TAKEN UP A PEGG OR TWO
by Wil Marlow
Comic and friend of the rock stars Simon Pegg tells Wil Marlow about his straight acting debut.
SIMON PEGG is looking a bit uncomfortable. The comedian and actor is being quizzed by a tabloid journalist about his friendship with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, in particular what Martin's beau Gwyneth Paltrow is really like, but it's not something Pegg wants to discuss.
It's just the latest taste of celebrity that 33-year-old Pegg has been given since he became friends with Martin - who he met through his music PR girlfriend, Maureen, a couple of years ago - and it's not something that Pegg finds palatable.
"It's weird doing these interviews and people saying: 'Oh, you know Chris Martin,"' he says later. "Yeah, I do but I've seen that he's come up against a barrage of bullshit from the media - and this is all I'm going to say on this because it's Chris' life and not mine - even though he's got this amazing band and it should really be about their music.
"It shouldn't be about anyone's life but there's a bitchy and very careless attitude about gossip. Why nurture that? People should be challenged, we shouldn't pander to the baser instincts where we just want to be nosey. I get really annoyed about it."
So it's with some trepidation that Pegg takes on his first serious lead role in the new BBC drama Final Demand. As well as being a prime-time programme that's sure to raise his profile higher than "that bloke" from Channel 4's cult sitcom Spaced, he stars opposite that other tabloid favourite Tamzin Outhwaite.
"At the moment I'm not that well-known and I'm glad about that," he says. "Everything I've done recently has been quite culty but Final Demand will bring a different audience and maybe that will bring me more attention," he says.
"I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth but I'm worried about irrelevant attention. I think you can do this and not get that, though. You just don't go to premieres or celebrity hangouts, you get on with your life.
"Chris obviously is an exception because he doesn't go for that. By sheer chance he's landed himself in a high- profile relationship but he doesn't play the game.
"Some people do and some play it well. I think Tamzin plays it well. She's a mainstream star and in a way has to play that game a bit. She meets the needs of the job and that's it. There are some people who just want to be on the front of the paper with their nipples hanging out," he laughs.
Pegg has the enviable task of being Outhwaite's main love interest in Final Demand. She plays Natalie, a bored accounts clerk in NuLine Telecommunications who discovers a way of stealing cheques made out to the company. With some customers signing their cheques to NT, all it takes for her to pocket a few of them is to get a surname beginning with T.
It's only when she's about to get her gas cut off that an opportunity presents itself in the form of gas man Colin Taylor, played by Pegg, who she quickly marries.
When Natalie's scam is discovered and her life unravels uncontrollably, the drama really kicks in. Pegg says he found the role his most challenging to date, but it's pricked his thirst to do more straight drama.
"I come from a predominantly comedy background and it was a different world," he says. "But I really enjoyed it because it was a stretch. It was weird not being able to rely on comedy tricks. It was a nice hard, though. It was good to get home from work and feel that I'd done something that day."
And for his next challenge, Pegg has set himself something even harder - making a movie. He has written and stars in Shaun Of The Dead, a comedy horror film directed by Spaced director Edgar Wright which has just started filming.
"I'm terrified about doing it," Pegg laughs. "Myself and Edgar also both wrote it so we'll both be held accountable for whether it's good or not. But it will be good and I have a lot of faith in it."
With the film and a new sitcom for Channel 4 called La Triviata - centred around a pub quiz team - in the offing, it could be a long time until we see a third series of Pegg and Jessica Stevenson's enduringly popular sitcom Spaced.
"I know everyone loves it," says Pegg. "I love it as well, as does Jess. That show is our baby. But it's not come back yet because it takes a lot of time to make. But I'm not finished with those characters and neither is Jess. There are conclusions to be made and commitments to be fulfilled. So hopefully . . ."
One thing that Pegg will definitely never get round to doing is living out his dream of being a rock star.
Growing up in his dad's music shop in Gloucester, he was always surrounded by music but didn't feel he had the talent to pursue his love. Recently, however, Pegg has been able to live out the rock star lifestyle vicariously through Martin.
"I've never told anyone this but I did have an amazing rock star moment when I went to visit Chris at some studios.
"Ian McCulloch from Echo and The Bunnymen was there and we had a bit of a jam. I played the drums, Ian sang and Chris played guitar and for me it was like a dream.
"Obviously for Chris and Mac they're just musicians but for me sat there on the drums with my hero from when I was a kid and Chris, who I occasionally remember is also a superstar as well as my friend, it was great. I had the biggest, cheesiest grin on my face."
And it is with this story that Pegg realises the upside of his burgeoning fame. "It's weird how you eventually get to meet people who you've always admired who know you and like what you do. I met Mick Jones from The Clash recently and he'd seen things I'd been in.
"For me that's the real perk of the job," he says happily. "There's a little bit of mutual respect there. That moment with Chris and Ian is what I'm probably most proud of."