Simon Pegg has three tattoos. The one on his right wrist is a single letter, “M,” a tribute to the ladies in his life: 4-year-old daughter Matilda, wife Maureen and his two dogs, Minnie and Myrtle. The one on the inside of his left arm is of three stars, a reference to the symbolic twinklers in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince.” And the one on his back, hidden by the gray T-shirt Pegg is wearing on a refreshingly humidity-free summer day in Washington, is a tattoo of Max, the rambunctious protagonist from “Where the Wild Things Are.”
“Maurice Sendak’s book was hugely important to me as a kid,” Pegg says, noting that he now reads it to his little girl. “I just love that whole idea of the wild side, of naughtiness being important, as important as your good side.”
At 43, Pegg is happy to be a mature family man and successful actor who, among other things, has co-starred with Tom Cruise in two “Mission: Impossible” films and beamed himself into the role of Scotty in J.J. Abrams’s “Star Trek” movies. But as that tattoo implies, there’s still a boy inside of him who likes to get a wild rumpus started, especially when he’s with frequent collaborators Nick Frost and Edgar Wright.
The trio’s latest motion-picture rumpus is “The World’s End,” a movie about one man’s attempt to reunite with his childhood pals that also serves as a reminder of the creative chemistry that still crackles between Pegg, Frost and Wright after two decades of friendship.
“The film is very much about old friends reuniting, and there was a degree of that in the making of the film,” Pegg says during a recent D.C. stop on the “World’s End” promotional tour. “The three of us hadn’t worked together as a unit for six years. Obviously, you know, we’re friends away from work so we see each other anyway. . . . But actually working together, it was like, oh, here we are again. And it was a nice feeling to be back.”
“The World’s End” — co-written by Pegg and Wright, directed by Wright and co-starring Pegg and Frost — is similar to their previous cinematic collaborations, 2004’s zombie-rom-com “Shaun of the Dead” and 2007’s buddy-cop/action flick parody “Hot Fuzz,” in that it defies single-genre categorization. It’s tempting to frame it as an apocalyptic comedy, but it’s equally accurate to call it a coming-of-middle-age story, one about an alcoholic tornado of a guy (name: Gary King, played by Pegg) who persuades his posse of former schoolmates to redo a pub crawl they first attempted in 1990. Gary’s goal is to finally reach the 12th and final bar on that ale-filled journey, a watering hole called the World’s End. “It’s a time-travel movie,” Wright explains, “if booze is the time machine.”
It’s also an opportunity for Pegg to unleash every crazed tool in his comedic arsenal as a boisterous, physically demonstrative man-child who’s absurdly committed to a life motto stolen from a song by Scottish alt-rockers the Soup Dragons (“I’m free to do what I want any old time”). The role represents a change in the previous on-screen dynamic between Pegg and Frost, allowing Pegg to serve as the scene-stealing irresponsible one and Frost to play the more rational straight man.
“For me, just to run around in circles annoying him was great,” Pegg laughs.
Of the three men, Pegg’s slightly ruddy, expressive face may be the most recognizable to Americans, largely because of his aforementioned supporting roles in those Cruise and Abrams blockbusters. But so closely intertwined are the lives and work of these three U.K. natives that it’s impossible to talk to Pegg or about Pegg without discussing his partners in British-comedy crime.
Pegg met Frost first, back in 1993 when Frost was working as a waiter and Pegg was just getting started as a professional comedian and actor. Their bond was cemented during a dinner with mutual friends when Pegg imitated the sound of a mouse droid from “Star Wars” and noticed that Frost was the only person at the table who got the reference.
“It was like the whole room froze and it was just me and Nick looking at each other like, hey, we’re the same,” Pegg says. “We always mark that point as our moment of connection. We say it was when we fell in love.”
That connection led to Pegg and Frost co-starring as best friends in the British sitcom “Spaced,” a series co-created by Pegg (and, therefore, doused liberally in “Star Wars” references) and directed throughout its two seasons by Wright, a filmmaker with whom Pegg instantly connected.
“I felt like I’d opened a door in my mind that I’d never given anyone access to previously, and Edgar was in there,” Pegg says.
That collaboration led to “Shaun of the Dead,” which broke out as a cult hit in both Britain and the United States, giving the trio the clout to make “Hot Fuzz,” pursue separate projects (including 2011’s “Paul,” which Pegg and Frost co-wrote and starred in but Wright did not direct) and, finally, to reach “The World’s End,” a film that has been cheekily characterized as the final installment in the so-called Cornetto trilogy, a hat tip to the Cornetto-brand ice cream that shows up in all three Pegg-Frost-Wright productions.
“I’ve now taken to the more pretentious thing of calling it a triptych,” Wright says.
“I almost puked in the last interview when you said that,” interjects Frost, who’s seated beside Wright on a cushy sofa at Georgetown’s Ritz-Carlton.
“Can you say, for the record, that I’m stroking my beard when I say triptych?” Wright asks a reporter.
Jokes aside, Wright, Pegg and Frost say they genuinely attempted to explore similar territory in all three pictures, most notably the perils of perpetual adolescence.
None of these guys appears to be looking back too much, though. Even when they’re working on other things or tending to their families — Frost is also married, with a 2-year-old son — they remain in close touch and seem certain they’ll work together in the future, perhaps on another “triptych.”
“If I go like three or four days and I haven’t texted Nick, it feels strange,” Pegg says when asked to describe his relationship with Frost. “We’ll always stay in touch. Because we’re godfather to each other’s children. We are family, really.”
And like family, when separately asked the same question — “Of the three of you, who is most nostalgic?” — all three men give the same answer: Wright is. (“It sounds ridiculous, but if I had a time machine I would go back and see classic movies in their opening weekend,” Wright confesses.) But unlike temporally paralyzed Gary King in “The World’s End,” Pegg, Frost and Wright know how to value their history together while still moving forward.
After that nostalgia question was posed, Frost said he’s someone who lives in the present: “I think my focus now is on making films and my lovely son. I’ve never been happier.” He had no way of knowing that just a few minutes earlier, in another suite in the same hotel, his best friend and fellow wild thing answered the same question in almost the same way.
“Me,” Pegg said, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life right now.”
Chaney is a freelance writer.
(109 minutes, opening Friday at area theaters) is rated R for language and sexual references.