As totalfilm.com enters the London hotel suite to meet the director and stars of Big Nothing, we find out that former Friend, David Schwimmer, isn’t in attendance. The Schwim hasn’t been able to break away from filming, so we’re stuck with writer/director Jean-Baptiste Andrea (affectionately known as Jeb), the ever-amiable Simon Pegg and his effervescent co-star Alice Eve.
Simon and Alice play two thirds of a team of con-merchants, who drum up a cracking plan to blackmail a porno-obsessed priest. Of course, the plan slowly but surely falls apart, creating a charming black comedy where the three leads get to bounce off the walls and each other. Set in small town USA but shot over a series of chilly nights in December 2005 on a desolate Isle Of Man, the cast were forced to bond or be miserable. After thirty seconds in their company, it becomes clear to TF that they went for the former…
So. No David Schwimmer. Come on, you can be honest now, he’s an arse right?
Jeb: Yes! He’s a fucking bastard! No, I’m kidding.
Simon: The trouble with working with Ross is…
Alice: He was lovely. It was a great thing. We had a great time but we did fight. I mean, Simon was an arsehole. (Looks at Pegg) You were sometimes.
Simon: No, you were a nightmare, all the time. How could I be an arsehole? I was just responding to your nightmare, brattish behaviour.
Jeb: They had such a big fight…
Simon: Thanks for bringing that up. She still thinks she’s right about that fight.
Alice: Because I am.
TF read that you wanted to take Alice under your wing, Simon…
Alice: See, he thinks he’s so much better than me that he’s got a wing big enough to take me under.
Simon: Well, I wouldn’t want to go under your wing. It smells.
Jeb: The argument escalated and Alice came out of her trailer crying.
Alice: The truth is out, mister!
Jeb: You know actresses. Two minutes later, she was fine.
Alice: Only because Simon told me if I wasn’t fine, he’d kill me.
Simon: Rubbish! Also, that argument clearly helped our friendship. The thing is, Alice is younger than my baby sister so…
Alice: So that makes you so much better than me?
Simon: Child! No, that meant that we had this kind of relationship that thrives on niggling. She gives as good as she gets. We taught her not to be…
Alice: She’s here.
Alice: Her. The person you’re talking about.
Simon: I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about Mimi Rogers.
You both had to use American accents in the movie. Easy really though, right?
Simon: Well, everyone thinks so. All accents are more complex than you think. One of the things about learning the American accent in Big Nothing is when you do it in front of Americans, they start picking you up on the nuances and so that’s what we had to learn; to get through that. All accentses are hard to do…
Alice: All accentses?
Simon: Is that what I said? Thanks for pointing that out. See, even English is hard for me at the moment.
Night shoots on the Isle Of Man. Does it get any more glamorous?
Simon: We were kind of thrown in at the deep end. We didn’t get any rehearsal time. We turned up on the Isle Of Man and the first thing we did was go out to a club and get completely hammered. And Jeb, the director of the film, the wheel man, the guy who’s meant to keep us on the straight and narrow, was literally dragging us out of cabs, back into clubs.
Jeb: You keep saying that but you were dragging them with me.
Alice: I second that because Simon was sickest the next day.
Simon: That night out did the job though, didn’t it. We were under the sword a lot of the time because we had to get things done in a little amount of time. We couldn’t shirk or bunk off…
Alice: No. Because there was nowhere to go!
Simon: That’s true. We were on an island. Don’t get me wrong - given the opportunity I’d have been on the first seaplane out of there to Liverpool for a bit of shopping. I had to do all my Christmas shopping on the internet, actually, because we were stuck there.
Alice: Your wife did well out of that though, didn’t she…
Simon: She did. In all honesty, we had a great time. We were thrown into this situation and the Isle Of Man is probably a beautiful place in the summer time but as with anywhere in the winter, it gets a little bleak. It’s a seaside place and there’s kind of nothing going on so we were forced to make our own fun. So we’d go to the bar after work and go out and have meals. I forced Alice to watch Jacob’s Ladder, which she didn’t want to do. So I chased her down the corridor screaming: ‘You must watch this now!’ So the experience of making it was brilliant and I made friends for life and I think that will be reflected on screen.
The night out must’ve helped you bond in preparation for your first scene together.
Simon: The sex scene? It’s not like we went out, got drunk and all slept together, so I’m not sure how much that helped. ‘What we did was, we all got pissed and had sex.’ Kind of like freshers week.
Alice: My freshers week wasn’t at all like that. Did you actually go to university?
Simon: Yes. I’m talking about back in the day. The ’80s. No, seriously, after that first night, we had a read-through and then Alice went home for a week because her first scenes weren’t for a while. So when Alice came back, the first day, we did have that rather full-on sex scene. We just sort of got on with it and did it. It wasn’t as bad as it looks on screen.
Alice: It was the sex scene itself that created the bonding rather than the getting drunk bit.
Simon: It was facing each other in little dressing gowns…
Alice: Next to a one-bar heater in a mock-up room in a warehouse on a farm.
Simon: It was like a barn, wasn’t it? It was freezing cold; really cold. We were stood by this little heater, just talking, then it was, ‘right, let’s go.’ Drop the robes, lying on the bed. I remember being really impressed with Alice because I had an easy deal…
Jeb: Because you’d done porn before.
Simon: Of course, I’ve done full-on… everything. Not with people though…
Which is why you were so comfortable in a barn…
Simon: Exactly. But because Alice only had these little things called daisies which go on ones boobs…
Alice: On my boobs. Not on everyone’s boobs.
Simon: I was just trying to bring us all into this.
Alice: It wasn’t a comfortable experience.
Simon: It wasn’t that bad for the camera crew.
Alice: See, he always goes that one step too far.
Simon: But I remember you having to have the camera right in front of you and that must’ve been difficult. I was impressed with your composure on that day. I mean, I lost it immediately after that day. But I was impressed by your…
Alice: I think breasts is the word invited by the rhyme there.
Simon: Yes, I know. No, really it was made easier by the professionalism of everybody…
Alice: And the breasts…
Simon: Yes and the breasts.
Jeb, you were struggling to get projects off the ground and then suddenly you’re on set with this crowd. Must’ve felt pretty darn good?
Jeb: Well, it was great, no doubt. But you’re in the middle of a very difficult time on set so there was no time to gloat about getting this off the ground. There were so many moments on set, you look around and take a moment to take it in and make some memories.
Simon: Jeb’s really fun to work with as a director. He has a note which was the golden note, which we would always try to get from him whenever we could. Which was ‘fucking brilliant.’
Jeb: I became a prisoner of that! I would say, ‘wow, that was great.’ And they would say, ‘Ah? It wasn’t fucking brilliant?’
Simon: That was what we all wanted to hear. It’s interesting because sometimes you work with directors who don’t give out much on set. Not because they’re not enjoying it but because it’s not what they do. So it was nice to get the occasional ‘atta-boy’ after a take. That was one of the best ones you could get. I think you got it the once didn’t you, Alice?
Alice: Thanks Simon. I think I got more of a half a one, yes.
Alice, your character is a bit of a gem for a young actress, isn’t she?
Alice: Yeah, she’s fucking brilliant!
(Room service arrives with a tray of cakes)
Alice: Oh my god, the cakes are coming…
Simon: You had her there, then the cakes came in. Pray silence for cake. I personally thought, upon reading the script, that Josie was a very strong character on the page…
Alice: Are you coming in to save my skin?
Simon: No, just thought an answer would be good.
Alice: Josie was actually the rarest character I’ve ever read. You never read a part, or I’ve never been sent a script…
Simon: … ever.
Alice: Thank you, Simon. No, when I was sent Josie, I couldn’t quite believe it because you get to do everything with her. She’s duplicitous; she’s complicated; I got to do an accent; she moves the story and she’s powerful. She’s also the intelligent one out of the three of them.
Simon: See, I didn’t get that.
Jeb: It was the longest piece of casting. We just couldn’t seem to find anyone with all the layers required for Josie. I knew Simon was right as soon as I watched Spaced and David was perfect too but Josie took ages. I saw plenty of actresses but couldn’t find the right one. All productions try to make you hire ‘names’ to begin with but I just didn’t like any of them. We went to LA to do the casting and just couldn’t find anyone and I was just about to resign myself to the fact that we’d have to use somebody who we’d have to do a lot of work with when I saw Alice in London. She came in and did her thing and it was good; very nice.
Simon: I remember you calling me after the lunch with Alice and saying you’d found Josie.
Alice: Oh, thanks for that, Simon.
Simon: Don’t say I never say nothin’ nice about you.
Simon, your character is pretty interesting too. He’s not a bad fella really, is he?
Simon: No, not at all. Gus isn’t a terrible guy, he just wants to make a little bit of money off of a pervert. He doesn’t want anyone to die. He’s like an honest crook. Josie and Gus have this little bit of history and that’s good in a way because underneath it all you can see they do care a bit. With David’s character, Charlie, they’ve all got things hidden. They’re all keeping secrets and that adds layers to the characters and the performances. Everyone in the film, with the exception of the little girl who is the only innocent, has a secret.
You seem to like working with people you’re familiar with. You’ve got a habit of turning up on screen with David Schwimmer. Would you like to work with Alice and Jeb again?
Simon: I’d love to work with them again, that’d be great. I mean, David’s a coincidence. I did Band Of Brothers with David and a couple of years ago we started talking about doing the film we’re about to do together. In between time, he got cast in Big Nothing. So it just happened to happen, although I would have worked with David again because he’s great. I think the thing about this business is you meet people, you make relationships with them and you want to capitalise on that. I mean. I go back to Edgar and Nick [Wright and Frost – Pegg’s Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz collaborators] because…
Alice: Because they’re your bitches…
Simon: Yes. They are my bitches. Well they think I’m their bitch but it’s the other way around. I’d love to work with everyone here again though. It would be great to do another film…
Jeb: This whole movie could’ve just been a dream.
Gus was just in the shower…
Simon: Oh I like it. Bobby Ewing style.
You went from M:i:III to Big Nothing. There must’ve been slight differences in the home comforts?
Alice: Interestingly, he spent a lot of time talking about the catering on Mission Impossible.
Simon: It was unlimited smoothies. You don’t forget that sort of thing. Tom Cruise had a coffee bar, that he paid for, which was constant free, hot and cold, running coffee…
Alice: How can you have cold running coffee?
Alice: You knew I’d pick you up on that, you lulled me.
Simon: I was just waiting to lay that frappé on you. I knew you’d question it. To be honest though, I didn’t know where I was on M:i:III. I was jet lagged and one minute I’m in a daze and the next I’m doing a scene with Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames, thinking ‘how the hell did I get here?’ The whole thing was a bit of a dream for me, it was nuts. I went almost immediately on to Big Nothing so…
Alice: So we didn’t hear the end of it.
Simon: I only spoke about it for six entire days.
(The PR enters and signals that our time is up. Simon puts a hand in the air, mock-diva style.)
Simon: Sorry, can I just talk a little bit more about myself and Tom?