interview first appeared in the Spaced Series 2 Presspack, and is
free for reproduction).
SIMON PEGG and JESSICA STEVENSON, writers and stars of Channel 4's
hit sitcom SPACED, is like watching a game of tennis. Your head
flits from side to side as the volleys of wit and wisdom bounce
from one to the other.
banter is obviously entirely natural and is the reason behind their
successful comedy partnership. You simply couldn't create such a
working bond between two people. "I don't have to say much
to Jess," says Simon, affectionately, "we operate quite
organically." "We're quite similar in lots of ways,"
Jessica cuts in, "although we do have points where we don't
agree but there's no general pattern."
independent as they may be, they seem to work best firing off each
other. But like all good double-acts, what is it that each of them
is missing that the other one has? Simon points to Jessica and laughs,
"a sense of humour," he says playfully. "It's true,"
Jessica admits, "I do lack a sense of humour, I'm very serious.
But I've got the boobs, he's got the brain," she chuckles.
"Tits and arse," Simon retorts, "I'm the arse."
although she can be serious, Jessica has an ability to draw you
in to her world with her humour. "The first thing that drew
me to Jess was that she made me laugh," says Simon, "and
I just thought oh my God, run a mile. Humour is manipulating reality
and a sign of intelligence," Simon says. "Men are traditionally
slightly scared of intelligent women because they'll find out that
men are stupid and it's like, oh my God, she's gonna know! People
forget how perceptions have changed so much from the time when women
were legally non-existent," Jessica says. "Oh happy days!"
during the first series of Spaced, was it difficult both writing
and performing? Jessica barely pauses to catch her breath: "I
remember feeling that I didn't have time to get into character.
As an actor, when you get a script and you haven't written it you're
able to spend a couple of weeks looking at it and thinking about
it - how you're going to play the scenes, what you're going to do.
With Spaced there's no such luxury, you're just writing and writing
and writing and then you immediately become a performer. Making
that distinction between writer and performer is key to be able
to do it successfully.
great writing for yourself," Simon manages to cut in, "because
you have total control over what happens and that is great. But
working for people like Steve Coogan is great too, because I like
the way he thinks and its not a problem ever. It is weird, though,
to go from being totally in control to not. I did something else
for a week after Spaced and all I had to think about was my character;
not whether we'd get the shots in that day, what the budget was,
what the characters were thinking and it was great. I sat back and
had a lovely day."
are they control freaks then? "No," adds Simon, "But
it is nice to be able to change things - some of the best jokes
for the second series came up on the day." "But with Spaced,"
insists Jessica, "most days I just go for it, I wouldn't think
about it at all, in the way I would with another job. But you end
up having to shut your mouth sometimes when doing other things,"
Simon continues, "but it's not your place to say it you just
shut your mouth." "That's so boring" Jessica laughs.
"I probably would open my mouth and then get sacked."
how would Simon and Jessica describe Spaced? Is it a sitcom? "It's
a sitcom not made in the style of a sitcom," Simon says. "It
doesn't have a studio audience, doesn't have real time or even real
moments", Jessica confirms, "We flash in and out of the
future and the past."
or American comedy. Which do the two prefer? And what's the difference?
"I think it's aspiration versus inspiration," Jessica
analyses, "American culture and humour is aspirational in terms
of who the people are - they're all very affluent. British humour
doesn't rely on that, it's more inspirational." Simon doesn't
necessarily agree: "Essentially, their most sophisticated and
our most sophisticated is very much the same in terms of sense of
humour. The Simpsons is the classic example, it has a fantastic
sense of irony and self-criticism."
subtle but important element of the series is the constant intertextuality,
or references to other texts. "It makes things more entertaining,
visually rich," says Simon. "The characters live in a
culturally rich world, the very fabric of their reality is made
up of the things they watch or do and we wanted to have the idea
that their life is so informed by games and films so their lives
come to reflect this." It's their way of glamorising their
lives," adds Jessica, "a way of dealing with their domesticity."
"But", adds Simon, "with the many references, we
never say 'oh look we're doing this film now, this is Cuckoo's Nest
or this is The Matrix, you have to spot that yourself. I love the
experience of being allowed into something without being told how
to get in there, so if you see a reference to something I feel so
much more fulfilled as a viewer as I feel I've participated in something."
they describe it as challenging? "I like 'challenging'",
muses Jessica. "We absolutely do set out to challenge our audience.
We don't want to spoon feed everybody, we except people to keep
up so it becomes much more fulfilling and works on different levels,
both comedy and story, and you can follow the arch of the journey
of the characters. Of course, the bottom line is to make people
laugh but we wanted to create something as we wanted to feel challenged
story is obviously based in London. Is it a critique or a celebration
of London life in particular? "I'd like to think of it as a
celebration really," says Jessica. "I suppose it is quite
London-centric," Simon admits, "but it's also about every
single person in that situation, it's essentially the same as anywhere
where people live in shared houses." Once again, Jessica doesn't
entirely agree: "It's specific in the sense that they move
to the big city and are like fish out of water which is why they
find each other. They have no natural family around them so by placing
them in London you alienate them more." "The show is not
about London," Simon insists, "but we had to ground it
specifically in a place for the sake of realism. It makes the fantasy
more effective." As the conversation becomes increasingly serious,
and neither can absolutely agree with the other, it's evident that
they both want to lighten the mood a little. Jessica suddenly breaks
in with the remark: "It's a subtle world really," prompting
Simon to put on a silly voice and retort with: "It's a weird
little fantasy world." They seem to know exactly how each one
of them is feeling at any one time.
must have been some differences between writing the first and the
second series? "In the first series the characters were finding
who they were," says Jessica, "but it was good in the
second series because we could go straight into the storyline so
it's much more action packed, more plot driven which is something
we consciously decided to do." "If you look at the first
series," Simon continues "once you're at home with the
characters, the plots start to become more important. So by the
end the stories become more like adventures and you can take the
characters off into different situations. When we were editing the
first series we had to say 'no, Mike wouldn't do that' or something
but the second series was more fun because right away we knew who
Brian was or who Twist was."
once again, things were getting a little too serious. "I've
got a coup for you," says Simon, changing the mood with his
cheeky tone, "You know the dog, Colin, in the show? He's actually
a girl called Aida." So, there you have it, two quirky flat-mates
pretending to be couple, living together in a flat in London with
some equally bizarre friends and a gender-swapping dog - called
Colin. It's a great recipe for a superbly written, hilarious sitcom.
far as I know, Copyright for this does not belong to anyone. Though
don't hold me to that.