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Like so many screenplays, The World's End has its origins in a Starbucks. As director Edgar Wright tells it, the ideas for next week's sci-fi action-comedy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost came to him while shooting the trio's last film, the buddy-cop parody Hot Fuzz. That film takes place in the quintessentially English town of Sanford, "an untouched pastoral haven, a hamlet of loveliness," says Wright, "and in reality there was a Starbucks right in the middle of the street that I had to erase. It didn't fit in the movie. So that stuck with me, the fact that there was a McDonald's and a Starbucks that hadn't been there."
That you-can't-go-home-again moment led to two running themes in The World's End, which finds fortysomething loser Gary King (Pegg in greasy, wannabe-rocker hair) returning to the small town where he grew up. As the self-appointed "Party Nazi," he pushily herds his high-school chums, including the strait-laced, several-years-sober Andy (Frost), through a 12-station bar crawl they'd failed to complete as teenagers. It isn't long before the five friends--the other three played by Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan--discover that their hometown has become more familiar than it ought to be. Every bar--The Famous Cock, The Trusty Servant, The King's Head--has the same menu, the same bartender, even the same clientele.
"'Starbucking' as a verb is what we are talking about in terms of the British pub, in that these old boozeries have been taken over by a chain and homogenized," says Pegg. "Nostalgia's all about comfort and familiarity, and Starbucks creates a weird synchronous nostalgia: They're creating a nostalgia in the present, a benign sense of comfort by making everything look the same."
Wright interjects, "Can you make a note in the article that says two of the three filmmakers"--he and Frost--"were drinking Starbucks? As in the film, Simon's the only rebel. Simon's drinking Canada Dry."
The Herculean effort to distance oneself from one's own nostalgia is the central theme and the emotional core of The World's End. "It's a love-hate relationship," Wright says. "Shaun of the Dead was a love-hate letter to London. Hot Fuzz was a love-hate letter to our hometowns. This is a love-hate letter to the past. It's about what we love about the past, but it's also about the dangers of looking back."
Unmentioned is the central irony of their latest work, that the script's explicit disavowal of nostalgia clashes obliviously with the film's reliance on boyish delights: killer robots, consequence-free violence, the apocalypse.
Though Wright traces his and Pegg's preoccupation with the themes of arrested development and perpetual adolescence back to Spaced, the 1999-2001 British sitcom that first brought the trio together, the dangers of nostalgia seem to have become all the more compelling in recent years.
"Two of us were passing 40," says Pegg. "We're approaching middle age--we are middle-aged. It's a time of reflection." It's a stage of life they also unwittingly typified while discussing doing a Reddit Ask Me Anything with their publicists just before this interview. Thinking the AMA was an auction, Wright and Frost happily agreed to participate until Pegg, the most tired (and probably busiest) of the three, clarified that it'd be a huge undertaking and that they'd need to do a lot of research to prepare for the session.
"I don't feel any different at all [getting older]," asserts Frost. "I think just everything around you changes. I still dress like a big kid." Of the three, he's the only one in a T-shirt. It advertises the Die Hard video game Nakatomi Plaza.
"Can I just say I don't dress like a big kid?" Pegg responds somewhat peevishly. Indeed, he doesn't. Covered up by a stylish gray wool cardigan and clear plastic frames, his strawberry-blond hair slicked back, he looks more like a Swedish architect than a movie star. He has an air of intellectual ennui about him, too, except when he's about to fall over from leaning too far back in his chair. Wright dons the standard director's uniform of shiny black blazer and jeans.
Frost relents. "To be honest," he says, "I would never go on a pub crawl [like the film's characters] because walking around drinking in a big group of men is complete anathema to me. I would rather stay home and have a couple glasses of champagne and enjoy a nice curry with my wife."
"That's the next movie," Wright jokes.
"A Nice Curry with My Wife," Frost riffs. "Me, Philip Hoffman, Catherine Keener."
"A Late Curry," adds Pegg, referring to Hoffman and Keener's Oscar bid from last year, A Late Quartet.
Wright is more than happy to spread that sense of "where did the time go?" to his audience. Having co-written the screenplay with Pegg, the director explains that he made the characters long for 1990 "to make people feel old. That was 23 years ago, guys!"
Well aware of the culture's creeping '90s nostalgia, Wright laughs, "We wanted to get in early and kill it."
"We're looking to do the '00s nostalgia now," says Pegg. "People will say, ‘Remember the first iPod? It was white and chunky, and it was hilarious.'"
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