It’s close to 100 degrees in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico on this sweltering August day, but inside the air conditioned Albuquerque Convention Center hundreds of local extras are about to visit San Diego’s Comic-Con convention. Confused? Don’t be. It’s just another strange day on the set of Greg Mottola’s new road trip meets “E.T.” comedy, “Paul.”
Now, to be frank, while the “Superbad” director has a clear vision for the film, “Paul” is really the brainchild of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The two Brits are best known for their onscreen exploits in “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” (although Pegg is now mostly recognizable for his role as the new Scotty in “Star Trek”), but have had the idea for “Paul” kicking around since they shot “Dead” way back in 2003.
Pegg recalls their initial motivation for this film was “‘Let’s go somewhere hot and make a movie about something hot. Let’s make it in the desert. Yeah, Area 51 and yeah, these guys they help him get home.’ And I drew a poster with Paul giving the finger and it said, ‘In America, everyone is an alien’ and that was the kind of the pitch.”
Yes, “Paul” isn’t the name of either Frost or Pegg’s characters (that would be Clive and Graeme respectively), but an alien who has been holed up on earth for the past 60 years and just needs some help going home. That’s where our heroes — on a trek from the UK to visit their favorite UFO landmarks in the U.S. — come in and the road trip really takes off.
As for the film’s title character, Paul will be a CG and motion capture creation played by Seth Rogen and just exactly what he looks like wasn’t even revealed to the pool of journalists on hand, but its a creation both actors and screenwriters put in solid hands. Even if it means lots of additional shots where the alien will be inserted in later.
“It’s tough,” Frost says of the grueling process. “We are working with Double Negative who we have worked with for a long time and who have done ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hott Fuzz’ and since then have done plenty of other things [including] ‘Hellboy II’ and ‘Cloverfield.’ We have spectrum motion that use the pupperty that we [also] use and the live light and reference puppets, but it’s hard to talk to a red light or a pole with two ping pong balls.”
Pegg adds that for each shot the actors have, Paul can have up to eight.
“We have to shoot Paul so many times. I mean, we did a scene during a night shoot and the sun was coming up and I had like 10 minutes to do my single and we reshoot Paul’s stuff the other day and he had like an hour and a half for his shot. For an actor who isn’t there,” Pegg says as the group laughs.
The beginning of the film actually starts the duos adventure in San Diego as the make their first pilgrimidge to Comic-Con. Filming during the annual mega-con (which sells out to over 125,000 attendees) would have been a logistical nightmare, so production designer Jefferson Sage, art director Richard Fojo and set decorator Carla Curry have brought Comic-Con to Albuquerque. Other films and TV shows have attempted to recreate the con (most notably a laughable version in an episode of HBO’s “Entourage”), but the “Paul” trio have worked with Comic-Con International and some of the regular floor exhibitors to make this version as authentic as possible. With the visit only a few weeks after the 2009 edition of Comic-Con, it was a bit surreal to walk on “Paul’s” version of the exhibitor floor, but some moviegoers may not be able to tell the difference.
The press also had the opportunity to join the previously mentioned legion of extras (many of whom were decked out in loaned “Star Wars” costumes from Lucasfilm) as background players while Pegg and Frost shot scenes on the faux Comic-Con floor. However, the real chance for the assembled journalists to appear on the big screen occurred earlier in the day during a scene which will be part of a Comic-Con “montage.”
Shot in an auditorium at the Albuquerque Con. Center filled with seats more comfortable than any you’ll find within half a mile of the San Diego Con. Center, the scene finds Clive and Graeme in the front row of a panel spazzing out when one of their all-time favorite Sci-Fi heroes walks on the stage. Who that character is remains to be seen (the duo joked it could be Twiki from “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”), but the wide shot allowed a number of journalists to sit around Pegg and Frost and get their shot at big screen fame. As evidenced by the photo still below, colleagues from IGN, SyFy, Collider and Latino Review all are in prime position. This HitFix pundit? Well, having already had a shot at fame alongside colleague Drew McWeeny in “Race to Witch Mountain” (strangely enough, also at a Sci-Fi type of convention scene) we were more than happy to take a seat further away from the camera. Of course, it wasn’t clear we were that out of frame, but HitFix is always willing to take one for the greater good.
For Frost and Pegg, “Paul” is really their first journey into big-time studio comedies and they have recruited a stellar supporting cast besides Rogen including Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch and even Sigourney Weaver.
“It always sounds like being a bit of a love fest when actors talk about their fellow actors because no one really bitches, but we really feel like we’ve had to raise our game on this movie because everyone is so [expletive] good. Like Jason and Joe and Bill and Kristen are so, so funny,” Pegg says. “Sigourney Weaver was absolutely lovely. She was so up for it. Blythe Danner is like everyone’s mom. She’s incredible. A couple of times Nick and I have had to think, ‘We better start working hard or we’re gonna vanish in this film.'”
That seems hard to believe, but both men are happy they equally get to share the stage this time around and hope their fans appreciate it.
“The characters in ‘Shaun’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ were my characters. And Nick’s characters just stole the show,” Pegg says. “We’re both the leads in the film and Nick’s character is probably a bit more confident and assured than mine and Graeme is a bit more massy and less proactive, but Paul is sort of like Ferris Bueller. He sort of effects everyone around him.”
Frost adds, “We’ve been friends for 15 years and the relationship we have is quite important to me and I wouldn’t want people to look at it on camera and go, ‘Oh, we’re bored with it.’ It’s improtant to us.”
Look for more from the set of “Paul” later this week on HitFix.
Pegg, Frost, director Gregg Motolla and co-stars Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader Jeffrey Tambor, Joe Lo Truglio, Seth Rogen and Sigourney Weaver will appear at the real Comic-Con on Friday, July 23 between 4:45pm- 5:15pm to discuss “Paul” in Hall H. Be there.
“Paul” is currently scheduled to open nationwide on March 18, 2011.