Thursday 21 September 2017

Hollywood Heights

From school drop-out to rounding up ‘20 or 30’ famous pals to star in his latest comedy — Seth Rogen has come a long way

Seth Rogen
Seth Rogen
Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jay Baruchel all play versions of themselves in This Is The End

Will Lawrence

When walking the set of his most recent movie, the apocalyptic rib-tickler This is the End, comedy superstar Seth Rogen had to stop and pinch himself. He couldn’t believe his eyes.

“You would walk past the catering table and Rihanna would be getting a cup of coffee, chatting to Emma Watson,” he recalls with a chuckle, “and it was like, ‘What the fuck! How did we get ourselves here?’”

The 31-year-old Canadian with the curly hair and distinctive laugh shot to international renown on the back of his starring role in the 2007 comedy Knocked Up and has since emerged as the most prominent member of a filmmaking troupe nurtured by Hollywood producer Judd Apatow.

Rogen has worked under Apatow’s tutelage on the likes of Superbad, Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, Funny People, Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin, while he and his writing partner and childhood friend Evan Goldberg scripted Superbad when they were still in their teens.

The writing partners now make their directorial debut with This is the End, which is brimming with top-line talent.

“There were some days when you looked at the call-sheet and there were 20 or so famous people and you were like, ‘It’s crazy!’” continues Rogen. “And the best part was that with so many famous people on the set, no one wanted to be the jerk. Everyone was really cool and courteous. They kept each other in check.”

The 20 or so famous people gathered for the film include many of Rogen’s regular collaborators, such as James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Jay Baruschel and Craig Robinson, plus a host of other faces (including Harry Potter star Watson and pop superstar Rihanna), all of whom play versions of themselves on screen.

The film recounts a tale in which Rogen and five friends are trapped in Franco’s swanky Los Angeles home following a series of strange and catastrophic events that devastate the city.

 Rogen and Goldberg have been developing This is the End for seven years and it plays as an R-rated comedy. Yet still the likes of Watson and Rihanna were eager to take part. Rogen and Goldberg’s comedy writing, for all its bawdiness, has a very wide appeal.

“We sought Emma very hard,” says Evan Goldberg. “We really wanted her to be in the film. We saw the Harry Potter films and we liked them all. And we knew if she could do all 45 of those films, she’d be okay!

 “We were prepared with jokes in case she didn’t want to improvise, but two hours into it she’s throwing it out there just like all the guys. Same with Rihanna.”

Rogen nods his head in agreement. “You can tell if someone is funny and with a good actor, they can make it funny if you write it properly,” he adds. “We asked Emma if it’d be too much for her, but she was up for it and I am just shocked that she did it at all!”

As well as their commercial success — Knocked Up, Superbad and Pineapple Express took $490m between them at the worldwide box office — Rogen’s movies invariably have plenty of heart and, at their centre, quite a sweet message.

 “Society has decided not to shun our films because, though they can be really quite gross and silly and rude,” — Franco discusses masturbation in depth during This is the End — “they do have a good message, which in this is: be a good person. It’s something we try to do with all our films.”

Rogen’s comedy training began when he was young, touring Vancouver’s stand-up circuit in his early teens. “I never once considered not doing comedy because I literally don’t know what else I would do,” he says.

“I didn’t engage in school that much. I cut school a lot and smoked a lot of weed. Evan engaged a bit more with school than I did because he planned on going to college, which I never planned on doing. From a young age, I knew that school was not the route I was going to take.

 “I got pretty bad grades,” he continues. “I enjoyed it, though. Our production company is named after our high school.” It is called Point Grey Pictures.

“We weren’t the kind of kids who thought that high school mattered that much. Some people in school think that it is the be-all and end-all of everything and what happens at high school has huge ramifications for the rest of your life. But we didn’t think that at all.”

At the age of 16, he quit school and left Vancouver, moving his mother and father to Los Angeles after securing a role on Freaks and Geeks, a TV show produced by Apatow.

“I was cast on Freaks and Geeks from Canada and moved down with the job, so I kind of had an infrastructure in place to meet people,” he recalls of the time.

“It’s not like I was coming down, a dude off the bus having to go up to strangers and be like, ‘Hey, want to be friends?’ It wasn’t that hard to make friends.”

After Freaks and Geeks finished its single-season run in 2000, Rogen secured a writing job\[Prestige\] with Goldberg on Ali G in da USAiii. “It was the first official job that Evan and I ever got together, and it was really helpful,” he remembers.

“It wasn’t the most popular show on TV, but ,for people into comedy, it was definitely the coolest,” he adds. “There was a real mystery about it; no one knew how it was done, so we got to join one of the coolest kids’ cubs at a time when our career was really going nowhere!”

Ali G star Sacha Baron Cohen proved a real boon to their career. “He helped us a lot,” says Rogen. “We wrote jokes for 12 hours a day, every day, and it was a real comedy boot camp.

 “You can tell the writers who have had a job like that and those that haven’t, and those that have are a lot easier to work with because they’re not precious. They’ve had it all beaten out of them!”

One of his friends on the show introduced Rogen to fellow comedy writer Lauren Miller in 2004 and the couple married in 2011 in Sonoma, California. Miller has appeared in several of Rogen's films — Superbad, Zack and Miri Make A Porno, Observe and Report and 50/50 — in very minor roles before writing her own comedy film, For a Good Time, Call..., in which Rogen also features.

Looking at the on-screen evidence, her comedy is just as brash as her husband’s. “Her whole movie is about phone sex,” he laughs. “There’s stuff in there that even I found shocking!”

Rogen is currently shooting the comedy movie Townies, with Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller, in which he’ll star alongside Rose Byrne, Zac Efron and James Franco’s brother, Dave.

“Townies is about a couple who have just had a baby and they have a fraternity house move in next door to them,” he explains. “At first they think it might be fun, but then they realise it’s a disaster and they kind of go to war with them.”

He and Goldberg are also trying to make an animated movie, “a filthy animated movie,” according to Rogen.

“We want to do something like a dirty Pixar movie,” he says, deadpan. “What we’d like to rebrand as a Dicks-ar movie!”

This Is The End is out next Friday

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