Simon Pegg is synonymous with geek culture: movies with Edgar Wright and Nick Frost in which they indulge in their love of zombies (“Shaun of the Dead”) and actioners (“Hot Fuzz”); stints in the “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Doctor Who,” George Romero “Living Dead” and “Star Wars” universes; his memoir “Nerd Do Well.” But his interests, as he tells us, are vast. In “Man Up,” he makes his first straight-up rom-com, playing a divorcee who winds out in London with a woman (Lake Bell) who, due to some misunderstandings, is actually only pretending to be his date. Pegg talks about not hating romantic-comedies, his difficulties writing female characters and his complicated relationship with things he loves — even “Star Wars.”
You've been globetrotting a lot recently. Was part of the drawl of "Man Up" that it was being shot back home?
I was immediately taken with notion of shooting in London, because that meant I could sleep in my own bed and see my family regularly. The real draw, initially, was that. Then I read it and thought, “Oh, this is f—ing cool.” And it was written by a woman, so it was about doing something with a more female voice. And I liked the idea of playing against a female lead, rather than it being about me.
A straight-up rom-com in 2015 can seem unusual. They rarely exist now unless they’re anti-rom-coms.
I hear this term “anti-romantic-comedy,” and I say, “Well, if you’re going to make a romantic-comedy, make a romantic-comedy.” A lot of people of late, in British romantic-comedies as well, try to reinvent the rom-com by making fun of it or denigrating it, to be subversive. Then it doesn’t really work, because it stops being a rom-com and it start being just slightly snarky. Ultimately what it becomes is the very thing it’s supposedly trying to dismantle. Which is less interesting, really, because it’s like capitulation rather than doing something honestly. I liked that this was unapologetically a rom-com in every way. Even though it ticks all the boxes on a form you might get about how to make a rom-com, it still had a slightly spiky, irreverent edge to it. At no point was it at expense of the genre.
What do you think caused the backlash against them?
There were the rom-coms that Matthew McConaughey wound up rejecting, where the main characters became these unrelatable, unobtainable, beautiful people. One thing I’ve heard the most whilst promoting this film is, “Why is he the lead in this film? Why is this ginger pig in a romantic-comedy?” It’s like, “Well, I’m a person. [Laughs] These things happen to people. They don’t just happen to f—ing models.” Maybe the rom-com became tiresome because it was about people we don’t give a s— about falling in love because they were so beautiful. Lake is attractive, but she’s not conventionally beautiful. It makes her more relatable. And me, I’m not Matthew McConaughey by any means. Maybe my chest and stomach, but no one ever sees that.