Seth Rogen discusses his upcoming role as a costumed super-hero in next year's highly anticipated new film
Actor/comedian Seth Rogen is best known for his work in such extremely successful comedies as The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People and of course Superbad and Pineapple Express, which he also co-wrote with writing partner Evan Goldberg. However, early next year fans will get to see the actor in a whole new light as he takes on the role of super-hero in the highly anticipated upcoming film The Green Hornet, which Goldberg and he also penned. In the movie, Rogen plays Britt Reid, a spoiled rich kid and the son of a murdered newspaper publisher who, after the death of his father becomes the mysterious Green Hornet, and posing as a criminal secretly fights crime along side his faithful sidekick Kato, played by Taiwanese musician Jay Chou. The film is directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and boasts a great cast that in addition to Rogen and Chou includes Cameron Diaz as Reid's possible love interest Lenore "Casey" Case and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) as the film's villain Chudnofsky.
The film recently pushed back its release date from December of this year until January 14th of 2011 in order to incorporate transferring the film to 3D. While this move spawned rumors that the film was in trouble, Rogen and the filmmakers say that that couldn't be further from the truth and in fact, before releasing the trailer on the internet the other night invited a small group of press to be among the first to see it and then answer some questions about the film. We were in attendance, and afterwards Seth Rogen was scheduled to be a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live and invited us along to accompany him. While the appearance was eventually postponed due to a power outage in the control room (the first in the show's seven year history), we still had an opportunity to chat with Rogen before he taped his appearance about the new film, the trailer, his approach towards the character, the film's critics, working with Gondry, comic book adapted films, delaying the release date so that the film can be in 3D and presenting the movie in front of the Comic Con audience next month. Here is what he had to say:
To begin with, some fans have questioned the choice of director Michele Gondry from the start and one comment we've heard since the trailer debuted is that it "doesn't look like a Michele Gondry movie," are you sick of hearing that kind of stuff at this point?
Seth Rogen: I know, it's so funny. It's amazing how when anyone does something different, they are kind of criticized for it in a weird way. I can tell you first hand I've been. It's almost nice to see that Gondry gets it too.
Since you mentioned it, how do you feel about the criticism and scrutiny that you've been receiving since you started working on this project?
Seth Rogen: Yeah, I mean, I read the Internet. I'm one of the people that see this stuff, but honestly I get it. I'm the type of person to blindly make generalizations and judgments on things I know nothing about, so I'm not surprised people did it to us. I've done it myself. The only thing that changes my mind is when I start seeing material and it looks awesome. I just kind of knew that's what we needed to do and we'd have to wait it out. We've been working on this since we were making Pineapple Express, you know, we've been writing this movie. So there's been a lot of talk about it. I mean, if you think about that, people were criticizing me as the choice of this movie before Knocked Up and Pineapple Express even came out. It's funny to see what a long evolution of criticism it's been. I remember honestly when the first Spider-Man came out people heard that he was shooting his own web and didn't create canisters. It was uproarious, it was sacrilegious and then you watch the movie and it's the farthest thing from your mind ultimately. Again, as somebody who participated in that behavior, I find it hard to be too harsh on the people who do but you just kind of have to wait it out.
The trailer was heavy on the action and light on the comedy, was that a conscious choice so that people would really understand the tone of the film that you are going for?
Seth Rogen: Yeah, we definitely knew we had to be aware what people's notions were going into it. People thought it was going to be a goofy comedy that was making fun of a superhero. I don't think we need to convince people that the movie will be funny. I think they assume that the movie will be somewhat funny because our movies have been pretty funny, I think, up until now. So we more than anything had to show people that we were making an actual action movie, that we were serious about it and that we weren't lampooning it, that we were truly trying to embody it and do our version of it. We knew we had to somewhat play against what people's notions of it would be, you know? If people had been very supportive of this movie the whole time, the trailer might be a little different than it is today, I'll be totally honest. But we were trying to be aware of all that. It would be crazy not to be.
From what you say, it sounds like the studio is totally on board with the film that you are trying to make so is it frustrating when you read reports that they aren't terribly supportive, since that seems to be contrary to the truth?
Seth Rogen: Honestly, it makes me sad for the web pages because I used to really at times like and respect those web pages and take their information as actual information. At times, I feel like I'm reading the equivalent of "US Weekly" for nerds. In "Life and Style," I read that Cameron Diaz and I are fighting and then on "AintItCoolNews" I read that the studio hates the movie. It's the exact same thing, just bullshit targeted at different people. Honestly, it makes me think, "Come on, guys." They used to be better than that. They used to give actual information, not complete lies. It makes me feel like, again, I think back to when "People Magazine" used to be a real magazine. I hope that doesn't happen to these web pages, which it definitely is to a lot of them. It's tabloid journalism.
How cognizant are you of these other comic book movies that have come out in the last six months or so that are based on smaller titles like, "Jonah Hex," for instance? Does how poorly that film did last weekend scare you at all and are you looking at their marketing missteps?
Seth Rogen: I haven't seen Jonah Hex but I know as a movie viewer I think our movie offers something that that movie does not appear to offer to people. But I don't know honestly. It was surprising to me how little money ultimately it made. But no, it didn't scare me at all. I mean as somebody who's read the comic book I had a hard time deciphering exactly what it was. But I don't want to say anything bad about that movie honestly. I haven't seen it and it was a movie I would go see.
But you are looking at their marketing missteps as a cautionary tale?
Seth Rogen: Yeah, well Iron Man, for example, we looked at that. I remember definitively my girlfriend having no fucking clue who Iron Man was and a lot of people felt the same. So we looked at how they introduced the character. We couldn't look at Batman trailers because everyone knows who Batman is. We couldn't look at Spider-Man because everyone knows who Spider-Man is. Then we looked at Kick-Ass, for example, which I loved. But I think they tried so consciously to make themselves seem different that it actually alienated itself from a lot of the people that like superhero movies. I think people are thinking, "I like Iron Man. Why do I need something totally different? Why do I need to see not the same superhero movie when I liked the general superhero movie? A lot of them are pretty good." That was not something that we really felt like we had to do. A lot of movies say they're different and some movies just are different and that's what we had to try to do. We had to be confident in the fact that we made a movie that was genuinely original and hope that the material would ultimately reflect that by the time the release date came out. Two and a half minutes can't show the whole thing. It can't show the whole story. We're very conscious of the fact that there's more than one trailer, there's time to introduce this to people. Again, we just kind of have to have faith. We looked at all of that stuff. I think, partly with Jonah Hex, there's no ... what's Jonah Hex's personality? It doesn't give people the thing that I need in order to relate to a movie and get excited about it. I see a guy who's lazy and his father is disappointed in him and he's expected to do something. I very personally relate to that on a daily basis. I think trying to infuse those things hopefully makes it appealing to people because it's what makes it appealing to us.
What was it like to work with Tom Wilkinson, who plays your father in the film?
Seth Rogen: He's amazing, man. It's really scary for me as an actor to work with a lot of these people. The fact that Gondry worked with him before on Eternal Sunshine made it a lot more comfortable. It was really exciting. I think casting choices like that are what make this movie a little bit different than some of Evan and mine's other movies. When I watch it, it seems like, even though it's rated PG-13, it actually seems like a step in a much ... kind of ... it just seems like a step in a direction. I don't know what direction, specifically, but a good step in a good direction I hope? I'm excited about it. As a writer, I think it shows a lot of growth for Evan and me.
Do you think this film is a step towards transitioning your career in the direction that other comic talents have gone in like Jamie Foxx or Jim Carrey, doing more serious drama?
Seth Rogen: I mean, yeah, I mean honestly, I have no conscious career path in my head. I don't have, oh then I'll do a serious movie so I can do that movie. Honestly, I really take it as it comes and I just try to do the types of movies that I would be really excited to go see. That's not one type of movie. I'm constantly shocked at what a strange concept that is to people. As many different types of movies as you like, that's how many different types of movies I'd like to be in. That's how I look at it. I love dick and fart jokes. I hope I never grow out of that
There was a lot of concern from fans when you announced that you were changing your release date, how important do you think a release date is at this point?
Seth Rogen: Honestly, I think people with the release date ... I've been, for a few years now, a believer that what people believe are valuable release dates is transitioning and changing. I think this summer is a very good indicator of that. I think, honestly, monopoly over the market place is far more valuable now then being one of a million awesome movies out in theaters at a given time. It used to be the summer was the best time and now look at the movies that came out this year, (the ones that did well are) the ones that came out around when no other big movies were out like Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland in March. No one would think March was a good release date. So honestly we pushed very hard to just say, we always wanted to be in 3D. We knew if we were the only 3D movie for a few weeks in either direction it doesn't matter that it's January. It's literally completely irrelevant, maybe three years ago it mattered. In my opinion monopoly over 3D theater space is more valuable than what one would generally, traditionally consider a good release date. I always like to go see good movies and I think other people do. The only thing they know is in the summer they're expected to go see movies every weekend. Traditionally, there was really good movies all summer and that's kind of stopped. They put movies in the summer that they think will be big. People say, "Oh, that's a summer movie." But again, I think that's over. I think now being good and being out at a time when there's not a lot around you is much more valuable than being one of a million movies. "Which big movie should we see this weekend? How about that one?" I've got a 3D TV at home. I don't even have to go to a fucking theater to watch 3D. So I think it really needs to seem exciting for people to leave their house and pay $30 bucks to go see this shit. It needs to be awesome. Again, people don't know it's the summer and they're expected to go see a movie every weekend.
How convinced are you of the importance of 3D in general?
Seth Rogen: I'm on board. I think everything that people are saying about 3D now is probably what people said about color when it first came out or sound when it first came out. I am a firm believer, and what we were saying to the studio this whole time was, if they don't make this movie in 3D people will be saying, "Remember The Green Hornet, the last 2D action movie ever made?" To us it wasn't even a decision because I've been involved in it for so long on the animation side of things. Some of my best friends work in 3D. I have friends and people who work in visual effects, people who've been working on Avatar for six years. So I've always been a big proponent of it. It's so funny to read that the studio forced it on us or that was a quick fix or a band-aid because I wish I had those conversations on tape where we were with Gondry and he was literally doing a song and dance explaining all the genius things he'd be able to do with the movie in 3D and we convinced them to do it. What he was saying is true. As we were filming the movie on set every day we'd say, man when they finally let us turn this into 3D this is going to look fucking rad. We didn't do any handheld camera work barely because we knew we wanted it to be in 3D. We did a lot of long angles, lots of depth of field, lots of smooth camera work because it was always the conversation on set. Every day we would bring it up, "Man, if they finally let us make this in 3D all this shit will really look great.'" Honestly, people saying that the conversion process can't yield the same results is something, I don't think that's true. I've been shown things that have been converted and things that have been shot in 3D. If it's done well, honestly I can't tell the difference. It's like blue screen or shooting a car chase practically. It's all who is in control of this tool. I think Chris Nolan was said that it is limiting the film with 3D cameras. There are technical things that are not as easy to do in the time and space that we have. I think creatively for a filmmaker that is comfortable with a 35mm film camera, you do sacrifice certain elements if you suddenly have them use this equipment you've never used before. If they understand as well as Gondry does what visually you need in order to make compelling 3D, and as long as they work with this other tool that they're more comfortable with, I've seen that it can yield as good of a result as anything. I think it's crazy that people would ever say that Gondry would make something that looks bad. You see glimpses of it in the trailer, like the shot that you see where Kato throws the wrench at the guy and it's kind of hovering in the air, as he's able to kick the guy or the car accordion. Kato can kind of kicks guys through time and space in a way he's so fast. All that stuff was conceived for 3D. The idea that a guy is hovering in the air and Kato is able to maneuver around him and hit the guy behind him and that guy's hovering. Those conversations were always in 3D. It was a big investment and the fact that everyone thought the movie was going to suck, every time that the studio read anything it was that everyone hates us. It wasn't easy to squeeze the extra money out of them but I think after them seeing a big chunk of the movie and liking it, then they were finally able to push it through.
Is that what really turned them around ultimately, showing them some of the footage?
Seth Rogen: Yes, exactly. Showing them what we have, doing a presentation on what we could do and showing them some tests we had done. Just really laying out the law creatively. It was something we all felt strongly about. Again, it's so funny to be saying this because it sounds like such bullshit because it's the exact opposite of what everyone assumes. Amy Pascal, head of the studio, literally said to us, "This has to be a 100% creative decision. I can't have it look bad. I can't have it be something that we decide and then you guys don't monitor it and keep track of it and make sure it's good. I just can't have that." She said, "One of these days one of these movies is going to come out and everyone's going to say, why the fuck is it 3D. Why did they do that?" Then it did happen with Clash of the Titans but the conversation continued and we had to convince her that we wouldn't let that happen, that we all cared about it so much that we were not going to ruin it by making it 3D. We were going to make it better by making it 3D.
Would you say then that in a way showing "Kato-vision" in 3D at Comic-Con this year is a make or break moment for you?
Seth Rogen: I mean, I hope that nothing is make or break but I think it's true. Ideally, if we're able to show the "Kato-vision" in 3D, which is what we hope to be able to do then, it could make people start to understand what we are going for. Really we've all been working on this for so long that we need it to be awesome. We need it to be creatively stimulating for us. I mean it just has to be, you know?
Will you look at message boards and read that kind of stuff as it starts to come out?
Seth Rogen: I used to but honestly; it's become such a characture of itself at this point that I don't really see anything to gleam from it. I wish it was more constructive because honestly I feel like it used to be but at this point it's just a bitch board more than anything else. Its just people complaining about stuff, so no I probably won't comb through the message boards and read what people say because I assume it will all be bullshit.
Would you like to see "The Green Hornet" become a franchise if it's a big enough hit and return to do a few more?
Seth Rogen: I would honestly. It's something that we went into this knowing that if it went well that that's what would happen. We embraced that, you know, and we have more ideas for other ones.
If you did a sequel, would Michele Gondry direct that film as well? Is he an essential part of "The Green Hornet" team now?
Seth Rogen: I think so? It's going good so far. That's what we keep saying and if they want a second one Michel will probably be in for it. I don't know how this film could succeed and not give Michel a lot of the credit for it if it does. I mean it was really a team effort, me, Evan and Michel really came together and formed a great collaboration, we all influenced each other in a lot of ways and we had a really good time doing it. It's so fun to work with someone like him. He has all these ideas and he is so enthusiastic and still so passionate about the process. He just shows up on set and you have no idea what kind of crazy idea he's going to have. "Your shoe is tied to a lamppost all of the sudden and a guy with a 12-foot long syringe enters," and you're like "What the fuck is happening right now?" But its awesome and you think, well that's why we hired him. It would be disappointing if there were no 12-foot long syringe.
Was there anything that Michele came up with that was so crazy you just had to say, "Wait a minute, we can't do that?"
Seth Rogen: Oh yeah, thousands of things. It's difficult but we all do stuff that we think is funny and he thinks is probably lowbrow. There's stuff that he thinks is comprehendible and we think is just way too weird. Everybody thinks that there sensibilities are normal its just when you start talking to other people that you realize how weird you might be. I think that he's constantly realizing that. He does like poop jokes. He literally will walk around set looking for things to put on his dick. He'll find a missile and walk up to you with it on his dick. It would always be on his dick. He would pick up a new object, like a machine gun and its like, "Oh what is he going to do ... oh he put it on his dick." So yeah, he has somewhat of a lower brow sense of humor than us. Surprising or not is how funny he is. He is truly comically gifted. He truly is a comedic director. He really knows comedy. I know that I work better with someone and I think that he works better with people also. I think that he is the kind of a person that when given a system of checks and balances he's really able to thrive and then come out and the good ideas really shine.
"Pineapple Express" really was one type of movie and then it took a sudden left turn and became a hard core action film, the action in this looks more fantastical but will it be similar where it feels like one type of movie and then becomes something completely different?
Seth Rogen: I think the idea is ... well Evan and I always talk about build. That's our mantra when we are writing a movie is to have it build, to have it always ratcheting up until the end. In Superbad we did a small version of it and in Pineapple I feel like we developed it a bit and I think this movie is the exact same way. Part of the fun of the movie really is like wish fulfillment, it's like a dude gets all this money and decides, fuck it, I'm going to become a super-hero with it and not a low rent super-hero; a super-hero with cars that do amazing things. I think a lot of the fun like in Pineapple Express is seeing how far it builds, seeing how far they take it. Seeing like, "These guys aren't going to do that now, are they? Oh wow they actually are."
Honestly one of the most amazing things about making a PG-13 movie is just how violent you can make it. How many people you are allowed to kill and how brutally you are allowed to kill them. As long as there is no weed in it you can do what ever you want. In Pineapple Express the thing that we got addicted to while watching the movie with audiences is that you could just feel the impact when Danny gets hit by the bathroom door or when the car crushes Craig, you can feel audiences roar. To us that became crack, that was like the best reaction in the world that, "Ah wow!" This movie is loaded with that but much bigger versions of it. We're able to drop a car from a hundred feet and crush a guy instead of it just driving it through a barn wall. But no, we really tried to take the elements that we thought really worked in Pineapple Express but tried to apply it to something that was just much better and more universal in away.
Do you think that you could have made this movie without doing "Pineapple Express" first or do you feel that that film was important to give you the foundation to make this movie?
Seth Rogen: It helped as a writer. We learned a lot about writing action, what works and what doesn't and how making it play into the emotions and making it seem like when we're mad at each other we're fighting with each other. When we're well we're fighting well, when we're not doing good the action reflects it. When someone is mad the action reflects it so that we don't have the action feel arbitrary, like a bunch of shit is happening and really have it feel like it is part of the story. Every time someone gets punched it's telling you something, it's moving the story in a direction and that is something that we learned a lot about on Pineapple Express. You can see through watching it what parts of the action the audience is really in tune with and what parts feel like you're just watching a bunch of people shoot at each other. We really tried to analyze what worked, what didn't and make more of it work.
There is a great shot in the trailer where you and Jay are sitting in a proto-type of the Black Beauty and are shooting off the car's giant guns. The look on your face in that scene is priceless, was it a lot of fun shooting that sequence?
Seth Rogen: Yeah, one of the best things about Michel is that he wants to shoot everything practically. We went to great lengths to do that. You can see from the trailer that it is not a CG heavy movie. We could have cut that trailer together probably a few weeks after we finished filming because all of that is real elements, none of that stuff is fake it's all shit crashing into shit. Like they built a car with a fucking flamethrower and giant mini guns on it and they put us in it and said, "this button shoots the machine guns and this one shoots the flamethrower." So they just filmed us playing with it and that was my genuine reaction, I could have not had a more genuine reaction to it. Again that's part of the thing about the movie that I love is that we were in the back of a car that was going eighty miles an hour and weaving through traffic while people were shooting at us and I think it really puts you in it. It captures the feeling of what it would feel like if you decided to strap machine guns to your car and be a super-hero. That was an element we really tried to incorporate into the movie, we realized one day, that if I wasn't a famous actor, and I walked into a 7-11 dressed as the Green Hornet, no one would say shit. They would think that I'm on my way to a party or a job or something like that, and that's what we tried to acknowledge. It's set in Los Angeles and outside this theater right now there is a guy dressed like fucking Batman on Hollywood Boulevard. It's set now and that is something that we wanted to play off the notion of. There is literally a scene where we're refilling the Black Beauty at a gas station and we shot it at a gas station and people don't even look at you that weird. They look at the car and it's like something that they half expect to see and the kind of demystifying of these two guys in masks with this crazy car was something that we tried to have fun with. They look at you weird but its not like anyone is calling 911 and saying that there is a car with machine guns on the street. People really assume that it is something else. It was very important for us to do that.
It's kind of like the moment in "Kick-Ass" when Nicolas Cage is putting on the eye make-up underneath the mask because it is just ridiculous, when would Batman have time to put on mascara, right?
Seth Rogen: Oh I love that part but we didn't do eye make-up in this one because that would have been weird. It's just a mask. We see Kato making them out of metal and you see him painting them and again what I love in these movies is seeing the process of it. Seeing how these guys do it, you know? In Batman Begins that's one of the best things, seeing him carve the little Batarangs, seeing him develop the helmet and obviously me and Evan have our own interpretation of how that goes down. But again to play off the expectations is exactly what we wanted to do. That's always what we've tried to do with movies. We wouldn't have been able to make Superbad if a hundred other high school movies hadn't have been made. You need to go in with an expectation in order to subvert that expectation and again we didn't want to completely make it so different than what you are seeing that people who like that genre are not going to be interested but just play with the idea that we fill up the can because we need gasoline. There is one scene where we are in a cab, it takes the fun of the fact that it takes place in the very real world is a fact that we wanted to get across. What would it be like if we decided to become super-heroes? How would it go down? How would you find your costume?
Do you play with the idea from the TV show that Reid sits in the back and makes Kato drive?
Seth Rogen: Yeah, well we tried to make that all story. We tried to not let any of it just be done or taken for granted. We tried to look at the funny in the things that they did, comment on it and at the same time create it for people because not everyone has seen the show. So when we have Britt in the back and not sitting up front with Kato, there is a very specific reason why that's happening it's not just an arbitrary thing that happens because on the nationality of Kato. We really tried to not make any ... and as much as I love the Rush Hour films, we tried to not make any Asian/white guy comedy, to us that weren't really jokes. We didn't want to joke about different nationalities we wanted to joke about different personalities. As far as I remember there is not one joke in the movie that points out we are of different nationalities.
Along those lines, you've mentioned in the past how weird it is that Kato doesn't have a super-hero name, is that something that is addressed in the film?
Seth Rogen: Exactly, yeah we definitely address that. How can you not? How can you ignore the notion that I'm called the Green Hornet and he's called Kato? I have the weirdest name ever and he has no name. So again, part of the fun of the movie is working all of that into the story organically but doing it in a way that if you've never see the TV show it wouldn't seem like we were reaching for these references. Like the gas-gun from the trailer, it's all emotionally driven. I'm not as good a fighter as Kato so I need a gun. It's all part of the story. That was part of the challenge for us. To do these things that people expect but do it in away that it doesn't just feel obligatory but it truly wraps the emotional story around these little things like me sitting in the back seat, me having a gas-gun, him not having a name, all that stuff had to become the emotional part of the story. But again that was a writing challenge. How do you justify a guy calling himself the Green Hornet? I think we did it.
When we were visiting the set last year we noticed that there were a lot of Joe Satriani posters hanging up in your character's house, what was that all about?
Seth Rogen: I know that was weird. That was actually I think one of our production designers who is a big Joe Satriani fan. I like to let those guys express themselves with their set decoration. There was a lot of Joe Satriani and Carlos Santana stuff and I remember someone saying to me, "Britt Reid likes a lot music where the guitar player is featured over the singer." That's the common thread of Joe Satriani and Carlos Santana.
There was a Lone Ranger poster up too, was that kind of a tip of the hat to the connection between the two characters?
Seth Rogen: There is a Lone Ranger poster up, again that is something that twelve nerds will appreciate and no one else will understand but I'm one of those twelve nerds so I thought it should be in there.
Are there any references in the film to your character being a descendent of the actual Long Ranger?
Seth Rogen: No. You know we toyed with the idea of kind of nodding to it but ultimately its one of those things that in doing so we need to make sure that it is organic and feels like its part of the story and that we're not just throwing in these obligatory references for the sake of doing it. So we had it in at one point and it felt out of place so we took it out. I haven't seen The A-Team yet but one of the things that I keep reading that people are criticizing about that is the inorganic inclusion of some of the stuff people expect. I don't know, I'm excited to see The A-Team and would not excuse them of doing it without seeing it first but in just reading things about it, that was something that we tried to aware of throughout the making of our movie.
There were some rumors floating around about some big cameos in the film including Adam Sandler, is there any truth to that?
Seth Rogen: Really? No, there are no cameos in it.
Finally, can you tell us what film you are working on next?
Seth Rogen: The next film that I am working on, well I'm doing Sarah Polley's movie Take This Waltz in like a month. It's awesome, with Michelle Williams and me and some other people. Sarah is super smart, she's really intimidating, and she's Canadian. It's one of those things that were so exciting. She came to the set of The Green Hornet and she asked me to do it and I couldn't believe it.