Trekkie geek has his day

British actor Simon Pegg not only reprises his role as the engineer Scotty in Star Trek Beyond, but he is also a co-writer of the film

Writer-actor Simon Pegg in Star Trek Beyond with Sofia Boutella.
Writer-actor Simon Pegg in Star Trek Beyond with Sofia Boutella. PHOTOS: PARAMOUNT PICTURES/UIP, REUTERS
Writer-actor Simon Pegg in Star Trek Beyond with Sofia Boutella.

British comedy star Simon Pegg is living every science-fiction fanboy's dream.

First he landed the role of Scotty in the 2009 and 2013 Star Trek reboot films.

Last year in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he snagged a coveted cameo as the junkyard dealer in possession of the iconic Millennium Falcon.

He has ascended even higher in the geek firmament now that he is a co-writer on Star Trek Beyond, the latest addition to the 13-film, sixtelevision-series franchise about the adventures of U.S.S. Enterprise, a vessel exploring deep space.

And, Pegg tells The Straits Times, one of the perks of being the nerd-in-chief is getting to name a planet in this universe after your child.

"Let's face it: When you're in a position like we are, as custodians, you get to make s**t up. So Altimid is an anagram of Matilda, which is my daughter's name," he says, referring to his six-year-old child with his publicist wife Maureen.

The new movie, which is in Singapore cinemas, sees the actor reprise his role as Scotty, the engineering whiz who keeps the Enterprise up and running as it explores the galaxy.

The 46-year-old had done double-duty before, co-authoring and starring in the low-budget science-fiction/horror comedies The World's End (2013), Paul (2011) and Shaun Of The Dead (2004), his breakout hit.

But, speaking to reporters in Los Angeles last week, he hints that he and co-writer Doug Jung faced a task like no other with this US$185-million (S$251-million) film, the third instalment of a reboot launched by film-maker J.J. Abrams in 2009, which introduced younger versions of the characters from the original 1960s television show.

While being a big fan of Star Trek since he was a child gave Pegg a leg-up in understanding its complex mythology, it also meant he got rather worked up over certain details, including director Justin Lin's suggestion that they blow up the Enterprise early in the movie.

"I was angry about it at first - I had massive arguments with Justin," says the performer, who in person is both jocular and intense.

"I said, 'It's been done. If you're going to do this for the sake of it, there's no point because we've seen it in (the 1984 movie) Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and (1994's) Star Trek Generations.'

"Then I realised Justin was actually being a lot more thoughtful than that. What he was talking about was taking away the connective tissue that binds the crew together and seeing what happens when it's taken away - will they dissipate or will they be a cohesive union?"

Pegg has also deployed his Trekkie knowledge to defuse an attack by actor George Takei.

The latter, who played Captain Sulu in the original 1960s TV series, has slammed the decision to reveal the character is gay in Star Trek Beyond as a distortion of series creator Gene Roddenberry's vision.

In response, Pegg wrote a detailed rebuttal on his blog, pointing out that making Sulu gay does not contradict the canon because of an incident in the 2009 film that created "an entirely new reality in all directions" known as the Kelvin timeline.

So the Sulu in this film is no longer Takei's Sulu, he explains. The new Sulu actor, John Cho, "does not play a young George Takei, nor does he play the same character George Takei played in the original series. He is a different Sulu."

When writing the film, Pegg and Jung also tapped the brains of other Trekkies, in the shape of the Memory Alpha Wikia, an exhaustive resource for Star Trek details and history.

Pegg says: "Whenever we needed to know the inner workings of a photon torpedo or the various histories of the Federation starships, we would go there. And we eventually reached out to the guys who started the website and asked them to name the Vulcan mineral that Spock gives to Uhura.

"Two hours later, we had a complete historical breakdown of this volcanic mineral that was found in a certain part of Vulcan, as well as the name and what it meant in Vulcan. When you have a resource like that, a dedicated group of people who love this story so much, it's a gift."

As the franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, however, its mainstream commercial success means it is no longer the preserve of geeks - a fact that Pegg concedes does annoy some Trekkies.

"It's the same attitude as when the band you like gets a No. 1 single - you don't want to share it."

Still, he points out that Star Trek was always designed for mass appeal.

"It wasn't that Star Trek wasn't mainstream in the 1960s - it was just that not many people knew about it. It was still looking towards appealing on a broad level - it was a brightly coloured weekly TV show.

"The fact is a lot of people came to love it and I think some fans who loved it when it was just theirs feel a little bit like it's a shame.

"But the thrust of Star Trek is about inclusivity. It's about as many people as possible coming together and that's what we're trying to do now - make more Trekkies and propagate the species."

• Star Trek Beyond is in Singapore cinemas.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2016, with the headline Trekkie geek has his day. Subscribe