by Mark Walters


In August of 2004 I had the pleasure of seeing an advance screening of the hit horror comedy from the United Kingdom, SHAUN OF THE DEAD.  It's an absolutely hilarious film that turns the zombie flick on it's head, whilst being ever so respectful to the works of George Romero, and brings consistent laughs throughout.  The movie comes from the creators of the hit UK television series SPACED, which I also highly recommend.  After seeing the new film (which has now been released on DVD inside the United States thanks to Rogue Pictures) I had an opportunity to sit down with director Edgar Wright, and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.  Simon plays Shaun, and Nick plays his buddy Ed.  Just about every topic related to the film was discussed.  They offered up some funny stories about what went on behind the scenes, and what it took to get this film made.  I want to say congratulations on a job well done to these guys, and sincere thanks for taking the time to talk with us.  And without further delay, here are some excerpts from the interviews.


How it all began.

Simon Pegg:  This film started out as a sketch.  What we were doing is, we had a sitcom in the UK called SPACED, and I wrote a scene for it in which my character Tim, who is sort of this comic shop book geek video game playing skateboarder, he ends up playing the original Resident Evil all night and starts hallucinating that he’s in the game.  And there's some sequences where I’m sort of battling some zombies in the living room, and after shooting all morning and doing that scene, myself and Edgar sort of turned to each other and said wouldn’t it be great if we could actually make a zombie movie, and it not be a fantasy sequence or a flashback, but it’s actually happening.  That’s what inspired us to go and do the film.

Edgar Wright:  We’re obviously big comedy fans, and our background is comedy, but I think genre films and horror film, and more specifically zombies films, and more specifically than that the George Romero trilogy are the films that me and Simon liked.  It think when we did the TV show together we both realized that DAWN OF THE DEAD is one of our favorite films, that kind of sparked of these sort of end of the world fantasies.  Many of those games like Resident Evil sort of sparked the idea of what would we do in that crisis, or how would we react if there was a zombie in our backyard on a Sunday morning… and we had a hangover, and didn’t have a shotgun.  So it sort of became a kind of “What if?” thing, and later came the idea of cross-breeding the romantic comedy and zombie film.  Initially the joke was that Britain’s main export in films is the romantic comedy, so we thought it would be funny to do a romantic comedy where most of the guys die at the end.  Which is what you want to see really… apart from Bill Nighy.

How Bill Nighy got involved.

Edgar Wright:  The part wasn’t written for him, but he was fantastic.  He’s such a lovely guy, and he read the script and was up for it straight away.  It was offered to him and he was totally into it.  I think he got the joke and that was great.

Simon Pegg:  There were certain roles that were written with people in mind.  Ed obviously we wrote for Nick.  The character of Pete, the cantankerous flat mate, we wrote for that actor, who is the opposite of that character.  We wrote Liz for Kate Ashfield.  We had an idea of who we wanted to play Dianne, David and Barbara, you know it was a little bit more loose, so when we came to cast the film… I mean we always kind of had Penelope Wilton in mind cause she has such a great haunted look.  She’s very, very good at comedy, and also beautiful and can play the tragedy.  It’s always good when you’re writing to have someone in mind so you can physicalize it on the page.


How Nick became part of all this.

Nick Frost:  I think at one point Simon threatened me with a box cutter, and said you better do it.  Simon and I have been best friends for ten years and we were flat mates for seven of those years.  So I think I’ve always kind of been his “Ed” in a way.  I was never an actor, I was just a waiter, and I never wanted to act at all.  Then when Simon and Jessica (Stevenson, co-writer of the show) wrote SPACED they wrote a part in it for me.

Simon Pegg:  I said “You better do this.”

Nick Frost:  And I said “Yeah, I’ll have a go at it.”  I reached a stage in my life where I couldn’t go on serving food for the rest of my life.  So when this opportunity came up it seemed silly for me… like Jiminy Cricket said “You buttered your bread now sleep in it.”

Edgar Wright:  Jiminy Cricket gets 10% doesn’t he?

Nick Frost:  He’s on my staff.  He works at Brillstein-Grey now.

Simon Pegg:  Having met him (Nick) in this restaurant where my friend was working, and he said you gotta meet this guy, he’s really funny, it just struck me that this was wrong that he wasn’t being shown to the world.

Nick Frost:  It’s quite selfish on your behalf.

Simon Pegg:  I surprised the British audiences with him, so then when it came time to write SHAUN OF THE DEAD there was no real question that it would be a vehicle for myself and Nick together.  Our girlfriends never let us spend any time together off the set.


Nick talks improvisation.

Nick Frost:  The only part I improvised was when we’re in the pub, and I’m talking about the people in the pub.  We’re talking about the porn star and I call her a cock-a-cidal maniac, and that lady is actually Edgar’s girlfriend’s mum.  Edgar wanted Simon to laugh quite naturally, so every now and again you’d go over and he’d whisper to do something different every time.  So I came up with about 15 different things, each more perverted than the last.  And I don’t know where it came from actually.  But yeah, Edgar’s whispers are quite nice, because it usually means he will put someone’s life in danger.

Edgar Wright:  Yeah, go for it.

Nick Frost:  (to Simon) Oh yeah, you got to hit the stuntman, right?

Simon Pegg:  With a cricket bat.

Edgar Wright:  A SOFT cricket bat.

Simon Pegg:  (whispering, as if he was Edgar) This time really hit them!


Using friends and family to get it done.

Edgar Wright:  We asked just about everybody we knew to come help us out in some way.  My brother designed the titles, and we did the storyboards together.  He kind of embellished my scribbles.  With the zombies we had about 40 specialized extras, or actors or stunt people, or physical performers that were all cast properly.  And the rest of it we just did a cattle call on the website for our TV show.  Asking “do you want to be a zombie”, and to be completely honest about it we said “we can’t really pay you, and it’s going to be long days, but you’ll get to be a zombie” and we just had an enormous response.  Literally 1100 people.  So we had like a big Zombie Idol audition process, and people really got into it.  There were some people that came down every day, who would come back again and again, who clearly didn’t have proper jobs.  But it was great and we couldn’t have done it without them.  So a lot of it is down to the fans of our TV show.  Sometimes if we were filming in the streets, especially if it was a Saturday or a Sunday, people in the houses would come out and be in it as well.


Some scenes were harder to shoot than others.

Edgar Wright:  The backyard scene with the two zombies they have to fight took ages, because there were all sorts of elements we had to get right.

Nick Frost:  I remember you said “If you can hit Mark in the head with that toaster I’ll give you ten quid.”

Edgar Wright:  I did.  The first person to hit the big zombie, Mark.  We had a movement choreographer, because we didn’t want it to become to campy.  We tried to make the zombies a bit more naturalistic in a way, even though it seems like a contradiction in terms.


Mark:  You all three worked together on a television series.  Can you talk about some of the differences between working on a television series and a major motion picture, as far as the complexities of setting up shots and things like that.

Edgar Wright:  Well, it was difficult in different ways.  If anything making the film was tougher than the TV series.  Just because of the added pressure.  There’s a lot more exterior work in the film than there was in the TV show, and also with this you’re shooting with 35 millimeter.  And just shooting locations in London is more difficult.  On top of that it was just a more ambitious script.  Everything we’ve done is always more ambitious than the last thing, and sometimes the ambition outweighs the budget.  It never felt like “oh this is a big film, and so it’s easy now” and I could be like “oh that’s my trailer, and I have a massage in two hours”, it just didn’t work like that.  It was tougher than anything I had ever done.

Simon Pegg:  Speak for yourself.

Edgar Wright:  I used to make amateur films, and cast all my friends with like six hours notice, and be like “Hey are you working tomorrow?”  My old drama teacher asked me “What’s it like making these films compared to the old films?” and I said “It’s no different.”  I still have to ring my friends and say “Hey what are you doing tomorrow?  Wanna be a zombie?”  It’s still the same, I’m still pulling out the old favors. I think it helps that the stuff we’ve done has been seen.  See I think there’s like a British film statistic that something like 60% of the films that get made never get released to cinemas, and so it can create quite a cynicism within the industry.  Crews can work full time, all year round, on like 10 films in row, and not actually work on a film that’s been seen by anybody.

Simon Pegg:  It weird, because some of the older members of the crew are more cynical than the others, thinking like “It’s trashy being on a zombie film.”  But as time went on, they realized how much we were dedicated to it, and they started to get the feeling that maybe we were making something that was going to be worthwhile.  It became like a real unit.  By the end of the thing it was very tight knit.  We did a really clever thing, about halfway through the shoot we showed about 18 minutes of finished footage to them.  Got loads of wine out and some nibbles, and showed the crew what we’d done so far.  And it really, really worked.  Because everybody thought “Hey this looks okay, and it might get released actually.”  And so everybody worked the next day with an invigorated sense of duty and purpose.

Edgar Wright:  They loved you for about six hours.

Simon Pegg:  I know I was a bit grumpy.  I’ll never forget one night I asked the crew… Edgar had used up all his favors, they hated him at this point.  They had overrun already, and I asked them, having some production duty, to overrun.  You do it out of courtesy, to let them know you’re not taking them for granted.  So I had to ask them to run over, and I was so tired.  We had to get one headshot, one of the zombies getting shot in the head.  And it was so emotional.  One person made a little complaint.  I remember looking over and thinking “She was fired!”


About having a trilogy in mind.

Edgar Wright:  I don’t think so, only because it wraps up at the end.  The film completely wraps up.  And unlike the TV show, as it has a beginning, middle and end, and doesn’t worry about returning in the next episode.  I don’t think we’ll do anymore, but we want to do something different with the same spirit.  I really admire the Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson, in that sense of having a rep company and a house style, and taking their world views into different areas and different genres.  Once we get back to the UK we’re going to start writing.

Nick Frost:  Well I go back into my prospects box for another year.


Mark:  In SPACED you had a lot of references to comic books, because of the comic book store.  I have to ask, in the scene when Shaun sees Yvonne, and there’s kind of the mirror universe versions of all the characters, was that sort of a nod to the Bizarro world?

Edgar Wright:  From that aspect, yes.  Isn’t there a Seinfeld episode like that?

Mark:  Yes, there is an episode that’s very similar.

Edgar Wright:  Yeah, I’m a big Seinfeld fan, but I’ve never seen that one.  No it wasn’t really.  That joke came from the idea of two things, because it’s taking place in Romero’s universe, you know there’s eight million stories in any town like that.  We’re just following Shaun, so we got the idea that he bumps into another cast, like from another film.  Maybe even a more exciting film.

Nick Frost:  I think what the American audiences miss out on is that every single member of that group is a famous television personality there, from every different comedy show.  They’re all recognizable character actors to the UK audience, so it genuinely looks like we’ve bumped into a different film.

Edgar Wright:  The real inspiration for that joke though was that during a catastrophe like that, if you bumped into somebody from school that you hadn’t seen for ten years, you’d still be like “Hey!  What’s going on?”

Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Mark Walters


Everyone check out SHAUN OF THE DEAD now on DVD.

Check out the movie website at

Originally posted on - September 27th, 2004



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