When the acting legend Simon Pegg came to open a new theatre at the Bristol Students' Union, Epigram Arts seized the opportunity to discuss everything from acting to cornettos with him.
Simon Pegg is a busy man. After visiting a children's hospital on the morning of Friday 20 March, he returned to his old stomping ground, our very own Students' Union, to open the new studio theatre which has been named after him.
Unlike the unproductive Shauns and alcoholic Garys we see him portray on screen, Pegg is crisply dressed and businesslike in his affairs -- though no less friendly for it. The renowned comedy actor, who made his name with blockbusters such as Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and TV sitcom Spaced alongside his acting partner Nick Frost, conducted a Q&A session with current drama students at the Union before scooting back off to London that afternoon.
Epigram Arts were fortunate enough to get few minutes' talk time with Simon during his busy schedule, before also chatting to his former tutor, Simon Jones.
Where did your interest in merging comedy and horror stem from?
I'd always been a fan of both the genres growing up, and as a film fan making films. Making proper horror films out of comedy, but also comedy horrors like Young Frankenstein and American Werewolf in London ... it just felt like something that I wanted to participate in. My friend Edgar [Wright], who directed Shaun of the Dead, had the same interests and so we kind of found each other because of that.
What are your views on recent comments in the media claiming that the working class actor is dying out due to lack of opportunities?
It's an interesting point and we spoke about it a little bit today with the students in fact, the lack of funding and the people that aren't necessarily in the position to find their way into the arts generally. Obviously that's a terrible thing that should be addressed, because everybody deserves a chance. If that's the case then it's going to lead to inequity in acting. I doubt people who went to Eton could play certain roles, because they probably don’t know what they’re talking about. So it is something that needs to be looked at.
"If you could communicate to young children just how fulfilling university education can be, then I think every kid would want to go"
You're famed for both acting and writing -- in what ways do you think they differ, and which do you prefer?
I prefer acting just because it's more fun, but I think when you do both they are sort of symbiotic in a way -- particularly if you write for yourself -- because you are able to be abreast of the whole creative process. You're there from the beginning to the end, not just in creating it but then performing it. I certainly find working with Edgar as I do, when we write together and then we separate to become actor and director, it's the best way to make a film because it means that the creative stamp on the movie is big. It's more even -- when something gets passed from person to person it can be great, so I think it's the ideal way to work.
Do you think your experiences at Bristol shaped any part of your career? What's your best memory of university life?
Absolutely, a hundred per cent. I mean I'd say this is the mould that I came from, Bristol University, this was incredibly important. Not just in terms of my academic life but my social life, and I wouldn't change a thing about it, anything. Not even the times where it was difficult, because they all contributed to where I am now, which is where I'm very happy to be. And yet I couldn't possibly pick a single moment now because it was a lot of fun, it was an incredible thing to discover that education could be such an enjoyable thing. Not easy, and certainly at times it required extremely hard work, but at the same time if you could communicate to young children just how fulfilling university education can be, then I think every kid would want to go.
Lastly, what's your favourite flavour Cornetto?
Oh, mint. Easy to answer that one.
Interview with Simon Jones
Did you think that Simon would go on to such success in his future career?
Well, when people ask me that question, I always say you can never tell. You absolutely can’t tell, but it was true that Simon definitely had something about him. There’s a clarity around certain artists or writers where you know they have a particular thing to say. Simon’s interest in popular culture, what later became a geeky thing, that hadn’t really expressed itself when he was at Bristol, and now of course he’s part and parcel of that.
"sometimes you get very talented people but they’re not tenacious enough so when they get rejected they give up"
When you see ‘Spaced’, what’s weird for me is when I look at Simon, all I see is Simon because I know him -- it almost feels like he’s not acting – though I know he is! That’s similar to when I see people like David Walliams and Matt Lucas, who were also at the department. As crazy as they now appear on TV, that was what they were like at university. It wasn’t a case of turning it on. This is also true with artists like Sarah Kane, who was a very influential British playwright of the 90s and was there when Simon was around. She was very very intense, so she was in a way exactly like her plays that came to be.
But as to whether people succeed or not, as Simon said when he was talking to the students, there is a certain amount of being in the right place and there’s also having tenacity, because sometimes you get very talented people but they’re not tenacious enough so when they get rejected they give up. But I always thought that Simon would be successful and when we were working together (because we made some shows together after he graduated) I could see that he was getting all these gigs to do stand-up and I knew it would only be a matter of time before that became what he ended up doing.
Featured Image: Bristol SU / Bristol 24/7
Are you a fan of Simon Pegg? Do you think any current drama students at the university have successful careers to look forward to? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us