Edgar Wright is a fanboy. Hidden under his standard film director's get-up — black trousers, black cardigan, black jacket — beats the throbbing heart of geekdom. Unfocus your eyes, listen to his excited tone as he talks about Gremlins and The Evil Dead, Hitchcock and Landis, title fonts and running gags, and it's not too hard to reimagine him in a sci-fi T-shirt, clutching a raft of graphic novels.
As a teenager obsessed with films, his current life — living in Hollywood, hanging out with Quentin Tarantino, collaborating with Steven Spielberg and dating Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick — would probably have seemed the product of a particularly indulgent fantasy.
But while he might not have the same name recognition, Wright's collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost — the slacker sitcom Spaced, zombie rom-com Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, the all-action buddy-cop movie set incongruously in a sleepy Somerset village — have set the bar for British comedy in the past decade. This week he goes it alone with his first US film, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, and the exciting news is that it's very, very good.
Based on a graphic novel series by Canadian cartoonist Bryan Lee O'Malley, the film follows 23-year-old wannabe musician Scott Pilgrim — played by Michael Cera — as he falls in love, only to discover that, to win the object of his affection, he has to defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends.
It's a virtuoso rendering of the genre, and its subtle but encyclopaedic visual and audio references (everything from Sonic the Hedgehog to Resident Evil) bear the hallmarks of a misspent youth and, perhaps, adulthood. "I'm a lapsed gamer," Wright nods. "Between eight and 16, I was crazy into computer games, so this film made me feel pretty nostalgic."
In adult life, he says, he lost "months" to Tomb Raider III while making Spaced; he had to force himself to leave the console behind at the end of shooting and go cold turkey, although he occasionally indulges when he goes to stay with his brother, Oscar, a graphic artist who has created many of the designs for the film. "I once had an Xbox given to me and I didn't unwrap it because I was scared to. It was like having a Ouija board in the house: if I open this box, there goes an entire year..."
Wright's always been happy remaining in the background (and perhaps it explains all the black he wears). Compare the profiles of his Hot Fuzz co-creators: Simon Pegg is established as a leading man; Nick Frost has garnered a cultish following as one of Britain's best comic actors. Wright? "I'm the guy you only recognise if you've watched the DVD extras," he laughs.
It's a misleading image: he is well known to the people who matter. His group of friends includes some of the most influential names in Hollywood, from Sam Raimi to Peter Jackson to J.J. Abrams. He has written the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's upcoming Tintin film; he is set to direct Ant-Man, a superhero blockbuster from the same Marvel stable as Spider-Man and Iron Man. He has even been touted as a replacement for Guillermo del Toro on the epic, two-film version of The Hobbit. Scott Pilgrim, with its $80 million (Dh293.77 million) budget, could very soon look like small fry.
"After Shaun Of The Dead came out [in 2004], the world suddenly got really small," says Wright, as if he still can't quite believe his luck. "Just from that one film I met about 80 per cent of my heroes."
The Scott Pilgrim script was actually written in Quentin Tarantino's guesthouse: the king of schlock is a major fan of Wright's and insisted on putting him up so that he didn't have to live and work in a hotel. Wright ended up staying more than a year — the year that Tarantino wrote Inglourious Basterds — his host wandering in to read out new scenes and ask if Winston Churchill's dialogue sounded English enough.
At the age of 14, Wright saw a documentary about Sam Raimi making The Evil Dead as an 18-year-old, and for the first time realised that filmmaking might be something he, too, could do. ‘Up till that point I'd assumed that people were just born into directing," he says.
"I started making these very silly films on Super 8 that starred all my school friends. They weren't particularly serious but each one got bigger, and the final one had 70 people in it, because I figured the more people I cast the more families would want to buy a copy."
An animated film for a Comic Relief competition won him a video camera, and after that, he admits, his school results "started going deeply south". By the age of 20 — turned down by every film course he applied for because he was "too young" — he had made his first feature film, A Fistful Of Fingers, a spoof spaghetti western whose starriest moment was a cameo by Jeremy Beadle ("I never even thought about casting proper actors"). Its tagline was: The greatest western ever made... in Somerset. "It was completely powered by this youthful naivety, and if at any point anything had been thought about for more than two seconds the whole thing would have fallen apart."
During shooting, Wright sets a blistering pace. "By the time we started on Scott Pilgrim it had been three years since my last project so I was going at 200mph because I felt like I desperately needed to direct," says Wright. "We shot about 200 slates in the first week, which is insane."
He admits that he drives even himself crazy, and wishes he could have more fun on set. But it doesn't seem to matter: the young Scott Pilgrim cast speak of him adoringly — and 25-year-old Kendrick, Oscar-nominated for her role in Up In The Air, who plays Scott Pilgrim's sister, is now his girlfriend.
He will next start work on World's End, the follow-up to Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz (the finale to what Pegg calls their "Cornetto Trilogy"). The characters will be older and perhaps a little wiser, but they will still, Wright promises, be aspirational daydreamers. "That's pretty much what I am: the kid looking out of the window at school dreaming up sword fights and car chases and s**t."
He throws his head back and guffaws. "That's my final statement: sword fights and car chases and s**t!"
Don't miss it
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is currently showing in cinemas across the UAE.