Simon Pegg, Nick Frost speak about turning paranormal sleuths for Truth Seekers, and reuniting after seven years

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost discuss shooting in spooky locations, deadpan humour of Truth Seekers and what it was like to reunite seven years after 2013's The World’s End.

The New York Times October 30, 2020 12:25:57 IST
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost speak about turning paranormal sleuths for Truth Seekers, and reuniting after seven years

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost know it’s been a while. Despite being best friends and an acclaimed comic double act in films like Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, they have seldom crossed paths, creatively speaking, since 2013’s The World’s End. It’s been even longer since they worked together in television — they haven’t co-starred in a series since the British sitcom Spaced aired more than 20 years ago.

Now, seven years on from their last substantial collaboration, Pegg and Frost have reunited for supernatural comedy Truth Seekers, debuting Friday on Amazon Prime Video. The series stars Frost as Gus, a broadband installation expert who reluctantly gets paired up with new recruit Elton (Samson Kayo) by his boss Dave (Pegg).

As the technicians go about their day job, seemingly coincidental supernatural occurrences begin to plague them with increasing regularity. These phenomena fascinate Gus, a part-time paranormal investigator. That is, until he and Elton become embroiled in a conspiracy that could spell danger for the human race.

In separate interviews, Pegg and Frost discussed Truth Seekers, which they created with writers James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders, their own ghost hunting experiences, and what it felt like to work together again. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.

What were some of the things that inspired Truth Seekers? You two used to go ghost hunting together when you were younger, correct?

NICK FROST: Yeah, but I think that was because we were sad singletons who preferred hanging out with each other than chasing girls.

SIMON PEGG: Really, it was an excuse to go and smoke weed. We turned it into rattling around an old abbey, or knocking on an old church door. I don’t think we were under any illusions that we would have any actual encounters, but what grew out of that was this idea of an amateur paranormal sleuth in a world where that kind of thing exists.

FROST: The X-Files definitely inspired us. We loved how complex and ambitious it was, and I always wanted to make a British version of that. There was also the Book of the Strange series, and Arthur C Clarke’s World of Strange Powers, which had an awkward Britishness to it.

PEGG: We also went back to an early 1980s UK magazine called The Unexplained. It was full of these grainy photographs of the Loch Ness monster, and tales of spontaneous human combustion. It was amazing to get ahold of those again, and we went down as many black holes there as we did with YouTube.

Simon Pegg Nick Frost speak about turning paranormal sleuths for Truth Seekers and reuniting after seven years

A still from Truth Seekers. Image from Twitter

Q: What can you say about your characters?

FROST: Gus is a grumpy, lone-wolf skeptic. He runs his own YouTube channel, which seeks to prove or debunk myths and ghost sightings. Something happened to him 20 years ago that led him into this world, and you find out why he’s so lonely and desperate to find an answer to “what happens to us when we die?”

PEGG: Dave is very much part of what’s happening, in ways that you discover as the series progresses. He’s definitely plugged into events in a more significant way than it might initially seem. There is something odd about him, and it’s not just the wig I wear!

Why did it take you so long to work together again?

FROST: I love being with Simon and writing comedy. It’s just what we do. I see and speak to him regularly, so we don’t have to necessarily work together all the time. If we make something, I want to feel like we’re enjoying it, that it’s fun, and you’re enjoying being with us. If we can’t find that thing organically, we’re not going to force it. As long as we aren’t pumping rubbish out every year, I’m happy.

Truth Seekers has the kind of quintessential British comedy hallmarks that Shaun of the Dead and Spaced had, like self-deprecating humour and expert deadpan delivery. Did you try to recapture the essence of those earlier works?

FROST: No, we always try to keep it fresh. I’m not someone who dwells on our stuff. I hope our best stuff is to come, and I’m always searching for that. But it’s unique that our characters have changed and aged as men, fathers and husbands, like we have, and our fans have aged with us as well.

PEGG: It’s funny if we do look back, though. We had discussed making this show like Nick and I running around like in Hot Fuzz. But then we had this idea of a team with an elder statesman and his young helpers. That was something Nick and I always wanted to do with our Stolen Picture production company. As much as producing our own material, we wanted to foster new talent and give people the opportunities that we were looking for when we were their age. Well, before Spaced took off, anyway.

Q: Did you shoot in any spooky locations?

FROST: We found an old shutdown hospital, which was terrifying to walk around. There was also an old boarding school for deaf children that shut down in the 1970s. There were tons of underground passageways and little rooms so, as someone who may believe in ghosts, it was creepy to find yourself alone. The crew would go off to set up another shot, and you’d be left in these tombs on your own shouting “Guys?”

Q: There’s an intriguing juxtaposition in the show between old-world myths like magic and ghosts, and new-world technologies including nanobots and even 6G.

PEGG: We were blessed with the conspiracy stuff around 5G, which isn’t even out yet. So we felt like we had our fingers on the pulse.

FROST: The joy of making this show is that you’ve got the character and plot arcs, but you can also have fun with the “monster of the week.” I also wanted it to be a world with drones flying around, so it’s a slightly futuristic version of Earth. You feel a little unanchored watching it as you’re unsure where it is.

PEGG: These days, if you see a UFO, you can whip your phone out and film. All supposed supernatural footage is shaky and slightly dubious, so that culture of on-the-spot, subjective personal journalism, mixed with all of this ancient hocus-pocus, felt like a really fun dynamic.

Q: Despite the comedy and horror-esque elements, Truth Seekers is also quite heartfelt. It deals with themes including trauma, loss, friendship, and redemption.

FROST: When you look at the best shows from the past 15 years, like The Sopranos, they have incredible characters who audiences can relate to. Tony Soprano might be a madman, but he has problems with his daughter and his wife. Normal things that are relatable, even when viewers can’t relate to someone bashing in a person’s head with a baseball bat.

PEGG: We’re a sophisticated viewing audience now, and we’re able to comprehend nuance and know that something doesn’t have to be a comedy or a drama. There’s comedy and drama in real-life, so while we lean into the absurd, we also have those human relationships that remain authentic. We’ve always combined tragedy and comedy in our content. In Shaun of the Dead, Shaun has to shoot his mum. That scene was never going to be hilarious. It had to be difficult and painful, so I think that makes for a richer, more invigorating style of comedy.

Q: Was it fun to collaborate on your first project in seven years?

PEGG: We had projects that we had been half-developing, but Truth Seekers was already there from Nick and fellow writers James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders. It was a well-formed idea, so we hit that one first.

FROST: It was nice to sit in the office everyday, and we laughed a lot. That extended to the other cast members on set too. Acting isn’t a team sport. It’s very individual, but every so often, you’ll get a job like this one where it felt like a team you were happy with.

Tom Power c.2020 The New York Times Company

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