Q&A: Simon Pegg on Star Trek Into Darkness, Life on Other Planets and Ugly Shirts of the Future

The actor who plays Scotty talks to TIME about his latest roles

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Paramount Pictures

Simon Pegg as Scotty in 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

In the Trek universe, it’s usually Spock and Kirk who get top billing. But it Simon Pegg’s Scotty—the starship engineer of “Beam me up!” fame—who truly breaks out in Star Trek Into Darkness (out May 16). Here, the 43-year-old actor, who’s also in Shaun of the Dead threequel The World’s End (out Aug. 23), talks with TIME.

TIME: You share screen time with aliens in both Star Trek and The World’s End. Do you personally believe they exist?

Simon Pegg: I think you’d be foolish not to, to be honest, with the statistics involved. There are billions and billions of planets. It’s like that quote about sowing an entire field of seeds and expecting there to be one to grow. I don’t believe that they’ll visit us. That’s beyond physical capabilities, with the distance between planets, let alone galaxies. It’s way, way too vast to travel in our timeframe. Even at warp speed. But the notion that there’s nothing out there is damn right arrogant and naïve.

What if we found signs of alien life?

I was thinking this the other day. We’re developing more and more powerful telescopes. I met somebody yesterday who’s a planet hunter, looking for planets in the vicinity of our solar system. Eventually, they’re going to find a planet and they’ll see it, even if they don’t reach it, and they’ll see that there’s water on it. If there’s water on it, there’s life on it. And that’s going to change everything. I’m sure the various religions of the world will absorb it in some way and explain it away, but it is going to completely remove the notion that we are the center of the universe. It isn’t just Earth and Earth wasn’t created — it was part of a bigger something going on, that had nothing to do with us. That’s going to cause something interesting when it happens. I can’t wait.

And then we’ll need a Starfleet.

Yeah, we’ll get a Starfleet together and we’ll base it in San Francisco, a progressive city, and take off for the stars.

Star Trek fans would be happy.

A lot of Star Trek has come true already! I think there’s an entire book on how the technology from Star Trek has inspired things like the flip-up phones and touchscreen technology and various other little bits.

(MORERichard Corliss reviews Star Trek Into Darkness)

Were you a Star Trek fan before joining the Star Trek family?

Very much. I grew up watching the show. They used to run it on BBC2 at 6 o’clock every evening, so when I was, like, 9, I started watching it with my dinner every night.

How did that influence your performance?

We all had that tricky task of channeling our forbears without ever impersonating them. We had to look at what they had done before and build on it ,and make our own version of it. But at the same time, respect choices they made and parlay that into what we did.

What about the accent? Did you model your Scottish accent on Scotty’s?

I decided to start from scratch on that. I’ve got Scottish family, so it needed to be a little bit more correct.

How did working on Star Trek Into Darkness compare to doing the last one?

I think it slightly mirrors reality, in a way. On the first one, we were all getting to know each other. And on this one, we were starting to operate as a family. That was very much true for all the actors. So we were slightly more inside our characters’ skins and also knew each other well enough to have a sort of chemistry, which reflected the fact that we were the crew of a starship. And also there’s a slight lift in pressure in one area. We’d done it already and people seemed to like it.

What’s it like interacting with Star Trek fans?

I love them. I think they’re a really dedicated bunch. They have a really naked passion, which you’ve gotta admire. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, and their love of something. They celebrate it. It’s nice to be around people really loving stuff. It’s so much nicer than people hating stuff.

In Star Trek Into Darkness we also get to see you out of uniform. That was quite some shirt. It’s like orange velour.

Isn’t it disgusting? Our amazing wardrobe and costume designer showed it to me and I was, like, ‘Yes. Absolutely.’ The trouble is, sometimes when you’re trying to create future fashion, the temptation is to try to look cool. Whereas Scotty’s leisure wear is…interesting. In a way that makes it slightly more timeless. You can date something very quickly by attempting futurism that is really based on the present.

So people will still be wearing loud shirts in the future?

I don’t doubt it for a second.

(MORE: Corliss on the first season of the original Star Trek)

I saw something on Twitter about you breaking bones while filming things. Was that on Star Trek?

No, I didn’t break any bones on Star Trek. I broke my hand on The World’s End. And I broke my foot on —well, actually, it wasn’t even filming. I broke my foot crossing the street in Vancouver.

Is your hand healed?

Yeah, it was like Wolverine with my hand. The doctor was amazed.

With The World’s End coming out, what’s it like to have that trilogy coming to an end?

It’s an interesting feeling, emotionally. I didn’t realize quite how it would feel until we completed shooting. It represents 10 years of collaboration with Edgar Wright and Nick Frost. It’s not the end of our collaboration at all, but that series of films is coming to an end and to have finished it, to actually have completed what we set out to do is very satisfying.

What did you set out to do, at the beginning?

At the very beginning, we wanted to just make Shaun of the Dead. As that took shape, we thought, wouldn’t it be great to do a series of films like this? I suppose the broadest inspiration was to make films in the U.K. that you wouldn’t ordinarily see made in the U.K.. Things that we’d grown up watching predominantly in America, but putting it into a British context, which immediately throws the whole thing into sharp relief. It’s quite common to see cops running around with guns in the street in America, or anybody running around with guns in the streets in America, but not in the U.K.

(MORECan the new Star Trek Make Science Fiction Fun Again?)