Q&A: The Spaced Crew
Before they went on to take the comedy world by storm with movies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, director Edgar Wright and writer/performers Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (née Stevenson) created the brilliant little British comedy Spaced. It involves the trials and travails of Tim and Daisy (Pegg and Hynes): a pair of London roommates whose lives are defined by sci-fi references. The show earned great praise for its insight into Gen-X fandom, as well as a cult following both in Britain and the United States. Spaced has finally been released on DVD in America, and the trio sat down at the San Diego Comic-Con last week to talk about it.
Question: What are your actual feelings on The Phantom Menace and have you ever gotten into a screaming match with a small child over it? [Pegg's character has a heated exchange with a young boy over the topic in one episode of the show.]
Simon Pegg: I was terribly disappointed by The Phantom Menace, as a lot of people were. It was like having the curtain pulled back and seeing this odd little fat man not doing very well behind it. It pains me to talk about it, really. When George Lucas did the original Star Wars, he was young and idealistic. It was about thrusting forward and being positive. Getting out of Vietnam and all that stuff. By the time he did The Phantom Menace, I think he was frightened that he was going to get taxed. You can see it in the opening crawl; it's all about trade laws and being scared of the Japanese. Come on! That's boring! Let's have a fight!
Edgar Wright: It was interesting that the two seasons of Spaced came out before and after The Phantom Menace, respectively. It was almost pre- and post-Vietnam for a lot of sci-fi fans. There was definitely a sense of rude awakening: a whole generation saying, "I've spent my whole life obsessed with this thing!" and making them look in the mirror.
SP: We wanted to use a lot of Star Wars merchandise in the first series of Spaced because Tim was a big fan, obviously. They were just coming up to the release of The Phantom Menace and were being very careful with their licenses. They wouldn't let us use anything, so we had these sort of crap little replicas -- whatever they would let us get away with. I think when their licensing team saw the first season, before the second one went out, they said, "Oh you can have anything." They'd seen that the show was very reverential and very pro-Star Wars. Of course, by that time, we'd seen The Phantom Menace and we didn't want it.
Q: There's also a lot of horror references in the show too, and you guys have subsequently become known for horror-comedy with Shaun of the Dead. How did that come into play with the show?
EW: That's probably just my default setting of shooting everything like it was a horror film for no apparent reason. There were a lot of references in the scripts already, particularly to The Shining.
Jessica Hynes: And there was the Evil Dead poster on the wall.
EW: Yeah, the Evil Dead II poster in the house is my Evil Dead II poster. We stuck it up there. There was that element there from the beginning. The whole start of the show is very stylized and kinetic because the characters are so drenched in popular culture. If they had to describe their mundane lives, this is what it would look like. Spaced is almost like them recounting their lives rather than the actuality of their lives. Does that make sense?
SP: "I went to work in a kitchen and it was like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," or "I walked into a pub and it was fucking Evil Dead." That's what you actually see in the show. Also, I think all three of us loved the idea of taking very mundane things and turning them into very grand cinematic things. We took that forward into Shaun of the Dead, having learned that on Spaced. Jess and I certainly wanted to have this world that was defined by popular culture.
Q: Was that also a reaction to the way most sitcoms are shot?
EW: Yeah. I think at the time, there were some critics in the UK who assumed that we were trying to burn down traditional sitcoms. And that isn't the case, because some traditionally shot sitcoms are just fantastic. But with the scripts that Simon and Jess had written, doing it single-camera was the only possible way to do it. And this was around the time that Friends was huge. In the UK, there were two or three shows that were trying to be the British Friends. We wanted to go against that really, just in terms of things like... well, their living quarters for starters. The apartment they're in was very small and ordinary. And the amount of costume changes in the show was limited. Both Tim and Daisy have a set number of outfits. Tim wears the same jacket in every episode -- its not like Friends, where they have a costume change every two minutes.
JH: I like to think there was a sort of aspirational quality to Friends. It's funny and it's truthful, but there's something a little unreal about their world. I suppose I would differentiate between Friends and Spaced by saying that Friends is aspirational and Spaced is inspirational. That was the tone we sort of set for ourselves when we were writing it, with the characters and the world they're living in. It was important to have it reflect our world -- mine's and Simon's -- and our experiences and our friends and ourselves. In order to have that kind of authenticity, it needed to be a little grubby.
Q: Jessica, were you a science fiction fan before setting out on all this?
JH: I was a pop culture fan, a broad pop culture fan. Of course, if anyone has friends like Simon, you hesitate to call yourself a Star Wars fan, because he's a Star Wars fan --
SP: Elapsed Star Wars fan.
JH: Elapsed Star Wars fan, but that becomes how you measure the standard. I love Star Wars, though, and my nine-year-old son loves Star Wars. Revenge of the Sith is his favorite film...
SP: Oh for fuck's sake... [Laughter.]
JH: We've seen them all and we've talked about them, and obviously I like the classic trilogy best because I saw it as a child and I loved that. But he has a childlike perspective and he likes Revenge of the Sith and I support him in that. Wholeheartedly.
SP: Would you say that if he were on crystal meth? [Laughter.]
EW: Clearly, we need to film Simon and Jessica's son arguing about this topic.
JH: But yeah, I'm a pop-culture fan. I grew up watching American shows and American films, and absorbing them and loving them. I'm a fan of lot of things, but I wouldn't say I was an ardent sci-fi fan. I like Star Trek and I like Star Wars and I've watched Doctor Who...
EW: You've kissed Doctor Who! You've made out with Doctor Who!
JH: Well yeah, there's that. But I'm really rather enthusiastic about TV and film across the board.
Q: Do you think there's any comedic TV show right now that gets it right?
EW: Arrested Development did for the two-and-a-half seasons it was on the air...
SP: Arrested Development was just depressingly good. Sometimes you watch something as a writer and just think, "Oh what's the point?"
EW: Larry Sanders was a great show. And Curb Your Enthusiasm.
JH: I always really liked Seinfeld as a sitcom, just in terms of the quality of gags and quality of characters.
EW: I think Seinfeld actually had a big influence on the second series of Spaced. The plotting of Seinfeld was very influential.
SP: Flight of the Concords is a great show. I'm also impressed with the American version of The Office. I love the way that they've taken that concept and made it their own.
Q: Spaced took quite awhile to come out over here, and most of the fans who got to know it over here did so with downloads and bootlegs. How much of a double-edged sword is that? You can build up a fan base, but there's always worries about piracy...
EW: In this particular case, it's hard to yell too loudly. I mean, you could only legally get the DVD if you had it imported and had a region-free DVD player. So if people come up to you with Spaced bootlegs, or said that they saw it on YouTube, you can't really say, "What, you didn't import the DVD from the UK?!" That was one of the reasons why we did this edition with a pile of extras. I think this version actually has more stuff on it than the UK version did. It was important for us to do that, because it rewards those people who carried a torch for the show... as well as giving them a reason to buy a proper copy.
Article published 08.05.2008.
Also read: Rob Vaux's review of Spaced.
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