DALLAS – Seth Rogen and his friend, writer/director Evan Goldberg, certainly don’t stand on ceremony. When I meet them at Dallas’ House of Blues on a recent morning, Rogen is sprawled out on a couch and Goldberg is sitting on a nearby coffee table.
That’s the kind of casual bonhomie you’d expect from two guys known for their pointed, if often raunchy, sense of humor.
As an actor, Rogen, 31, from his early days on the cult TV series “Freaks and Geeks” through such movies as “Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “50 / 50,” is often the smart but foul-mouthed friend. He has tried to branch out, taking on the role of a comedic superhero in a turn as “The Green Hornet,” but that went over about as well as Superman at a Lex Luthor convention.
Fellow Canadian and Vancouver childhood friend Goldberg, also 31, is his writing partner. They’ve collaborated on “Superbad,” “The Green Hornet,” “Pineapple Express” and “The Watch” but, with their latest, the $25 million apocalypse-themed comedy “This Is the End,” opening Wednesday, they’ve cashed in all their Hollywood chips.
Set mostly at a party at James Franco’s swank new L.A. house, it puts together a White Pages worth of celebs – Jonah Hill, Rihanna, Channing Tatum, Paul Rudd, Michael Cera, Jay Baruchel, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and, of course, Rogen and Franco – who have to put their Hollywood concerns and rivalries aside when they realize they’ve got a bigger problem: the end of the world.
Ultimately, Rogen, Franco, Hill, Baruchel, Robinson and McBride end up on their own as an avalanche of catastrophes take their high-profile pals.
Based on a 2007 short film by Jason Stone called “Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse,” starring Rogen and Baruchel, it’s one of three films this season – the other two are “It’s a Disaster” and “The World’s End” – about the end of the world.
I talked with Rogen and Goldberg about working with their friends, teaming up to direct for the first time, why they shot the film in the Crescent City instead of the City of Angels and the biggest disaster of all, “The Green Hornet.”
Q: When did you think Jason Stone’s film would work as a feature?
Goldberg: It was, like, over a couple of years. We kept saying “This idea is so cool. We should do this one day.” The short was well received on the Internet. But we didn’t know how it ends, where does it go. Then we always discussed, Seth and I, as a separate idea, of people playing themselves, having loved “The Larry Sanders Show,” and just seeing this new semi-disgusting reality-show culture. … We realized we could combine the two ideas and one idea would help serve the other idea in a really harmonious way, and so we brought them together and it totally worked.
Q: How did you decide where to take the plot?
Rogen: It took us a long time to realize that this should be about redemption. It was simple as that.
Goldberg: We kept doing different versions where they were happy ever after in a bunker underground.
Rogen: Then we realized that, no, it should be about them redeeming themselves. We were just so committed to the idea that the world was ending and there was nothing they could do about it that it took us awhile. It’s so simple when you watch the movie, but it took us a long time to come up with the idea that they can redeem themselves. There is hope. Just because the whole world is ending doesn’t mean that they can’t redeem themselves in some way. It took us years to circumvent that, plotwise and emotionally. Then once we cracked it, it became easy to write and we wrote the first draft in, like, a couple of weeks.
Q: Why did the two of you decide to direct?
Rogen: I honestly think that directing is like a very mystified job. Over the years of producing and writing movies, we slowly realized that it was actually the most fun job. … We realized, why are we doing all the hard work and letting someone else have all the fun and direct the movie? And so we just decided we should try doing it. Honestly, that was basically it. … We got to work with a lot of great directors over the years, and seeing them and learning a lot gave us the confidence to try it.
Goldberg: The reason that this is the project that instigated it is because we genuinely believed, and I still do, that we were the best people to deal with these six guys. We have personal relationships with them. And the nature of this project, if it was us and Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kim Basinger, we couldn’t have gotten them to do these things. “Oh, Matt Damon, (make fun of ) ‘Good Will Hunting’ for a scene.” He would be like “No, dude, what are you talking about?”
Q: Did the actors have any input?
Rogen: Tons. They had lots of input into their characters especially. When people are playing themselves, they are a little more sensitive to how they’re perceived, and they didn’t care about coming off badly at all or as, like, despicable people. They just wanted it to be interesting.
Q: What was it like directing together?
Rogen: We have very similar sensibilities. I mean, I think we really developed our comedic and filmmaking sensibilities together in a lot of ways. So it’s not like he has a big skill set that I don’t have and vice versa. We really see eye to eye on pretty much everything.
Q: Were there any people you wanted in the movie you couldn’t get?
Goldberg: There were a few scheduling issues. We really wanted Ed Norton to be in the movie. We’re friends with him, he couldn’t make it. Seth’s friends with Elizabeth Banks – she couldn’t make it. But pretty much everyone else was able to make it.
Q: Will you guys direct again?
Goldberg: We’re directing a movie in the fall called “The Interview” with Seth and James Franco where Seth is a producer and Franco is a TV personality and they get an interview with the president of North Korea and the CIA asks them to kill him.
Q: You make a joke in the film about “The Green Hornet.” Would you do something like that again?
Rogen: A big, giant action movie? No. I mean, if we learned anything from that experience is that what you gain from having a huge budget production-wise you lose from having a big budget creatively. … With “This Is the End,” we had a smaller budget, so we could do whatever we wanted. There were no conversations about you can’t do this, you can’t do that. … Other people, like Christopher Nolan, he feels he can be very creatively satisfied making $200 million movies. We can’t.
In order for us to feel creatively satisfied, we have to be doing something that feels subversive and edgy and dangerous and like we can’t believe we’re getting a chance to do it. Only way you can do that stuff is if you have a smaller budget.
Once you pass $40 million, you’re in a world where you’re having more conversations than you want to be having. If experience and making the amount of movies we’ve made has taught us anything, it’s that the price of the movie is as important a creative decision as your actor, director, anything. You have to go into it with the right price or it can be a hellish experience.