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Exclusive 1:1 Interview: Hector and the Search for Happiness Star Simon Pegg


The very first time I saw the utterly brilliant SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I knew that Simon Pegg was going to be a major force. As a comedic actor, he is able to capture so much depth while still making us laugh at his follies. This wonderfully charismatic talent has shined in SHAUN, PAUL, HOT FUZZ, THE WORLD’S END and a number of big franchise flicks including MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL as well as STAR TREK. He continually impresses in his film work. And with his latest, HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS, he transcends his comedy for a more dramatic, yet equally captivating performance.

It is always a great pleasure to talk to Mr. Pegg. When we sat down recently to chat about his latest, we went a little deeper than the normal 1:1 interview. We discussed how Hector’s journey almost became his own during the process. He talked about working with the lovely Rosamund Pike and why she – jokingly - didn’t want to meet one of the film’s co-stars. This was a fun and informative talk with this genuinely kind, intelligent and crazily talented actor. Make sure you look out for HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS this Friday, September 19th.

When you take on this character, do you approach Hector as he approached his own search for happiness in the film?

That’s an interesting question. The process of making this film became like the journey in the movie in a way, without me realizing it. I didn’t start off from a place like Hector does, as he is feeling not unhappy just unfulfilled. I kind of reached middle-age and I’m in a good place at the moment. I was aware that I was happy, but the process of making the film and thinking about it all the time, doing it and going to all those different places really helped me identify why I’m happy and what makes me happy. It’s a really interesting thing, that kind of parallel story to the film with our own journey of making the movie, which was a pretty incredible experience. Just because we went to so many different places in terms of the shoot, pretty much everywhere we had to go we went. And we saw things, you know, in South Africa where you have a society which is socially still very much in the grip of apartheid. Even though it is politically finished, the structure of apartheid is still there. You see a lot of poverty and a lot of hardship and yet you see a lot of smiles and a lot of people who are genuinely happy, because I think they are in touch with why they are happy. A lot of the time they are fighting for survival amid terrible conditions, so they are very much able to enjoy happiness when they are happy, because they know exactly what unhappiness is. And you can be in a more affluent area and see far less smiling and far less happiness, you see a sort of state of existence which is just satisfactory. I saw more laughter and joy in the Brazzaville Township on the outskirts of Johannesburg than I’ve ever seen in Beverly Hills where there are a lot of people that are well off, which supposedly makes people happy.

Is it simply the more you have the less joy you are able to take in?

I think the message of the film is, in order to experience happiness in its purest form you have to know it all. I think you have to identify every color in the emotional spectrum. So to be truly happy you have to have felt despair. So trying to prohibit or put off those emotions by constantly doing stuff to keep you away from it, like consuming products, or drinking, or whatever, things that we are constantly encouraged to believe make us happy, ultimately might not because they are basically staving off the truth of our existence, which is sometimes not so nice. And if you do know what that feels like, you are far more inclined to be happy because you know what happiness is.

While you’ve played drama before, as Hector you go to some incredibly dark places. What is the challenge of doing that kind of scene?

It’s always difficult. There is a strange thing about acting which I sometimes almost resent, is that you are forced to kind of rehearse true emotions, albeit artificially. But you still feel that sometimes there is a little bit in you where your brain says, ‘are we feeling this now, is this fear? Is this love? Is this genuine joy, or is it just pretend?’ And particularly when you have to do hard things like fear and sorrow, it can be stressful, because it is a Pavlovian thing that you have, even when they call cut you come out of it and… I’m not a method actor by any means. I still have that Laurence Olivier regard to acting, which it is just pretend. “Just act dear boy…” as he said to Dustin Hoffman on MARATHON MAN. But I still feel like sometimes when you go through arduous emotions on camera there are some ramifications there. So you just of do it. There is stuff in Benoni, South Africa where I’m being threatened with a gun, it’s tough, it takes its toll on you but you just have to shake it off afterwards and say, it wasn’t real.

Hector creates a list on his search of what may make people happy. Did you find any of those which may have led to your own personal views?

Yeah, there are a couple of moments. All the little dictums that appear on the screen are very much Hectors’, but a lot of them are quite universal. Some of them are very personal, like the ‘sweet potato stew’ which is something that makes one person happy. The big one for me is ‘avoiding unhappiness is not the root to happiness’ which is kind of what I was saying earlier, about embracing everything. The doctor says, and the monk says early on in the film is that it is all of them, it is every color. You have to know it all in order to get that one thing, and for me that was the key one. A lot of them are like little keys for happiness. Like is it the freedom to love more than one woman? That kind of thing, which is obviously misguided, and fear is an impediment to happiness, which is true, but it’s not the root to happiness. I find those things very interesting, those little dictums that he has.

I enjoyed the on-screen relationship you had with Rosamund Pike in THE WORLD’S END and now this. Did you both know instinctively that this was a great connection or was it just dumb luck?

It was luck. It’s funny because when we got into THE WORLD’S END, I knew Rosamund beforehand. I wouldn’t say that we were friends, but we knew each other through work. And then on THE WORLD’S END, we very quickly became friends because it was a very happy set among the actors. And then I said to her, we are going to work together for six months – no, for a year – because we have THE WORLD’S END and then we are going to do HECTOR, because we knew it was coming. And because we established a very easy rapport on THE WORLD’S END. When we came to do HECTOR, it was so simple. We felt like we could build on our own friendship, and we could play that familiarity with each other and that comfort. It is weird sometimes when you have to act like you are in love with someone and they are someone you don’t know. It’s a bit awkward you know. But with Rosamund, it was so easy, and we had to laugh and we were able to play that easy chemistry because we had that already. It exists between us because we are friends. I love her and she is brilliant.

It was so funny, because at the premiere of THE WORLD’S END in LA, Rosamund was there and Ming Zhao was there, who plays Ying Li in the movie, she is the temptation in the journey. And I said, ‘Oh Roz, you must meet Ming, she is absolutely delightful, a lovely woman.’ And Roz was like, ‘No, I can’t meet her, I’m jealous.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and she said, ‘You nearly slept with that woman.’ And I was like, ‘Come on Rosamund, it’s a film.’, ‘No, no, I don’t want to meet her.’ [Laughing] It was so funny. She was joking of course and they did meet, but it is funny that our friendship is such that, the idea of what if he actually did do that, it wouldn’t be very nice. It was funny. It made me laugh. [Laughing]

You’ve been a part of some huge franchises as of late. What was it about Hector that you wanted to take on?

Well partly it was because of Peter [Chelsom] who is a director I’ve admired for a long time. Brought back to him, I saw FUNNY BONES - particularly the films he did before he left the UK - which I thought had a real similar voice and a nice feel about them. I kind of wanted to work with him, and then I read the script, and it really appealed to me. And because I’ve done predominantly comedy in the past, or at least stuff when it’s not comedy it’s been quite big, kind of fun stuff, not necessarily something anybody would call serious acting if there is such a thing. And that is something I’d like to do at some point. I don’t want to limit myself in any way, and this felt like a really nice segueway from comedy into more dramatic work, because it is funny and light but at the same time it goes to places I’ve not been before. It just felt like an idea way to do that. And in itself it was a lovely script and I really relished the chance to do that.

Where would you like to go from this character? What did you learn?

I learned that travel definitely broadens the mind, that’s for sure. And that it is important to stretch yourself as an actor. It’s very gratifying to do stuff which challenges you, and maybe life begins just outside your comfort zone. I would like to do more stuff that challenges me as an actor, that’s what makes me happy. The process is important to me, making the film. If you can come to the end of it and there is a good film as well, there is a bonus. If you enjoy the process, that has to be what the job is about. Obviously you want it to do well because then you can make another one.

Well with certain types of films such as HECTOR you may find that there would be Oscar talk as well…

[Laughing] You never want to think about those kinds of things, but it is nice that it is being considered in different terms of what I’ve done before, which is exciting.

Even with THE WORLD’S END you expanded the way people see you as an actor I feel.

Yeah, that was a challenging role. That was something that was really personal to me and I enjoyed it more than any of the Cornetto movies. That particular character… he is my favorite of all of them so hopefully that will allow me to progress as an actor.

Source: JoBlo.com



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