Simon Pegg talks Trek

SFX continues our exclusive chat with Simon Pegg, soon to be seen as the reincarnated big-screen Scotty…

Zachary Quinto famously campaigned for the part of Spock. Was Scotty something that you chased?

Not at all. I didn’t flatter myself to think that I’d be considered. I know Scotty is slightly senior to the other crew but I kind of figured that they’d all be young and beautiful like Chris and Zach and Zoe.

Could you instantly see yourself as that character or was it a leap in your head?

It came so out of the blue. It took me three days to say yes. Once I’d got used to the idea it was just so exciting to be part of. I was taken around the set when I arrived in LA and I met Leonard Nimoy and Zach… I was a fan of the first series of Heroes, so it was really cool to meet Zach, but of course it was amazing to meet Leonard. I was shown all the production designs and shown the phasers and the communicators and all that stuff, just to get a sense of what they were trying to do with it. It was enormous. I was terrified!

So it totally made sense to you to go back to those primal characters?

I believe so. Just look at the evolution of Star Trek, through the movies and through the decision to restart it literally a generation later, and then the spin-offs that came from that… I think the mood for going back was kicked off with Enterprise, probably – a series that I didn’t really watch, to be honest, because the theme music was just incredibly bad, but I’m sure that beyond that it was probably an enjoyable show. Maybe that sense of nostalgia had already started to bubble. And then the idea of doing it again seemed so obvious. It feels like it’s time. And it has to be about the story – it’s such a great story. There’s a reason why this show has had such a seismic impact on the world, let alone the world of science fiction but on the world generally, on the shape of mobile phones, on the names of space shuttles… it’s because that original series was extraordinary, and it just deserves to be readdressed, you know?

Do you think the whole cast felt the shadow of those original Star Trek icons?

Well, some of them. Sadly for myself and for Karl, we didn’t get to meet our counterparts because they’d passed on. Chris tried… I don’t know how successful he was in contacting Shatner, but I know he reached out to him. He wrote a letter, and he wanted to, because we all felt that this most certainly wasn’t a parody. This wasn’t Galaxy Quest. This was a continuing voyage. That was important, and we wanted the people who originally inhabited those characters to be happy with it. And they all were – George Takei, Walter, Nichelle, they all came on set to meet everybody, and they were welcomed as royalty. And Leonard was obviously there, being Spock…

That must have been thrilling…

I think it’s one of the weirdest acting jobs I’ve ever had. I was doing scenes with him and I’d known that character since I was a child. Not the actor, even; that actual character, and he was looking at me, as that character, talking to me. And there were moments when I just had to say “Sorry, sorry! Can we start again?” I think it was incumbent on everyone to take it seriously. Chris never did Shatner. Kirk’s such a great character, such a complex, dedicated rogue… He’s a real piece of work to get into as an actor.

Did you ever get to meet James Doohan? You came close – you were both at our SFX convention in 2003…

I did, I saw him there! I’ve not even thought of that – that I was that close to him, and never got to make that connection with him. God, I didn’t even think of that!

We wish we had a photo of the two of you together.

Yeah… He was old then, wasn’t he? He was in a wheelchair… I hung out with his son, Chris, on set. He was my assistant in a certain part of the ship. We talked a lot about him. Chris told me about being on set when they shot The Trouble With Tribbles. He and his brother released that hatch that all the Tribbles were behind and prematurely filled the set with them, and got into huge trouble! His memories of his dad are interesting to me, because he sounded somewhat like Scotty in terms of personality.

How did you approach the accent?

My accent is more Scottish than his because my wife’s from Glasgow and I spend a lot of time up there. It’s more of a brogue than a lilt, which is what I think James had.

You know you’re going to be judged…

Well, fortunately my wife was on set all the time and we had a Scottish First AD, so I had people to go back to and say “Was that alright?” I saw the film the other day, and I was happy with my accent inbetween just being fucking blown away by the movie! It was almost overwhelming. It was awesome. The first sequence I was in bits, just crying my eyes out… I don’t know if it was just the end of the wait to see it but that first sequence was just incredibly moving. And then, obviously, when I cropped up my heart was racing… But it’s an extraordinary movie, just really exciting. It’s what you’ve always wanted to see Star Trek look like.

Do you actually get to say “The engines cannae take it?”

I think the great thing about the script is that every character you know and love gets their moment. It’s a great “cake and eat it” scenario, it really is. It enables us to almost begin again. I’ve heard this word canon come up so many times and it’s such a boring, blunt weapon to beat it with. And without having seen it or understanding how it works, it’s ridiculous to cite canon. The very existence of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in it can only mean that it’s canon, because he has all the experiences prior to that, all the adventures that we watched.

Is there a danger of slipping into pastiche?

Well, when you’re talking about a heightened space drama there is a degree of danger of it becoming funny. It’s entirely dependent on context. Take Bones – he had a particular manner of speaking, he was a Southern gentleman but he had those “god damnit!” moments, and Karl tackled that without the slightest wink to the camera. We’re all very careful. There are some fantastic nods in it for Star Trek fans. There really are some gifts in there. I think Star Trek fans will feel spoken to and acknowledged, because there’s stuff in there you couldn’t possibly get if you didn’t know this series very well. Even production minutiae that you’d recognise from certain episodes. I think it’s a great success in terms of appealing to the uninitiated and the faithful.

Nick Setchfield