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Edgar Wright, born 1974 in Poole, Dorset has made our lives richer. He was the man who did an extraordinary job directing Spaced, he gave us Shaun of the Dead and now his latest film, Hot Fuzz ist playing in cinemas all across Germany. This ist what we talked about.
Peter Clausen: The promotion for Hot Fuzz has been going on for a long while now. While you are still doing the rounds for the theatrical release in Germany, you are already doing promotion for the DVD in the UK, right?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, that's right. It's been fun though, we have been doing a lot of travelling the last couple of months. We only really finished the film in january, so it still feels pretty fresh. So it's been nice, we get to visit cities we have never been to before. This is my first time in Hamburg.
Peter Clausen: So you are not tired yet?
Edgar Wright: Well, I'll answer you at the end of the day (laughs).
Peter Clausen: So, how do you feel about the movie's German subtitle?
Edgar Wright: I was looking at this just now, what does it mean? It's something with "two"... "two hot professionals"?
Peter Clausen: Well, you'd have to translate it with something quite vulgar - "Two tough Fuckers" or something similar comes to mind. There is a certainly a sexual connotation in the title.
Edgar Wright: (laughs) So you could say "Two tough Bastards"? That'd be okay. There's an American film called "One tough Bastard". I can live with that.
Peter Clausen: You could, but the German title still has a bit of a sleazy edge to it.
Edgar Wright: That's okay. Hot Fuzz itself sounds kind of vaguely erotic. It sounds like it could be a porn film.
Peter Clausen: What is more important in storytelling? Plot or characters?
Edgar Wright: Well, they are both completely intertwined. Plot is dictated by character. Characters drive the action, so the two go hand in hand.
Peter Clausen: And where do you start the writing process? Do you start with the character's journey, or do you start with the essentials of the plot?
Edgar Wright: Well, again they are basically the same. In a film like this Nicholas Angel's journey to Sandford starts the ball rolling, it's like the discovery of what's happening in this village is the equivalent of learning about himself, learning about being a more rounded person.
Peter Clausen: Have you ever had a moment where you intended to write a certain plot-development, but couldn't really do it anymore because the characters had developed into an unexpected direction?
Edgar Wright: Not really, because usually when you start writing you know where you are gonna end up. I have never started writing anything without knowing what the ending is. So you know, in a way, where you want to get to. Hot Fuzz is building up towards the end, and the way it aspires to be, or what the Nick-Frost-character wants it to be. It's why we have the titles of the film at the end, instead of the start, because it takes two hours to actually become Hot Fuzz... or "Two tough Bastards"!
Peter Clausen: To me Hot Fuzz felt a bit broader than Shaun of the Dead or Spaced. Did you intentionally write it that way?
Edgar Wright: To my mind it doesn't seem that much broader. There is certainly a lot more verbal humour though.
Peter Clausen: I was thinking of stuff like the living statue...
Edgar Wright: Well, the living statue was actually more like a bit of observational humour. I come from a town just like that, and whenever they had street performers like jugglers or fire-eaters or those living statue-people, the locals would hate them. The people in town hall certainly wouldn't like them. So it wasn't supposed to be surreal, but more an observation I remembered from my youth.
Peter Clausen: But while we are talking about broadness, how important is naturalism in comedy to you?
Edgar Wright: Well, in Shaun and in Hot Fuzz there is a naturalistic element to the performances, which are actually quite real. And that allows the jokes to be more surprising sometimes. Some comedies are played really, really broad with lots of silly faces, and mugging the camera, and we don't really do that. But I like that Hot Fuzz can have a mix of very different kinds of humour. There can be a lot of verbal humour, there can be some very subtle jokes, there can be broader jokes like people falling over fences, and there can be jokes that can be blackly comic or outrageous. I like having a mix of everything.
Peter Clausen: It's also more important to make it more than just a comedy, isn't it? If you just laugh about it, you don't really care...
Edgar Wright: I think so. It's difference between a character comedy and an outright spoof. In spoofs, Scary Movie or something like that you don't really care, because the characters just move from gag to gag. We try to make the comedy come from the characters and the situation. Ih Shaun of the Dead all the comedy comes from the characters' reactions to their situation, and in Hot Fuzz the comedy comes from the context of seeing all those things you normally only see in big Hollywood blockbusters in small town-setting.
Peter Clausen: So in a nutshell it's about juxtaposing the mundane and the extrarordinary?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, absolutely! It's about juxtaposing the mundanity, and your expectations of genre-films.
Peter Clausen: So, what's your opinion on straight up spoofs? Do you still find them funny?
Edgar Wright: Some of them are funny. When I was a kid I used to love films like Blazing Saddles, Airplane, Police Squad and Top Secret. But as time went by, they became quite tired. They were no longer unpredictable or surprising. The earlier Mel Brooks-stuff, where there was a real love and effection for the material is much better than the later stuff, where it became a bit more contrived in just trying to make something that would be a success.
Peter Clausen: And as soon as you count on a parody or a pratfall happening every couple of seconds, it's just not funny anymore.
Edgar Wright: Yeah, I am not a big fan of this recent trend of Epic Movie, Scary Movie, Date Movie, etc. This trend of recreating scenes from other films, with a big fart gag and some Hip Hop thrown in. And it's really sad when they start to recreate scenes from other comedies. One of those films did a parody of Napoleon Dynamite and the only joke was that they had "Don't vote for Pedro" instead of "Vote for Pedro" on the T-shirt. Was that really the best, they could come up with?
Peter Clausen: So maybe one day they will try to spoof Hot Fuzz...
Edgar Wright: I think Hot Fuzz is more about the situation. You couldn't remake Hot Fuzz in the states. It would be absolutely pointless, because a lot of the jokes come from the juxtaposition of seeing British bobbies in this kind of action. So, I doubt we'll see a Hot Fuzz spoof. It would be funny though...
Group: How did you prepare for Hot Fuzz?
Edgar Wright: I had already seen a lot of action films, as I am really a fan of the genre. And then we rewatched them. We watched a lot of films, while we were writing, and went through three stages: Films we had seen before, and would see again, great films we hadn't seen, and bad films. We probably watched about two hundred films, not all of them cop films, but also genres like the Western. it was great because the research for the film was half watching films, and half researching actual police officesers. A practical application, and a theoretical application so to say.
Group: So how was shooting in your hometown?
Edgar Wright: It was cool, but also kind of weird. I never thought, that we'd get to shoot there. And we shot in the main center of the city - in real life it's actually not a village, but a very small city. It was pretty great, especially because we didn't really have any roads closed down, and whenever we were filming, we were surrounded by old ladies and school children.
Group: So, are you allowed back?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, they liked it. I was nervous about that. We had a London premiere, and then we went down to Wells, and had a West Country premiere. I was worried about how they'd take the film, and what it essentially says about the small town mentality, but they really loved it. And it's been playing there ever since it opened. It has been about four months now.
Peter Clausen: Recently there has been a trend of remaking successfull British productions like The Office or Life on Mars. How would you feel about Spaced, Shaun or Hot Fuzz being remade?
Edgar Wright: Well, we have had some requests. They wanted to remake Spaced back in the year 2000, but it didn't really seem like it would work in America. Particularly Hot Fuzz would be the most pointless American remake you could ever imagine. The whole joke is, that it's supposed to be turning into an American film. If they redid it in America, it wouldn't be any different from Bad Boys.
Peter Clausen: They'd probably even set it in Los Angeles.
Edgar Wright: Yeah. I thought it was kind of pointless with Spaced as well. I think part of the charme of the three things we have done is that we have created things in a British setting. Ninety percent of the films that get released at the cinema from Hollywood, and to regurgitate it through a different filter is part of the charme.
Peter Clausen: I suppose your projects are also very personal.
Edgar Wright: Yeah. And certainly we have been asked about Shaun of the Dead many times, like stage adaptations, or a TV series.
Peter Clausen: Stage adaptations?
Edgar Wright: Somebody actually sent us a theatre adaptation. And it's the same thing with a TV series. We just weren't interested.
Group: I really don't think they'd have to do a remake of your movies anyway, because they are actually well known in the states. So, are the doors now open for you to do some large scale American projects? You already did a little part for Grindhouse, right?
Edgar Wright: Yes, I directed one of the little parts in the middle of the film. The fake trailers. I had such a blast there. We went out there when it opened, and my part was really the last thing to be shot in the film, because i had been doing Hot Fuzz. I directed it in late february, and it was out in the theatres about six weeks later. But it was cool, because Quentin and Robert really loved it. I have had quite a few interesting opportunities, and I certainly want to make another British film, and I definitely want to make another one with Simon and Nick in the UK. But there are lots of other ideas I am developing and writing.
Group: What about the comic book movie Ant Man. That's not the movie one would expect you to make.
Edgar Wright: Well, I kind of like that.
Group: So, is it going to be funny?
Edgar Wright: It has a comedy aspect. I like the fact, that he's nobody's favourite super hero.
Group: He doesn't even have his own comic book series.
Edgar Wright: He did have his own comic book series. The first one was published in 1962, and he's seen every now and again. It's a really good high concept thing, and I have been working on it since even before Shaun of the Dead. It's great knowing people in the states,collaborating with people like Quentin and Robert, and other directors. It's very encouraging.
Group: There is a lot of violence in Tarantino's and Rodriguez's films. Do you like violence? Are you a violent guy?
Edgar Wright: I love violence! It's my favourite thing (laughs). There is nothing I like more in the morning, than a bit of violence.
But I think so many comedies have become really bland. So many of them are kind of bland, predictable and without surprises. And I think in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz things seem really unpredictable. And I like that. I like people being kept on their toes. They don't know quite what they are gonna see. Hot Fuzz is essentially a comedy, but it has elements of action, violence and horror.
Group: Hot Fuzz probably has a higher bodycount than Shaun of the Dead...
Edgar Wright: Yeah, but I like the idea that the whole film is about upsetting the status quo of this picturesque, beautiful place and then there's sudden outbreaks of violence. It was the idea of taking something in the vein of Agatha Christie, and add a really high bodycount. Coupled with that was the idea of action films from the late eighties and early nineties. Those action films, that came out in the wake of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard got more and more violent. And they also started to get more spectacular, there was more focus on the kills, the deaths got more and more outrageous and over the top. And the idea for Hot Fuzz was probably borne out of a misspent youth watching films like Robocop and that ilk. Those films have got action and satire, and they are funny but then they also have moments that are completely unexpected. And it's not that dissimilar to what Quentin Tarantion does. Some of the funniest bits in his films are shocking violence. When they shoot the guy in the back of the car it's extremely violent and unexpected, the same way as the reporter's death in Hot Fuzz.
Group: But how did you achieve the combination of American and British styles in Hot Fuzz?
Edgar Wright: The central conceit is, that you are watching a very British cop film, which then more and more mutates into a British film. The more you watch, the louder it gets, Simon's voice is getting lower, it gets more cutty. The film is really mutating into an American film by the last half hour.
Group: So it's a bit like Adaptation, where it becomes the film he never wanted to write?
Edgar Wright: Absolutely. That's a really good reference. At the mid-point of the movie, when they watch Bad Boys II, they fall asleep. It's like those things that are on the TV will continue to go around in your head. It's like Nicholas Angel has fallen asleep during Bad Boys II, and now it has permeated his brain, and he starts to become a more badass cop.
Group: But the movie is also very satirical about small town people and the London police for example.
Edgar Wright: Yeah, I think there is a satirical aspect. It's not necessarily about the police, but about public service. A lot of organizations set arbitrary targets and figures for the year. And in a lot of offices you have overachievers who set records much higher than anybody else, and they are always considered an embarrassment. And when somebody is way up in the rankings, they figure: "Hey, let's take that guy away and let everyone else look better".
And there is also an aspect of every small town where people fear change. How far will people go, to protect the surface gloss?
Peter Clausen: Actually, stories with sinister small towns happen quite often in British films. We have seen this idea in countless episodes of The Avengers or in movies like The Wicker Man. Why is this concept so popular in the UK?
Edgar Wright: I think it's a pretty global thing. You have that in American literature like Dashiell Hammond for example. I think the reason why I love the Wicker Man is, that it kind of subverts the cliche. In that film the villagers, in their minds, are actually in the right and the protagonist is in the wrong. He is the villain of the peace. I really like that aspect. I think it's a great theme of literature, many short stories, and lot of Agatha Christie have that.
I came from a small town, and I always found it funny that they had freemasons in the town who would meet in the conference room. And I always found it kind of funny, that after hundreds of years they would meet in a Hotel conference room. They had all these rituals and ceremonies, but now it was just like an average town meeting.
Group: They didn't bring the coffin?
Edgar Wright: No. It always used to amuse me, that something that had such sinister overtones was now reduced to an average town meeting.
Peter Clausen: I also have a question about the ending. Danny's father was ruling over Sandford like a self-appointed ruler of justice. Now, at the end it actually seems like Nicholas and Danny are going down a similar path, because they have started to rule over Sandford with an iron fist as well.
Edgar Wright: Well, not many people pick up on that but in the last scence Nicholas Angel is actually wearing black and sunglasses. He has kind of turned into a super fascist, he has become like Dirty Harry. So, he has become some sort of sherriff. And there is a bit of satirical aspect to it, because a lot of the cop films of the eighties are really right wing. The Dirty Harry sequels became something akin to a republican raid on crime. So it's an interesting question, if they will follow down that path.
Peter Clausen: Certainly an interesting question to ponder.
Edgar Wright: Absolutely, and that was intentional!
Group: Was it a lot of pressure to live up to Shaun of the Dead?
Edgar Wright: Well, as with any artistic endeaveour, you want to make it better, than what you made previously. And so, we worked really hard on this. I think we always feel pressure. And in the UK we had already done a successful TV series before, so there was already a lot of pressure for Shaun. It's always there, and it's a healthy thing to drive you along.
Group: How did you get Cate Blanchett to appear?
Edgar Wright: She was a Shaun of the Dead fan, and she thought it was a funny joke. And that was great.
Peter Clausen: Thank you very much for this interview.
Interview with Nick Frost
Text Copyright Peter Clausen 2007
Pictures Copyright Universal