If Simon Pegg hadn't already realised he'd made it, then it must've dawned on him when he took part in a recent 100th anniversary photograph for Paramount. The studio behind Star Trek and Mission: Impossible – two of the Hollywood franchises Pegg has landed in – invited him to stand alongside everyone from Mickey Rooney and Kirk Douglas to Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford. "It was like being in a waxworks museum that had come to life," says Pegg. "I sat with them having my picture taken thinking 'I'm from Gloucester! What the hell is this all about?'"
With the exception of Sacha Baron Cohen, Pegg is arguably the most successful British comic export working in Hollywood right now, ahead of Steve Coogan, Matt Lucas and even Ricky Gervais, who despite his popularity in the US for Extras and The Office has yet to manage a major movie hit. Much of it can be attributed to Pegg's affectionate zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, which caught the eye of J.J. Abrams, who cast him as tech-head Benji in 2006's Mission: Impossible III and then Scotty in his Star Trek reboot.
Having since worked with Spielberg on 2011's Tintin as ineffectual detective Thompson, Pegg can virtually call Los Angeles his second home. When we meet, he's just back after filming a TV pilot for a 1940s gangster series L.A. Noir, not to mention completing work on the sequel to Abrams' Star Trek. He loves working there, he says. "It's the difference between standing in the stream and standing on the bank. When you're in LA, you are standing most definitely in the stream. Anywhere else in the film, even New York, you're only on the bank."
If it sounds like he's gone all A-list on us, nothing could be further from the truth. To start with, he and his wife-of-seven-years Maureen McCann have just relocated with their young daughter Matilda to Hertfordshire, not Hollywood, leaving behind North London's Crouch End. "I had to leave 'Crotch Town' as the Americans call it. We decided to move out to real countryside with real villages – not just a villagey feel. I was born in the countryside, so I think I was craving it in my dotage."
A former drama student at the University of Bristol, Pegg, 42, had also been craving the chance to headline a British film again – which he does in A Fantastic Fear of Everything, a low-budget independent comedy loosely based on Bruce Robinson's novella Paranoia in the Launderette. Quirky, unique and entirely the sort of film a studio would never greenlight, he plays Jack, a children's author who has become increasingly reclusive as he's begun researching a more adult topic for his next book – Victorian serial killers.
Having published his own book, memoir Nerd Do Well last year, Pegg could sympathise with Jack, who becomes enveloped in irrational fears of, well, everything. "The blank page is the nemesis of the writer," he says. "But writing a book, particularly a memoir, which I didn't entirely want to write at first, was a bit of a cathartic process, not least because I had to talk about the past. And although it's very light and frothy, you still do a lot of soul-searching when you write on your own."
The son of Gillian, a civil servant, and John, a jazz musician/keyboard salesman, Pegg did see his parents divorce when he was seven – though it hardly puts him alongside Jack, who suffers from severe issues from his upbringing. "Jack's definitely not addressed his abandonment and projects it onto other things, and he ends up being terrified of everything. I'd like to think I'm OK with all my childhood traumas... if I had any."
Curiously, the film is co-directed by Crispian Mills, frontman with the indie band Kula Shaker. Pegg knew him socially through his wife, who used to work for his record label and was his publicist. "At first I was like, 'You're going to direct a film? Aren't you a rock star?'" Of course, Mills does have cinematic heritage. His mother is actress Hayley Mills and his father is the producer Roy Boulting, who – among many other films – made the original Brighton Rock.
'A Fantastic Fear of Everything' is on nationwide release