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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The British comedy team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost earned Hollywood's attention with their ultra-low budget zombie flick, "Shaun of the Dead," and followed that up with hit cop thriller spoof, "Hot Fuzz."
Their new film "Paul," which debuts in theaters on Friday, finds the pair portraying comic book readers on a road-trip tour of America's hottest UFO sites when they meet an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan), who has escaped from the top secret site Area 51 with government agents in hot pursuit.
They pair recently spoke to Reuters about writing and acting in the film, and how they got Steven Spielberg to join a cast that includes Sigourney Weaver and Justin Bateman.
Q: Is it true this was inspired by awful British weather?
Pegg: "Yeah, we were shooting 'Shaun' and it'd be raining one minute, sunny the next, and we said, 'Let's do a film where the weather's consistent, like the desert,' and we immediately thought of Area 51. That of course led to aliens and the idea of two geeky Brits who find an alien. That was the start of it, and it was like a joke really, but it kept growing and suddenly we'd written a script together.
Frost: "It was the first script we'd actually finished. We'd written sitcoms and other things, but never finished them. And this was very different from our first two films. It had a much bigger budget, real movie stars and expensive visual effects as the alien was obviously going to cost a lot to do."
Q: Did you do much research?
Frost: "We went on an RV (recreational vehicle) trip with a friend from L.A. up to Wyoming and down to Denver, and it was amazing to sit back and see all the incredible scenery. Stuff that happened on the trip got worked into the script."
Q: How much of the real you is in these geeky characters?
Pegg: "I think there has to be some of you in a character for it to ring true, even if it's very exaggerated like here. It's us at our most geeky, while 'Shaun' was us at our most slovenly, and 'Hot Fuzz' was me at my fittest and Nick at his thickest. We've always been big fans of alien movies like 'Close Encounters.'"
Q: You have a theme running in the film, that Paul is the secret inspiration for a lot of our interest in UFOs.
Pegg: "Yes, the idea was that after 60 years here, Paul has influenced the work of directors like Spielberg and a lot of what we see in movies, which is why he feels so familiar."
Q: Obviously getting the right voice for Paul was crucial. How did you decide on Seth Rogen?
Frost: "When we wrote the part, we imagined him being much older and grumpier and being played by someone like Rip Torn. But then Universal suggested Seth, and it was an inspired choice as he has this wonderfully gravelly voice along with great comedy chops."
Q: The film is directed by Greg Mottola, who did 'Superbad' with Rogen, and 'Adventureland' with Jesse Eisenberg, and Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader who also star in this. What did he bring to the mix?
Pegg: "We wanted an American director with an American sensibility, and we loved his films and work on 'Arrested Development' with Justin Bateman. He brought just the right light touch to the comedy and to a film which is this unusual mix of an indie-feel, Americana road trip with this big visual effect right in the middle.
Q: Were you surprised when Sigourney Weaver joined?
Frost: "We had to pinch ourselves. Here's someone who was in all these great sci-fi movies like "Alien" and "Avatar," so it was a very big deal for us."
A: What's next?
Pegg: "I'm just finishing 'Mission Impossible 4' which has been a great experience. I've loved working with Tom Cruise. And then we also did 'The Adventures of Tintin' with Spielberg. Nick and I play the Thompson Twins, and that's been a dream come true for us."
Q: Then Spielberg showed up to play himself in your film.
Pegg: "He actually suggested it to us while we were making 'Tintin.' We'd told him about Paul influencing his films, and he said 'Maybe I can talk to Paul on the phone.' So we rushed off and wrote the scene for him. Then he just showed up on the stage where we were shooting. He's just as enthusiastic today about making movies as he must have been when he did 'Close Encounters' and 'E.T.' It was the highlight of the shoot."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte