Simon Pegg Talks Peacock's New Thriller The Undeclared War - Exclusive Interview

From playing Tom Cruise's sidekick in the "Mission: Impossible" movies to portraying Scotty in J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" adaptations, Simon Pegg is a regular on the big screen. He's also a seasoned writer and producer, having delighted fans with films like "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," and "Paul." Now, Pegg is back on our screens in Peacock's six-part series, "The Undeclared War," alongside Academy Award-winner Mark Rylance, which hits the streaming service on August 18.

"The Undeclared War" is a twisty thriller set in the not-too-distant future. Following the pandemic, a cyber attack threatens democracy in the run-up to a British election, and a data war with Russia ensues. Discussing why Peacock's "The Undeclared War" will resonate with viewers, Pegg told The List, "It will open your eyes about things that are happening in our living rooms that we aren't aware of, and it presents some fascinating possibilities for where things are going."

The List sat down with Simon Pegg to talk "The Undeclared War," filming with Edgar Wright, and why he'd love to work with Quentin Tarantino next.

Why The Undeclared War is 'an important show'

What drew you to "The Undeclared War," and what do you think viewers are going to love about this show?

First and foremost, it was the pedigree that came with the script. It was Peter Kosminsky, who is such a legend when it comes to British television drama. I think he's won more BAFTAs than anyone else. To get a script from him is a privilege in itself, so I knew I was going to say yes before I read it. Then, I found the whole thing incredibly gripping [and] incredibly educational in terms of the state of play in this particular theater of war, which is a very real and concerning thing. Not only did it feel like a worthy dramatic role to take on, but also it felt like an important show. 

You're part of a great cast. What was it like working with this team?

Oh, I love them. It was really cool. On one hand, you've got Hannah [Khalique-Brown], who's brand new and hungry and amazing. [She] held her own with all the old journey people like me and Alex and Mark and everybody. Then you've got people like Alex Jennings and Mark Rylance, who I look up to enormously. I got to do a lot of my scenes with Alex Jennings, and we became such good friends — listening to his stories about being in the theater and stuff was a joy.

It was a really good ensemble. Everybody was a delight, very professional. Peter is an incredible actor's director. He's really at pains to make his actors comfortable and give them the best environment. We always felt very safe, and it felt like a very nurturing work environment — which it was — which is perfect for making friends because you're not sh**ting yourself the whole time.

Hoping for a second season

We've seen you in a lot of big-budget action movies more recently. What was it like returning to something office-based like this?

It was great. This is the first time I've done anything on [British TV] since "Spaced." It's my return to network TV in a way. Since "Spaced," television has changed so much in terms of its scope and its standing as an art form. It was always looked down on a little bit, particularly from the cinematic perspective. But TV over the last 20 years has done nothing but evolved into a genuinely impressive and worthy prospect when it comes to storytelling.

It was great, and it was fun to be on a set that was purportedly a recreation of the inside of GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters], which I grew up next to. My uncles worked in it — I never was allowed to know what they did. They weren't allowed to tell me what they did. This place, which had always been a part of my life ... I was suddenly in a show where I was playing someone who worked there, which was a major thing for me.

I've seen people talking about a potential second season. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I'd love to. It would be wonderful. When I first got it, I presumed it was a limited series. I presumed it was a one-off. When I got to the end, I felt like, "Okay, this is either incredibly open-ended and leaving the audience with a sense of an interpretation to be had, or there's more story to tell." Basically, [director] Peter [Kosminsky] was hedging his bets and doing both. Providing it goes down well on Peacock — which I'm really hoping it will — then we'll do more. I'd be absolutely delighted to get back together with those guys.

Preparing to direct and dreaming of Tarantino

You've done just about every genre at this point in your career. Is there anything you haven't done that you are desperate to do next?

I want to do some theater. It's been a very long time, and having spent so long with Alex [Jennings] — I'm going to see him in a play next week — I really want to do that, and I'd like to do more dramatic work. You tend to pick a lane and then you tend to stay in it because people cast you in accordance with the lane you're in. If you can jump out of that lane, it gives you the opportunity to do different things. If people see this and think, "He's not just about a**ing around," it would be fun to do some more stuff like that. I find it challenging, and it makes me very happy. 

Are there any dream collaborators that you'd love to work with that you haven't yet? 

Yeah — a lot of my movie heroes, Paul Thomas Anderson or Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers. People like that who I've always looked up to, I would be delighted to get to collaborate with those guys. People are always coming through as well, like the Daniels [Kwan and Scheinert] and Ari Aster and people in the genre space, who are making intelligent, thoughtful cinema. Thankfully, those people keep appearing. Hopefully they will, as long as I'm working.

You've directed some shorts and you've done a lot of writing. Are we going to see more directing in your future, maybe a feature length?

100%. That's something that I'm pursuing as well and having talks, developing certain ideas, and that's definitely something I'd love to do. I love the idea of actually being with something from its inception to its completion. As an actor, you jump in midway through the process, if you're only an actor and you haven't been part of the writing process. Even when I worked with Edgar [Wright], we write the movie, shoot the movie, and then it's with the editor, and Edgar and I have less involvement there, even though I'm still giving notes and stuff. But to be there from beginning to end is something I'm really excited about.

"The Undeclared War" premieres on Peacock on Thursday, August 18, with all six episodes dropping at once.

This interview was edited for clarity.