Seth Rogen is good at shooting the proverbial poop. When we were on the set of The Green Hornet, he came over while they were setting up and gave us some time, and then came over again for a little off the record back and forth, and then sat down with his writing partner Evan Goldberg to talk some more. He can be deemed affable.
Green Hornet has had a fascinating and troubled production history. The project picked up some heat when Kevin Smith was attached to write and direct it around 2004, but then Smith decided he couldn’t do it with the oomph it required, and so the project spent a number of years in development hell. That’s when Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg came aboard after their success with Superbad and The Pineapple Express, and it looked like a go project. Things seemed even more promising when Stephen Chow was attached to both co-star and direct. But Chow then left the project, and the film looked in peril as it struggled to replace him, and Nicholas Cage was briefly attached to play the bad guy, but as a faux-Jamaican baddie. The shuffling cast gave off a warning sign, and when word dried up the film was declared dead by a number of sites. But then the pieces came into place: Michel Gondry would direct with Jay Chou as Kato and Inglorious Basterds‘s Christoph Waltz as the bad guy. The results are scheduled to be released on January 14, 2011.
So even with a number of moments with Rogen, there was much to discuss about how he and Evan came about writing and re-writing the script, what it was like trying to avoid falling into parody, and the relationship between Kato and The Green Hornet. Our conversation with Rogen and Goldberg after the jump.
(note: this interview was conducted with a few other online reporters)
Question: So can you talk about the genesis of your take on the “Green Hornet?” Were you always “Green Hornet” fans? Was this something that you guys came across later on?
Evan Goldberg: Yeah, we both have always been Green Hornet fans. We all watched the show and read a couple of the comics and, you know, watched the old serials.
Seth Rogen: But I wouldn’t say like we would sit around and be like “maybe one day we’ll make a Green Hornet movie.” That was not how…
Evan Goldberg: Yeah, I watched it with Batman in the hour stretch of television. But it was just the appeal of a giant action movie about a sidekick dynamic, really.
Seth Rogen: Exactly. To us, this was more like a format to make a movie we’ve always wanted to make. And this is what would let a studio give us enough money basically to do it in a way we would want to do it, you know?
Evan Goldberg: And it’s a cool name and cool costumes.
Seth Rogen: It’s a cool name…and there are several things about it that are wonderful. And several things that are somewhat not very thought through and I feel like we addressed those things well.
Evan Goldberg: Of a different era.
Seth Rogen: Exactly. Of a different era. That’s a good way of putting it.
Question: Like your wardrobe.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, exactly. The vest, it’s nice.
Question: I mean no one’s wearing this around now.
Evan Goldberg: Oh, they will be.
Seth Rogen: Oh, they will after this. (laughter)
Question: It’s what Prince is to purple.
Seth Rogen: Exactly. It’s a Prince vibe. It has a Prince thing to it. I mean it’s a costume. We make no illusions of the fact that this is a costume.
Question: Is everybody getting Hornet cufflinks for the wrap party?
Seth Rogen: No, not everyone. Britt Reid is a very good dresser though. That I can tell you. The devil’s in the details when it comes to that.
Question: Is there a mask?
Seth Rogen: There is a mask, yeah. Yeah, it looks very similar to the original Green Hornet mask. We decided to wear masks in the movie. Yeah, we go for the mask.
Question: So now Silent Jay (Chou), we hear he doesn’t say much but what he says is cool?
Seth Rogen: He talks.
Evan Goldberg: He talks more than you’re thinking probably.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, but he’s definitely the strong-but-silent type but that makes up for me because I’m the weak-but-loud type, so I think together we complement each other very well. Yeah, the scenes seem really funny between us, you know, and it’s not… As you can see in that little thing (they showed us a trailer) he gets a lot of the laughs. It’s not just me, you know? I mean he has great timing.
Evan Goldberg: Yeah, like the “I don’t want to touch you” thing.
Seth Rogen: He just improvised that like he….yeah, I mean we encouraged him to improvise. He totally gets it. I mean, it’s not always as 100% understandable as it could be or needs to be, but that is something that is very easily fixed in post-production.
Evan Goldberg: And we don’t….it’s not like in the movie he’s this man who speaks flawlessly.
Seth Rogen: Exactly. In the movie he doesn’t speak perfect English, yeah. We’re not trying to sell him as a guy who speaks perfect English.
Question: What is it about Jay that you saw in him where you thought he could play Kato?
Evan Goldberg: That little rump.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, exactly. No. (laughter) He’s just unbelievably cool. I mean, he’s like Steve McQueen kind of. It’s like everything he does he does super cool. And he’s funny. That’s the other thing. What’s funny is we actually auditioned for the first time with each other over Skype and I think he was in Taiwan and we were in L.A. and it was very awkward and the timing was off and there was a delay, but it was funny. He was just funny you could tell. And we flew him here and we auditioned together and he just was super cool. He was everything I’m not and it was very clear that – and it plays in the joke that we like – he should not be the sidekick. Like it’s cool…it’s clear when you put the two of us together that like he is the leader. Like he is the leader. He is cooler, he is smarter, he is much more physically adept than I am and it played into the whole joke that we have for the movie, basically, that he shouldn’t be the sidekick, you know?
Question: Could you talk a little bit about your original intentions for Kato and then how those things in the different iterations of casting sort of changed and then once Jay came to the picture how now the character cemented?
Evan Goldberg: I mean – to be honest – it didn’t ever change that much. One thing that has always been the same – because that’s why we took the project initially – is we wanted a sidekick/hero dynamic.
Seth Rogen: Exactly.
Evan Goldberg: And you know the amount he spoke changed here and there.
Seth Rogen: That’s true. There was a version where, you know, at one point we were like what if Kato’s American? Like we literally wrote a version of the script…
Evan Goldberg: Where he’s a punk rocker from Santa Monica.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, like a skater from Santa Monica.
Evan Goldberg: We have that version.
Seth Rogen: And the dynamic in the actual story is not really that different from what it ultimately is now, but that was a version that we experimented with and we explored because again, ultimately we weren’t sure who we would wind up with. And there was a version where Kato was older, you know? Obviously with Stephen (Chow) we talked about that earlier when Stephen was going to it, Kato was much older. So, you know, Kato could literally have been my father in that circumstance. But the dynamic, the general story, the hero/sidekick story that we’ve always wanted to tell has always been the same I’d say from the first pitch we did for the movie to now. This scene we’re filming today, this was in the first pitch we had for the movie and the scene leading up to it was in the first pitch we had. Like this has existed for over 2 years— this scene, you know?
Question: Does it fall like somewhere in the middle of the movie, this fight? It’s the big falling out. It’s…
Seth Rogen: Yeah, it’s somewhere, yeah probably closer….yeah around the middle.
Evan Goldberg: Later 2nd act.
Seth Rogen: Yeah.
Question: And does the fighting get stronger after that fight? Or is that pretty much the peak of your fighting skills?
Evan Goldberg: In the sequel he’ll be dynamic.
Seth Rogen: No, exactly. I’d say my fighting gets somewhat stronger than that. That fight’s not over. You should wait. (laughter)
Question: As one of the writers, did you ever make it easier on yourself or make it harder on yourself in terms of like putting yourself in the action.
Seth Rogen: No, you can’t think about that.
Evan Goldberg: I very specifically, and I’ve never said this to you, tried to write in more like running and stuff. I constantly wanted to get a scene where he had to run like for a very long time. I don’t think there is one.
Seth Rogen: One continuous shot.
Question: Can you guys talk a little bit about Christoph (Waltz’s) character because he wouldn’t tell us anything?
Seth Rogen: Well then we shouldn’t either.
Question: Well, thanks for saying that.
Evan Goldberg: I can tell you that he was integral in making the character. He really helped us a lot and brought a lot to the character and it’s a lot of him.
Question: We all have crushes on him now.
Seth Rogen: My girlfriend has a crush on him. He’s a handsome guy.
Question: And he has a crush on you actually. He was just telling us.
Seth Rogen: He’s a wonderful guy. But I will say our intention with the movie was to kind of deconstruct these movies in a lot of ways and I will say, you know, to the best of our ability we deconstructed the villain role in these movies as much as anything else, so our hope is that it’s a very unconventional villain.
Question: When you say that about the deconstruction, by focusing on the hero/sidekick dynamic, that’s almost exclusively not in this new wave of superhero films. Spiderman doesn’t have a sidekick, and they’ve really gotten away from that with Batman. So it’s something that is unique in the marketplace right now because we don’t see that dynamic at this point.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, it’s true. And I think they must….it’s so hard now to do straight I would imagine, no pun intended, but and I think that is… that anyone that’s seen Batman & Robin can tell you firsthand it’s inherently a funny dynamic. I mean, it’s weird. Just the term sidekick is ridiculous. And the fact that they’re a team but one guy is inherently above the other guy is ridiculous and I think the fact that we’re part of a ripening partnership is part of the reason we were able to explore that idea because we know inherently you can’t be partners if one guy is above the other guy. And so I would imagine that that’s why it hasn’t been done because no one has done this tonal approach to one of these movies and I imagine it’d be hard to really accurately explore their relationship without it getting somewhat funny because the most realistic version of that is funny. I mean, it’s just…it’s ridiculous.
Question: In the way you guys write, which one of you is more of a Kato and which one of you is more the Green Hornet?
Seth Rogen: According the Kristoff, I’m the Green Hornet and he’s my sidekick.
Evan Goldberg: Kristoff said I was the sidekick.
Seth Rogen: But it’s not at all like that actually. I’ll tell you it’s completely equal. And if anything, he touched more so he probably gets the lead.
Evan Goldberg: And if it started to get disbalanced, our writing would suck. We counterbalance one another quite well.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, there’s no leader obviously.
Question: How difficult is it to keep from falling into parody when you’re writing this type of thing? Where you’re trying to write a comedy, like an action comedy, but do you ever find yourself going for a joke and being like…”this is turning into parody?”
Evan Goldberg: I mean if we took out all the jokes, it would still play straight. There’s no scenes that hinge on any jokes like that.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, I think that’s a good way of gauging.
Evan Goldberg: We leave them cut-able. If something seems like it might go there.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, exactly. But I think you just have to…you know we approach it like a real movie. We don’t approach it trying to parody things. There’s definitely a lot of…I think if you’re very familiar with a lot of superhero movies, you’ll notice a lot of references and subtle homages to those movies in this movie. There’s a lot of them. If you weren’t looking for them you probably wouldn’t notice them in a million years, but if you knew they were out there we put it in there because we think it’s funny. We think it’s interesting to reference these things. But I think as long as you’re making a real movie with a real story then it just won’t fall into spoof as long as you’re careful the jokes aren’t just for joke sake, that they’re all inherent to your story and your characters and you know what you’re trying to do, you know? There’s no “Airplane” type jokes in it. I think that’s what you just have to make sure of is you’re not doing something to just be funny. You’re doing it because it plays into what the whole scene is and the whole movie, you know?
Question: What about sort of the buddy-film and the action comedies that may have inspired you for this particular movie? Were there any ones that you were looking to sort of emulate? Like you know, obviously Midnight Run, 48 Hours, films like that, that sort of era of the buddy-action comedy? Hard Boiled?
Seth Rogen: Hard Boiled, yeah. Rush Hour, no. (laughter)
Seth Rogen: Yeah, exactly. Bulletproof (laughter). We talked about Bulletproof sometimes.
Evan Goldberg: I liked Bulletproof. (laughter) Very casually.
Seth Rogen: “No, you shot him in eyeball.” That part’s funny. That’s a good question. I mean there was not a lot specifically that we talked about with this one. To us, it was always The Green Hornet. That was what we were trying to emulate in a lot of ways. I mean, we watched the show as we were preparing to pitch the thing and it was like, it was all there, you didn’t need to try to base it on… I mean it was based on The Green Hornet relationship. It was based on the Kato/Britt relationship. The hero/sidekick relationship. I mean, I think like for Pineapple Express for example, we did look more like these 80’s action movies and try to play into that, but for this it was all very inherent in the source material and in pretty much every hero/sidekick relationship in every comic book every basically. So that, if anything, is what we talked about and looked at is all these hero/sidekick relationships and how they play out and do how you expect them to play out and what’s so just ridiculous. So I mean, other than the first time we watched the show and the first thing is Kato doesn’t have an alter-ego name. He’s just Kato. I mean, it’s so ridiculous. Like they didn’t even give him a name? Like he doesn’t have a name?
Evan Goldberg: Like he never calls him in the…battlefield they never….
Seth Rogen: He never calls him anything. He doesn’t introduce him to people. It’s not like “this is Kato, also known as Kato”. So it’s just little things like that like we didn’t even have to make it up. Like it was just there. The fact that when you watch a show like Britt Reid sits in the back seat and Kato’s in the front. It’s just so disrespectful. And…
Evan Goldberg: And Kato’s constantly getting him beverages.
Seth Rogen: He’s always getting him coffee, you know? He’s like he’ll save his life one moment and he’s serving him coffee in the next scene. And so it was things like that and like when you watch the show without thinking about it, it doesn’t even seem that weird because it’s the hero/sidekick relationship and the alter-ego has this man-servant and it’s not weird. It’s just how it is but then when we really started to think about it like how would you actually feel in that circumstance if you were both these guys, you know? And how would that play out in the middle of this really stressful situation of trying to be a superhero like that’s what really just seemed endlessly entertaining to us and the movie really was not…that aspect of it was not difficult to write. I mean as soon as we started watching it, we were just like that’s clear what this movie is, you know?
Question: How much room was there to play? Because I think most of us have been on a Judd Apatow set and you’ll see 2 hours of shooting end up as 30 seconds of film or less.
Evan Goldberg: No time whatsoever.
Seth Rogen: It depends actually. I mean not “no time.” We find it…
Evan Goldberg: Relative to what they see.
Seth Rogen: Relative to what you’ve seen, there’s very little time. I’d say relative to your average action movie there’s a thousand times more improvising that goes on here than you would get on like a Michael Bay set, but it’s pretty rushed, you know, in general. We just generally time’s the enemy, I mean it’s really complicated what we’re trying to shoot and…
Evan Goldberg: Once we get like a joke or two, they’re like “we have to go. We have to dump a dump truck on top of someone.”
Seth Rogen: Exactly. (laughter)
Evan Goldberg: We don’t have time for this.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, exactly. But we pick our moments, honestly.
And with that we wrapped up.
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