And now for something completely different… Simon Pegg’s new movie, Lost Transmissions, is a low-budget indie dealing with mental health issues. Shot on hand-held cameras with natural light, it’s set in an authentic-feeling Los Angeles that takes in the Hollywood Hills and Skid Row in Downtown LA and everything in-between. Don’t expect spaceships, gadgets, and bar-raising stunts. Do expect naturalistic conversations that are more absorbing than any bomb-disabling scene, and themes and emotions close to Pegg’s heart.
It was after shooting Lost Transmissions in the spring of 2018 that Pegg opened up to The Guardian (opens in new tab) about his own history of depression and alcoholism. GamesRadar+ and Total Film caught up the Shaun the Dead and Star Trek actor to discuss how his own battles did and didn’t inform the character of Theo, a music producer who comes off his medication for schizophrenia and sinks to a dangerous place, experiencing delusions and paranoia. Juno Temple’s aspiring songwriter Hannah is the one who sticks by his side, all the while trying to meet the demands of her own burgeoning career.
There is humour, albeit of the dark and absurd quality that informed the Czech New Wave films of Miloš Forman – a major influence, along with US indie figurehead John Cassavetes, on first-time feature director Katharine O’Brien. Meanwhile, the songs, by Jonathan Bates from the band Big Black Delta, combine the electronic dance scene of London in the ‘90s with today’s LA style (“sweeter, innocent, more feminine” as O’Brien puts it).
Lost Transmissions is an engaging, engrossing and, yes, entertaining movie that is playing at the Glasgow Film Festival before being released in the US in March, and the UK later this year. It is well worth seeking out, and reading Pegg’s thoughts below. Plus, he also discusses all the latest on Mission: Impossible 7, the Untitled Star Trek Sequel, and his imminent reunion with Nick Frost in Amazon Prime Video series Truth Seekers. Oh, and his thoughts on Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (opens in new tab)…
How did you first hear about Lost Transmissions?
The script came in and my agents in America said, “You should look at this”. It was not the kind of thing I normally get sent. Obviously you get pigeon-holed as an actor. This was a straight drama, and quite intense. I just really, really liked it. I wanted to get behind it as it felt like a very heartfelt, worthwhile movie.
Did you research schizophrenia, or was it all in the script?
Theo’s behaviour and his reactions to his surroundings were in the script, but I didn’t want to go into that and just approximate how I thought someone in that situation would behave. I didn’t want to go in and play ‘crazy’, which happens sometimes. Mental health is one of the last ‘fair game’ illnesses that people can be light about. You don’t see much cancer comedy, but you see a lot of comedy of people being mad.
I wanted to do this film with an authentic working knowledge of what schizophrenia is. So I read a lot, watched a lot, I hung out with people with the condition – people who were in the midst of it, people who were recovering from it – and with the [unnamed] person who the film is based on. That was really important to me, as I wanted to understand how he felt about it then and how he feels about it now that he’s well. His delusions were very complex and he believed in this secret organisation. He said to me, “Yeah, I totally believed it. I now look back and think that’s really… odd. But in the moment it was all real.” [Pause] Schizophrenia is so misunderstood. People think it’s about split personalities, and it’s not that at all.
People think it’s a Brian De Palma movie…
Yeah. Or Me, Myself & Irene [laughs].
Schizophrenia is very different to the depression you struggled with, but did your own experiences – the crushing lows – inform Theo?
It was just after shooting this movie that I opened up about all that, and it came from the fact that we were just talking about it a lot, on set. Sharing experiences. Pretty much everybody has some kind of mental health challenge. That might just be mild social anxiety or a phobia or some weird little tic. We’re all on that spectrum, in the same way, with physical health, everyone has an ache and pain. But the more you talk about it, the more you feel OK about it, and realise it’s something that’s not strange, or something that will make you some sort of pariah, or misfit, or reject. It’s a common ground that we all have.
You particularly suffered between the period of Mission: Impossible III in 2006 and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in 2011. Did you hide it from work colleagues at the time?
I think Nick [Frost, Pegg’s long-time friend and co-star in Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Paul, The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn and The World’s End] knew but he didn’t want to admit it because it was too scary, I think. It’s a very private hell that you’re in. You’re trying to look OK to other people. In a way, you’re creating a reality that you buy into. You’re creating this reality that you’re not unwell, and you’re trying to believe that, whereas really you’re clearly not well and you’re very sad and drinking, or whatever you’re doing, to try and change how you feel. It is a strange kind of split personality that you have.
We’re soon to see you reteam with Nick on Truth Seekers…
That’s in post [-production]. I’m slightly concerned people are thinking it’s going to be a me and Nick show. It’s not. Nick’s the lead in it and I sort of guest in episodes. It’s a very odd, gently funny, supernatural comedy-drama [about paranormal investigators using homemade gizmos and sharing their adventures on an online channel]. It’s fun. It was good to see Nick working with some youngsters. He enjoyed that.
Did he? Did it lighten him up a bit?
[Big laugh] Yeah. Grumpy old sod!
Mission: Impossible 7 has been in the news this week. Tom Cruise is apparently holed up in a five-star hotel in Venice because of the coronavirus…
I know. I’m supposed to be shooting in Venice at the moment. I was due to fly out last Saturday, and was then told to stand down. On Wednesday, it was “We’re shutting everything down”. But Paramount were sensible. We were shooting big scenes. A huge group of people. It was like, “Maybe we shouldn’t do this right now…”
Have you spoken to Tom? Does he have people slipping him food under the door?
I don’t think he was even in Venice! That whole things was… they just assumed: "Tom’s trapped in Venice!" That didn’t happen. No, he’s fine, absolutely fine.
Your character, Benji, has grown into a vital part of the IMF. Will he be front and centre again?
Benji’s arc for the next two movies is really interesting.
He’ll still be involved in the action and stunts?
I’ve seen the grand plan for the next one-and-a-half movies, and it’s fucking insane. So I’ve already been out doing new-skills building. Fighting and driving. It’s always fun, like some sort of outward bound course.
What’s the latest on any possible sequel to Star Trek Beyond?
I don’t know. The fact is, Star Trek movies don’t make Marvel money. They make maybe $500m at the most, and to make one now, on the scale they’ve set themselves, is $200m. You have to make three times that to make a profit. I don’t feel like the last one… They didn’t really take advantage of the 50th anniversary. The regimen at the time dropped the ball on the promo of the film. And we’ve lost momentum. I think losing Anton [Yelchin] was a huge blow to our little family, and our enthusiasm to do another one might have been affected by that. So I don’t know.
Finally, was J.J. ever tempted to put you in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker?
My arm is in it! They had this tattoo [points to the stars on his left arm] put on my big, fat Unkar Plutt arms, and there’s a scene with Rey… It’s actually a scene from The Force Awakens when I’m holding Rey’s hand. I caught a brief glimpse of it [in The Rise Of Skywalker]. J.J. had so much fucking working to do on that film to tie everything up, so there was literally no room for anything apart from [speaks rapidly] information, information, information. I did visit the set. I saw the big Rebel base, which was amazing because they actually had that ship there.
What did you think of The Rise Of Skywalker?
I think it was an exercise in closure. Of course it was going to be contentious in lots of ways – it was the end of a promised nine films, y’know? It was successful and less successful, in varying degrees. As J.J. knew, taking it on. There was a lot to unpack, parse, and wrap up.
Which was your favourite film of the trilogy?
The new trilogy? The Force Awakens – the one I was in [laughs]. But The Mandalorian feels more like Star Wars than anything I’ve seen in the last 30 years. Because it’s quite simple. It’s fucking Kung Fu meets Shane, with Boba Fett [laughs]. It’s very stripped back. And it’s funny.
Simon Pegg and director Katharine O’Brien will be at the Glasgow Film Festival with Lost Transmission on February 29, and the film will be out later this year. GFF runs until March 8. https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival (opens in new tab).