By Jessica Jardine; photos by Suzanne Hanover, courtesy Columbia Pictures on June 17, 2013
Seth Rogen’s rollicking, eruptive laugh is a deceptive thing. It might fool you into thinking the curly-haired Canadian is just a laid-back goof who has stumbled into an enviable Hollywood career, acting in blockbusters alongside jaw-droppingly beautiful leading ladies and his hilarious best buds. But that guffaw belies a very real savvy that has allowed the 31-year-old to navigate his path from ensemble member on Judd Apatow’s prized TV classic Freaks and Geeks to one of Tinseltown’s most influential and recognizable power players. Rogen has starred in A-list comedies like Knocked Up and Funny People, written soon-to-be classics like Superbad and Pineapple Express, lent his voice to box-office smashes like Kung Fu Panda and Monsters Vs. Aliens and watched his peer group similarly evolve from a ragtag cluster to standalone superstars.
As the “Apatow Gang” has turned from 20somethings to 30somethings—gathering some Oscar nominations along the way—Rogen has remained one of the most visible faces of them all. It makes sense, then, that he and his longtime writing and producing partner, Evan Goldberg, would be the driving force behind getting the band back together. This Is the End was written and directed by Rogen and Goldberg, marking the first time the duo has stepped behind the camera. Based on a short originally titled Jay and Seth Vs. the Apocalypse, Rogen leads a cast of pals including Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel and Craig Robinson as they play themselves trapped in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. The world begins crumbling around them during a party at James Franco’s house, where celebrities like Rihanna and Emma Watson make cameos, also as themselves. Holding the mirror up to nature, natch.
Here, Rogen talks to FILTER about directing that fireball-and-sinkhole-strewn insanity, what it’s like to write 500 jokes for Borat and what role he’s coveted most in his career.
You and Evan Goldberg first made This Is the End as a short, way back after finishing Superbad. Where did the idea come from?
Seth Rogen: It came from a few places. We’ve always been into apocalyptic movies. We grew up watching movies like Independence Day and Children of Men—movies that imply that the world is ending in a lot of ways. Even Ghostbusters, to a degree, is a movie like that. We’ve always been fans of those movies and, at the same time, we’ve always been entertained by the idea of actors playing themselves. We grew up watching The Larry Sanders Show and Seinfeld, where that’s happening. Eventually, we thought, “Maybe we can combine these two crazy ideas into one idea: Actors playing themselves in an apocalyptic situation.”
At this point in your career, you’re an actor, producer, writer and, now, director. What have you enjoyed the most?
Directing was really fun and writing is really fun. Acting feels, to me, like 10 percent of a job at best [laughs]. I mean, producing is just hard and stressful. That’s the hardest part of the job. Writing is nice because it’s all hypothetical; anything is possible when you’re writing a movie. It’s a very loose time. But, yes, I really liked directing. You know, we’ve always written stuff in our movies and pictured it a certain way and, for better or for worse—honestly, usually for better—it’s never looked exactly how we pictured it. It was just really interesting, after having written a fair number of movies at this point, to write one and have it look exactly how we pictured it. It was very gratifying in a new and exciting way.
Your partnership with Evan is a storied one at this point. How have you managed to make it work since starting writing together as teenagers? And how has it evolved?
It’s interesting. We’ve really been working together since we were like 13 or 14 years old. That’s when we started writing Superbad. But we really would schedule times to write. We would get together and it was, in some ways, a more evolved method than I’ve seen amongst 40-year-old writing partners [laughs]. Honestly, we’ve been writing together for more of our lives than we haven’t at this point and we’re only 30 years old. By now, we just have such a codependent writing relationship. And it’s a very good relationship. I mean, we don’t argue that much. We mostly agree on the same stuff. We have very similar sensibilities. It’s not like one guy is the story guy and one guy is the dialogue guy, or one guy is the emotional guy and one guy is the dick joke guy. I’ve grown to appreciate that it is a good relationship. I’ve seen a lot of writing partnerships crumble over the years—ones that I’ve considered to be very good ones—and it’s made me appreciate that we have a very good writing relationship on the grand scale of them.
Can you name a particular role you have played that you didn’t write for yourself that you look back on and enjoy?
I think my role in Observe and Report; I just personally love that movie and I had nothing to do with conceiving it in any way, shape or form. But, to me, that movie is insane and I can’t believe I’m in it. I think [writer/director] Jody [Hill] is so awesome.
While you’re still a young fellow yourself, you must get approached constantly by people who aim to have a career that mirrors yours. What type of advice do you pass along?
At this point with Funny or Die and YouTube and how cheap cameras are and how good cheap cameras look—I mean, we’ve shot scenes from our movie on a camera that you could buy at Best Buy for a few thousand dollars—I just tell people to make their own stuff and, if it’s good, it’ll generally find an audience of some sort. There’s not a lot of good material out there so I always tell people that if you’re good and you make your own material and just keep doing it, odds are that you’ll succeed in some capacity. I think what’s good about movies now is that you don’t need someone to let you make them. In the ’50s and ’60s, you couldn’t get a fucking film camera and you couldn’t get sound equipment. If you wanted to make a movie, you needed the infrastructure to make a movie. Now, if you want to make a movie, with how cheap visual effects are, just find a nerd in a garage somewhere and give him a couple of hundred bucks and he’ll do visual effects for you. If you find him [laughs].
So, if you want to make a movie, make your movie. And if it’s good, you’ll get money to make the next one. Because if you’re that into movies than you’ll find the community of other people who want to do it. [Pauses] I think people are just lazy. I think people don’t realize that if you want to do it, you have to work way harder than everyone else who is trying to do it, which is pretty much everybody. People just don’t want to do it. I think that the truth is that most people aren’t that funny or don’t work that hard [laughs].
Outside of the perks of being a movie star, you must have clocked plenty of time in front of your laptop screen, plugging away at drafts and joke rewrites, yeah?
Oh yeah. People don’t treat it like a job and don’t realize that there are people out there sitting in a chair for 12 hours, not moving, and writing jokes all day. And those are the people you’re competing against. If you’re not working hard then you’ll never beat those guys because those guys are the Navy Seals of comedy and you’re a dude on a couch.
Have you ever sat in a chair for 12 hours straight writing jokes?
Evan and I worked for Da Ali G Show and literally we would get locked in a little, tiny room all day and get told to write 500 questions for Borat to ask, like, Donald Rumsfeld. And it made us way better writers. I would just think about how we were gaining tools and being forced to work so hard. So, now, if someone tells me to sit down and write 100 jokes, I’m completely unintimidated by that.
You really had a kind of comedy boot camp early in your career.
Yes. It’s good to have a job like that because it makes you less precious. I think people get really precious with their shit, which I think is not good. And [when] you’ve written 500 jokes and been told none of them are good, you become a lot less precious [laughs].
THE MEN WITH ONE BRAIN
WITH EVAN GOLDBERG
Since meeting as 13-year-olds back in their hometown of Vancouver, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have made themselves one of the more prolific and well-received writing and producing duos in Hollywood. Now, all grown-up and with their own production company, Point Grey Pictures, Goldberg and his movie star partner still manage to carve out time to work on future projects, even if that means finding an hour on a set somewhere to write together. Luckily, the pair got all of their good arguments out of the way a long, long time ago, so no time is wasted…unless, of course, Craig Robinson and his entourage show up.
What was the transition process like from a co-writer/producer to a co-director for This Is the End?
Evan Goldberg: By far the hardest part of the entire process was getting these guys to be somewhere together for three months: Craig is on The Office; Jonah was flying all over the world with Moneyball; Franco is the busiest man in the world with teaching and doing art and movies; Jay is in Canada; me and Seth have a production company; Danny was doing Eastbound and Down. It could not have been a more complex situation. Honestly, I think my hair started to recede faster because of this scheduling. Once we were there, though, it was all good. And, man, Craig Robinson should be given the key to the city. You can walk down the street with James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Seth Rogen, Jason Siegel, Kevin Hart and Jay Baruchel and they will not get as much attention in New Orleans as Craig Robinson. People lost their minds and would just scream out “Hot Tub Time Machine!” We found out over the years that it’s the number-one-rented thing on Netflix.
What led you to two to want to direct?
It really just came down to the fact that as executive producers and writers of the movies, we find ourselves in a position to become real, controlling assholes [laughs]. The day-to-day is usually me and Seth on set, saying, “Oh, no. He should be doing this. Oh, no. He should be doing that.” And we realized, “Oh, no. We’re just going to become these assholes.” So, we decided that if we’re going to write a script, we’d better direct it ourselves.
How do you describe your relationship with Seth? And how did that change when you found yourself directing him in scenes for the first time?
Well, most people start their professional career with somebody when they’re like 26. We started when we were 13. At 13, you’re not as tactful. We had the arguments one would eventually have by the time they’d been working together for five or six years before we’d even graduated high school. So, we’ve gotten it down. Once we moved to the directing chairs it was really natural and simple. My favorite thing—this is like our trademarked thing, for better or for worse—is that we’ll finish a scene and Seth will just scream out, “Are you good?!” and I’ll say, “Yes!” and then we’ll both yell, “Cut!” F
This article is from FILTER Issue 52