Great Scott, Simon Pegg is engineering a ‘Star Trek’ career
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“I felt damn sexy wearing it,’ Simon Pegg purred into the phone, ‘and I took a lot of clandestine photographs in my trailer.”
The 39-year-old British comedy star was talking, thankfully, about his Starfleet uniform, which he declares to be “one of the most iconic uniforms in the history of fantasy,” and who would argue? The USS Enterprise is back in action this summer with a ‘Star Trek’ reboot that has familiar names like Kirk, Spock and McCoy but with new faces in all those iconic roles.
Pegg is on board in the role of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, made famous by the late James Doohan. The history and that sleek Federation uniform made the usually irreverent star from ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ into an awed fanboy snapping secret photos of himself despite the intense policy of secrecy for the film, which will arrive in theaters May 8.
“I obviously was slightly worried that I’d get caught or I’d lose my phone and somebody would hack into it and there would be pictures published,” said the actor. “We were frisked every night. We had to go through a special props detector. If we were caught stealing, we would be electrocuted.”
The $130-million revival directed by J.J. Abrams explores the earliest space adventures of the iconic crew of the Enterprise, the one made famous in the 1960s television series and then in a series of films that began in the 1970s. It’s back to the future, essentially, but it’s one with attitude and humor, especially with Pegg as the brilliant but somewhat daft Scotty.
“It’s a ‘continuing voyage,’ to quote the show,” Pegg said. “It very much embodies the spirit and the feel of the original without making it seem kitsch or camp. I think [original creator] Gene Roddenberry created something that was extremely optimistic; a utopian society of us all working together. I think it’s very timely, actually, with Obama coming into power. You have this genuine sense of renewal and hope pervading the world. The film is here at a pressing time.”
It’s the 11th film in the sci-fi franchise but a fresh new gamble since the team behind the film aspires to win over a generation of young fans who don’t know ‘Trek’ as well as the nitpicking loyalists from the old days. A behemoth undertaking that holds a risk of alienating the franchise’s built-in audience, as well as not attracting a new one.
“I know the fans are concerned and I understand it’s a beloved thing, but there’s a dialogue in there between the film and fans that they will appreciate,” said Pegg, who also lends his voice to this summer’s ‘Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,’ which will hit theaters June 1. “There’s always the Holy Grail with an existing franchise like a comic book or something that has had a preexisting fan base. You try and bring it to a new audience and please the old one -- and you often fall between the two. But I think J.J. has managed to do both, and it’s a hell of a trick.”
Pegg would know. He’s a self-proclaimed Trek “geek,” who has an “unhealthy” knowledge of sci-fi, horror and comics . As a boy, he would watch the series on the BBC at dinnertime. Nearly three decades later, he was the only member of the cast who didn’t have to audition for the remaking of one of his favorite childhood series. Abrams, a ‘Shaun of the Dead’ fan, who previously cast Pegg as a quirky supporting player in ‘Mission: Impossible III,’ simply sent him an e-mail that read: ‘Do you want to play Scotty?’
Pegg, surprisingly, wasn’t easily persuaded.
“At first, it felt too huge to just give an arbitrary reply to,” Pegg recalled. “I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got to think about this -- surely, I have to kind of process this for a day or two. And I sent a message back to J.J. saying, ‘I don’t know. I don’t think I can do it,’ you know, because it felt too much of a responsibility. And J.J. sent one back saying, ‘OK, next time.’ And I immediately e-mailed him again and said, ‘Whhhaatt? Wait. Wait. Wait. I didn’t say completely no, just give me some time!’ J.J. said the worst thing that could happen is that every couple of years, with any luck, we get to have fun in outer space. And I just thought, of course, it’s a no-brainer.”
And it was a role Pegg approached with care.
“I went to live in Scotland for five years and studied as an engineer,’ Pegg joked in his practiced deadpan. ‘I’m that method.’
Pegg also got in touch with Christopher Doohan, whose famous father died in 2005. The younger Doohan plays Scotty’s assistant on the ship, too, which gives a bridge to the past -- as does the presence of Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock who turns up in this film as a time-traveling touchstone to the past of the series.
“I was able to feel a connection with James through Chris,” Pegg said. “That really helped. As for the accent, I just listened to my father-in-law.”
And what about acting alongside Nimoy?
“Oh, it was incredible!” Pegg gushed. “It’s a testament to his ability that he has created a character, which is essentially a pointy-eared alien, and has given him such dignity and sort of gravitas. To actually act with him when he’s doing it ... you get the feeling that you really are in the presence of greatness. To act with that character -- having known that character for so long -- was an extraordinary experience. To have him look at me and say, ‘You are Montgomery Scott,’ was kind of almost distracting to me because I was tempted just to sit back and watch Leonard Nimoy as Spock.”
In June, Pegg and Nick Frost, his co-star in ‘Spaced,’ ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz,’ will head to New Mexico to begin filming ‘Paul,’ a road movie they have co-written.
But right now, he’s swept up by the international promotion of a blockbuster, a film that may become a Paramount Pictures flagship for the next decade. And he pauses for a moment, thinking back to the childhood days when his eyes were glued to the TV screen at 6 o’clock.
“If someone could go back in time and tell me as a younger person what I’d be up to, I would be absolutely flummoxed by it. I would be amazed and not a little delighted. It’s extraordinary for me as a fan of ‘Star Trek’ to end up being part of the fiber of it. The irony is just huge.”
-- Yvonne Villarreal
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Credits: Simon Pegg photographed by Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times. ‘Star Trek’ photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures.