Seth Rogen On Set Interview – OBSERVE AND REPORT

     March 30, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Last June I got to visit New Mexico for the first time. I was invited (along with a few other online journalists) to visit the set of the new Jody Hill film “Observe and Report.” If Jody Hill’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he previously directed “The Foot Fist Way” and he’s one of the people behind “Eastbound and Down”, a great new show on HBO that just finished its first season.

By now you’ve all heard of “Observe and Report”, but for the few that haven’t…

At the Forest Ridge Mall, head of security Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) patrols his jurisdiction with an iron fist. The master of his domain, he combats skateboarders, shoplifters and the occasional unruly customer while dreaming of the day when he can swap his flashlight for a badge and a gun. Ronnie’s delusions of grandeur are put to the test when the mall is struck by a flasher.

Driven by his personal duty to protect and serve the mall and its patrons, Ronnie seizes the opportunity to showcase his underappreciated law enforcement talents on a grand scale, hoping his solution of this crime will earn him a coveted spot at the police academy and the heart of his elusive dream girl Brandi (Anna Faris), the hot make-up counter clerk who won’t give him the time of day. But his single-minded pursuit of glory launches a turf war with the equally competitive Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) of the Conway Police, and Ronnie is confronted with the challenge of not only catching the flasher, but getting him before the real cops.

While I usually have to post on set interviews before I’ve seen the film, that’s not the case this time, as I recently caught a screening and loved it. Not only is the film laugh out loud funny, it’s a hell of a lot crazier than most studio released movies. Trust me, Jody Hill was given the freedom to make his movie and it’s absolutely worth checking out on April 10th.

So with the release date fast approaching, WB has finally lifted the embargo on the interviews I participated in and the one below is with Seth Rogen.

During our time with Seth he talked about making “Observe”, working with the rest of the cast, filming the action scenes, and a hell of a lot more. The thing about this interview with Seth is…we spoke to him on set for almost an hour. Not only did we get a roundtable interview with him, but when we went back to set he came back over and we spoke for another 30 minutes. Since there is no way you’d want to read some of the minutia we talked about, I’m making it as bonus audio content. Here’s part 1 of the interview and here’s part 2. That way if you’d like to hear it, you have the option.

Finally, before reading the interview, I strongly suggest watching this red band trailer for “Observe and Report”. After you see it, I promise you’ll want to watch this film. Also, this trailer is not false advertising. The film really is this crazy and awesome.

Question: What is it like working with Ray?

Seth Rogen: It’s really weird. He’s definitely like the most real actor I’ve ever worked with. It’s really interesting to see the steps a real actor takes when doing a role, as opposed to how I just kind of blindly walk into the scenes. He knows his lines and sh*t like that. He doesn’t feel an urge to just make them up as we shoot. He’s very meticulous about blocking and things that I literally don’t think about at all. It’s great. I mean, it’s funny in the movie. It’s my role to kind of annoy him to the point that I finally crack him and I kind of feel like that’s happening in real life. Yeah, the dynamic works. When he’s trying to do the scene and I just make sh*t up, it works perfectly in the scenes because you can see he actually kinda wants to kill me, which is exactly what’s supposed to happen.

What was the thought behind shaving and cutting your hair?

SR: We just thought it’s a mall security guard who really fancies himself a protector of justice and has a secret dream to be a cop so we kind of thought that the more official clean cut look would make more sense for the character, just kind of almost a military kind of look because he was very disciplined and regimented and ritualistic with everything he does so we thought this just kinda fit the character.

Was part of the attraction breaking out of the mold?

SR: I have to say, when I signed on to do this movie, it was around a year and a half ago maybe. I’d met Jody and seen Foot Fist Way and it was literally, he said, “Hey, I might do a movie about a mall security guard.” I said, “I’m in.” I didn’t even know what the character was at the time and I was pleasantly, you know, I loved it when I read it and I thought thank god that I committed to a good movie. It was more just working with Jody that drew me to it and I really like it and I think it is a great character and really ultimately different than anything I’ve done, but Jody was the draw in the first place, just working with him.

Any similarities between Fred Simmons in Foot Fist and your character?

SR: I’d say they’re both kind of tragic figures I guess. They’re both guys who generally would not be the heroes in movies. What I love about Jody is he kind of makes these epic movies about really pathetic people. To me, that’s just hilarious, just to paint someone in the light of a hero when they’re clearly just kind of the type of guy most people ignore and avoid.

Which fake mall store would you like to shop at?

SR: They’re all pretty good. There’s kind of like a lava lamp black light store that I find myself zoning out in a lot. It reminds me of my bedroom in high school.

What advice did Kevin Smith give you about working in a mall?

SR: He did actually. You know, there was some discussion as to where we were going to shoot. Just because I just shot in Pittsburgh and I’m lazy, I was pushing really hard to shoot in Los Angeles. None of the malls were empty there so we were saying maybe we would have to shoot when the mall was closed. He said they did Mallrats that way and it was f*ckin’ miserable. So basically, yes, he was instrumental in me backing off from pressuring them to shoot in LA because I just realized yeah, I guess two months of night shoots would be pretty miserable. So yeah, he did have some pretty good advice in that regard.

In the fight with Ray, do you get the best of him?

SR: No, I don’t. He wins. I give it a good shot. Yeah, it was really interesting. It was interesting shooting a fight scene with him. When we first started, I couldn’t imagine, there’s a lot of just physical contact involved when you shoot a fight scene. I just couldn’t imagine man handling Ray Liotta to that degree but he’s, you know, a big guy. He can handle himself and we very quickly got into the swing of things. It’s a pretty crazy fight. It’s pretty brutal actually and really, our stunt coordinator said he thinks it’s the most realistic fight he’s ever done.

Did Pineapple help you with this action?

SR: No. There’s no helping me with something like that. Especially when I’m in this kind of shape and it’s just physically exhausting. Especially we have a shot that’s kind of almost an Oldboy style fight scene where I basically fight 15 guys in this one long tracking shot. It’s like physically exhausting. And to do it take after take after take, it’s just physically exhausting. You just kind of have to keep doing it. Those were a tough four days. I’m glad it’s over. Yeah, we’re done but no, I think you really have to get in good shape if you want it to be easy to do something like that, and I’m not.

How would you describe the drama/comedy of this?

SR: I would say, I mean, it is very dramatic. I just see it as a character movie. It’s really about a guy, unlike any of the movies I’ve done so far. Those were more relationship stories but this is really a portrait of this guy. There’s really dramatic parts and there’s really funny parts and to me, it’s just kind of a portrait of someone. I think ultimately it will be called a comedy because I think there’s more laughs than not laughs but my goal, when I go into the scenes, being funny is not my prime directive. It’s more just kind of honestly bringing this guy to life. If it’s a funny scene it’s funny and if it’s not I don’t try to make it that way.

Why do you have crying scenes?

SR: Just kind of the world beating him down I guess.

The world or Ray Liotta?

SR: Both. Ray Liotta is the world in this movie. Yeah, he goes through some hard times in this movie, physically and emotionally. Me and Jody always discussed it as a guy, this case, a flasher comes to the mall and finally he gets a case that he seems like he might be able to solve and he can’t do it. I always described it, in my head it was like a guy who is a loser his whole life and he gets an opportunity to f*ck the prom queen and he just can’t get it up. That’s basically the story in my head. That’s what it is. It’s a guy who never did anything and he has this opportunity to accomplish something small in the name of justice and he just can’t seem to do it. It’s kinda sad.

Any opportunities for Jewish humor in Pineapple and beyond?

SR: In Pineapple we made Franco’s character Jewish and mine isn’t, so we kind of tried to flip it on its head a little bit. I read the internet. There’s a lot of comments that fly around saying like, “Can Seth Rogen make one f*ckin’ movie without a Jew joke?” That’s my goal for this one.

Did you know at the time your background was funny?

SR: Yeah, definitely. It seemed funny and yeah.

What’s your relationship with the task force?

SR: The Specialty Task Force? I mean, my character desperately wants to be in charge of something. This collection of misfits is the only guys that seem to listen to him. It’s the Yuen twins who are these two guys who are actually twins and they’re hilarious and it’s Jesse Plemons and it’s Michael Pena and they’re just kind of the guys who have to listen to him because they are his subordinates on the security team. So the dynamic is kind of a tough love one. I’m not very nice to them for the most part. I really give them a lotta shit, kind of in a R. Lee Ermy Full Metal Jacket kind of way I guess you would say, but it’s all out of love. That’s what Vincent D’Onofrio didn’t get. It was character building. So yeah, I’d say it’s kind of a drill sergeant/private relationship in the movie.

What do Jody and David Gordon Green bring to comedies?

SR: I mean, they just bring a sensibility that is outside the mainstream in my opinion. When we did Pineapple, I kept marveling at the fact that the studio was letting us do all that stuff and I think if it wasn’t someone from a background that wasn’t so far removed from the studios then he wouldn’t even have been trying to do that. I think it’s the same thing with Jody in this movie. To me, a movie’s most fun when it kind of feels like no one’s in charge and that it is just like an independent film and everyone’s kind of working together to try to make it work. Half of this crew went to film school together and it’s a lot of the same crew that worked on Pineapple. It literally has that feeling, that it’s a student film. To me that just makes it exciting and collaborative and there’s just a real kind of young energy to it.

Balance of originating scripts and doing others?

SR: To me it’s just what is around and who approaches me. I just, I’m more than happy to do stuff that I’m in but it’s exciting to me when the director or writer that I admire wants me to be a part of whatever it is that they’re doing. I’m more than happy to do that.

Superbad was inspired by 13-year-olds. Is Pineapple inspired a bit older?

SR: Definitely. It’s definitely inspired by stretches I’ve gone through where I do nothing but smoke weed for months and months on end, and relationships I’ve had with the people that supplied me that weed, and just kind of pothead relationships in general. I mean, yeah, it’s definitely, we take it obviously to a somewhat ridiculous extreme in the movie but the core of the story is definitely based around prior experiences.

What happened at the MTV Awards?

SR: I will tell you exactly how this went down. Around two and a half weeks ago I was told that they wanted us to do the MTV Awards and I sent this idea where wouldn’t it be kind of funny maybe if – – literally the number one question we get asked is, “What do you guys smoke in the movie? What is it?” And I just get sick of saying, “It’s f*ckin’ fake weed.” So we just thought we’ll just put all those rumors to bed and at the same time, in a playful way, I’ll come out, we’ll say, “What is it? It’s fake weed.” And we’ll light our fake joint and it’ll be all in good fun. I made it clear, if they have any problem with this, tell me now ’cause I will be more than happy to come up with another idea. I just want enough time that we can come up with something we like, but if you like this idea, then we’re more than happy to do it. We heard, “Go ahead, sounds great.” They sent us a script a few days later that is word for word the script that we said on Sunday night. We showed up at the awards, went backstage literally while Coldplay was on so a minute and a half before we were supposed to go on and all of a sudden, someone goes up to us and says, “You can’t do the bit with the props.” We said, “That’s the whole bit, the props. What are we doing if we’re not doing the bit with the props?” They said there was a kafuffle. I said, “You sent this to us.” I had the physical script that they sent me. I said, “This is what you sent us.” And they said, “Okay, you can go out and do it.” We went out and did it. It played great in the room. We lit that joint, it f*ckin’ blew up in there. Then later on someone told me, “Oh, they pulled out really wide and made it seem like you weren’t supposed to be doing that.” Again, we literally didn’t say one word that wasn’t on that teleprompter. They handed Franco the bag of weed. They gave me the lighter. They gave me the fake joint. It could not have been more planned. I don’t know if they did that to make it seem like we were doing something we shouldn’t or someone chickened out at the last second, but it’s all very amusing to me.

Does it make people want to see Pineapple Express more now?

SR: I don’t know. It gets the name of the movie out. The only reason I was at the MTV Movie Awards was to promote the movie. That’s all that is is a big f*ckin’ publicity event so that’s why I was there. So we promoted the movie. That’s why we were there, that’s what we did.

How did you fit in with Kevin Smith?

SR: It was good. He let us improvise to the best that his shooting style will allow. He shoots very specifically because he edits the movies also. So shot for shot, the whole movie is planned out in his head beforehand. So that to some degree limits the amount of improv you can do just because often, you see how we shoot here. They just kind of plop two cameras on us and we go but with Kevin, it’s much more specifically shot. It’s like well, this shot’s only good for three words, so you can improv all you want but only three words are going to be in this shot. So I was proud of him. He let us do a lot of stuff that he never thought he would let people do. I’ve seen the movie. There is a lot of the improv we’ve done in the movie and I think it feels maybe more naturalistic than some of his other movies do. But that being said, it’s not quite the same universe as what we do here.

Any long fanboy diatribes for you?

SR: No, not so much. Yeah, no, not really that I can remember right now.

Are you going back to standup this summer?

SR: Oy vey, I think I’m supposed to. Yeah, I was actually just talking to Adam Sandler about that. I saw him over the weekend. We were just both like, “What the f*ck are we going to write jokes about now? Our lives are awesome.” It sucks any and all humor out. All my jokes are about not being able to get laid and having no money. Now I have a girlfriend and a good job. I literally don’t know what the f*ck to write about. I’ve got all these Hills jokes and sh*t. Just like is this funny? Jokes about Spencer? Can I do that? Does anyone give a sh*t? It’s removed me from my insecure base which is where all my jokes came from.

Is that a dramedy?

SR: Yeah, it definitely has more dramatic elements than any of the other movies do but in my head is just as funny as any of the other ones. Yeah, I think that’s a fair – – that term I always found weird. I always thought realistic was a better way to explain things that were “Dramedies” because life is like that. It’s funny, it’s dramatic and to me that’s how I see it.

Will you be rehearsing all summer until September?

SR: No, I’m not shooting anything between now and then. I’ve got a lot of f*ckin’ Pineapple Express promotion to do. Gotta smoke weed at the Juno Awards and the Tonys. Gotta smoke weed at the Blockbuster Awards. Do they still do that? No, I’m just promoting the movie basically and then we start rehearsals I think around the end of August or something like that.

What’s it like being the lead day after day?

SR: It’s really fun. Everyone in this movie is kind of, I mean, not everyone but Jesse and Michael Pena, they’re kind of mostly based in dramatic movies. It’s a lot of fun to see them kind of do comedy. To me, I get no bigger kick than watching Michael Pena watch playback of himself because he is so in shock at what he’s doing that it makes me fuckin’ laugh my ass off. But it’s a lot of fun. They’re all just great actors. They all couldn’t be better. It’s really awesome. Good cast.

Do the mall security high five you or give you tips?

SR: Yeah, I talk to some mall security guards. There’s actually one guy who works here. He’s been the mall security guard here for 30 years or something like that. He read the script and he said it actually somewhat accurately represents a lot of the people that he’s known. He said there’s two types, the guys who don’t give a sh*t and then the guys who give way too much of a sh*t. I definitely fall into the latter category in this one.

How jealous are people that a mall security guard has read the script?

SR: And they haven’t read it? Well, that’s the way to read it. Become a mall security guard.

How is your awesome life now?

SR: It’s been very good lately. It’s busy. I was just going through my schedule for the next few months. It’s weird. Assuming Green Hornet gets made which it looks like it might, the next year and a half of my life is basically planned out for me already. So it’s a little strange being a guy who normally doesn’t know what he’s doing tomorrow to have that work, but it’s a good feeling.

Still keep up with the group of friends, Judd and the gang, Adam…

SR: Yeah, I see them all the time. I just talked to Judd last night on the phone. We’re all definitely in communication with one another.

What cameos are planned?

SR: I mean, no one has come out for this yet. We usually shoot in town which makes it a lot easier, I’ll say, just to get people over. But it’s definitely a little trickier when we’re shooting here in Albuquerque just because normally you’ll be like, “Where are you? We’re at Sony. Come over.” But yeah, no one’s come by yet on this one but we’ll see.

You’ve been demoted from cop to mall cop.

SR: Yes, I have.

How is that different? This guy doesn’t have as much power.

SR: No, not at all. No power. It’s kind of the exact opposite joke actually. In Superbad, the joke was kind of they could do whatever the f*ck they wanted with no repercussions but in this, the guy can’t do anything. Yeah, when I first agreed to do it, like I said, I haven’t read the script or anything and somewhere in my head, I was like, “F*ck, I hope it’s not exactly the same as Superbad” but it really couldn’t be more different.

How do you feel that your job in a movie drives the comedy, like Pineapple Express?

SR: Process Server. At this point, it’s literally just, I mean, in this movie it’s very specific. In Pineapple Express it was just kind of what’s a weird job we haven’t seen a lot of that you could fathomably smoke weed all day while doing. We didn’t know. I honestly have no f*cking clue what a process server does in real life. We could be completely off the mark. We could be 100% wrong but in the writing of the movie, it seemed to work. It seemed to make sense. It was a somewhat organic way of getting me outside Gary Cole’s house to witness the murder. That’s really all we were – – I don’t think the words – – and then we just thought it would be a funny joke that Franco never really got what I did. We thought that was also kind of funny. I guess it serves a different role in every movie you’re doing.

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