By happenstance or fate (or, most likely, our proximity to a big Steve Jobs premiere), right after this interview with Seth Rogen, I rode in an elevator with Steve Wozniak, the Apple co-founder whom Rogen plays in Steve Jobs. It was a strange experience and almost felt like this moment had been staged. I introduced myself and explained that I had just spent a considerable amount of time discussing him with a famous person. (I then felt that odd, “Why did I bother this poor man?” guilt as the other people on the elevator realized this must be someone of note.)
Wozniak, for his part, couldn’t seem happier about Rogen’s portrayal. With a huge smile, Wozniak told me that Rogen’s performance was, “Everything I hoped he could be.” And I believe him, because Rogen’s Wozniak is the moral heart of Steve Jobs. When Wozniak and Jobs (Michael Fassbender) are on screen together, our empathy for Wozniak (who, for a good portion of the film, is just trying to get Jobs to acknowledge the Apple II team, which Jobs refuses to do) makes us understand Steve Jobs better.
In person, Rogen is as affable as you’d expect. He seems genuinely excited to be in Steve Jobs, which is really like nothing he’s done before. Rogen had to audition, which, as he explains below, he’s grateful for: because with so many talented people involved in this movie – Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels – you don’t want to be the one who doesn’t belong. As Rogen says, if he wasn’t Seth Rogen, he’d have the knives out waiting to pounce on Seth Rogen if his performance wasn’t up to snuff.
And speaking of movies Rogen has made before, he also discusses the process of writing a sequel to the 2014 hit, Neighbors. Comedy sequels are notoriously difficult, so Rogen and company didn’t look toward other comedies for inspiration, but instead to … Captain America?
It’s not like you haven’t made good movies, but Steve Jobs is different for you.
In terms of the group of filmmakers I’ve never worked with that you would never associate me working with.
Did you audition?
I did audition. Aaron Sorkin, I think he suggested me for the role, actually, which is crazy. I had met him once or twice before, in the past.
Where did you meet him before?
Just at like Hollywood events and stuff like that.
So many times actors will say, “You know, we all don’t know each other…”
That’s not true. I know everybody [laughs]. No, I actually, yeah, I know everyone you would assume I know [laughs]. And also, the casting director for this movie casts our movies.
So there was a connection.
There was a connection there. And Scott Rudin, we’re producing a few movies with him as well — so there was like some connection to the group of filmmakers. I got a call saying they wanted me to come in and read for the Steve Wozniak role and they were auditioning a few people, which I was very happy to do. Like, I expect every actor to audition, honestly. We almost never hire people without auditioning them, unless they’re people we’ve worked with a lot.
I can’t imagine you’re telling James Franco, “Hey, you’ve got to audition for the role of James Franco.”
No, but we’ve auditioned people who have been nominated for Academy Awards for our movies.
Yeah. It’s a two-way street, honestly. And when you’re that successful an actor, it truly is a two-way street. We shoot movies in a very bizarre way.
We improvise a lot.
And if you’re not cool with that, it’s not going to work.
Yeah. If you’re the type of actor who isn’t cool with someone pitching you a new joke and saying, “This take, say this instead of that.”
And these are actors who might say, “But the script says this.”
Some guys are like, “Aw, I’ve been working on this for a week. I can’t just say something differently.” And so, we try to feel that out as much as possible because that’s not something we want to find out on set, and it’s something they should want to understand.
So when you do a movie like Steve Jobs, is that in your head? If you have an idea, do you just keep your mouth shut or do you say something?
I tried to take cues from the process. So yeah, I auditioned. I was very happy to audition. If I didn’t get the role, I was completely okay with that. I didn’t want to insert myself into a movie I didn’t belong in, basically. I would have been very self-conscious not auditioning for the role.
You wanted to feel like you earned it?
Yeah, I wanted to make sure that I was able to provide what they needed, basically — and that that wouldn’t be something that they were finding out on set or in the rehearsal process. And for myself, honestly; or me, for selfish reasons, I wanted to know.
And that it’s not just because you’re a famous person.
Exactly. That this isn’t just like someone on some spreadsheet somewhere, plugging my name into the spreadsheet and realized suddenly the movie became financially viable to me. That is not what I wanted, and that has happened I think in the past. So yeah, I was very happy to audition. And then once we got there, Aaron is actually very approachable.
I wouldn’t know what to expect out of him.
Yeah. And I think maybe because I’d met him socially a few times first, it lent itself to that. But he was very nice and very complimentary with the writing I had done. And so, he was not as intimidating as you would assume. And the script, honestly, was one of the best things I’ve ever read in my life. It’s incredible. And so there was very little that I would even have brought up as something that maybe could be approached differently.
When that did happen, do you tell Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle, “I have an idea”?
Yeah, I would bring it up. I told them at the beginning, I was just like, “I’ll bring up stuff and you can tell me to f*ck off or ignore it.”
Did it go well?
Yeah. Again, Aaron’s very approachable. There was maybe a thing where I was like, “It seems like I’m saying this word too much,” or something like that. I was like, “Is that weird?” And he would look at it and sometimes he’d be like, “No, that’s on purpose.” And sometimes he’d be like, “Oh, I didn’t realize that. Give me a few hours. I’ll go to my office and maybe I’ll come back with something different.” And yeah, again, the worst thing he’d say is, “I want it to be like that,” or, “Figure it out” [laughs].
You have a major dramatic scene with Michael Fassbender. It’s interesting what you said about auditioning and being right for the role, because if you weren’t, a scene like that would have exposed that.
Exactly. And that is what I wanted to avoid as much as possible. Like, to me, honestly, the risks that went along with doing the movie — at times, in my head — did not outweigh the potential rewards of doing the movie.
If something goes wrong, people are going to take notice.
Yes. I’m sure there are thousands of people who could not wait to write about how terrible I am in this movie [laughs].
That’s not true. You talk to every movie writer on Twitter. They all like you. Who’s after you? No one is after you.
[Laughing] I would be after me. That’s the thing. And that’s what I come down to, is maybe I’m just an asshole. But I know if I wasn’t me, I’d be watching me being like, “Oh, if you’re bad at this, look out, motherfucker.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, is this your first time playing like a real person? Was Kyle in 50/50 a real guy or a composite of people?
It was kind of me. And I play Seth Rogen in This Is the End. But, yeah, this is the first time playing someone who’s alive who could publicly speak out about how much they hate me in the movie.
But Steve Wozniak was around the set, right?
He was around. He came and spoke to the cast during rehearsal and then I met up with him on my own for many, many hours and talked to him and picked his brain and just kind of tried to absorb.
Is it different playing a living human? Or does it not matter?
Danny was very clear that he was not looking for impressions of these people. And in my audition, I literally did zero percent of a Steve Wozniak impression. I had maybe watched like 2 minutes of interviews. I knew very little about him. And I just read the movie as though it was a movie and thought, “What would I want this role to be if I was the guy directing it?” And so that actually alleviated a lot of that fear and responsibility, because Danny was like, “It doesn’t have to be like these people. It has to just work for the movie.”
And Wozniak is the heart in this movie, we empathize with him. Steve Jobs himself is not always a likable person.
Yeah, I think he’s one of them. I think the Joanna role is also very full of heart.
Kate Winslet, who is just dynamite.
Yeah, she’s amazing. Yeah, I think Wozniak represents the past more than anything in the movie and their shared history — that Jobs just didn’t want to acknowledge because it wasn’t as relevant to him as it was to everybody else, basically. But yeah, Wozniak in real life is a very lovable, warm guy. There’s just so much screaming! Everyone’s yelling at each other in the movie. I was like, what’s the sweetest way you could yell at someone, basically.
And of all the shitty things Steve does to Woz in the movie, there’s only one scene where you really raise your voice.
Yeah. The real Wozniak is very completely non-confrontational and so that was also something that I was trying to reconcile in my head: How do I try in some way to capture the essence of this guy while doing pretty much three things that the guy would never f*cking do in a million years — which is confronting Steve Jobs about his issues head on. And the result is what we have.
You’re doing your first non-animated sequel, Neighbors 2. People always say comedy sequels are tough…
It’s hard. It was one of the hardest movies to write I’ve ever worked on. Because you have to write another comedy. There has to be an idea in it that itself could be a movie.
Because that’s always the downfall of most of them, they just try to do it again.
Exactly. And we didn’t want to do it again. And we really looked at like Marvel movies and Pixar movies, honestly.
Like what Marvel movie specifically?
Just their approach to sequels, because they seem so effortless. It never seems like, “Ugh, another? You’re doing another Captain America?”
People are looking forward to the next Captain America.
No one would question it. And so it really is what’s the next logical chapter? It seems to be what those movies do well. They’re not trying to like recapture anything, they’re really looking forward. They’re looking at what would be happening next. And once we did that, we actually came up with tons of ideas and realized that there was enough to write what would be an entirely different movie. And I think it’s going very well. It’s been very exciting. But it was incredibly difficult to crack the story and to make it something that we really just felt like it deserved to exist.
Which comes first? You cracking the story or greenlighting the movie? If you had felt you didn’t crack it, would there be a movie announced?
I mean, we’re ultimately in charge of steering the boat and if we didn’t feel like we had a movie worth making, we wouldn’t have made it. It’s just, it’s too hard to make a movie and it takes too long. No, we wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t think we were going to do it well, basically. Because we have lots of other ideas, we would have just done something else.
Have any of your past movies been discussed for sequels?
People have come and offered Pineapple Express.
That’s the one I hear of most often.
Yeah, that, we would be open to doing a sequel to. [From the next room, Rogen’s publicist suggests Guilt Trip 2] Guilt Trip 2, exactly! [Laughing] We’ll do a crossover!
I can’t hear your name these days without also hearing Barbra Streisand’s name.
It’s me, Franco and Streisand. Exactly.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.