Simon Pegg riffs on ‘Dawn of the Dead,’ zombie consumers and popular culture

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Simon Pegg talks in Friday’s L.A. Times about what it’s like to be the guy living the geek dream. He’s been directed by John Landis and Steven Spielberg; he plays Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ and was a villain in ‘Dr. Who.’ Good god, man, there are action figures of him!

In the interview, Pegg, who came to the attention of American audiences with the zombie classic ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ which he both starred in and co-wrote, discusses his new memoir, ‘Nerd Do Well.’ He’ll be signing the book Friday at the Grove at 7 p.m. (pick up a wristband at Barnes & Noble for a spot, starting at 9 a.m.).

These are outtakes from my interview with him, complete with starts and stops, conducted by phone Monday when he was in New York. He talks fast. Transcribing was hard.

Jacket Copy: In your memoir, you wrote about seeing ‘An American Werewolf in London.’

Simon Pegg: It was scary, but it was also brilliantly funny, and not disturbing. There’s no cruelty in that movie (apart from the scene with the Nazi zombie storm troopers). There’s a lot of good will in that film. It’s infused with a huge love; that really comes across. I watched that and I felt that. I was immediately converted to like –- I wanted to get into horror films now, this is great.


JC: You were immersed in major iconic marks of geekdom: ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Star Trek,’ horror movies, superheroes, ‘Dr. Who’ -- and now those things that used to mark a subculture seem ever-present in mainstream culture.

SP: The fact is the people that are now producing popular culture, the people that are now in control of the means of production, are the people that grew up watching that stuff. Their frame of reference is entirely that. The children of ‘Star Wars,’ the children of the ‘70s, are now creating art. And all of their art reflects their origins, and that is their origin.

I also think there is a tendency for people in late capitalist societies to want to regress. They don’t want control, they don’t want to be in government, they just want to regress to a childlike state. The best way to do that is to involve themselves with childlike things. The things that create the mainstream at the moment, the things that comprise the mainstream are all, arguably, childish things.

I saw trailers –- I went to see ‘Super 8' last night, which is an exception, I think, ‘cuz it’s more of a grown-up film, ironically, because it’s all about kids. It was all like ‘Captain America’ and ‘Transformers’ -- a ... toy advert is the biggest film of the summer. A toy advert. We’re all mentally 3 years old. It suits the people in power, because we’re easier to control if we’re like children. Do you know what I mean?

JC: I do--

SP: [continuing, on a roll] It’s a means of control, that’s what it is. It’s late capitalism, mind-controlling us, with comics. [trails off laughing]

JC: In the book you write about George Romero’s zombie movies as capitalist critique.

SP: “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead,” he was using those zombies as a metaphor for things that were going on in society. The first one came out in one of the most politically turbulent years of the 20th century, 1968. There was a lot going on then in the civil rights movement, the end of the Summer of Love, Vietnam was a huge influence. Invariably, things that are on the public mind tend to come out in art. Now it’s not so much that way, or maybe it is, but post ‘Star Wars,’ everything’s sort of bang-flash. There is little time for thoughtfulness in cinema anymore, unless it’s in the art houses.

Q: In ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ what do the zombies represent?

SP: In ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ in the same way that in ‘Dawn of the Dead’ Romero was taking the zombies as being like consumers.

JC: ‘Dawn’ is the one in the mall?

SP: ‘Dawn’ is the shopping mall. It’s all about literally being a mindless consumer and just gravitating to the mall, because that’s all they know, and it’s all about, you know, the death of the American bourgeoisie [laughing] and stuff like that. They create this amazing little bourgeois paradise in this shopping mall, and it’s hilarious, because the world was falling apart, yet they create this little structure in there of -- the most brilliant moment, to me, in ‘Dawn of the Dead,’ is when they go and rob the bank in the mall, and they get the money and they’re taking pictures of each other with the money, and you know, money doesn’t mean anything any more. And when they leave the bank, they walk through the barriers, they don’t jump over them, they just walk through the zigzag through the barriers where people used to line up. And it’s such a telling moment, that even if society crumbles, you can’t get rid of those ingrained habits that we have as a result of being consumers.

‘Shaun of the Dead’ was about living in a city, and becoming so immune to what was going on around you that you literally don’t notice the world ending. Shaun, he kind of is so self-involved that the world ends around him and he doesn’t even notice until it’s too late. Living in London is a bit like that; living in any city is like that. You step over homeless people, you don’t look at a single person on the train. It’s this weird -- everyone’s alone, but together.

[Pegg will be sharing the space of the city at Barnes & Noble at the Grove on Friday. Maybe he won’t notice that it’s a shopping mall.]

-- Carolyn Kellogg