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Interview: Edgar Wright, film director

Fans of Edgar Wright like to quote his work back at him. There's "You've got red on you," which is baffling, unless you've seen Simon Pegg discomfited by a leaky biro before the zombies descend in Shaun of the Dead.

• Edgar Wright will return to working with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg soon

"Yarp!" crops up a lot in Hot Fuzz, the buddy cop comedy set in Wright's home country of Somerset. But "Skip to the end," is the clear favourite, from Spaced the decade-old Channel 4 sitcom.

"I get gifts too," adds Wright. "Usually Jaffa Cakes or Cornettos, because they show up a lot in Spaced and the other films. I'm sure Martin Scorsese doesn't get free ice cream. I suppose it'll switch to garlic bread now."

A move from sweet to savoury snack opportunities isn't the only shift for Wright. Scott Pilgrim vs The World is his first full-blown Hollywood film, a confident adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's popular comic book about an underachieving, garlic bread-baking nerd (Arrested Development's Michael Cera) who must fight his girlfriend's seven exes in order to win her heart.

Up till now, Wright, 36, appears to have had a charmed career, a suggestion he doesn't discount. "Scott Pilgrim… got the green light in 2008, just before the economic collapse hit, and I'm not sure if it would get greenlit today. When I flew to Toronto from London, I remember thinking, 'I'm so fortunate that I have a job for the rest of the year'."

Something of a wnderkind, Wright began making films when he was in his teens and made his first feature when he was 20, a jokey spaghetti western called A Fistful of Fingers that featured his friends riding pantomime horses, and a guest appearance by Jeremy Beadle. Made for 10,000, it ran at one cinema in 1995, and hasn't been seen since - which is how Wright prefers it. But it was enough to impress Matt Lucas and David Walliams, who were looking for someone to direct their first sketch show, Mash and Peas. Wright became one of TV's youngest comedy directors, working on series with Alexei Sayle, Bill Bailey and French and Saunders.

When Wright met Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (then Stevenson), they already had a sitcom in mind that became Spaced, but it was Wright who made the show's scattershot film homages possible on a cripplingly low budget.One episode where Tim (Pegg) is trapped in the PlayStation zombie game Resident Evil got them thinking about the possibility of a full-blown feature film, and while Wright was unwilling to slog through a third series of Spaced, he was interested in this spin-off idea.

Shaun of the Dead's admirers include Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson and berzombie director George Romero, who returned the tribute by casting Wright and Simon Pegg as staggering extras in Land of the Dead.

But despite this fanbase, Scott Pilgrim… was called a failure at the American box-office because it didn't beat Sylvester Stallone's all-star action film The Expendables in its opening weekend. But Scott Pilgrim… has cult potential that guarantees its geek chic longevity - and in any case, Wright is sanguine, pointing out that "even Shaun… wasn't a hit when it first opened."

With his slacker-sympathetic CV, Wright seems a good fit for Scott Pilgrim…, creating a wildly ambitious movie that is part graphic novel, part videogame, part teen romance.

"Bryan's idea was that when you meet someone, you demonise their exes because you don't want to hear that someone is perfect. It seemed right to use comic book and videogame tropes in the film because Scott Pilgrim would live his life as if he was gaining points when defeating her old memories. As Scott defeats the exes, it's like levels of an arcade game.

"It was there in the artwork and I couldn't imagine a straight treatment of Scott Pilgrim… working otherwise. I see the movie as a view inside Scott's head," Wright says. "In reality though, being a serious gamer just takes up time … I don't think Shaun of the Dead could have been made if I'd still had a PlayStation in the house.

"It's also got the slightly contentious idea that Scott is such a great fighter because if you play enough fighting videogames, you'll be able to fight like that in real life. Which isn't the case, although Wii Fit may change that."

Rather than Wii Fit Plus, Wright signed up his cast for eight weeks of training, on the advice of Quentin Tarantino, a close friend - "He said that he'd needed at least two months of fight training for Kill Bill, so we organised a boot camp and I joined in, partly to show solidarity but also to make sure that no-one ducked out."

Camp began at 8am every morning for Wright, Michael Cera, Jason Schwartzmann, Brandon Routh and even Kieran Culkin, who doesn't actually fight anyone in the film. Wright says: "He felt he would be missing out on the fun, so even those who weren't doing fight scenes did two hours training every day with the fight instructor, and pilates, and a lot of push-ups."

He continues: "By the end I was in the best shape of my life. Then as we started filming there was no gym for five months. I must have put on about 30 pounds during that time and the worst thing is that it's been captured on the 'making of'.Watching our behind the scenes featurette is the most depressing thing I've ever seen."

Wright also gained a relationship out of the film. After seeing Rocket Science, he was determined that its 25-year-old star was the best person to play Cera's bossy older sister. Anna Kendrick had just finished Up In the Air - which won her an Oscar nomination this year - and was about to leave town to work on a vampire movie called Twilight so the two had their first meeting in Los Angeles International Airport at 6:30am.

"She's great," says Wright, shyly. "She's got a very dry sense of humour." The two of them became an item during filming, and Wright now divides his time between his London home and Kendrick's in LA.

Another relationship, however, is currently on hold. Wright was supposed to direct Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on Paul, but Scott Pilgrim… forced him to step aside for Greg Mottola. Since then Wright has contributed to the script for Stephen Spielberg's version of Tintin, in which Pegg and Frost play the Thompson Twins, but deliberately avoided Scott Pilgrim… cameos. "I just think that it would be a waste casting Simon and Nick as 'Bouncer 1' and 'Bouncer 2'," he says. "I'd rather people got excited about us working together in a major way."

Planned but still unwritten is the final chapter of their "Cornetto trilogy" - so-called because back in 2004, Shaun featured the lead buying a blood-red strawberry Cornetto, while Hot Fuzz showcases the original, police colours blue-and-white, cone. All Wright knows about their third film is that it will be called World's End and will probably a science fiction movie.

"The Cornetto," he says thoughtfully "will be mint choc chip."

• Scott Pilgrim vs The World is out now.

 
 
 

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