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Toronto: Simon Pegg on Robin Williams’ Suicide, Christopher Plummer Knocks Retirement

Simon Pegg
Allen Berezovsky/WireImage

Simon Pegg and Christopher Plummer may be busy hawking “Hector and the Search for Happiness” at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, but the stars of the offbeat comedy aren’t so sold on the concept of happiness itself. At least not happiness of the pure, unadulterated variety.

“As a destination, I think it’s mythic,” said Pegg. “It’s a rainbow. You’ll never reach it no matter how hard you chase it. I’d be very suspicious of someone who is continually happy. You need the light and the shade.”

Pegg said that the recent suicide of Robin Williams had left him more keenly aware of the disconnect between the trappings of success and personal fulfillment.

“I keep coming back to Robin Williams,” said Pegg. “I think about him a lot because he’s someone that we all believed was this force of happiness and it just goes to show how indiscriminate depression is that when supposedly we have it all and are capable of such joyous behavior, it still is not good enough.”

Pegg and Williams’ voices will be featured in Terry Jones’ animated film “Absolutely Anything,” but the two men never met. Pegg said one of the high points of his career was having Williams reference an op-ed the actor wrote about zombies in 2009’s “World’s Greatest Dad.”

“I cannot tell you how utterly bizarre and wonderful that was,” said Pegg.

“Hector” adapts François Lelord’s best-selling novel of the same name and follows a disaffected psychiatrist who goes on an international walkabout in order to discover what makes people happy. The film opens on Sept. 19.

As far as Plummer — who plays a professor searching for the scientific origins of bliss — is concerned, Hector should have stayed at home.

“Happiness doesn’t exist, it’s a very Disney state of mind,” he said. “It’s too cute to be believed.”

Yet Plummer admits that there is a better, less sugary term that can be substituted.

“Joy, now that’s a great word,” said Plummer. “Joy is something I feel when I’m working, playing tennis, listening to classical music or really good jazz.”

He may be 84, but Plummer said he has no desire to end one of those pleasures by retiring.

“Retiring to me is like death,” he said. “I would never retire. I’d rather drop dead on the stage.”

Nor did many of his contemporaries and drinking buddies — a group that includes Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris — ever cede the spotlight.

“They drunk themselves to death,” said Plummer. “I’m only here because I loved eating. O’Toole didn’t eat at all and Richard Burton didn’t eat anything. I never remember Richard Harris eating anything, but some green slime they gave him to try to keep his liver from exploding. I drank just as much as they did, but I ate.”

Pegg may be less dismissive of happiness as a state of being than Plummer, but he does favor emotional modulation. Part of the reason he was drawn to “Hector” was he felt that the film is whimsical, but has real world elements that ground it. Pegg’s character benefits by being thrust out of his comfortable middle class existence in London and into foreign cultures in South Africa and China where he meets drug dealers, pimps, and ordinary citizens just content to be alive.

“In our society where we have all this choice and comfort and affluence, we’re constantly obsessed with our happiness because we can’t identify it because there’s nothing to compare it to,” said Pegg. “We might be capable of experiencing happiness better — I’m not advocating poverty and death as a means of achieving happiness — but certainly living outside of your comfort zone might be.”