Seth Rogen is the master of comic excess. His deep voice, guttural laugh and energetic self are just as much part of the man himself as his multiple screen incarnations. There are no taboos in his wicked world, which has seen him establish himself as a multi-hyphenate director-writer-actor-producer. The prolific Canadian master of raunchy comedy has a long list of impressive credits including Da Ali G Show, Knocked Up, Superbad, The Green Hornet and Bad Neighbours. Last year he branched out into animated comedy and scored a huge success with the R-rated Sausage Party. Interestingly, although Rogen has established himself as a major player in Hollywood and spent almost half his life living in Los Angeles, he still retains a Canadian sensibility.
“There are a lot of cultural differences that Americans don’t necessarily recognise,” Rogen says. “I think Canadians are generally regarded as being more polite and self-deprecating than Americans, and that’s probably true in a general way. I still see myself as an outsider even though my father is American and I’m married to an American.”
Together with his frequent production partner Evan Goldberg (This is the End), Rogen is the creative force behind AMC’s Preacher, the adventure/fantasy TV series starring Dominic Cooper and real-life love interest Ruth Negga. Season two of the acclaimed series will launch in June.
In addition, Rogen is appearing in The Disaster Artist, a serio-comic tale about the making of a widely panned 2003 movie The Room. The film stars James Franco as the eccentric and thoroughly incompetent director/star, Tommy Wiseau, while Rogen plays a ribald producer. Rogen previously co-starred with his good friend Franco in The Interview, the highly controversial satire about North Korea, although this time around it is Franco rather than Rogen who assumes the directing chores. Premiering to rave reviews last month at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, Rogen hailed his long-time Hollywood buddy’s performance.
The 35-year-old Rogen was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, by his American father and Canadian mother. A gifted writer and stand-up comedian as a teen prodigy, he moved to Los Angeles at age 17 where he gained recognition in Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks series – which is where he first became friends with Franco who also appeared on the show.
Rogen is married to American actress Lauren Miller, who co-starred with him in 50/50. Known for taking comedy to absurd lengths, Rogen had often admitted to having had a healthy taste for getting high over the years. On a trip to Amsterdam a decade ago, he and a friend wound up on a train to Paris not knowing how they got there. Recalled Rogen: “We went to the train station while fully tripping on mushrooms and we bought train tickets to Paris, ’cause it was kinda close. We turned up in Paris in the middle of the night, just as we were sobering up, and I thought: ‘I did so many drugs, I ended up in another country!’”
Seth, your new film The Disaster Artist references The Room, a cult 2003 movie which is acknowledged by many as one of the worst films of recent history. How much did you know about it before working on this film?
I’ve seen it more than I’ve seen, like, Network. And that’s what we talked most about while we were putting this movie together: Why do we love The Room? What’s great about this movie? At the end of the day it was the earnestness of a guy who put himself out there, who made the thing. And made a great thing.
You mean, it was so bad it was good?
Yes! There are lots of of movies you can say are easy to make fun of, but they are not movies you’ve watched for a decade. What I liked about it the most was the earnestness of a guy (Tommy Wiseau) who put himself out there.
“We went to the train station while fully tripping on mushrooms and we bought train tickets to Paris, ’cause it was kinda close.”
The real Tommy Wiseau was present in the audience for the first public screening of The Disaster Artist at SXSW. Did you speak to him about how he felt?
No, but I hope he liked it.
How do you feel about James Franco’s performance as Wiseau?
It may be the most James Franco thing James Franco has ever done. He directed the movie in character. There were scenes where [he was] playing Tommy directing a movie as Tommy directing a movie as Tommy. That was when we were like, “This is fucking weird, man.”
One of your other projects ongoing these days is your comic book TV series adaptation, The Preacher. How did that come about?
Evan [Goldberg, a childhood friend of Rogen’s from Vancouver – ED] and I had been talking about making The Preacher for ages. I was in high school when Evan gave me the comic book that his brother had been reading. I fell in love with it. It was so funny and perverted and had tons of action. We pitched the concept a couple of times but no one would go for it. But times change and now you’re able to be a lot more creative and daring on TV than you ever were before.
Do you think your Canadian sensibility comes out in your comedy?
It might but I don’t think about it and it would probably be very hard to see. My comedy really began in high school, where Evan and I wanted to write about our high school experiences because we thought we could do a better job of that, because we were still in high school and living that experience. Usually the movies you see about high school are written by people who are much older and have a very different mentality and perspective than the teenagers they’re writing about.
Your parents were very socially conscious and fairly left-wing. What kind of upbringing did you have?
I had a pretty happy home life and I grew up with a sense of compassion and empathy for people. My parents were always very supportive of me and when I started working on a script with Evan they even bought me Final Draft [a screenplay software program] to help us. That was pretty cool.
Would you like to work in Canada more often? You did Take That Waltz (2011) with Michelle Williams, which your fellow Canadian Sarah Polley directed?
I would do more Canadian films if I would get asked to do them. [Laughs] Some of my Canadian friends bug me about not working in Canada more. But I enjoyed working with Sarah on that and I like going back to Canada whenever I have the chance. I shot The Interview with James Franco in Vancouver and I’ve done the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.
“watching a film like that, and seeing an actor like me playing that part, I would have been ready to make fun of me”
Does it surprise you that so many comic books have turned out to dominate Hollywood movies these days?
I think comic books appeal to the imagination and the fantasy side of people. I read a ton of comic books as a teenager and I loved the more subversive ones as well. We’re lucky that so many Hollywood studios have turned so many comic books into massive billion-dollar successes that it probably paved the way for us to finally get The Preacher made.
How would you define your brand of humour?
I couldn’t define it for you. I always enjoy trying to break down barriers and try something new. The humour in Bad Neighbours, for example, is different from what you find in This is the End. And Sausage Party has its own unique style – although I think that jokes about genitals are not that original! [Laughs]
Your acting career has seen you play many different types of characters. But I think you might have surprised a lot of people including your fans with your very serious role as Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs?
I knew there was an inherent risk in being in a serious film like that, and being part of a project written by Aaron Sorkin and doing scenes with Michael Fassbender. I wasn’t worried about the role itself, though. I was worried about what the perception might be and how a lot of people would love the chance to tear me apart over it if it didn’t come off well. I know that if I was watching a film like that, and seeing an actor like me playing that part, I would have been ready to make fun of me.
Would you like to do more serious roles in the future?
Sure, if directors want to hire me! Personally, I really don’t see any big difference between serious and comic roles. One might think that being comical is simple, but ultimately it’s a performance. It’s damn difficult to make a good comedy. Not only do you need all the elements that you need for a drama, you also have make the story funny. You’re making a promise to the audience that they’re going to laugh, and if that doesn’t happen then your whole film is dead.
You’ve helped define a new brand of comedy over the course of your career. Is there any pressure in trying to live up to audiences’ expectations?
I try very hard never to think about that. I’m very honoured that I’ve been able to keep making these kinds of movies and do a lot of wild and despicable things. Every new project is a challenge, and you just hope you don’t bore anyone or repeat yourself. I suppose there’s some pressure in that, but you always want to make a film that doesn’t suck and that people are going to enjoy. That’s never going to change.