- Photography by Mr Boo George
- Styling by Mr Dan May, Style Director, MR PORTER
- Words by Mr Alex Bilmes, editor, British Esquire
Let's start, as he would wish us to, with a spoiler alert: those hoping for anguished confessions of moral impropriety, diva-ish hysterics or mumbling Method actor pretentiousness should seek out celebrity interviews other than this one. Very sorry to report, but Mr Simon Pegg really is, as advertised, a thoroughly decent bloke - smart, funny, down to earth, self-deprecating without a hint of false modesty - who also happens to be a crucial part of no less than three thriving Hollywood blockbuster series. These include Star Trek, back in May for a sequel to the prequel; Mission: Impossible, the fifth instalment of which is under discussion, with star Mr Tom Cruise, according to Mr Pegg, "keen to get on with it"; and Tintin, with Mr Peter Jackson's follow up to Mr Steven Spielberg's 2011 adventure now in preproduction. Hold on, there's actually a fourth recurring credit to his name: Mr Pegg is also the voice of a one-eyed weasel in the megabucks Ice Age animations.
And these are just the supporting actor projects that keep him busy when he's not pursuing his proper career, as the co-writer and star of charming, funny, irreverent comedies including Shaun of the Dead (zombies terrorise North London), Hot Fuzz (Bad Boys shoot up the English shires) and, coming soon, the third in what he and director Mr Edgar Wright call their "Cornetto Trilogy": The World's End, in which a provincial pub crawl takes on apocalyptic dimensions.
Before that, Mr Pegg gets to pull on the Starfleet crew neck for the second time as Scotty, the geeky chief engineer ("Dilithium chambers at maximum, Captain!"), in Star Trek Into Darkness, high-flying director Mr JJ Abrams' sequel to the 2009 monster hit that breathed bodacious new life into what had become rather crumbly characters and scenarios. Before that, though, because Mr Abrams has recently been announced as the director of the next Star Wars film, in addition to his work on Star Trek, there's that other intergalactic saga to discuss.
In order to remain uncynical and to enjoy life I try and see everything from the point of view of my seven-year-old self
And Star Wars is really where Mr Pegg came in, as the co-creator and leading man in Spaced, the turn-of-the-century Channel 4 comedy in which he played a Star Wars obsessive not entirely unlike himself; Mr Pegg's Bristol University disseration was not, as is sometimes reported, specifically about Star Wars. That said, "It was about the social implications of popular cinema of the 1970s, so Star Wars came into it."
All of which means not only can he speak intelligently about the meaning and significance of both Stars Trek and Wars - and quote Baudrillard on the infantilism of society while doing so - but also that he has a vested interest in both franchises. As the following comments testify:
"My immediate reaction [to hearing that Mr Abrams was to direct the next Star Wars] was to say to him, 'Don't forget Star Trek, will you?' He said to me, 'Absolutely not', and I trust him implicitly. I love him as a director and a person so I think it's extremely exciting. And hearing the news that the old cast could be back - you know, Harrison Ford [who played Han Solo] and Mark Hamill [Luke Skywalker] - it's as if the sequels that we wanted 10 years ago and not those bloated f**king soulless pieces of shit that..." He trails off, still as angry about Mr George Lucas' interminable Phantom Menace and its follow-ups as if he'd first seen them yesterday.
He's passionate about science fiction, then, but that's to be expected. Mr Pegg, so the narrative goes, is the archetypal sci-fi geek who, thanks to a mysterious cosmic accident, has been beamed from his modest West Country origins - dad a jazz musician, mum a civil servant - onto planet Hollywood, where the natives have somehow mistaken him for one of their own.
It has to be said he didn't do much to diminish this impression by calling his autobiography Nerd Do Well. But, I suggest to him, it's still a somewhat reductive reading of his story. He's a successful 43-year-old professional with a substantial track record as a performer and a writer: why should he not have just as much right as his buff American co-stars to appear in these big-budget enterprises?
THE WORLD'S END
From left: Messrs Freeman, Considine, Pegg, Frost and Marsan in the upcoming comedy about an apocalyptic pub crawl
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
Mr Pegg as Scotty, the second officer and chief engineer of the USS Enterprise, in the upcoming sequel to 2009's Star Trek
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
From left: Mr Dylan Moran, Ms Kate Ashfield, Mr Pegg and Ms Lucy Davis in the 2004 hit British zombie comedy
From left: Messrs Pegg and Frost in the 2011 comedy about two comic book geeks who encounter a real-life alien
HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & alienate people
Ms Kirsten Dunst and Mr Pegg in the 2008 comedy about a British writer struggling to make it at an upscale New York magazine
mission: impossible - ghost protocol
From left: Messrs Pegg, as Benji Dunn, and Cruise, as Ethan Hunt, in the 2011 critically acclaimed blockbuster
"I think it's just that the irony of events is never lost on me," Mr Pegg says, explaining his public profile as our man in space, the Everyfan who lucked out. "In order to remain uncynical and to enjoy life I try to see everything from the point of view of my seven-year-old self. And if my seven-year-old self had been told he was going to be in Star Trek, he would have been amazed! A lot of people try to play it cool, they take it in their stride, but I work in a job that I absolutely love and I never want to take it for granted."
Married to Ms Maureen McCann, a former music A&R, since 2005 - they met on an airport shuttle bus, his autobiography merrily reveals, and now have a young daughter, Matilda - Mr Pegg lives just outside of London and seems almost entirely unaffected by his celebrity: a resolutely well-adjusted man in a world unhealthily preoccupied with the behaviour of famous people. How come he's not more unpleasant?
"There's a great quote," he says, "at the end of a documentary called Overnight, about an overnight success. It says, 'Fame doesn't turn you into an arsehole, it just brings out the arsehole you always were.' And I can see why famous people become arseholes because you are treated with an immense amount of... care. But that's simply because as actors we are the cosmetic face of every project, so it's very important that we get where we're supposed to be on time, we look how we're supposed to look, because if we don't then someone will lose money. So we're constantly handled. And if you start believing that you're handled because you somehow deserve it then you turn into an arsehole. I've got enough people around me that would tell me if I was becoming a bit of an idiot."
Mr Pegg is firm on this point, as he is on many points. He is a highly entertaining conversationalist, a good-natured ranter, with all sorts of theories on all sorts of things.
Pernicious celebrity culture was born, he says, because of home video cameras, which "completely demythologised the idea of being on television, so the auspiciousness of celebrity started to disappear." Happily, of course, like all true satirists, he offers not just the critique of the industry and its spawn, but the cure, in the form of his own more personal projects.
I've got enough people around me that would tell me if I was becoming a bit of an idiot
Unlike its predecessors, Mr Pegg says, which were both homages to US genre movies, The World's End, out in August, is indebted, if anything, to the social science fictions of Mr John Wyndham, the English novelist of creepy midcentury classics The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos, among others.
It's about a group of old friends, in their early forties, who reunite 20 years after a legendary pub crawl around their English new town, to do it all over again. It has a terrific cast in Mr Pegg, his regular sidekick Mr Nick Frost, as well as Messrs Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Ms Rosamund Pike.
"It came from Edgar and me talking about the idea of going back to where you're from and it not being the same as you left it. It is about male friendships, and it's about growing up, getting older. It's probably the most serious film we've ever made but I also think it's the funniest of all three because it's really silly, too."
Meanwhile, Mr Pegg being Mr Pegg, he's been busy with other things, too. He's made a pilot for a US TV crime series, called Lost Angels, in which he plays a Jewish stand-up in 1940s LA. He's about to start shooting a film called Hector and the Search for Happiness, with Ms Pike again. And, he tells me, he might be doing a film with Mr Joe Dante, of Gremlins fame.
He's not doing much to dispel the geek-done-good storyline, is he? "No," he says, "but I'm thankful we've got our own stuff as well because that's formed the backbone of it all and that's what's given us a calling card and introduced us to people such as JJ, Spielberg and John Landis. I feel very lucky to get to work with them because they are the people who inspired me when I was growing up."
And with that he's off to boldly go where no unassuming Gloucestershire pop culture obsessive has gone before. Impossible - and a bit churlish - not to wish him luck, so I do.
Star Trek Into Darkness is out on 9 May in the UK, 16 May in Australia and Hong Kong, and 17 May in the US. The World's End is out on 19 July in the UK, 23 August in the US and 3 October in Australia