From director Nicholas Stoller, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising sees Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) having their second baby and ready to make the move to the suburbs. But before they can do that, they have to survive their new next door neighbors – a group of young women who have decided to start a sorority house where they can do whatever they want and party as loud as they want. The film also stars Zac Efron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gallo, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael and Lisa Kudrow.
During a conference held on the front lawn of one of the houses on the Wisteria Lane portion of the Universal Studios backlot, co-stars Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron talked about how the story for the sequel took shape, praying that the film would not be terrible, working as a team this time around, balancing the political and societal aspects with humor, rubbing meat grease on Zac Efron, and how much improvisation they did.
Question: Seth, at what point during the process of the first movie did you decide that you could do it again for a sequel, and how did the story take shape?
SETH ROGEN: It wasn’t until it came out and was well-received and did pretty well that it even became something we were considering. The story came in last. First, we were thinking of where the characters could go next. We knew that Teddy would probably be a guy who would graduate college, but have no skills, and he’d probably be pretty depressed about it. That gave us a good idea of where his story could go. We didn’t really want to get into us wanting to party anymore. That seemed like it had passed. It seemed like maybe we’d have another kid and enter the next phase of parenting and wonder if we were bad parents, if our kids would relate to us, one day, or if we’d be able to talk to them, and all of those fears.
That’s really what gave us the idea about the sorority. We were like, “Okay, we have a daughter and we’re about to have another daughter. They seemed like a good personification of what your worst fears for your daughter might be, as far as not being able to communicate with them and them not liking you.” And then, we heard that sororities aren’t allowed to throw parties. An intern in our office was in a sorority and we were talking about how they’d throw all these parties, and she was like, “Oh, they’re actually not allowed to do that.” And we were like, “Oh, that’s fucked up!”
So, that’s where the idea came from, for the girls. And then, we started to think about how that’s also a really interesting phase in your development, when you first get to college and it’s the first time you get to choose what you like and what you don’t like, and who your friends are, and what you stand for. That just became an idea we wanted to explore, also.
When you were making this film, did you know that you were making a sequel that was funnier than the first film?
ROSE BYRNE: I don’t think you can ever really tell.
ROGEN: No, we were praying to God that it just wasn’t going to be embarrassing. That’s our goal with every film, essentially. Anything better than humiliating is fantastic for us. That’s a success. None of the people writing the movie had made a sequel, so we really just tried to put a ton of thought into how not to make it terrible and how to make it feel like it justified its own existence, idea wise. We really tried to make sure it had an idea that was strong enough where, even if there was no first movie, we would be excited about this for a movie. And we really liked the characters. That was the thing that we talked the most about. It was about where these characters would go next in their lives. We found that that was a good guiding principle and it made everything a lot easier. As we were making it, it seemed funny and it was fun, but you never know. I’ve made a lot of things that seemed really funny and they’re not.
Rose, what was it like for the three of you to get to work as a team this time, instead of as adversaries?
BYRNE: It was great! I think we have a very paternal role in Teddy’s life.
ROGEN: It was good to nurture and support him while he was lost, and to have him become a part of our family.
ZAC EFRON: I really liked that part. It became very emotional.
ROGEN: It was nice to not be fighting with him in every scene, and to teach him about boiling water.
Seth, you brought in some political and societal aspects into this story. How did you balance that with the humor?
ROGEN: I don’t know. Social consciousness became one of the themes throughout the movie. Once that happened, it made our brains start going in different directions. I think it just started to funnel in that direction once the theme of social justice became one of the jokes of the movie.
Zac, what is your advice to millennials who are going through similar struggles to your character, who just doesn’t know what’s next in his life?
EFRON: I’ve been really lucky that I’ve found something that I really love. I get to explore a lot of millennial issues on film and really think about them. You should try to find what really motivates you and what you love, and do your best to keep searching for that thing. And then, work hard when you find it. Also, every time I find myself afraid or scared to do something, and it’s going to prevent me from doing it, usually that’s when I try to do it ‘cause that’s often the time that I find it’s something that I needed to do. So, if there’s something that you’re afraid of doing in life, that could lead to an opportunity that you’re nervous about, go for it.
ROGEN: I’m going to go for it! Fuck this!
Rose, what was it like to rub the meat grease all over Zac’s body?
BYRNE: It was a new experience. I’ve never felt anything quite as hard. They had injected the meat with baby oil, so it was really disgusting.
ROGEN: It was a real ham with lube in it.
BYRNE: It was also seasoned with things, like peppercorns and thyme.
ROGEN: We made it delicious!
EFRON: They made it edible with seasoning. So, that mixed with the smell of baby oil was pretty gross.
BYRNE: You couldn’t get it off of your hands. It was disgusting.
EFRON: It wouldn’t come off. I tried to get it off, forever. But, watching Rose’s face was worth it. She was really funny.
Did you do much improvisation on this?
BYRNE: You always start with the script, and then it evolves.
ROGEN: We really give people a lot of lee-way. There are some jokes in the script that we all end up falling in love with, so we want to hit those. And sometimes there are certain things that need to occur, in order for the movie to progress. With the sorority girls, we don’t know how 18-year-old women speak to one another, by any means, especially the five dudes who wrote the movie. We had female writers on set and we gave the movie to a lot of female writers, throughout the process of the writing of the movie. But just on a moment to moment basis, new ideas come up and we would be crazy to go up to Chloë [Grace Moretz], Kiersey [Clemons] and Beanie [Feldstein] and be like, “Here’s how to say this.” We’d be like, “Here’s the idea we like. How would you guys say this to one another?” It’s what they did on Freaks and Geeks. Even then, the writers were like, “We’re not your age. How would you say this, at this age?”
EFRON: It’s the worst thing when you’re even slightly older and you’re trying to speak in vernacular. It’s such a specific thing.
ROGEN: And then, there are tons of amazing comedians in the movie with small roles, and it’s crazy to have them on set and not tell them, “Try to come up with funnier stuff than what we’ve written.” When you have people like Billy Eichner, Sam Richardson and Abbi Jacobson around, you’re like, “Say whatever you want. You’re all very funny, competent comedy people.”
Zac, because you have some shirtless moments in this movie, did you do any special training?
ROGEN: He was in terrible shape before the film. He got in shape for the movie.
EFRON: Teddy shape is just hotel gym stuff. We had a nice gym, where I was staying, so I would train when I had time. I had several days off on this movie, as opposed to the first movie, which was nice. There were more characters, so I had more time off. So, I ate a lot of protein and lifted a lot of heavy weights.
ROGEN: That’s how you do it, huh? You lift the heavy weights?
How difficult was it to shoot the airbag sequence?
ROGEN: It’s the simplest camera trick. It’s something they’ve been doing since Buster Keaton times. It’s almost entirely in camera. You just stand on a thing, and then we go, “Freeze!” Everybody freezes and you move, and then you put a dummy there, in the same position, and blast it up in the air with an airbag. And then, it lands and we go, “Freeze!,” and we look at the position that it landed in. And then, the actor flops their body into that position. That’s pretty much it. It’s so lo-fi that it’s unbelievable. It literally only costs a few thousand dollars in visual effects to stitch those shots together. They’re incredibly simple to do. It’s a camera trick that’s been done for like a hundred years.
Rose, can you relate to this character even more, now that you’re a new mother yourself?
BYRNE: Yes. It takes so long to leave the house now. It takes an hour and 45 minutes to leave the house, and by the time you’re ready, you’re just exhausted and don’t want to go because everyone is tired. It’s very true. There are a lot of things in the movie that now resonate with me in a lot more profound way, having had a kid since then. But, it’s the next stage. Their daughter is getting older, so they’re having another kid. That was another thing we wanted to bring into the film, in terms of where they’re at now and their growth as parents. In the first one, they still aren’t really parents, and they’re adjusting and still want to have their own lifestyle. In this one, they’re like, “Are we actually good at this?” It will be interesting to see how it evolves in my own life, as well.
Seth, these movies show what can go wrong when you party too much, but they also tell you that you should party safely. What do you hope college kids learn about partying safely?
ROGEN: I think there’s probably much better things to teach college kids how to party safely than the Neighbors franchise, so I would not look to us specifically for that. But if in any way, it inspires someone to go seek out a much better source of how to party in a safe manner, than I hope they go do that. Obviously, a theme in the movie is the fact that women aren’t allowed to throw their own parties in sororities. If you delve deeper into that conversation, it certainly brings up conversations about whether or not they would be safer, if they were able to do that. But, there are probably a lot smarter things written about that subject than this film.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising opens in theaters on May 20th.