Vancouver – It's no wonder that Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and James Franco finish each other's sentences.
The former two grew up together in Vancouver, have collaborated on scripts since they were 12 years old. Rogen produced and co-starred in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” which filmed 10 years ago; it also cast James Franco, one of many sets for the two of them. For 2013's “This Is The End,” Goldberg and Rogen co-directed, Rogen and Franco co-starred — the same as the setup to forthcoming comedy “The Interview.”
“Basically until [Sony Pictures] saw 'This is the End, we didn”t know if they”d let us direct another movie,” Rogen explained. “So, once they saw it, they decided they would let us direct another movie.”
Goldberg and Rogen headed back home to Vancouver to shoot much of this action-oriented flick, with the story set mostly in North Korea. Franco with them — they launched again into their shorthand, scenes chock full of improvisation, script ideas from their former projects seeping a little into this next endeavor.
Take for instance Franco's character Dave Skylark, an obnoxious tabloid television news show host.
“This is sort of like the way that I, my character [Skylark], was written originally written in 'This Is The End'… a suit-wearing dude who is very much about his appearance. I guess that”s how they saw me,” Franco told a small group of reporters on the set of “The Interview.” “I also think they probably felt guilty about killing me in 'This is the End.'”
Goldberg retorts: “He thinks we made a terrible mistake.”
“He”s never gotten over that,” Rogen said. “He literally brought it up five minutes ago.”
In the film, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (“Veep's” Randall Parks)” is a fan of the program “Skylark Tonight,” and the network arranges for an interview between Skylark and the despot. The the CIA gets involved, convincing Skylark and his friend and trusted producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) to assassinate Jong-un while they're at it.
Below is a continued, edited Q&A, with Seth Rogen, James Franco and Evan Goldberg, on “The Interview's” goals, similarities with Dennis Rodman, “Oprah Meets Ryan Seacrest,” TMZ, drawing lines in the sand, and weapons up the butt.
Was this at all influenced by, the headlines Dennis Rodman being buddies with Kim Jong-un…?
Rogen: It was actually written before this happened. This was actually written when Kim Jung Il was still alive, initially. No, the idea came from reading articles about, like, Mike Wallace interviewed Osama Bin Laden and journalists are in a weird position to get closer to these kind of evil dictators than anyone else is, and it was also kind of inspired by the idea that you do always hear like [how] Saddam Hussein was a fan of Western movies. You hear that these guys are fans of Western culture and pop culture specifically, so we thought like an entertainment journalist might be a funny way into that.
Then the Dennis Rodman shit happened and it really actually made it like, much less far-fetched, which was great, honestly. At first, part of what we were worried about, we want the movie to have kind of like exist in the real world, and our fear was like, “Would anyone buy this would actually even happen?” And then when that happened, it”s like, “That was way f*cking dumber than what we came up with.”
What day is harder for you, like the day that you have to act, produce, think of lines, and direct, all at the same time, with all the actors on the set?
Rogen: Yeah, that”s sometimes, that”s definitely harder than just directing… It”s hard sometimes, we were talking about it. When I”m acting and something isn”t going right, and I”m the director also, I get taken out of the scene sometimes, like…
Franco: They”re a great team, so when Seth is acting, Evan is behind the monitor. And the way that they work, you know… we”ve worked for maybe 10 years now, I guess since “40-Year-Old Virgin.” It”s a lot of improvisation, so when Seth is acting, he”s also kind of still acting as a writer and it”s sort of a way of directing the scene from within, as acting, and then Evan can see how it looks or he”ll be back there with the writers and there will be alternative lines, so it”s sort of like on a movie like this, the roles or the positions or the jobs kind of blend into each other. So it”s a little different, I think, directing and acting in a film like this than it would be on another movie, but, like Seth said, he is, you know, as the director, more conscious of…
Rogen: Like the technical stuff.
Franco: Yeah, the non-creative things. So, when something isn”t going right, you can see him just pop out of character. He”s like, not in it.
Rogen: If I notice the camera”s not moving at the speed that it should or I literally will see it happening, like if it”s a push in on us, it should be faster. I know it.
Franco: He gets a dumb face. He”s obviously not in the scene.
Rogen: I do, and I see it in the dailies. I literally notice it happening sometimes, or one of the actors isn”t doing something I like, or goes on a run I know we”re not going to use. Yeah, but if I”m not the director, I”ll go with it. I”ll engage and I”ll do any stupid riff.
Is Dave Skylark inspired by anyone in particular?
Rogen: We kind of say it”s like Oprah meets Ryan Seacrest, kind of, a little bit…
Franco: But amped up.
Rogen: Amped up, like f*cking crazy. The way that Franco ultimately acts in the movie is not based on anyone. It”s like psychotic, in a wonderful way, but it”s far more heightened than anyone who I”ve ever… Sometimes you meet people and you”re like, “This person”s f*cking ridiculous. “He kind of has the same job you guys do, in the movie.
Franco: The way this guy is so obsessed with any kind of celebrity gossip, I imagine the offices at TMZ or something where it”s just like, “Oh my God, we just got somebody…”
Rogen: Definitely had like a TMZ vibe as well…
Franco: “We just got the panty-less shot of so-and-so getting out of the car. We have to have to… Oh my God, this is huge!” You can imagine them celebrating it.
Did you know when you”ve gone too far with…
Rogen: Sometimes. On set there”s no “too far,” and then when we screen the movie, we show it to the audience and if they stop laughing, then it”s too far, basically. But as long as it”s funny then it”s not too far at all.
As writers, what do you do about Asian or Korean stereotypes here? You said you”re trying to ground this partially in reality, but on paper, how do you tread that line of being funny and being completely bonkers?
Rogen: I mean, it”s very, everything about North Korea in the movie is real, like we”ve made up zero facts about North Korean culture or behavior or the belief system, like it”s all 100% real. So, and as far as the specific jokes, the characters, some of the characters in the movie are more racially sensitive than others, I guess you would say, just like in real life, but overall like, I”d say we don”t stereotype Asian characters, I don”t think, at all.
Franco: I mean, yeah, so it”s based on research or things that you”ve found, but also..
Rogen: We just Googled it. Wikipedia mostly.
Franco: The Americans coming in are like “Dumb and Dumber,” so…
Rogen: We”re not the smartest guys.
Franco: A lot of the jokes do come from that, our ignorance.
Talk a little bit about he relationship between Aaron and Dave, because we just saw a little bit of Dave, but how does Aaron fit in and how do you guys…
Rogen: [Aaron] is [Dave”s] friend and his producer who is definitely the slightly smarter, more together one of the group. He kind of looks to me as like his intellectual. It”s very codependent working relationship we have in the movie, like I like money and employment and I like him and the ride of the show, but I wish that we were going something more serious, and that was always my intention as a journalist was to be a real journalist and not just someone who talks about people not wearing panties as they get out of limos. Whereas that”s all [Dave] ever wanted to do, and he loves it, and he knows that I make the show better, so he just throws tons of money and perks my way.
But we get along very well, so it”s kind of an unhealthy, codependent relationship, like a married couple type relationship in the movie. We clearly spend tons of time together and we clearly love each other, but we clearly are at times, incredibly frustrated, him with my probably uptight-ness and me with the fact that he”s just psychotic.
Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Evan.
Rogen: It”s the same.
Goldberg: He just explained it.
Particularly because you have to wear so many different hats in order to wear the hats you have to have that trust, you know, if you take one off, someone else is going to be able to run with it.
Rogen: I think you hear sometimes about directing teams, that one guy is the visual guy, and the other guy is the guy who talks to actors. Like, we”re not like that. Sometimes because I”m in the scene he will see things I don”t see and sometimes because I”m in the scenes I see things that he doesn”t see. But it”s funny, the crew comes up and asks you questions — like the wardrobe guys will present us five options for one of the extras to be wearing in one of the scenes and sometimes they don”t always get us at the same time, so they”ll ask us each individually and it seems like ten times out of ten we pick the same one.
Goldberg: Like the last one was how much blood should be in this gun hit.
Goldberg: I said four times and he said 12 times.
Rogen: Exactly, but it”s like, but we, it”s like were generally on the same page and we pretty much have the same skill set, so…
Goldberg: I can”t act.
Rogen: Exactly. 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: Usually do both [takes]. That”s the thing about movies, we do it all the time. If it”s ever like where I like this line, he likes this line, then we do both lines. There”s almost never a situation where you can”t do both things and then let someone else decide later.
Goldberg: Very liberating, too, about this kind of movie making is there”s some movies, and it”s not to say that one way is better than the other, but there are some movies where…
Rogen: Ours is way is better.
Goldberg: …where everything is kind of planned to the “T” and it”s a weird kind of honing or something like that, where this is explorative and you just try things. We”re here and everybody knows how to kind of work in that way, so why not just explore, you know, where it can go?
I”m curious about you, James, if you”ve ever gotten a line from Seth or Evan where you”re like, “No effin” was am I saying this.”
Franco: That”s the whole thing about it.
Rogen: No, there”s really some jokes that he literally doesn”t get at all, likes some references. Like, “Ex-squeeze me?” There was a scene when we kept asking him to say “ex-squeeze me, a baking powder?” from Wayne”s World, and he did not get it, like literally at all. Like, “What is it? ‘Ex-squeeze me?”” He kept saying baking soda, but God bless him, there was not one moment when he was like “Stop, I need to understand what this is that I”m saying. I literally don”t understand what this means.” He was just like, “Ok, ex-squeeze me. Baking Powder,” and yeah, it”s f*cking unbelievable. It”s amazing.
So you”ve never said anything that”s just completely beyond NC-17 where you”ve been like, “Oh I”m not, this is too far.”
Franco: No, I mea,…
Rogen: There”s been some crazy jokes, but.
Franco: You”ve got to try it.
Rogen: He knows we wouldn”t use it if it didn”t work.
Franco: Yeah, it wouldn”t work that way with every director, but I know these guys have the best taste in they”re the best comedic filmmakers around…
Rogen: And the best dressed.
Franco: So it”s like, you”ve got to just try it. And best dressed.
Can you tell us about the homecoming aspect, of [working from] your hometown?
Rogen: Yeah, it”s been nice. It”s fun. It”s cold as fuck. It”s literally snowing right now, but it actually works really well for our purposes. The movie is set in New York, China, and North Korea, so it really just worked geographically for that, because we grew up here we knew there”s a lot of, there”s like a Chinese market in Richmond where there are thousands and thousands of these little food stands and weird sh*t like that.
We kind of wrote it for things that we knew existed here, and the whole thing takes place in this mountain complex, a lot of it. That”s where Kim Jong-un”s fortress is, and again, the mountains in the area, we were able to film the finale in. It just has this scope, and it”s huge, 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. It was also…
Goldberg: I kept asking, I kept complaining that we weren”t in New Orleans.
Rogen: Exactly, I love New Orleans.
Goldberg: We did the last one there, but for a lot of the exterior stuff, it wouldn”t have worked.
Rogen: We”re in the bayous of North Korea.
“This Is The End” started real small and got so big. Does this have a similar structure when we start seeing more footage it will look like a tiny little movie and it gets much bigger?
Rogen: It starts a little bit bigger, I think.
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 it as filled with scope as it could be. We really tried to use a lot of helicopters and cranes, and we tried to move the camera a lot, and we tried to develop a visual style that allowed us to improvise a lot, that allowed us to do things they don”t usually do visually in comedies. We tried to completely abandon how comedies look as much as we possibly could.
More like an action comedy?
Rogen: We actually based it more on political thrillers, like Ridley Scott movies and like Michael Mann movies. We tried to use a lot of long lenses and, you know, we probably played some of the scenes tighter than they generally would in these types of comedies, but to us, like the fact that it looks kind of serious and has this weight to it, makes it funnier because it really looks like we”re stuck in like a serious political thriller, which is funny to us, because a lot of things get shoved in asses in this movie.
You guys mentioned that when you guys were making “This Is The End,” there were some questions about whether you could do this [movie] but now that “This is the End” was such a big success, do you guys have more confidence, have more freedom from the studio?
Rogen: We always had freedom.
Goldberg: Sony, we have such a good deal with them. They let us do whatever we wanted on “This Is The End” and they let us do the same 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, honestly. It”s just, again, like finding, moving the camera and thinking of ways to really, and get out there. The fact that we”re on a different location almost every day is a different experience.
Goldberg: Our goals are more specific when it comes to the acting, or the narrative, the cinematography.
Rogen: Plot is a lot more complicated, and there”s a lot more elements. There are scenes that cut between five locations at once as we”re, along these, you know…
Goldberg: Instead of just Franco”s house.
Rogen: Instead of us all screaming at each other in a house for six weeks straight. So it”s a lot more complicated on our end so it does, even though I think we have more confidence, it feels, it kind of feels new at the same time.