I’m FaceTiming with Simon Pegg about his new movie Ready Player One, and we’re getting reacquainted.
“It’s been a couple years now since you were out filming Star Trek here in Dubai,” I say.
“Did I meet you there?”
“You did, at the press conference!”
“Of course, I remember. William, from the press conference! Of course. How are you?” he asks, with a big smile on his face.
Ready Player One is the story of a future in which the real world has fallen to pieces, and most people spend their time inside a virtual world called the OASIS, built by a man obsessed with the past and filled his world with 1980s pop culture references. When the creator dies, he leaves his stake in the company, and his considerable fortune, to the first person that can find the Easter eggs he’s hidden inside. Our hero is a young man who knows more about those pop culture references, and the creator himself, than almost anyone, using that knowledge to thrive inside the virtual world. Pegg plays Ogden Morrow, the creator’s original business partner.
Pegg, since creating the cult TV series Spaced in 1999 with his friends Edgar Wright and Nick Frost, a show full of pop culture references in its own right, has since had a professional life that any young fan might have dreamed of—starring as Scotty in the Star Trek film reboot series and writing its third installment, appearing in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, working twice with Steven Spielberg.
“I couldn’t help but think, watching this story of a man able to live his dreams and live inside a world he knows so well, this is, in some ways, the Simon Pegg story,” I say.
“I guess I try and keep a slightly more forward looking attitude when it comes to things. The OASIS is built by a man who cannot leave his own past, and as such, he brings the future generations into that past too, and he makes the future obsessed with the past,” Pegg says.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Simon Pegg’s character on Spaced yelled at a young fan for growing up in the wrong Star Wars generation, and his take on toxic nostalgia has only grown deeper.
“For better or for worse, nostalgia isn’t always a great thing. It can arrest your progress in terms of moving towards the future. I think, in that respect, this is quite a cautionary tale. By the end of it, when they’re living in the real world as well, it’s celebrating real connections as much as connections within the OASIS.”
That’s not to say that he’s no longer a fan himself, or that the Simon Pegg who made Spaced would feel the same way he does now.
“Young Simon would be very excited to do the things that Old Simon is doing, I’m sure. But Old Simon is already thinking about the next thing that he wants to do rather than looking back. Young Simon was always looking to the future, and I think Old Simon is too. It’s very exciting to talk about myself in the third person, as well,” Pegg says.
“It’s very exciting to be apart of this. The irony isn’t lost on me at all, that the man who directed this film is partially the reason that I love cinema of this kind. That makes me feel very lucky and very privileged.”
Pegg worked with Spielberg previously on The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in 2011, where he provided a motion-captured performance of Thomson and Thomson along with Nick Frost. Since that time, motion capture technology has evolved considerably.
“It was great. We all appear in the virtual world as well as the real world in some capacity. With Tintin, the first film I did with Steven, that technology was fairly nascent, and it still is, really. It’s every changing and ever evolving. This time around, what would be seven or eight years later, the technology is moved on further and the process is easier to envisage. We had 3D sets to walk around, we have virtual reality goggles we could put on and see the sets we would be in, which was amazing, It was great to get back and do that again having done it before,” Pegg says.
“What was the best story Steven told you on set?” I ask.
“I can’t tell you that,” Pegg says.
“How about the second best?”
“He told me some amazing stories about shooting the scar comparing in Jaws, and shooting Indiana Jones, and casting Close Encounters. The stories were so interesting to me. They were about something I thought I knew everything about. To hear them literally from the horses mouth, though Steven is not literally a horse, but to hear them from the literal figurative horse’s mouth is a treat,” Pegg says.
Pegg has now finally seen Ready Player One, which he thoroughly enjoyed, he tells me.
“It’s just an onslaught of visuals and ideas, tension and excitement. It’s an amazing experience. It’s a film that genuinely does lend itself to repeated viewings. You can watch it in a variety of ways. You can watch it purely for the story, purely for the visual experience, or to check off the different cultural touchstones that arrive on the screen, in varying degrees of obviousness.”
While Pegg himself has changed, he his love of acting hasn’t.
“It’s the same. I feel like it’s something that I love to do. The challenges change, the roles changes, hopefully I get better the more chance I get to do it, and to get to work with the people that I admire is also a bonus. I want it to be the thing that I continue to love to do. I always tell my kids, find what you love doing and try to do that for a living. It’s the best advice you could give anybody, I think,” Pegg says.
“See you back in Dubai. Signing off!” he says, with a salute.