'The World's End' does drunk acting right
05:00 AM, Aug 22, 2013
LOS ANGELES The World’s End goes for laughs with its absurd story of a pub crawl interrupted by an alien-led apocalypse. But the team behind the comedy took the drunkenness very seriously.
Star Simon Pegg, in particular, is a stickler for getting the details right onscreen. It’s a feat where many have failed.
“It’s a minefield of potential over-acting disasters,” he says. “The key to drunk acting is to try to pretend to not be drunk for most of the time. There is a point where they cannot help themselves. But a lot of the time they are trying to approximate sobriety. So the key to drunk acting is to pretend to be drunk pretending to be sober.”
The premise alone is a sobriety test. But they are words Pegg, co-star Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright have come to understand through their pub-heavy trilogy that includes 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and 2007’s Hot Fuzz.
Getting it right in The World’s End (opening Friday in select cities) was even more impressive considering it takes place over the span of a 12-pub, 12-pints-of-lager evening.
“All of the actors have to not only play drunk, but they also have to show it over 12 stages,” says Wright. “Whatever people think of our movies, they cannot say that we are not meticulous.”
First up, he called in a physical-comedy expert, British theater director Cal McCrystal, for “a drunken master class.” All of the actors making the pub crawl Pegg, Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine performed on video, re-creating various stages of intoxication until they had all the subtleties worked out and cataloged.
“It would be like, ‘OK, do one beer, two beers, four beers, six beers,’ all the way up to 12,” says Wright. “And we had this video of them going through the stages as a reference for our film. So it was like, ‘OK, this is a five-beer scene.’ We had to keep that up for a five-month shoot.”
As Pegg, Frost and Wright discuss the film at The Village Idiot pub in Los Angeles, where it’s cappuccinos and still water all around, they agree they mined the topic for laughs. But they make it clear that Pegg’s hard-charging character, Gary King, has problems.
“There is humor in the way people act when they are drunk it messes with the mind,” says Pegg. “But I think this is very honest and very restrained.”
Not so restrained is the fight action that takes place once the aliens are revealed in the English village during the pub crawl. Wright brought in martial artist Brad Allan, who has worked with Jackie Chan, to choreograph the stunts to reflect two attributes: zero fighting skills and lots of Dutch courage.
“As you get drunker, you get much more courageous and boisterous,” says Wright. “It’s a combination of brawling with half-remembered Wrestle-mania moves and some rugby moves. It’s almost like playground slap-fighting. We wanted it to feel brawlish.”
Frost in particular stands out in one scene, wielding two bar stools like giant Hulk fists in what has already become a signature maneuver from the film’s trailer. The former rugby player was aided by working on a salsa dancing movie, Cuban Fury, before World’s End filming.
“Nick is a bigger guy but incredibly nimble,” says Wright. “And he had the choreography deep in him.”
Adds Frost: “But we didn’t injure any pubs.”
Nine of the 12 locations were actual pubs in two towns, Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, outside London. The other three pubs which feature the most intense alien-vs.-pub-crawler fighting were movie sets, which were destroyed in the mayhem.
All of the pub names were legit and set to the particular location to describe the action onscreen from the First Post, where the drinking quest begins, to The World’s End, where it all concludes.
Pegg says the pints inside the pubs were a concoction of water with caramelized sugar “with cream soda spooned on top to give it some head. We drank pints and pints of that, particularly me since my character has to drink one pint in every pub,” he adds, doing a quick calculation and determining that he quaffed 120 pints of “movie” lager.
The screenplay by Wright and Pegg incorporates real details from the trio’s lives, including a nap that Frost’s character takes on a pool table.
“I think that was 1994,” says Frost. “I was in this pub with these people and fell asleep on the pool table. I remember waking up two hours later and everyone knew me. It really freaked me out.”
Adds Pegg: “And the idea of running into your teacher at the pub and being asked to call him by his (first) name. That happened. I remember I couldn’t do that.”
Whether all the reality translates to success is in the hands of the audience. But Wright beams with pride at the initial reaction from early screenings.
“Just like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, we feel immensely proud that there is a British film playing on thousands of screens in American multiplexes,” he says. “That means an awful lot. As long as the film lives on, that’s the important thing.”