Ever since the start of his career, Simon Pegg has generally played “geeky” roles. He ran from zombies in Shaun of the Dead, helped out Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible films, and served on the Enterprise in Star Trek. But while the actor himself also has no problem being labelled a nerd, in 2019 he revealed a distinctly different new look.
Pegg’s personal trainer Nick Lower unveiled the actor’s new look on Twitter in March 2019. But the response on the social media platform was a little bit mixed. Some people labelled Pegg’s transformation as “amazing” and said he looked “great,” while others seemed quite horrified.
One user wrote below the photograph, “This is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen…” Another said, “No offence but he looks awful! I hope his body can cope.” So, clearly not everybody was a fan; but what was it in the first place that motivated Pegg to completely change his look?
For his part, Pegg has looked mostly the same ever since the start of his career. He always presented himself as an “everyman” of the movie world and not one for glitz and glamor. In his 2011 autobiography Nerd Do Well, he noted, “Much of what is written about me, usually during spurts of promotion, seems to dwell on the idea of an ordinary, guy-next-door, non-Hollywood, unattractive loser.”
In that book, Pegg mused on how the media tended to label him. He wrote, “So many articles begin with a passage about why I should not have succeeded, due to my lack of ‘Hollywood’ good looks, as if that has anything to do with being an actor.” And in 2008 while promoting his movie Run, Fatboy, Run, he told The New York Times, “I’m a very regular sort of person.”
Run, Fatboy, Run starred Pegg as an chubby slacker who jilts his pregnant bride, played by Thandie Newton. However, he has a change of heart and decides to try and win her back years later by running a London marathon. And despite the title of the movie, it was noted by a few film reviewers that Pegg wasn’t really all that overweight in it.
Reviewing Run, Fatboy, Run when it came out in March 2008, the Phoenix New Times was scathing. It noted that “making Simon Pegg a fat guy is like casting Lassie as a vegetarian.” The newspaper continued, “Even outfitted with a modest little baby-bump of a gut… he’s the scrawniest pear in a drought-stricken orchard.”
In an interview with ComingSoon.net that month, Pegg was asked, “… Did you have to do any De Niro-like weight gain for the role?” He answered, “No, I didn’t really have time. I was pretty chunky towards the end of the writing process of Hot Fuzz because I just sat in an office for nearly two years eating cakes.”
Hot Fuzz was a previous movie of Pegg’s, in which he played a policeman. Pegg told ComingSoon.net, “I went into training for Hot Fuzz and got into shape, and then suddenly ironically the next film I had to do was Run, Fat Boy, Run. It kind of felt a** backwards. I should have done Fat Boy first and then Hot Fuzz.”
Pegg actually ended up having to wear prosthetics for Run, Fatboy, Run. In September 2007 he told U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, “… I was actually very thin when I shot this. I had to wear a fat suit. I didn’t have time to do a De Niro and go and eat lots of pasta, so I had to wear a latex tummy to deliver it, but it still means the same thing.”
Although Pegg wasn’t transforming himself overly much for movies around this time, he was quietly struggling elsewhere. He had a dependency on alcohol and was relying on it to keep mental health problems at bay. And at this stage, the addiction was really taking over.
Pegg spoke about that time in his life to The Guardian in a July 2018 interview. He explained of the alcoholism, “It was awful, terrible. It owned me. I would feel like – I’m in a film with Tom Cruise, I’ve got the part of Scotty in Star Trek. This should be making me feel happy. But it wasn’t.”
Pegg said that things were at their worst while the movie Mission: Impossible III was being shot. He told The Guardian, “When I watch that film back, I can see where I was then, which was fairly lost, and unhappy, and an alcoholic.” Those were his “crisis years” – but he tried his best to hide his troubles.
Pegg added that addiction “[makes] you clever at not giving anything away. People think junkies and alcoholics are slovenly, unmotivated people. They’re not – they are incredibly organised. They can nip out for a quick shot of whisky and you wouldn’t know they have gone. It’s as if… you are micro-managed by it.”
A realization came for Pegg when his daughter Matilda was born in 2009. He told The Guardian, “I thought [Matilda’s birth] would fix things and it just didn’t. Because it can’t. Nothing can, other than a dedicated approach – whether that’s therapy or medication, or whatever.”
Eventually, Pegg explained, the struggle with alcohol addiction came to a head. The year after Matilda was born, during a trip to the Comic-Con convention in San Diego to promote his film Paul, Pegg went off for four days and drank. His wife Maureen had finally had enough, and she arranged for Pegg to do a stint at rehab center The Priory.
Pegg believes he very well might have died if he hadn’t gone to rehab. He explained to The Guardian, “I got into it. I got into the reasons I was feeling that way. I went into AA for a while, too. I don’t think I would be here now if I hadn’t had help.” Interestingly, the actor also ended up making a film which alluded to that time in his life.
The Pegg movie The World’s End, released in 2013, hints at the actor’s struggle. He told The Guardian, “I felt like I was kind of telling people with that movie. Because that’s what addiction is like. It’s like you have grown a second head and all it wants to do is destroy itself, and it puts that ahead of everything else – your marriage, children, your job.”
Once Pegg was better, he then found himself wanting to tell the story. The actor went on, “I’m not ashamed of what happened. And I think if anyone finds any relationship to it, then it might motivate them to get well. But I am not proud of it either – I don’t think it’s cool, like I was Mr Rock’n’roll, blackout and all that s***. It wasn’t, it was just terrible.”
Pegg realized he was getting better both mentally and physically while he was shooting 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. He told The Guardian, “We always laugh about it when we watch the movie. Try it! You’ll be like: ‘F***, he’s got cheekbones suddenly!’”
Now, Pegg has started deliberately changing his appearance for roles. His recent transformation is for the film Inheritance, where he will star alongside Lily Collins, Chace Crawford and Connie Nielsen. And the change is so drastic it has put people in mind of some other famous film transformations.
One of the most famous physical changes for a movie role is Christian Bale’s effort in The Machinist. He lost 60 pounds and eventually filmed the movie weighing a mere 120. Apparently, he took in nothing but apples, water, whisky and coffee to lose as much as he did.
Actor Matthew McConaughey also dramatically lost weight to play a character with HIV/AIDS in Dallas Buyer’s Club. In 2014 he told the BBC, “I did it in as healthy a way as I found possible. I met with a nutritionist. I gave myself four months to lose the weight. I had my programmed meals, lost 3.5 pounds a week – like clockwork – and got down to my desired weight, which turned out to be 47 pounds lighter.”
Of course, if you’re an actor who wants to lose weight for a role, it’s probably a good idea to have professionals help you. When Michael Fassbender played Irish republican Bobby Sands in the movie Hunger, he starved himself by eating only nuts, berries and sardines. But, crucially, he had people to check on his health throughout.
However, in Pegg’s case, people were so taken aback with his transformation that they compared him to the aforementioned actors. One user wrote on Twitter, “These are the kinds of things actors do for roles that audiences and critics don’t really appreciate when they’re giving opinions. Whatever the film is like, you have to acknowledge and respect that level of hard work and dedication for a couple of hours of screen time.”
Pegg’s trainer Nick Lower captioned the photo he took of the actor, “[Simon Pegg’s] six-month body transformation for Inheritance. The brief for this role was lean – very lean. It required a specific body shape and look.” And looking at the shot, the actor looks totally different to how he’s appeared in recent years.
Lower told Metro.co.uk in July 2019 what he and Pegg did to achieve the look. He said, “We didn’t do anything magical or out of the ordinary. We made sure [Pegg] had the right balance of macro nutrients and we trained a lot – a mixture of strength training and circuit training and some cardio added on to make sure we achieved that calorie deficit.”
Lower went on, “Essentially, it’s got to be a mix of strength training. Strength circuits work really well, where you hit as many muscle groups as you can in one session, keeping it high intensity, then move onto ten to 15 minutes of cardio or ropes. But then we trained so much we could spread it out a bit – we would maybe do core and legs on one day, and move onto other sections for two days. [Thankfully, Pegg] had the luxury of time for training.”
In his interview, Lower also offered some advice for people who wanted to be like Pegg and lose weight. He said, “I would start with the basics. Before you start looking at what to eat and what reps to do, look at your own habits. If you’re someone [who] doesn’t eat breakfast or you eat quickly or you’re eating a lot of sugary, high-fat food, I would look at that first and get into the habit of eating better and going to the gym.”
The personal trainer went on, “Without your foundation, it doesn’t matter what program you try – you won’t fix it long-term. If you go for a short-term fix, you’re going to get a short-term fail. Play the long game if you can, make small changes, and that will create the biggest long-term change.”
Pegg now appears on the front page of Lower’s website, re:bourne fitness & nutrition. The quote from him advertising the trainer’s services reads, “I initially worked with [Lower] for three months in preparation for a film project. I needed to achieve a high fitness level and specific body shape within this time and with [his] help, I was able to achieve both goals comfortably.”
The website also features a video of Pegg’s workout, and in it he dispenses some advice of his own. He says, “Get someone who can help you achieve your goals in a way that is enjoyable to you. People think of the gym or training as being a bind. It doesn’t have to be. It’s about having direction, about having someone to tell you where your form is dropping.”
However, Pegg was surprised at the reaction to the photo of him shared on Twitter. In July 2019 he told GQ magazine, “The response from that picture was so weird. Some people said, ‘You look ill,’ which is what my wife thought. Others were saying, ‘Well done.’ And the thing is, it wasn’t meant to be an aspirational thing.”
Pegg went on, “It was a snapshot that my trainer took and I really didn’t expect the furore that followed. All I can think of is that people still think of me as that schlubby guy from Shaun of the Dead.” But, he added, “I’m probably addicted to training now… I do feel out of sorts if I don’t do something every day.”
Talking about Inheritance specifically, Pegg said, “I was basically playing a guy who had been a hostage for a long time, so he was naturally very thin. So Nick and I developed this plan to give me that body shape and it was a lot of work. I trained for three months with only one day off a week.”
The actor went on, “Obviously nutrition was a big part of that, too. [Lower] always says you can’t outrun a bad diet and that is completely true. No matter how many sit-ups you do, you’ll never get a six-pack if you don’t manage your macro-nutrients properly.” The whole training regime was, he said, “a really interesting experience.”
Now that the initial phase of exercise was over, Pegg then had time to reflect. He told GQ, “… The aftermath of that has almost been more tricky than actually training for it, because you release so many endorphins every day that when you stop what you get is an endorphin deficit and that makes you feel a little bit down.”
Pegg went on, “So doing all that training, then doing the movie and then going back to eating pies again actually made me feel a little bit low afterwards. Losing that focus and that goal-orientated training was quite tough.” But because of all the mental battles he’d had throughout his life, he had reached a better place.
Pegg then explained to GQ how well he was doing now. He said, “Maybe it’s because I figured out why I was drinking, which was to combat the depression and so I was able to get on top of what was the real issue. I spoke to people and got proper help. That’s when you realise you don’t need to get drunk because you don’t need to escape from things. By actually confronting it, my reward has been these last ten years.”