Several months into lockdown and Simon Pegg has grown a beard. It’s a pointy affair. “I’m going for the jazz nerd look,” says Pegg. “Sort of free drum solo.” “Catweazle!” calls his wife, Maureen, passing through. Jazz-weazle, maybe? It quite suits him.

Pegg is Zoom-ing from his kitchen table at home in Hertfordshire, looking relaxed and cheerful. Though Covid-19 restrictions have put his acting work on pause – just at the start of a Mission Impossible shoot (for the seventh picture in the series) – he’s been coping well. There’s other work to be done.

He has a production company, Stolen Picture, which he set up with long-time pal Nick Frost, so that means phone calls and online meetings; plus, he writes. In the first six weeks of lockdown, he co-wrote a full eight-hour TV series, with writer-director friend the ex-Kula-Shaker singer Crispian Mills. “I had the focus that I just never usually have for writing,” says Pegg. “It was like, get up in the morning, have a little workout, and then write for the whole day. I loved it. The writing was like a tap, I couldn’t turn it off. Not a chore, but fun.” Other lockdown bonuses? He’s perfected his kimchi pancake, a favourite of Maureen’s; made short films with his daughter Tilly; and watched tons of TV (he loved the BBC/FX series Devs and Dave). Unlike some other actors, he’s not been singing for solidarity on social media. He’s not an attention junkie. “I’m a homebody,” says Pegg. “I like it at home. There’s not much I’ve missed, other than friends.”

But no cinema, of course: which means that his latest film, Lost Transmissions, will come out digitally instead. This, too, doesn’t seem like such a bad thing: unlike Pegg’s blockbuster work, Lost Transmissions is a film that’s suited to more intimate viewing. Written and directed by Katharine O’Brien and filmed in Los Angeles in 2018, it co-stars Pegg as Theo, a music producer whose mental health suddenly and drastically deteriorates into schizophrenia. Juno Temple plays up-and-coming singer-songwriter Hannah, who has her own struggles with depression, but tries to look after Theo; and Alexandra Daddario is a pop star for whom Hannah writes songs.

O’Brien wrote it from experience – an English friend of hers went through much of what Pegg does in the film – and the film portrays Theo as a charming, funny man. Pegg himself is charming and funny, and we’ve seen him be a version of this in many films. What’s more interesting for his fans is that, in Lost Transmissions, he’s allowed to be something more.

Theo’s descent is upsetting and frustrating; it allows Pegg to show his full acting chops. He cries, rages, schemes, gives almost-lucid rants about love and time and vibrations. At one point he almost crashes a car, despite being in the back seat; later, he ends up homeless on Skid Row. Pegg enjoyed this – “it was great to play the whole gamut” – and also enjoyed the intensity of making the film. He came to Lost Transmissions straight from filming the sixth Mission Impossible film, Fallout, a very different experience. With MI, whole days can go by when he’s had his makeup done and is waiting in his trailer, but not called to act.

“Everything is so huge on Mission Impossible, it’s like marshalling an army,” he says. “I love doing those big movies, because they’re fun, and because of the scale and the sheer ridiculousness of that kind of movie-making machine. But with something like Lost Transmissions, we get there, I get changed in my trailer and then I don’t see it for the whole day. We’re shooting every hour that we have, we all eat together, it’s very guerrilla style and intense. I love both styles of filming, but for different reasons.”

Pegg also liked Lost Transmissions’s message: “It tries to dismantle that myth that madness inspires great art. You don’t have to be in pain to be a great artist.” He mentions a scene where Theo is in the studio with a band, mixing a track. Initially, the mix sounds amazing, elevating a straightforward indie tune into an epic affair (the film’s music is made by Hugo Nicolson, known for his work with Primal Scream); but then it descends into an almost unlistenable cacophony. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh maybe it’s brilliant because he’s schizophrenic!’ and then suddenly it goes to absolute shit.”

Pegg did his research into schizophrenia, learning that it’s not about having a split personality but more an unfiltered perception, “like a super-heightened perception of reality”. Calmer minds filter out unrequired information, but the schizophrenic mind is wide open, “so they’re seeing and hearing everything. And their brain’s trying to make sense of it and it starts creating these little narratives, linking things that aren’t necessarily linked. And those narratives become paranoiac”. Coincidentally for Pegg, who’s known for his comic-style films, Theo’s narratives are often of the sci-fi variety: he speaks about ripples in space-time, which is very Pegg. “Yes! This ultra-perception that schizophrenics have means that they can experience time in an odd way, and those grand sci-fi ideas become their reality.”

But what he really liked about Lost Transmissions was that it didn’t have a one-size-fits-all attitude towards mental health. There’s a difference, he suggests, between Theo, who needs prescription meds in order to be able to function, and Hannah, Temple’s character, whose depression might be better managed without drugs. “I would never suggest anyone comes off their medication ever,” says Pegg, “but it’s always good to know why you’re taking something and what it’s doing for you.” He himself has suffered from addiction issues and depression (though he didn’t draw on those for the film at all, because they’re very different to schizophrenia). But Lost Transmissions did help him decide to speak out about his experiences, and when he finished filming, he began talking in interviews about how he struggled mentally in his 30s, when fame hit him. Now, he says, “it’s not a problem that necessarily stops. Even with medication and talk therapy and all the things you do to mitigate mental health-wise, it’s something that you live with. But I’m far less inclined to suffer in silence now.”

He actively enjoys therapy: he likes the puzzle of picking apart his own normality. “Why do you always try and make other people happy? Why do you adapt in a certain way socially? You can trace it back to stuff that happened between the ages of seven and 15, when all your core beliefs are locked in. All your realities are sealed in these concrete boxes, which never change unless you hack them apart with therapy. When you actually find out why you do things, you think, oh, that makes so much sense. It’s actually liberating to get into the nitty-gritty of your own madness.”

He notes that there’s still a “shame” around mental health issues, especially in men; how there are still a lot of derogatory jokes. “Trump does it all the time, refers to people as mad and crazy, because then he immediately eradicates that person’s human credibility. Which speaks to how little we value people with mental health issues in society. You’re redundant, your voice means nothing, your ideas mean nothing, you’re a reject.”

Pegg, of course, is far from any of these things; he’s always busy and in demand. Just before lockdown, when he was due to go to Venice to start Mission Impossible 7 – “we’d had a big dinner in London with everyone to celebrate the start” – he was asked to delay getting on a flight for a few days, and then told not to go at all. So he decided to go snowboarding in Switzerland for a week, and as he was on his return journey, had a sense that doors were shutting behind him. He arrived back home on 20 March, three days before everything stopped.

How will making films start again? He confesses he doesn’t know. There were rumours that Tom Cruise was building a quarantine village for Mission Impossible 7, but Pegg texted director Christopher McQuarrie about it and he said no. There are AI techniques that could work, but they’re very expensive. “On The Mandalorian, the Star Wars TV show, they do it all on a sound stage, using technology that Jon Favreau pioneered when he did The Jungle Book. It’s incredible, because it really does look like on location, so I suppose there’s that way. Or we have to do testing, or wait for a vaccine…” With Mission Impossible, he thinks that maybe filming will start with the big exterior action scenes and then have to work out what to do with the conversational parts.

Pegg’s not stressing about it, though. He’s enjoying how lockdown’s enforced stop has changed how people look at life. He doesn’t really think anything will go completely back to normal, and he’s OK with that. Stolen Picture has given up its lease on its office in central London, because of rental costs and the cost to the environment: Pegg was driving three hours a day to get in and out of the office, and Frost, who lives in south-west London, was driving for hours, too. Plus, he’s been following the Black Lives Matter protests and is having meetings with people such as Cephas Williams from 56 Black Men to help make inroads for black performers, writers and directors.

“Anyone that’s complaining about it should just shut the fuck up because it’s time,” he says. “The film industry would be such a healthier, more interesting place if there were more voices, different stories, different experiences. It’s so dominated by one particular voice and colour of face, it just perpetuates a bland mono-voiced cultural landscape.” He’s aware that he could be seen as part of that landscape, but wants Stolen Picture to be a hub for any and all creative people. “Do you know that Lost Transmissions was the first feature I’ve been in that’s directed by a woman?” he says. “In 20 years of film-making! How alarming is that?”

He sounds energised, rather than cowed. Lockdown has definitely suited some people, and Pegg is one of them. Maybe he’ll even keep the jazz-weazle beard. (Maybe not.)

Lost Transmissions will be available online from 29 June

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