Last year when directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were filming The Interview (their directorial follow up to This is The End) in Vancouver, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. As most of you know from the extremely funny red and green band trailers, James Franco plays a vapid talk show host who, along with his producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen), lands an interview with Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). But their attempt at hard news gets upended when the CIA asks the duo to assassinate the North Korean leader.
During a break in filming, I participated in a group interview with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and James Franco. They talked about how the project came together, pulling from real-life inspiration, improvisation, Franco’s Instagram, how they wanted to do things people don’t usually do in comedy and “abandon how comedies look as much as we possibly could,” how the film should play out like a serious, political thriller that’s loaded with jokes, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either listen to or read the interview.
Click here to listen to the audio, otherwise the full transcript is below.
SETH ROGEN: We had the idea for the movie a few years ago and we honestly didn’t know who would be Dave Skylark and then…
JAMES FRANCO: But you guys were talking about it on This is the End, right? I wasn’t cast, but you guys were talking about it.
ROGEN: Yeah, we had this kind of idea and yeah, we didn’t know honestly.
FRANCO: There was no way you were talking about on Pineapple Express right?
ROGEN: No, no, no.
FRANCO: You sure?
ROGEN: I don’t think so.
FRANCO: There was some idea that was similar.
ROGEN: I don’t think it was that old, because when we made that, that was a really fuckin long time ago. I think it was after This is the End that we first talked to you about it right?
FRANCO: Yeah but the time This is the End came out we were already talking about this.
ROGEN: I think it was during This is the End. Until the studio saw This is the End, we didn’t know for sure if they would let us two direct another movie. So once they saw it, they decided they would let us direct another movie. I think it was around then when we had just made This is the End and we had so much fun with James and it seemed like we were going to direct another movie, that again we wanted to do with it people who we were close with and worked well with, and I think it all came around together then.
FRANCO: I sort of feel, the way my character was originally written in This is the End.
ROGEN: Yeah, it’s kind of based on that a little bit.
FRANCO: He’s a suit-wearing dude, who cares very much about his appearance. I guess that’s how they saw me.
FRANCO: And I also think that they probably felt guilty about killing me in This is the End.
ROGEN: He’s never gotten over that! He literally brought it up five minutes ago. (Laughs)
FRANCO: I’m not alone. A few people on Instagram have said that too.
(Rogen breaks out in his signature laugh again).
Were you influenced by the headlines about Dennis Rodman being buddies with Kim Jong-Un?
ROGEN: It was actually written before that happened. This was actually written when King Jong-Il was still alive initially. The idea came from reading articles about like Mike Wallace interviewing Osama Bin Laden. Journalists are in a weird position to get closer to these evil dictators, than anyone else is and it was also inspired by the idea that you hear that Saddam Hussein was a fan of western movies. You do hear that these guys are fans of western culture and pop culture specifically and so we thought an entertainment journalist might be a funny way into that. Then the Dennis Rodman shit happened and it made it much less far fetched, which was great honestly. At first, part of what we were worried about was that we wanted the movie to somehow exist in the real world. And our fear was like: “Would any buy that this would actually happen?” And then when that happened, we were like, that’s way fuckin dumber than what we came up with! (Laughs)
What days are harder for you? Are the days when you have to act, produce, feed the other actors lines and direct all at the same time?
ROGEN: Yes, that’s harder than just directing. (Laughs) When I’m acting in something that isn’t going right, and I’m the director also, I get taken out of the scene sometimes.
FRANCO: Well here is what I’ve observed. They’re a great team and so when Seth is acting, Evan is behind the monitor, the way that we work and I guess we’ve been working this way for ten years now, I guess since 40-Year-Old Virgin, there’s a lot of improvisation. When Seth is acting, he’s also still acting as a writer and it’s sort of a way of directing the scene from within, as acting, and Evan can see how it looks or he’ll be back there with the writers and there’ll be alternative lines. On a movie like this, the jobs sort blend into each other. So it’s a little different directing/acting in a film like this, then it would be on another movie. But like Seth said, as the director he is more conscious of the more technical stuff so when something isn’t going right, you can see him pop out of character. (Laughs)
ROGEN: If I notice that the camera isn’t moving at the speed that it should, if it’s a push in on us, I’ll be like: “It should be faster!”
FRANCO: He goes straight to a dumb face…
ROGEN: I do, I see it in dailies. Or if one of the actors isn’t doing something I like or goes on a run I know we won’t use, I’ll have this dumb look on my face, but if I’m not the director, I will go with it and I’ll do any stupid rift.
Did you base Dave Skylark after anyone in particular?
ROGEN: We can of say it’s like Oprah meets Ryan Seacrest a little bit. But amped up fuckin crazy. The way Franco ultimately acts in the movie is not based on anyone, it’s psychotic almost – in a wonderful way. But it’s far more heightened than I’ve ever encountered….actually no, I’m sure you meet people and you think they’re fuckin ridiculous.
FRANCO: I don’t know anyone like him, but I imagine, like the way this guy is so obsessed with any celebrity gossip. I imagine the offices at TMZ… like we just got the panty-less shot of so and so! Oh my God, this is huge! You can imagine them celebrating that.
Is there a comedy barometer, do you know when you’ve gone too far?
ROGEN: (Laughs) Sometimes.
The two-dick thing you just did in the last scene, was that improvised or was it in your notes?
EVAN GOLDBERG: And that’s not close to going too far. Too far is much further than that.
ROGEN: On set there’s no too far and then when we screen the movie and we show it to the audience, and if they stop laughing then it’s too far. As long as it’s funny then it’s not too far at all, it’s awesome.
As writers do you feel like—what do you do about Asian or Korean stereotypes?
ROGEN: Everything about North Korea in the movie is real. We made up zero facts about North Korean culture, or behavior, or the belief system. It’s all 100% real. And as far as the specific jokes, some of the characters in the movie are more racially sensitive than others I guess you would say, like in real life. But overall, we don’t stereotype the Asian characters at all.
FRANCO: It’s based on research or things that you found.
ROGEN: We just Google it. Wikipedia mostly. (Laughs)
FRANCO: The Americans coming in are dumb and dumber.
ROGEN: Yes, we’re not the smartest guys.
FRANCO: A lot of the jokes too come from that, our ignorance.
Can you talk about the relationship between your characters, Aaron and Dave?
ROGEN: I’m like his friend and his producer who is definitely the slightly smarter, more together one of the group. It’s a very co-dependent relationship. I like money and employment and I like him and the ride of the show but I wish that we were doing something more serious and that was always my intention as a journalist to be like a real journalist and not just talk about people not wearing panties when they get out of a limo, whereas that’s all he ever wanted to do and he loves it. And he knows that I make the show better, so he just throws me money and perks my way but we get along very well. So it’s kind of like this unhealthy co-dependent relationship. It’s like a married couple-type relationship. We clearly spend tons of time together and we clearly love each other but we are clearly at times terribly frustrated with my uptightness and me with the fact that he is just psychotic.
ROGEN: It’s the same! (Laughs)
But particularly when you wear so many hats, you have to trust the other person when you take one of them off?
ROGEN: I think you hear sometimes about a directing team, where one guy is the visual guy and the other guy is the one who talks to actors. We’re not like that. Sometimes because I’m in the scenes, he will see things I don’t see and sometimes because I’m in the scenes, I will see things he doesn’t see. It’s funny because the crew come up and ask me questions, like the wardrobe guy will present us with five options for one of the extras to be wearing in the one of the scenes, and sometimes they don’t always get us at the same time, so they will ask us each individually and it seems like ten times out of ten we pick the same one.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, the last one is how much blood should be in this gun hit. I said four times and he (Seth) said twelve times.
ROGEN: Yes exactly, but we are generally on the same page and we pretty much have the same skill set.
GOLDBERG: I can’t act.
ROGEN: Exactly (laughs). When it comes to directing.
GOLDBERG: Or can I?
ROGEN: Or can he? He’s not even Evan Goldberg.
How do you deal with disagreements?
ROGEN: We usually shoot both. That’s the thing about movies. And we do it all the time. If I like this line, and he likes that line, than we will do both lines. There is almost never a situation when you can’t do both things and let someone else decide later.
FRANCO: What’s very liberating too about this kind of movie making—and it’s not to say one way is better than the other.
ROGEN: Our way is better.
FRANCO: It’s certainly more liberating, there are some movies where everything is planned to the tee, and it’s a weird kind of honing, where this is like explorative and you just try things. Like ‘why not’? You’re here and everybody knows how to work in that way, so why not just explore where it can go?
James, I’m very curious, have you ever gotten a line from Seth and you’re like no fuckin’ way am I saying that?
ROGEN: No! There have been some jokes that he literally doesn’t get all! Like some references, whenever there’s a scene where we kept asking him to say: “Exqueeze me, baking powder?” from Wayne’s World. And he did not get it, like literally at all. And he was like: “What is it? Exqueeze me?” He kept saying baking soda. God bless, there was not one moment when he said: “Stop, I need to understand what I’m saying. I really don’t understand what this means.” He was just like: “Okay. Exqueeze me, baking powder.”
FRANCO: Erm, no.
ROGEN: Well, there have been some crazy jokes.
FRANCO: You’ve got to try it.
ROGEN: He knows we wouldn’t use it if it didn’t work.
FRANCO: It wouldn’t work that way with every director. I know these guys have the best taste and they are the best comedic filmmakers around, so you’ve got to just try it.
ROGEN: And best dressed.
There was a period when you were doing crazy shit for the paparazzi, were you doing that for research for this character?
ROGEN: Were you?
FRANCO: I don’t know.
ROGEN: Was it all those shots with your balls hanging out?
FRANCO: The one where I was running around naked in Vancouver?
No, you were doing crazy things like…
FRANCO: No, I took those photos. I wasn’t doing crazy stuff.
Didn’t you tweet a photo of your abs?
FRANCO: Yeah. (Everyone laughs) I got like ten thousand likes.
ROGEN: I liked it twice.
How does it feel to shoot back in your hometown here in Vancouver?
ROGEN: It’s been nice. It’s cold as fuck though. It’s literally snowing right now. It actually works really well for our purposes. The movie is set in New York, China and North Korea. It really just worked geographically for that, because Evan and I grew up here and we knew there is like a Chinese night market in Richmond where there’s like thousands and thousands of these little Chinese food stands that we filmed for Beijing. We kind of wrote it for things that we knew that existed here. And the whole thing takes place in this mountain complex, which is where Kim Jong-Un’s fortress is, and the mountains and the area are where we were able to film the finale. It has this scope and it just looks gigantic, which was very nice. So it wasn’t just so we could hang out with our friends and eat good sushi.
FRANCO: I kept complaining that we weren’t in New Orleans.
ROGEN: Exactly, I love New Orleans.
FRANCO: For a lot of the exterior stuff it wouldn’t have worked.
ROGEN: We are in the bayous of North Korea!! (Everyone laughs).
For you guys, you started real small on indies and you got real big. Does this have a similar structure where we start seeing footage it will look like a tiny movie, and it gets much bigger?
ROGEN: It starts a little bit bigger.
GOLDBERG: The style in which we filmed it is totally different in a way, it’s not going to start as a subtle hint. It starts with a level of scope that we kind of maintain.
ROGEN: As contained as This is the End was we tried to make this as filled with scope as it could be. We used a lot of helicopters and cranes and we moved the camera a lot, and we tried to develop a visual style that allowed us to improvise a lot, but at the same time, to do things they don’t usually do in comedy. We tried to completely abandon how comedies look as much as we possibly could.
Is it more of an action comedy?
ROGEN: We based it more on political thrillers. Like Ridley Scott movies. Like Michael Mann movies. We tried to use a lot of long lenses and we probably play some of the scenes tighter than you generally would in these types of comedies. The fact that it looks like of serious and has this weight to it makes it funnier, because it really looks like we’re stuck in this serious, political thriller, which is funny to us.
ROGEN: We always had freedom.
GOLDBERG: Sony let us do anything we wanted on This is the End and they’ve let us do anything we wanted this time.
ROGEN: I think we have more confidence in some ways. But at the same time, I really feel like we’re doing something so different with this movie that not a lot carries over and it really feels like we’re doing something for the first time in a lot of ways. The fact that we’re almost in a different location everyday is a different experience. The plot is a lot more complicated. There are lot more elements. There are scenes, which are cut between five locations instead of us screaming in a house for six weeks straight. So it’s a lot more complicated on our end. Even though we have more confidence it kinda feels new at the same time.
So what are you doing next?
FRANCO: I have a little project with this writer, David Shields. He’s a teacher of mine. His best book is called Reality Hunger and he has another booked called: I Think You’re Totally Wrong, and we’re going to film that after this.
ROGEN: Editing this.
For more on The Interview: