British comedy’s invasion of Hollywood continues apace. Ricky Gervais is hailed as a comedy god, with awards aplenty alongside appearances on cult favourites The Simpsons and computer game smash hit Grand Theft Auto IV, as well as a bunch of small roles in films such as Stardust and For Your Consideration, and his first starring role in a Hollywood movie coming up later this month.
Sacha Baron Cohen has gone from Ali G to the massive success of Borat, following up with roles in a string of big budget films, from Talladega Nights to Sweeney Todd, and is currently working on his much-anticipated Borat follow-up, starring his over-the-top gay Austrian character Bruno. Steve Coogan has started cropping up in everything from Marie Antoinette to supporting roles in Ben Stiller vehicles Night at the Museum and Tropic Thunder, and will be taking the lead in the oddball Hamlet 2 next month. Even Russell Brand, to everyone’s surprise, seems to be making it big Stateside following his much-lauded turn in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which is rumoured to have spawned a sequel based around his oddball rock star character.
But one of the most satisfying breakthroughs for British comedy has got to be the success of Simon Pegg. He’s gone from being a cult TV favourite in the likes of sketch show Big Train and slacker sitcom par excellence Spaced to a rising star of the US comedy film scene. It was his 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead that first got him noticed Stateside, a near-perfect parody of the George Romero classic series that kicked off with Night of the Living Dead. He soon got noticed by Romero himself, gaining a cameo in 2005’s Land of the Dead and last year’s Diary of the Dead, while his writing partner and Shaun director Edgar Wright was invited to contribute a spoof trailer to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse (in which an almost unrecognizable Pegg cropped up in another cameo). The success of action film spoof Hot Fuzz has in turn landed Wright more, bigger-budget directing gigs in the US, notably the upcoming comic book adaptations Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Ant-Man.
It is Pegg’s lovable everyman loser persona that really seems to have hit it off in the
States, however. Tom Cruise was so keen on leeching some of Pegg’s cult cool that he asked him to cameo in Mission: Impossible III, while hitmaster du jour JJ Abrams has taken the intriguing decision of casting him as the young Scotty in the upcoming reboot of the Star Trek franchise, alongside Heroes’ Zachary Quinto and The Lord of the Rings’ Karl Urban. David Schwimmer, erstwhile star of Friends, picked Pegg as the loser central character in last year’s passably fun comedy Run Fatboy, Run.
Ahead of Star Trek, sure to propel Pegg further into the big time, this latest starring role should see the likeable comic’s star rise yet higher in Hollywood. Based on Toby Young’s bestselling memoir of an obnoxious Englishman’s attempts to make it big in the world of New York magazines, this is like the anti-The Devil Wears Prada, a tale of a wannabe who fails thanks to his unpleasantness, rather than who succeeds despite everyone else’s.
With co-stars including Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges and Gillian Anderson, it was bound to attract attention – but it is Pegg who has garnered most of the praise from some ecstatic US critics. In Pegg’s hands, a character who could be repulsive becomes engaging and sympathetic – always a mark of a special talent. Little wonder the Americans are so enamoured.