The latest in Sci-Fi comedy from Greg Mottola (director of Superbad and Adventureland) is Paul, the story of an alien (played by Seth Rogan) trying to escape the federal agents chasing him and return safely to his home planet. The movie also stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) as the two British nerds who join Paul on his quest. The movie plays with all kinds of technology and sci-fi humour, and with the Paul giveaway in this month’s competitions, we jumped at the opportunity to include an exclusive interview with Mottola!
Q: How would you describe Paul? Is it a road movie, a buddy movie, an alien story?
GM: It is definitely a cross-genre film. I was reading an article about how cross-genre movies are hard to get made in Hollywood. People want it to fit…this is clearly a comedy, or this is clearly a sci-fi movie or clearly a road caper. And it’s a little bit of all those things. As such, it was hard to figure out how to parcel that. I’d be nervous. I’d think ‘OK, we’re stopping for a bit of a sci-fi moment and there’s no joke in it. Can we get away with that?’ And we would play around in the edit quite a bit, but it is first and foremost a comedy.
Q: You have a great scene at the beginning at Comic-Con. How was it to film there?
GM: We had to recreate Comic-Con. We tried to get permission to shoot at Comic-Con, or even after hours, at like midnight and the city of San Diego wouldn’t allow it. But the cool thing is, we shot right after Comic-Con so we got all the booths and people who man them, [and they] just came with their stuff and they recreated it in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at a convention centre. I had been to Comic-Con the first time for Superbad…but I was a kid who grew up on comic books and sci-fi and I had been to Comic-Cons in New York City when I was a child before they were this giant pop culture phenomenon that they are today. So yeah that was really fun. I hope we got it right. We couldn’t afford that many extras so we had to cheat a little bit. But people showed up in their costumes and they were incredibly kind and generous with their time.
Q: With Simon and Nick, how similar are they to their characters?
GM: Well, y’know, Simon and Nick are quite a bit cooler than their characters. But the sincerity of their love for movies and these movies in particular is real. And I love the pop culture mash-up style that started with Spaced and continues through everything that Simon has had a part in writing. I just feel like they’re poking fun at things that they truly, truly love. I think they just have an original viewpoint on it that gives it a life. It is kind of like sampling. We’re stealing liberally from other movies but acknowledging it entirely the whole time. It reminds me of what hip-hop music did twenty years ago.
Q: Talking of the references, do you have any idea how many references there are in the script to other movies?
GM: I bet there’s even references in there that I still haven’t gotten. There’s one that took me forever to put together. I knew the line about ‘Where we going, you won’t need teeth.’ I knew it was from something and it’s from a really famous movie and it took me forever to realise it was from Back to the Future. I was already in post-production when I realised, ‘Oh, that’s from Back to the Future!’ And Nick Frost had a similar revelation…along the same line where he went, ‘Oh, that’s why Simon wrote that!’ I should tally it up for you. I’ll get back to you on the number.
Q: Do you have any favourite sci-fi characters yourself?
GM: If someone asks me the Star Wars/Star Trek question, it’s very hard for me to answer because I grew up watching Star Trek very obsessively. I watched the original series over and over and over again. And I loved the whole fever dream quality of it and I loved the dynamic between Kirk and McCoy and Spock – the man of reason and logic and the man of passion, who was the doctor and Kirk in the middle. I always thought that was a really cool triangle. But I’m also obsessed with Star Wars. Like everyone else on Earth, I wished I was as cool as Han Solo and saw myself in Luke Skywalker.
Q: After Superbad, Adventureland and Paul, can you explain the geek-chic that you’ve helped contribute to?
GM: I mean, I think it’s really cool that this is a time that…partially because the technology and special effects are so advanced now…for instance, superhero movies were very had to make in the past. Just the physics that you need to try and recreate, to have someone fly or bouncing off of walls, or spinning webs and soaring through skyscrapers was not possible until the last decade. I think it’s great that people who are real fantasy fans are having their moment now. I always get asked why do, ‘not very handsome geeky guys’ get to be in movies where they get attractive women. Wish fulfilment is a perfectly valid storyline!
Q: Do you own any geek T-shirts?
GM: A lot of my geek T-shirts these days are all for bands. But I particularly like that company…I’m going to space on their name because I’m so jetlagged…but the company that makes the T-shirts with more hidden geek references, like the Winchester from Shaun of the Dead. I have some of those. The Nostromo T-shirt is really cool.