'World's End' stars fight the crawl toward sameness

Yet in conversation they are unrelenting on how much warmth and personality matter: railing (Pegg) against the recent remake of "The Evil Dead" for "getting the obvious stuff, forgetting the mischievous-ness," complaining (Wright) about a screenwriter who suggested he snip the personable first half-hour of "Shaun of the Dead" that leads up to the first zombie attack. "Which is just wrong," Wright said, "pulling the one part that makes it very different."

On the subject of pub culture, they've become borderline activist, explaining pub names in the film — Old Familiar, Two-Headed Dog, etc. — had to be taken from real pubs in England, flinching as I recited a few Chicago pub names: Timothy O'Toole's, O'Callaghan's, Johnny O'Hagan's. When I said the original plan for this interview was to go on a pub crawl, they shuddered, saying everyone wants a pub crawl with them.

Wright: "I am a lightweight."

Pegg: "And I don't even drink! The thing we get all the time is, 'I would love to go out for a pint with you guys.' But in reality it would be terrible. I am sorry but it's kind of ridiculous to do a pub crawl in the first place. Why not let the beer come to you? When I did drink, I used to sit in one pub. A pub crawl for me would be an excuse to drink more than you should while disguising it under the banner of fun — like a kind of project."

Frost: "Maybe stay at your favorite pub and ask them to install a treadmill?"

Wright: "You know, this movie, it's based on something I did at 19. I liked the idea of watching adults try to recreate something only students and young people should try. I never even made it through my pub crawl."

How far did you get, I asked.

Wright: "Six out of 15 pubs."

Frost: "Or less than half a kilometer."

I asked if, on a four-week publicity tour for a pub-crawl film, they became students of American pubs.

They shuddered again.

Pegg: "In America, the pub is a different proposition altogether. You guys have bars. What pubs you have are sort of Irish or approximate what England has. But it's a cultural divide. This, for instance, is not a pub. This is a warehouse with chairs. A pub is a public house, you drink there but it's like a friend's living room."

Frost: "A real pub, they hate you until they know you. They distrust anyone who isn't a regular. We ensconced at this pub in North London that became the basis for the pub in 'Shaun of the Dead,' and it was very close to our house. But we spent a good three years there before they got comfortable. It was like getting chimps to trust you. You have to let the locals look at you, touch you. Eventually they warm to you."

Pegg: "We became close to the owners, actually. So much so it was hard going anywhere else."

Frost: "Once you become a local, you realize it's you in the hotel photo at the end of 'The Shining.'"

They laughed.

Pegg: "I like this conversation. The difference between a bar and a pub, in the British-American sense, is that in America, a bar is a place you go to drink. And you don't see families in bars. At least I haven't. The pub is more of the social nexus. It has much more of a social, definitely community, meaning in England."

But, wait, I said, there's no gentrification going on in English and Irish pubs?

Wright: "Absolutely there is! Our joke about them looking the same now is right. Our pubs are becoming streamlined, like your bars. The rough edges are coming off. Even the sense of history, the beautiful old buildings, bulldozed. The signage and menus, all exactly the same. It's sad. In the movie, our pub crawl is like an M.C. Escher trap, and that's kind of right: Pubs, even down to their names, would once have a florid eccentricity. Occasionally, an actual historical link. Now it all seems pulled out of a hat somewhere else."

Pegg: "Actually, what's happening, the gentrification, the rebranding, is we're watching the familiar neighborhood meeting place eroded by, arguably, the Americanization of the British high street. Big chains are trying to recreate the pub and entice families back, and as a result, the pubs become McDonald's."

CHICAGO

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