Simon Pegg, co-writer and star of “Shaun of the Dead,” surprised Hero Complex Film Festival attendees Friday night, joining director Edgar Wright on stage.
The QA — at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles — capped a zombie-themed opening night, which included a screening of “Shaun of the Dead” as well as Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” a highlights reel of “The Walking Dead” Season 2 and a QA with Snyder and “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman.
Wright would not discuss his Marvel “Antman” film project, only saying “there might be” some new developments.
“I have to give a spectacularly vague non-answer,” Wright said, but credited Marvel producer Kevin Feige for having the courage to build “The Avengers” franchise from the ground up.
Wright and Pegg did talk briefly about “World’s End,” the upcoming third installment in their thematic trilogy which also includes “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.”
“Really, I think the overarching theme in the three films will be the struggle of the individual against the collective,” Pegg said. “It was a joy to write this one, and I think it’s because we’ve done it a few times and kind of know what to expect, and a little bit more mature. And I think the script will reflect that …. I cannot wait to start making the film.”
Wright also talked about the origins of “Shaun of the Dead.” Wright and Pegg decided to make a zombie film after shooting a zombie-themed episode of “Spaced” — their 1999-2001 TV series — which in turn was inspired by the Resident Evil video games, Wright said.
But Wright said the idea for Shaun’s slow response to the zombie crisis around him was inspired in part by Wright’s own slack-jawed response to the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak in Britain.
“It was a big deal, and I can’t remember what I was doing, but I had been busy, or just kind of caught up in my own problems, and then the first thing I saw about it was TV footage of a huge pile of cattle being burned,” Wright said. “And I was just watching the news, going ‘Wait, what is this?!’ So that’s kind of the expression for Shaun. He’d be the last person to switch on CNN and see what … was going on. Because there’s going to be that guy.”
Another touchstone for “Shaun of the Dead” was John Landis’ “An American Werewolf in London,” Wright said.
“I always loved that it was really scary, really gory, but also really sweet-natured,” Wright said. “And you really cared about the characters, and you didn’t really want anybody to die, which was an important thing …. That was the thing that we wanted to do with ‘Shaun.’ “
Pegg and Wright talked about zombies’ place in pop culture and voiced preference for classic, slow-moving zombies over the undead sprinters in Snyder’s “Dawn” and Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later.” Pegg said he shared that sentiment with “World War Z” writer Max Brooks. The Brad Pitt-starring film adaptation of the book will include fast zombies, but Brooks compared fast zombies to a bullet and slow zombies to a tumor, Pegg said.
“A tumor is far more scary and sinister than a bullet,” Pegg said. “That’s key to the slow zombie. That’s what’s made them so beloved, is this weird, eerie ineptness that they have. It makes them sad. It makes them tragic. It makes you feel sorry for them. In ["Night of the Living Dead" director George] Romero’s films, you root for them sometimes.”
“We like the slow zombies because they’re like lava,” Wright added.
The pair share an obsession with Romero’s work, they said, that helped form the bond that has led to a working relationship and friendship of nearly two decades.
“George Romero should always be given proper respect for starting that whole thing, which I don’t think he always is,” Wright said.
“[Zombies are] almost seen as being like vampires or werewolves,” Pegg added. “They’re not. George came up with this in 1968. Zombies existed in a sort of voodoo way, but he combined it with the cannibal and mixed in a little communicability, and you’ve got your modern zombie. That was all George’s idea …. Really, George needs to be canonized for what he did.”
The festival continues Saturday with screenings of “Robocop,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Super,” as well as QA’s with Peter Weller, Malcolm McDowell and Rainn Wilson.
– Noelene Clark
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