British comedy peg

By Meryl Fulinara

With his launch into American cinema with breakout performances in satirical comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it’s no surprise 38-year-old Simon Pegg’s latest movie would be a spoof on celebrity culture.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, out Oct. 3, is British journalist Toby Young’s memoir-turned-movie about British intellectual Sydney Young, played by Pegg, whose celebrity-bashing lands him a job at a conservative entertainment magazine. And his ascent into the dog-eat-dog business of the entertainment industry soon follows.

The Chronicle sat down with Pegg at the Four Seasons Hotel, 120 E. Delaware Place, to discuss his new movie, celebrity obsession and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

The Chronicle: How is ‘How to lose-Friends and Alienate People’ different from the British comedies you’ve starred in?

This is a different kind of comedy than what I’ve done before; it’s certainly more conventional, but it is still sharply written. You just bring as much of you into it; whether I bring Englishness, I don’t know. I think it is a myth that [British people] have a different sense of humor; I think we find the same things funny.

Do you find it harder to act in movies that you have not personally written or have had a hand in creating?

It’s a different dynamic. I don’t have any of the production ability, although I kind of insist on it a little bit. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were such collaborative projects; I was involved in every single element of the production. Sometimes it’s nice to just let it go, relax and just be an actor. And in that respect, it’s actually a nice change of pace. But I am happiest when I can control everything.

Is there anything you did in the movie to help your character get audience sympathy?

There is humanity in him. I tried to make him believable and give him warmth where I could. You just hope that the audience will go along with that and start to think that maybe he’s not such a bad guy.

Did you form a bond with Toby Young, whose life this movie is based on?

I made sure we went out and had dinner a few times, but I didn’t do an impression of Toby in the movie. He’s not a horrible human being. He had an approach to journalism, which got him a bit of a bad reputation. He is tenacious and doesn’t care what people think of him. He did get thrown off set; I say “thrown off set,” but he was asked not to come back and he chose not to. He told [director Bob] Weide, “I think it’s going to be hard for me to come on set and not have any input.” Bob told him, “Well, don’t come on set,” and he didn’t. And that’s how we got rid of Toby.

There is a part in the movie where you have to grab a transsexual woman’s penis. Was that actually you or was it a hand double?

I grabbed that thing full-on; the fact that it was silicon helped-it didn’t belong to the individual. The person who was supporting it was actually a very beautiful woman by the name of Charlotte, who had to be augmented for the purposes of that scene.

What was it like working with ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ director Bob Weide?

The problem was I personally don’t get along with Jewish people, and Bob just constantly went on and on about that. [But on a serious note] he is brilliant; he is really, really funny. I joined the film because I loved the script and I love Bob; he directs one of the best situational comedies to come out of this country, and I’m a huge fan of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Did you improv while filming?

A little bit. There is one line that got the movie, which is the line I immediately say after touching the transsexual’s penis. Otherwise, it was pretty much a tight script, and it didn’t necessitate any improv. This is a slightly more conventional romantic comedy that needs that snappy movie dialogue-not much improvisation.

A big part of the movie focuses on people who are celebrity-obsessed. Did that draw you to the script?

I think it is a timely film. Our obsession with celebrities is at an all-time high. It’s such a meaningless, facile by-product of something else, and yet it is focused on so much as being something more important than an [actor’s film]. I kind of see it as the celebrity side of [acting] is to actors what radiation is to people who work in a nuclear power plant. You can’t help getting close to it, but it’s not necessarily a good thing. The film itself is about how meaningless all that is; it might look great from the outside but once you’re in it it’s actually pretty disturbing and a bit pompous.

Is there a big difference in acting with mainly American actors than British actors?

Yeah, they’re better. Actors are actors. The approach is different. Jeff [Bridges] is extremely focused. Kirsten [Dunst] is instinctive. There are different approaches between different people, let alone different nationalities.

How well do you think the movie portrays the British ‘You hate us, we don’t care,’ attitude and American media?

The fact is that Sydney goes to work for a man that used to have his same attitude-based on [Edward Graydon Carter], who started Spy magazine, a reverent satirical publication, and who is now editing Vanity Fair, which is far more conventional. I think there are types of journalists like that in America and in England. Our journalists can be quite aggressive, rude and negative. Your paparazzi are worse than ours; they are slightly more invasive. The [media] pounds at the notion of celebrity-it’s everywhere, it’s an epidemic.

Why should people see this movie?

It’s very entertaining. There is a real journey there, it’s uplifting and it’s the kind of movie that would leave you smiling, which isa good thing for this kind of film.