Twenty-five years ago Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were sitting on the floor of their flat in Cricklewood, north-west London, binge-watching The X-Files. “Nick’s girlfriend had just left,” remembers Pegg, “and had taken everything apart from a small pile of books, a wardrobe, a Calor Gas heater and a two-in-one VHS television.” So Pegg pulled out his videos of Mulder and Scully’s paranormal adventures and, together with his heartbroken friend, watched “episode after episode after episode”, fending off sadness with sci-fi.
Fast forward to October 2019, and Pegg and Frost are together again, sharing a warm embrace in the abandoned Shredded Wheat factory in Welwyn Garden City. They are here to film the final episode of Truth Seekers, a new comedy-horror series that owes an imaginative debt to Ghostbusters, Scooby Doo and, perhaps above all, The X-Files. It is the first time the pair have shared a TV screen since 2001, when Spaced, the slacker sitcom in which they emerged as perfect comic foils, came to an end. In Truth Seekers, Frost plays Gus, a broadband engineer and amateur paranormal investigator who begins to notice ghostly goings-on during his day job; Pegg is Dave, his smarmy boss.
Pegg is quick to point out that it’s more than just the latest instalment of “The Pegg and Frost Show”; the cast also includes Malcolm McDowell as Gus’s truculent father-in-law, Julian Barratt as a mysterious guru, and young stars Susan Wokoma and Samson Kayo. Yet as I watch the two men hug, among the peeling paint and pigeon droppings of the derelict factory, memories of their wonderfully warm, geeky partnership, forged around a shared obsession with all things cinematic and nerdy, come flooding back. After Spaced – which Pegg wrote with co-star Jessica Hynes – they went big-screen with Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy” (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) and the 2011 Close Encounters spoof Paul.
For a while, the two men seemed unstoppable – and inseparable. Then Pegg’s career went intergalactic: as well as a recurring role opposite Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible films, he has appeared in both Star Trek and Star Wars, and, famously, become a teetotal fitness freak. (He revealed in 2018 that he is a recovering alcoholic.) Frost has quit the booze too, but his career remains decidedly earthbound, dominated by appearances in low-key British TV comedies and films.
When I next speak to Frost and Pegg, 12 months later, I want to know if it’s just me who pines for those heady, hedonistic early days, when the two of them lived and breathed the Spaced lifestyle (even sharing a single bed for nine months). “I look back at those years because it was a fun time,” says Pegg, “but I don’t ever want to go back. We were wrapped up in our own nascent relationship, so were content to laze around watching videos and smoking weed. But I would never want to do that again.” Would he at least consider revisiting Tim and Mike, their characters from Spaced? “I don’t think so,” he says. “I wouldn’t want us to do something that fell short and diminished what we had done in the past. We were those people, we were living that life. I couldn’t write it from truth anymore.”
Frost isn’t keen either. “Let’s move on,” he says of Spaced. “I love the fact that we did it, but we’re not finished yet.” Besides, his memories of that period are not entirely positive. “I look back and I think I was a really awkward, lonely, anxious, depressed man,” he tells me. “It’s only the last 10 years that have given me the tools to completely understand that and move on to the place I am today. And I’m really happy.” Part of that was becoming a father; Frost has a nine-year-old son, Mac, whom he co-parents with his ex-wife, Christina, and an 18-month-old son with his current girlfriend. “My first son saved me. I was lost and he brought me back,” he says. “And I’ve had another son since and he’s just the light of my life. It’s all about them now.”
I wonder, however, if the road to happiness, sobriety and fatherhood somehow led Frost away from Pegg. “He’ll always be my Simon,” he says. “But life changes.” Has Pegg also changed? Was working with him on Truth Seekers like having an international megastar on set? Frost laughs. “Yeah, he has freshly peeled mangoes and bubble tea shipped in. And he’s got this big Bentley that he just drives around on the grass.” He pauses. “None of that’s true. Apart from the mangoes.”
Pegg says that reports of the death of the pair’s special relationship are premature. “Nick’s always in my life, he’s like family. We text every day, we speak all the time. But everybody moves on and I don’t see Nick half as much as I used to, because he lives in a completely different part of the world to me. Well, Twickenham and I live in Hertfordshire.” In fact, Pegg lives only a 15-minute drive from the Shredded Wheat factory, in Essendon, with his wife, Maureen, and 11-year-old daughter, Matilda. “There’s this mythical idea that when you ‘go to Hollywood’ you’re somehow elevated to a different plane of existence,” he says. “That’s just not the case. But because I ended up working with Tom Cruise, it seems to be that somehow I’ve gained access to a different room.”
Truth Seekers, which Pegg and Frost co-wrote with James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders, has its roots in their pre-fame days when they, like Gus, were not averse to a little paranormal investigation. “It started in the early 1990s with Nick and me going off on various pseudo ghost hunts in my white Renault 5,” says Pegg. “We’d drive to an old church in Essex or something, and snoop around because we were bored.” Frost recalls the time that, following a rainy afternoon of heavy drinking, they set off in the dark into Highgate Woods (a couple of large bottles of cider in tow), hoping for a supernatural encounter and stumbled upon “a perfect Tube station in the middle of the forest”.
On the way home, they became separated. Frost slipped and was knocked unconscious.
“After about an hour I dragged myself home, covered in blood, wet through,” he says. “Simon was sitting in the front room eating a Chinese takeaway. And that was the end of our ghost hunting.”
Pegg insists that his interest in the paranormal, fuelled by a youthful love of Unexplained magazine, In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy and Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World, was only ever a bit of fun. “I’m not a believer,” he says. Frost was always more open to the idea of spirits, thanks in part to his Catholic upbringing.
“Until I was 16, I was terrified of being possessed,” he says. “The Omen and The Exorcist were like documentaries.” Does he still believe in the supernatural? “The atheist in me says no, but there is a tiny part of me that thinks ‘I just don’t know’,” he says. “I’ve certainly felt and seen weird things.”
He also sees the value in “belief”, religious or otherwise, if it helps someone cope. This idea is at the heart of Truth Seekers: Gus’s pursuit of the paranormal is his way of grieving for his wife, Emily, who died years before the series begins. “He’s searching for Emily – and if there’s a paranormal then she’s in it,” says Frost. “If he can find that, then he can find her.”
Frost is no stranger to grief. “There was a 10-year period where essentially my whole family died,” he says.
Between 2005 and 2015 he lost both his parents and four of his half-siblings. When he was 10, his 18-year-old sister died of an asthma attack. When he was 16, his father’s business collapsed – his mother had a stroke from the stress and his father never worked again. At 17, Frost attempted suicide. “I used to think you get better at dealing with grief, but you don’t – you get better at not dealing with it,” he says. “Gus has lost everything and is searching for it, even though deep down he knows it’s gone forever. I know what that feels like.”
The older Frost gets, the more he believes “in some sort of spirituality”, he continues. “I sometimes see a little robin redbreast in my garden. I’ve always imagined it’s the spirit of my mum. Even though I’m an atheist, there’s something in it that makes me feel… ‘Hey Mum! Hey Mum, you all right?’ ”
Pegg recognised that, for his old friend, the new series was more than a daft sitcom. “I think Truth Seekers was quite a nice way of channelling all that grief,” he says. It’s comforting to know that, despite everything, after all these years, Frost and Pegg still have each other. And they’re still fighting sadness with sci-fi.
Truth Seekers is on Amazon Prime Video from Oct 30