Some Like It Fuzzy

“What are we doing?” asks Nick Frost. “It’s an interview for a newspaper that has expressed an interest in a film we made called Hot Fuzz”, replies Simon Pegg. “You remember that, don’t you?” “Er”, says Frost, with worrying sincerity. “Doesn’t matter, say what you like”, replies Pegg, the practised straight-man, spinning it out. “If we just talk over one another, it’ll be impossible to transcribe anyway”. “Ah yes,” Frost says, lapsing into Pegg’s clipped accent. “We used to have this thing with our families where I’d phone my mum, say, put the phone onto Simon halfway through and he’d ask her questions about girl’s parts or whatever.” The two collapse into giggles. “She never once twigged”. If their own mothers couldn’t tell them apart, what chance do I have? Add that to the fact the two have been best friends since they met fifteen years ago, speak in the same elaborate language (pop-references, jokes, semi-serious actor-speak) and share a boundless, bouncing enthusiasm, further limits accurate attribution. I did my best to sort out what I could, with the help of a follow-up session with their only slightly less ebullient director, Edgar Wright.

Loosely, the story of Hot Fuzz is what happens when an overachieving cop, Nicholas Angel (Pegg), is forcibly transferred by top brass (“You’re making the rest of us look bad”) from the thick of it in London to the sticks of rural Somerset. In the country village of Sandford (the name comes from the fake town where the real Met train) Angel is partnered up with simple-minded local copper Danny Butterman, played by Frost, Pegg's best friend, as outlined above; best man at his wedding and constant co-star from sit-com Spaced to Shaun of the Dead. Soon after Angel’s grim-faced arrival, a series of grisly accidents rocks the village. Angel is convinced that the villagers are hiding a dreadful secret and as the intrigue deepens, Danny’s movie-inspired dream of an action-filled adventure becomes a bloodthirsty reality. Pegg, who again co-wrote the screenplay with Wright, describes the movie as “a cross between Midsomer Murders and Lethal Weapon”. “We wanted to do something that was an evolution from Shaun of the Dead; taking what we’d done there and run with it a little bit. Edgar had done some amateur cop movies when he was very young (he’s only thirty now) and filmed them where we ended up shooting, Wells in Somerset which is where he grew up. So he had all these unrealised ideas from back then and we wanted to do something that grew out of SotD. Something, you know, bigger”.

“That turned us onto the idea of doing an action film, a traditionally American genre” (“Or Chinese” stage-whispers Frost. “The French have done a few). “OK, a traditionally international genre, but set it somewhere very parochial, in the heart of Middle England. A hybrid of small town cop story and insane action extravaganza”. From there, Pegg and Wright started to think how to re-imagine the idea of the British police service, “making these Dixon of Dock Green characters into Schwarzeneggers, with guns and guts.” Pegg, who has been in a couple of other movies since SotD, including a spot in Mission Impossible III opposite Tom Cruise, found Nick Angel to be the hardest role he had ever done. “Because I have to fight every instinct I have in order to play him. He’s so straight, he’s like a robot. We had this idea of making a super-cop, like the T-1000 of The Met. This guy who is morally uptight, totally hampered by his own belief in proper procedure and it takes moving to a place like Sandford for him to work all that out. He has to learn to be a human being throughout the film, which is what he learns from Danny.”

“That’s the whole journey”, says Frost, “but there are more jokes”. “I came up with the name Danny Butterman ages ago”, the actor explains, rubbing his formidable belly, “because it seemed like such a good fit for a guy I’d play. If I’m a good boy, they let me have things like that”. Much more so than the uptight London super-cop, the unsophisticated, unfulfilled Butterman is the film’s identifiable, every-man character. Frost says he doesn’t mind in the slightest that he’s not involved with the writing process. Before Pegg and Wright finalise the script, the three spend a couple of days going over it. “If I have something to bring to it, and we agree it works, we’ll do it”. Pegg says they spent a long time deciding on how to follow the success of their zombie comedy. “We didn’t want to rest on our laurels and assume that whatever came out of our pens was going to be great. We really wanted to try and improve and evolve as writers and actors and directors. We couldn’t have written Hot Fuzz, never mind making it, before SotD, because everything we learned on one went into the other”.

Part of that learning curve was avoiding the temptation to cash in on a quick sequel to SotD, the cheap and funny movie that wildly exceeded expectations, going from cult to mainstream, especially in the US. The success led to a long courtship from the major studios for Pegg and Wright (Hot Fuzz is a Universal Picture), but the actors are more interested in recalling their cameos in George A Romero’s remake of Land of the Dead, (which both describe as the “ultimate thrill”), than big-money offers. “We were never going to do Shaun 2: Electric Boogaloo”, says Pegg, emphatically. “I think you can retroactively spoil a good movie by making a sequel because when you end it, as you must, you run the risk of ruining the first one. Take Jaws. If you believe in Jaws, you have to believe that at some stage he is going to end up in the Caribbean fighting Michael Bloody Caine”. “The classic one”, says Frost “is going from Aliens into Aliens III. Cameron’s is a great sequel because it turns the whole thing around and goes from a monster movie into an action movie. But in Alien III, the two people Sigourney Weaver has been breaking her neck to save die in the first five minutes. You watch it and think, well, she might as well not even bother. They’ll be dead on that prison planet in a few years. May as well just go back to hyper sleep.” At this point, the two slip into a longish, well-trodden private argument debating precisely how the first Star Wars trilogy was ruined by the second three. In short, Pegg and Frost are nerds. “We don’t use the ‘n’ word, we prefer the term geeks”.

“We have always been aware of our geekdom and have learned to embrace it”, says Pegg. “The whole of Spaced (the brilliant Channel 4 sitcom that was their first collaboration) is basically saying, ‘don’t worry about being geeky, it’s fine’. Being a geek is just about being enthusiastic and having a more developed sense of attention to detail.” The merest hint of a tone has wandered into Pegg’s voice, so I assure him that I wasn’t passing judgement. “The geek community know what they love and they really, really love it”, says Frost. “We went to the comic conventions for Shaun and for Hot Fuzz and say what you want about them, but they’re a great audience”.

Typical of the two actor’s shared, unashamed geekiness, they are fond of putting things in their correct classifications and giving their pop-culture findings catchy names. For the film’s half-way change of tone they invoked what they refer to as Bruckheimer’s Law, after Jerry, the arch-duke of high-concept pyrotechnics. “Well I say law, but it’s really more a set of rules derived from the application of Popcorn Logic”, continues Pegg as I nod, understandingly. “As you might discern, we spend a lot of time sitting around watching films. For the purposes of Hot Fuzz, we’re trying to get the right ear for the language of them, to look at the alphabet of the genre – what are the clichés and which of them we want to include. Then, we write it out and hopefully, make it funny, but the point is that logic goes out the window in an action movie like this. So, when the time came to explain something away on set, that was the term we used, Bruckheimer’s Law. Things like not having to observe the elementary laws of physics or human physiology. Or never having to reload your gun”. Wright explains how this model of filmmaking fits, saying Hot Fuzz is “about wanting to make a film that was resolutely parochial English but inexorably became something unmistakably Hollywood. And as it does so, it starts to take on all the attributes of both types of films. We start tight and repressed and finish loose and mad as hell. Our film mutates from this pastoral comedy into this loud, chaotic beast of a stand-off; a mini-Armageddon.”

All three of them are obvious fans of the genres they adapt into their own comic universe, zombie horrors for SotD and action blockbusters for the follow-up. “Hot Fuzz is definitely a tribute to those kinds of movies”, explains Pegg “but we’re referencing the whole genre, I suppose, rather than specific films. Except for The Wicker Man and Bad Boys II and Point Break”. “And Supercop and Rambo and Lethal Weapon and every one of John Woo’s films“, says Frost. “Yes, um, but I’m talking about stuff like how the bad guy will always get up again after you think he’s dead, and when someone speaks into a microphone in a public place, you’ll always get feedback. It’s the familiar shorthand for action movies and we had to learn that; know how to place those elements in the movie”. “Like a mathematical formula, or a magic spell”, says Frost, wriggling his fingers.

“But going back to all those references that I made a point of saying we didn’t want to make a big deal out of”, Pegg continues, “The Wickerman was a real starting point for us. We watched a lot of movies about small communities and we thought that this uptight cop coming in from outside was a great place to start for comedy. The idea of casting Edward Woodward came later, when we thought it’d be great to offer him a part. When we were writing, I always pictured Skinner as looking like Timothy Dalton with a moustache until the thought occurred, why not ask Timothy Dalton and, if we’re lucky enough to get him, ask him to grow a moustache?”

Later, director Wright gets very excited when talking about his cast, describing it as a dream ensemble and listing them one by one with a superlative in the middle of their names. He also gets very animated when mention is made of the top-secret cameos in the film, inserted “for our own entertainment, really, not credited”. The first one arrives in the opening reel and features an Oscar-winning actress. I had an idea who it might be but Wright, who congratulated me for getting it, but asked me not to reveal it, maintained there’s another “very high-profile” actor in Hot Fuzz. “He makes a fleeting appearance much later, and he is just as well known. I think of the cameos as little rewards for sharp-eyed viewers.”

Wright might love his in-jokes, but he respects his genres. “There’s a big difference between celebrating something and taking the mickey out of it. Tarantino truly loves his inspirations and it shows but somebody like the makers of Scary Movie or whatever, don’t. And it shows too. We want to exalt! Enthuse!” Pegg puts it another way, saying that any interest in the types of movies they’re paying homage to will add to the whole experience. “We always throw stuff out there that deliberately plays to that side of the audience. I think it’s important to have that level of interaction in a film that’s made, really, for the audience. It changes it from being just something to watch into something that allows the spectator to make connections. It’s more enjoyable, like that, joining the dots”.

I tell them that having watched the movie, all the scenes of sitting around, eating cake have a real-life feel to them. “Well, yes”, admits Pegg, “pastries and ribald talk are essential to the process, but the whole thing about the cake in the movie, as with a lot of the language and the more absurd events, are that they’re based on our research. We spent a lot of time with real cops. The escaped swan is, word-for-word, a real story. Having to buy cake for everybody when they mess up, that happens all the time”. “Not only that, there are different grades of cake for different indiscretions,” says Frost. “A misfiled arrest report might mean a tray of éclairs. Wrongful arrest, a couple of Black Forest Gateaux”. If Hot Fuzz has a message at all, according to Frost, “it’s something like what Danny says to Nick during the couch scene, ‘sometimes you’ve got to just switch off’.”

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