Beam Me Up, Simon
Simon Pegg carefully engineers his role in 'Star Trek Into Darkness'
WWJDD? What would James Doohan do? That's the question behind every moment of Simon Pegg's performance in Star Trek Into Darkness as Montgomery Scott, chief engineer of the USS Enterprise. It was Doohan that created the character for the original TV series and, as the revamped franchise embarks on its second mission with Star Trek Into Darkness, it's Pegg's responsibility to re-create and honor that performance. This time, Scotty spends more time dodging punches and phaser fire than before, and Pegg plays the part with all the grace and energy befitting the master of the USS Enterprise's warp core. As he put it, "There's a lot of huffing and puffing."
In 2009's Star Trek, Doohan's Scotty and Pegg's Scotty were the same man. Now their timelines have split, so by Star Trek Into Darkness, Pegg is making the engineer his own, while still never forgetting Doohan's legacy. "He created a character that I was able to pick up and run with," he explained. This time, the running is literal. Pegg has done his fair share of action sequences, taking down gun-toting villagers in Hot Fuzz and dodging bullets in two Mission Impossible escapades for STID director J.J. Abrams. Then there was the most important training of all: running a marathon in Run, Fatboy, Run. Actually, that was less helpful than Pegg would have hoped. "I don't think I ran a fraction of what I did on Star Trek in Run, Fatboy, Run," he said. In one pivotal scene, Scott sprints the length of a spaceship hangar with all the grace of an aging mechanic. "It was this hangar in Playa Vista in West L.A., this extraordinary, vast, cavernous place. I'd been in training, because you see me do it once, but I had to do it several times that day." By the end of the scene, the engineer is suitably and unheroicly out of breath. Pegg said: "Scotty would be happiest if he could just stay in engineering and tinker with his toys. He's not in it for the adventure. He's into technical specs and for the love of the ship. So whenever he finds himself in a life-threatening situation, it's always surprising and unusual to him."
That was always the dynamic of the original TV voyages of the Enterprise. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were the young lions of the bridge, leading a fresh-faced crew of ensigns. But back in the bowels of the ship, it was old men keeping everything ticking: Scotty the engineer, and "Bones" McCoy (played in STID by Karl Urban), the irascible ship's doctor. As the elder statesmen of the crew, "[b]oth of our characters have a certain recognizable sound and demeanor," Pegg said. "Both Karl and I tried to approach the role like James Doohan and DeForest Kelley did when they were creating the parts. 'OK, so he's an engineer, he works in space, he comes from Scotland, he's this, he's that.' At the same time, we have to play a parallel version of what they did."
Like Doohan's Scotty, Pegg's Scotty is still stubborn and loyal. But unlike Doohan's Scotty, he actually has a sidekick: Deep Roy as his silent alien assistant engineer Keenser. Pegg explained, "He never says anything. Scotty just uses him as a sounding board." That stoic silence comes into play when Scotty fulminates in a bar about his crazy captain. Pegg recalled, "We shot that at the Doheny Mansion in L.A., which is the same place they shot the final scene in There Will Be Blood. The dance floor of that club is actually the bowling alley where Daniel Day Lewis clubs Paul Dano to death."
It's not just that Pegg has a lot to live up to in the part. Doohan himself was kind of a badass. Before he boldly went where no man has gone before, he was an infantryman during World War II's D-Day landings in Normandy, then signed up for one of the war's most dangerous assignments – a spotter pilot for artillery. "He was a hell of a man," said Pegg, who has kept in close contact with the Doohan family and become close friends with his son, Chris. Pegg said, "He gave me a pen knife that belonged to his dad, which has pride of place in my house." In return, he helped continue a Star Trek tradition, getting Chris a small part in the newest film. He said, "There's still a Doohan on the Enterprise. He plays the transporter engineer who beams Spock down."
Of course, Pegg has created his own character beloved of science-fiction and genre fans: Tim, the failed comic artist and grumpy nerd hero of cult British TV show Spaced. He's just as much of a curmudgeon as Scotty could be. In one famous scene, he launches into a tirade against the Star Wars prequels with all the fury of a nerd scorned. So what would Tim think of the revamped Star Trek? Pegg said, "I think he'd be suspicious of it at first, but I think he'd go with it."
Tim became a geek-culture hero because fans recognized themselves in him. But there's a dark side to fandom. Abrams and company have gone to great lengths to keep the plot of STID under wraps, even hiding the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as the chief villain. But in an era when every film news site peddles promises of plot spoilers as click bait, it's getting harder and harder for film fans to come into a movie without knowing half the story. Pegg said, "That's the worst thing that could happen to any audience member, and particularly audience members that don't want to know that stuff, because people are talking on the Internet because they can't fucking wait for the film." For him, the responsibility of the filmmakers "is that you have to protect the audience from itself, and particularly from the people who want to spoil it." It's actually pretty simple to do. "You just shut the hell up and say, 'Wait.' He calls spoilers "a kind of anesthetic that prevent you from experiencing all the tensions and excitements of the film as intended by the filmmakers. You go in there with spoilers, and it makes it a very anodyne experience."
That's never more true than a pivotal scene that takes a classic – even iconic – Trek moment and twists it into the new, alternate timeline. For Pegg, this is the film's greatest triumph in having its Rokeg blood pie and eating it too. The first time he read the script, he said, "I was on the press tour for Mission Impossible, and I devoured it. I said I was going to read the first page and then go Christmas shopping, but I couldn't put it down. When I got to that bit, I was so overjoyed, so thrilled at the audacity of it that I was literally jumping up and down shouting.
"Watching it for the first time, if you have never seen anything else, it's an incredibly moving and exciting moment in the film. But if you do know, then it's joyous, because the connection is wonderful."