7 mins

Simon Pegg: My life in travel

Simon Pegg, star of Hector and the Search for Happiness, talks plane peeves, bum bags, and why he thinks everyone should take a trip to space...

Simon Pegg (Property of Koch Media)

In Hector and the Search for Happiness you play a psychiatrist who travels the world. What did you learn about travel and happiness while filming?

The more people you meet, the more you understand humanity; you understand what happiness means to them. It was very interesting to go to South Africa and stay in a central part of Johannesburg where there are lots of gated communities. We were filming in areas where there’s a lot of hardships, but a lot of smiles. Every time we came to a different location we had a partially local crew made up of local technicians. I loved the people; I found them to be really happy and welcoming.

It was interesting to be in China too – it was the most foreign place I’ve ever been and it was a marvellous experience.

You must have some tales to tell…

I remember one morning we were shooting on a game reserve and I was staring up this slightly misty road and two giraffes just walked across – it was that sort of classic Africa that we all imagine.

We also drove through a township just outside of Johannesburg; it was extraordinary to see that apartheid is still there – it’s not something that’s going to evaporate overnight because it’s politically disbanded, it’s still socially present. You realise how much work needs to be done to bring equality.

How did your comedy style change when filming overseas?

The details of humour change from country-to-country, but I think it’s generally pretty standard across the world. Basic slapstick tends to translate everywhere. In terms of just hanging out and being funny socially, I didn’t feel different in any of the countries, even with the Chinese who couldn’t understand everything I was saying, there was still an amiability there. If anything, that was the way we would communicate: through humour and smiles.

Your character in the film is a bit of an annoying plane passenger – do you have any pet peeves when flying?

I was on a long-haul flight from LA to London recently. It was a night flight; you don’t want jetlag so, after dinner, everyone went to sleep. But there was a really noisy couple that were just yakking really loudly. It was so annoying. At least whisper. Talk through a cardboard tube or something!

If I ever see someone on a plane that has a baby who’s screaming I always try to make them aware that it’s OK. Having had a baby myself I know they’re not always easy to travel with. People always get so angry and I just think: give them a break. I’ll always try and send over a smile or a nod of recognition because I know people get so embarrassed when their kids are freaking out on planes.

Hector packs some serious travel gear: from a bum bag to convertible trousers. Can you relate?

I like to have a slightly more fashionable style of shorts! I’m not a big practical dresser and I don’t like packing and unpacking – I always see it as being a bit of a chore. I usually take stuff you want to feel nice wearing, rather than stuff that has lots of pockets!

Hector gets kidnapped in South Africa – scary! Do you have any particular travel fears?

In Johannesburg you have to be a little careful of carjacking; it’s quite prevalent. If I was going somewhere where kidnapping was a genuine danger then I would obviously be wary of it, but there’s not much kidnapping in Kefalonia [where Simon regularly holidays]!

I was really intrigued to be going to places that I wouldn’t necessarily go to. Going into the wilds of China was very interesting. I wasn’t in any way threatened, but my knowledge of the country was very limited so it was fascinating to find stuff out.

Now you’ve got the travel bug, where will you go next?

I’d love to go to India. Shamefully I’ve never been to Italy. I’ve been everywhere, all over Europe, and the glaring omission from my passport is Italy. The soonest chance I get I’m going to get over there and put that right.

Wanderlust magazine recently did an article on Virgin Galactic flights. You play Scotty in Star Trek: but would you pay £125,000 to go into space for real?

I would love to do it! If I could justify spending that amount of money on myself then I absolutely would! If it ever becomes an opportunity I’ll leap at it because being a spaceman was my first career choice.

I think everyone should see us from above. It will give people a greater respect for human life and the planet as well, to see it as this fragile thing. It’s a perspective I think we all need really.

Want more Simon Pegg? See the September 2014 issue of Wanderlust. Hector and the Search For Happiness is out in cinemas now...

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