idea"?
EW: No. (Laughter.) No, it was fun doing the murder scenes. I mean, the idea was to really, on the one hand do a sort of Agatha Christie story -- the Hercule Poirot books have a high body count, let's not forget -- but also to kind of recapture the kind of spirit of the "hard R"s that cop films in the '80s used to have. Even Beverly Hills Cop is more violent than you would remember. I think that's because I'm of an age where I saw most of that stuff on VHS, usually watching them when I was too young to see them, at my brother's friend's house. I wanted to try and recapture the illicit thrill of watching Die Hard, or Lethal Weapon, or Robocop, or The Last Boy Scout -- films that got increasingly, spectacularly violent in terms of people's demises and stuff. That was definitely the vibe we were going for -- "R" meaning "R." I like the aspect of an otherwise pleasant comedy having brief outbursts of swearing and ultraviolence.
Q: How did you guys get Cate Blanchett to do that little cameo?
EW: I'd met her in LA and I knew she was a fan of Shaun of the Dead, so that was a start. Basically, that was the first thing we wrote in Hot Fuzz was the girlfriend scene with the CSI gear. The first joke was where you have this really emotive scene with him saying farewell to his girlfriend, but you can't see her face. Then we started to think about who could play that person, and I thought, "Why don't we get a really heavyweight actress?" In a weird way, there's something a little bit subversive about it. Even in the UK, you would not believe the pressure you are under to put really big stars in [your film]. It's funny; there was one review in the UK that criticized us for having too many famous people in it, and I was thinking, "Man, if you knew who they wanted us to put in there..."
You do get people saying (and this is not the name they suggested), "If you put Ashton Kutcher in your film, you could get an extra five million." Having American comedy stars do a cameo in the film and thereby add more marquee value and stuff. We wanted to keep it very British. So the Cate Blanchett thing was a slight joke on that. "Let's get an Oscar winner in there, but let's not even see her face." She was terribly up for that joke, she loved it. And, for the record (and this is why Cate Blanchett goes to heaven), she gave her fee to charity. She is one nice lady.
Q: You had a second person in there who might be...
EW: Oh yeah, Peter Jackson is in there as well. The irony with Peter Jackson is that we got him to play Santa Claus, and we had to give him a fake beard and pad him up. The two things that -- three years ago -- would have been prerequisites for the role, he both lost. He had been a big supporter of Shaun of the Dead ever since it came out. I actually had a little holiday and went over when they were shooting King Kong, and got to hang out on set like a work experience kid. I was telling him about Hot Fuzz, and he said, "I live in the UK, and I'll do a cameo if you want," and I said yes. Then I thought, "Fuck, he should play Santa!"
He came down from London and it was so sweet because the night before, we were shooting this scene in the castle, which was really tough. We were shooting night scenes in June, and we had like six hours a night, and you had a scene with fifteen actors, and there were all sorts of technical problems. The night before had been pretty disastrous. Then the next night, Peter gets to set, and I say, "What do you want to do in the evening, because we're going to be shooting." He says, "Oh, I'll come and watch," and I'm thinking, "Oh fuck..."
Then before we started shooting, I had a cup of tea with him and told him exactly what had happened the night before. It had been a scene around a table -- what are called dinner-table scenes -- and they're always a complete bitch because of the number of eye-lines you have to get, and coverage: you've got people all around the table. It's tougher than shooting a shoot-out. So I'm telling him about this, and he says, "Oh, the scene in Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings was my least favorite scene to shoot for the same reasons! I could not wait to get out of that scene." It was great, because it was kind of like having him on my shoulders for the whole night. It was a good omen, it was nice.
Q: What's in the works now that this film has wrapped?
EW: There's several things in the works. Even before Hot Fuzz, I wrote an adaptation of this comic, Scott Pilgrim, with Michael Bacall -- who's in Grindhouse. He's this great writer who's also an actor. Me and Mike Wright have been working on Them! and also working on an adaptation of Ant-Man, so there's like three things in the works. On top of that, Simon [Pegg] and I have an idea for number three in what we're calling the Three Flavors Con Até trilogy. We know the three films will feature blood and ice cream, and those are the only linking variables. It's weird because it feels like we haven't even stopped working on Hot Fuzz, which was finished, like, two weeks before it came out in the UK. Then, whilst we were still doing the press, I shot my trailer for Grindhouse -- like a month ago -- which is insane. It's like handing in homework. I had total carte blanche doing the trailer for Grindhouse. They read the script and they liked it, and sort of said, "Here's a little bit of money, go do it, and here's when to hand it in." And I handed it in, and they said, "Great! It's in the film!" Very weird.
Q: Are you thinking about expanding [the trailer] into a feature?
EW: I don't know. I think if anyone wanted me to, I'd happily do it! The thing about my trailer, unlike the other ones, is that the whole point is that there's no plot. Sometimes you see some of those trailers for European films and think, "I have no idea what the fuck that is about." The idea to make it look like a 90-minute film condensed was to have a different actor in every single shot. So in the 90 seconds, there's like 30 actors in it, which is crazy.
If it worked into a feature it would have to be... I've always really admired Mario Barbaro and Dario Argento films. Suspiria is one of my favorite films because it feels like a dream you've had when you've eaten too much cheese. The weirdest bad dream you've ever had. I love films that have that nightmare logic, and don't really have any plot or story, just horrible bad dream after bad dream.
Q: What are your thoughts on cake flushing (a recurring prank mentioned by Hot Fuzz actor Nick Frost)?
EW: (laughs) It was Nick Frost's birthday like a week ago, and we've been on this tour... I think this is, like, the eleventh city we've been to. In the space of like 25 minutes, he got two big birthday cakes. He didn't want to add to his girth, so the only thing to do to give it due ceremony was to flush it down the toilet. Nick is very impressed by America's toilet flushing. Very powerful flushes; in the UK, we don't always have those. So it was a great way to see a birthday cake go down in flames. Now we have all of this on tape; we've done three so far.
Q: Will it be on the DVD?
EW: Yes! It's part of... Focus wanted us to do a tour documentary. And the truth of it is that we have like fifteen minutes off each day. So the documentary so far has been us in the car on the way to a hotel... and then being in a hotel the whole day... then being in a car on the way to a screening... then doing the Q&A... then being in a car on the way back to the hotel. Actually, in San Francisco two days ago, I had like an hour off in the middle of the day. So me and Jay Cornish went around and tried to see as many cop locations as we could in an hour. We saw Steve McQueen's apartment in Bullitt, the Denny's that he goes into, we saw the hills where they did the chase. We found the diner that Clint Eastwood says, "Make my day" in, in Sudden Impact -- which is now a McDonald's. We found Michael Douglas's apartment in Basic Instinct. San Francisco is the perfect place, because all of those locations are right around the corner from each other.
Q: And that will all be on the DVD?
Q: Is Spaced ever going to come out in the U.S.?
EW: I hope so. I actually wrote an e-mail this very morning asking what the fuck is happening with the Region 1 DVD release. The official line is that there's about ten tracks within the two seasons, which we can't clear for North America. We really don't want to go back and re-dub it with another track, and actually in the case of the first series, the sound tapes have been lost, so if we have to change any of the tracks, then we have to re-dub the scenes. That ain't gonna happen.
Basically, if we can clear the tracks, then it will be released. And several U.S. distributors want to release it, and over the years, we've had many people say they want it, so hopefully if will all get sorted out. I really hope so.
Frankly, I would recommend buying a region-free DVD player. They're only about fifty dollars, and then you can go to Amoeba (Music, a locally owned record chain), go to the import section, and buy whatever you want.
Q: Is there any temptation to do an American big budget movie?
EW: I'd love to do a film like that, as long I can put my stamp on it. The worst thing would be to lose your identity. As long as you can keep your identity and make films, then there's no reason to not do a film here. It would be a challenge. It would be fun. [At the same time], I'm very proud of the fact that we made two films set in contemporary Britain that are something you don't really see. A lot of the films you see have a slight fairy tale quality to them. Richard Curtis and Guy Ritchie films are both equally bullshit in terms of their depiction of what London is like. Not that their films are bullshit, but the London you see in Snatch doesn't really exist, and the London in Notting Hill doesn't really exist either. To make a film in Notting Hill and not have a single black person in it is something else.
I got offered stuff [from Hollywood] after Shaun. It's funny; I was at a park in London, and somebody chastised me for developing a Hollywood feature, saying, "You should stay in the UK." I said, "Listen: I turned down lots of things to do Hot Fuzz. I got offered some big U.S. films. And I wanted to do Hot Fuzz. I wanted to make a British film." And we want to make a third film.
When you're offered things, there's a big difference between a film where you read the script and say, "That's funny; I would go and watch it," and saying, "I want to spend two years of my life making this." The things that come through in the latter category are very, very rare. I love a film like Anchorman; it's probably one of my favorite comedies of the last ten years. But if I had been offered a chance to direct that, I wouldn't have done it, because that film can exist without me. There's no reason for me to make that film because somebody else can do it. When you get sent a script, and you think, "I can do this better than anybody else; I've got an angle on this," then that's the film that you do.
Article published 04.18.2007.
Also read: Rob Vaux's review of Hot Fuzz.
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