Simon Pegg’s search for happiness — on screen and off

SHARE Simon Pegg’s search for happiness — on screen and off

Simon Pegg in a scene in Africa in “Hector and the Search for Happiness.”

Best known for such films as “Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead” and the “Mission Impossible” and “Star Trek” blockbuster franchises, English actor Simon Pegg is likely to surprise his fans with his new film “Hector and the Search for Happiness” (opening Friday). Heplays a psychiatrist who ventures off on a worldwide search to discover the true meaning of happiness.

Q: Of course, I have to start out by asking the obvious: What do you find makes you happy?

A: It’s an interesting question for me now. One thing I’ve learned in making this film, also in just living life itself, is that there are degrees of happiness. There’s things that make you top-priority happy, and then there’s things that amuse you and comfort you and entertain you. But true happiness is something deeper, as I’ve come to understand it. It’s a state of being — and a personal understanding of what it means to be happy.

There are loads of things I adore doing. I love being with my family, I love my dogs, I love watching movies. All these things make me happy. But if I wasn’t fundamentally or intrinsically happy, none of that stuff would work for me.

Q: That makes me think of one of the jottings in Hector’s notebook that is put up on the screen in the film: “Avoiding unhappiness doesn’t necessarily make you happy.” I assume you agree?

A: Yes, exactly. I think that’s one of the most important things in the movie. For me that’s one of the most universal lines that can apply to everyone. A lot of the other notebook lines Hector writes are more personal and related to the story, like “Happiness is sweet potato stew.” If you try and just avoid unhappiness the whole time, you’ll never discover what true happiness is. You have to have it all. You have to understand fear and dispair, loss. In order to experience joy, you have to experience sadness and the negative aspects of life.

Q: They appeared to really put you through the wringer — physically — in a lot of scenes in this film. True?

A: Yeah, there was a lot of hard work at times. But it was great to be faced with such a challenging role. It stretched me as an actor.

Q: Did you really go to many of the places shown, like Africa and the rest?

A: Yes, we did. The shoot started in Vancouver and it virtually stood in for everything that was set in London. A lot of the interiors were done in Vancouver. But then we went to London, and then to Johannesburg [South Africa] and then Shanghai and then Quebec and L.A. It was a long and interesting shoot and we got to go to a lot of fantastic places.

Q: Among my favorite scenes were the ones you had with Stellan Skarsgard, who plays that initially uptight fellow passenger on your first flight. What was it like working with him?

A: He’s like so many Scandinavians. So laid back, a very dry sense of humor, but so bright. He had that in spades. We had a really good time working together. We had fun with that relationship between Edward and Hector.

Q: You certainly used your physical comedy abilities in that airplane scene, where you keep dropping everything and spilling things.

A: I loved that. Hector sort of turns into Buster Keaton in those scenes. As soon as he pulls the trigger on that journey, he acts as if he’s a child a little bit. The point being, Hector is really, really smart, but he’s very much like a lost child at times, and we wanted to show that to the audience.

Q: Since you’re playing a psychiatrist here, did you talk to any shrinks for research or inspiration?

A: [Laughs] Yes, I did. Rosamund [Pike, who plays his wife in the film] called me and said, “Come over to my house for dinner. We’ve got friends coming and one is a psychiatrist, and we can sort of like grill him.”

So my wife and I went over for dinner, and it was really interesting to get an idea of what he thought his function was, what he thought of his patients and, while keeping all discretion intact, what the mood was for him as he pursued his profession of trying to help people with their problems.

Q: There’s some pretty heavy stuff here too — including that whole kidnapping of Hector in Africa. How was that for you?

A: We did that in an abandoned house in South Africa. A huge abandoned building actually, and it was filthy, dusty, horrendous. My allergies really kicked in as I was rolling around in the dust for a couple of days.

Q: You got to work with Christopher Plummer here as well. What was that like?

A: He’s 84 now, but utterly sharp as can be. A really thinking actor. He hasn’t lost any of his spark or tenacity. He’s a lovely fellow. Very generous and sweet and didn’t ride along on his fame in any way.

Q: Rosamund Pike, who plays your wife, is great in the film. But many of your scenes seem to be via Skype. How was that all done?

A: Fortunately, Rosamund and I had worked together in “The World’s End,” and we knew each other indirectly before that as well. But we became good friends doing “The World’s End,” so going into “Hector” we had an established rhythm which was really nice to use in a way.

We did all the Skype calls separatedly. We did her sides of them first. And I was always on the other end of the line, so we could do them live. And then when it came for me to do my side of them, Rosamund was done and back in the U.K., I had to interact with her recorded stuff, which was fine. It was easy to do, because I knew her so well.

I used to take pictures of her on the screen that, of course, had been recorded months earlier, and then texted them to her, saying “I do so love working with you!” She got a big kick out that.

Q: Any scene or scenes that you will never forget?

A: There are so many. It was such an adventure. There was a parallel journey that took place, along with Hector’s journey — and that was our journey around the world making the movie. I felt a special connection with South Africa. I loved the people. It was an incredible place. To see a country that is still recovering from the devastating apartheid regime — and will for years. It’s politically gone, but apartheid is still there in many ways socially. It’s a real head-scratcher. Yet, there’s still so much joy there — even in the poorest areas. We filmed in a place that had no electricity, no readily available water, and yet we saw so much more joy and happiness there than we saw in the more affluent parts of Johannesburg. I think it was because when they felt real joy it was genuine. It wasn’t driven by “buy this,” “eat this to make you happy” — things you see in more affluent parts of the world.

It sort of summed up what the film was about for me.

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