Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst Q&A

Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst discuss political correctness, the many-headed monster of Hollywood, and the journos who take mean pills.

Kirsten Dunst and Simon Pegg in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Kirsten Dunst and Simon Pegg in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Courtesy of MGM

Right in the middle of Kirsten Dunst's long list of credits in the past few years (the Spider-Man series, of course, Marie Antoinette, Eternal Sunshine, et al) is the romantic comedy Wimbledon. The last typical romantic comedy she did, Wimbledon stars Dunst as an up-and-coming tennis player opposite handsome Paul Bettany, who plays a hotshot on his way back down. Fast forward a few years and Dunst is back in another romantic comedy opposite another blonde British leading man. Only this time, he's not a tall, dashing tennis player; in fact, the man Dunst now falls for is a vaguely annoying and naively self-important writer played by Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) in the adaptation of the bestselling memoir, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by former Vanity Fair contributing editor, Toby Young.

In the vein of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, Young's How to Lose Friends is a series of vignettes about the British journalist's misplaced, overly optimistic attempt to take the New York publishing world by storm, and is a scathing attack on the upper echelons of celebrity culture. The author, who's earned a reputation as an enfant terrible, proved to be less disagreeable in person than Pegg had presumed: "I was expecting someone perhaps a little bit more objectionable, and a bit more rude. But he is not. He is just Toby. He doesn't really care what a lot of people think about him. He cares what a very small percentage of the population thinks about him."

However, the adaptation of Young's memoir was anything but straightforward. "A book is like an aid to your imagination," says Pegg, "and a film is a surrogate for your imagination. So they are completely different things. And I think for this film particularly [it was difficult for screenplay writer Peter Straughan] to extrapolate from Toby's experiences because the book is like a series of anecdotes, and, structurally, it is not like a movie. So he had to create a film, which is why we are fictionalized. I am playing Sidney, not Toby." The film had to find its own voice, and so Straughan turned it into a romantic comedy. "He's given it a specific genre," says Pegg.

When Sidney Young's literary magazine falters, he needs a quick fix to jumpstart his flagging career. He sees his redemption in celebrity journalism, and decides to pursue an exclusive interview with an A-lister at whatever cost. Posing as the handler of the porcine star of Babe 3, Sidney smuggles himself into a film premiere after party. But as soon as he closes in on his quarry (he pitches the script Tits of Fury to an unsuspecting Thandie Newton), his pig runs riot through the party, and Sidney is unceremoniously ejected. When the tabloid media splashes his eviction by Clint Eastwood across their front pages, the debacle catches the eye of New York media mogul Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges, riffing on notorious Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter), who then offers Young a place on staff at Sharps magazine in Manhattan. (Graydon Carter, notes Pegg, saw the film and was apparently happy with Bridges' portrayal.) Young, however, struggles to understand the protocol of celebrity publicity and the need to follow expected social decorum.

"What particularly appalled me about political correctness wasn't the creed itself," writes Toby Young in his memoir, "but the dogmatism of its proponents." And one those proponents is Sidney's colleague Alison Olsen, played by Dunst. "I am playing Alison, who did not exist in the book," says Dunst, "but [she is] based on Toby's secret crush, an imaginary dream girl." Alison is initially appalled that Sidney would openly flout standard conventions and by his naked ambition. "At first she thinks he's a douche. La douche!" laughs Dunst. "And then she thinks he's funny and sweet and just trying to get by in this weird world, like she, Alison, is. So they bond over that, and then they both figure out what they want to do, how they want to live their lives, the way they want to live it. And the pressures of the magazine world are not as important as they thought they were."

Returning to the romantic comedy genre for Dunst was contingent on finding the right vehicle. "I read the script, but I got this really beautiful letter from [director] Bob Weide who'd worked on Curb Your Enthusiasm for a very long time. And I'd worked with him when I was younger on this movie called Mother Night, which is based a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. book. I met him [again] a while ago, and he was always funny and always making me laugh. And so I read [the script], and he said that Simon was attached. So I saw Shaun of the Dead, and I was like: O. M. G." she slowly mouths, before adding, "He is the best."

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