For his latest movie, Seth Rogen invited five of his closest friends over to James Franco’s house to hole up for a few weeks as the world crumbled around them. And, in the end, a lot of moviegoers wanted to be a fly on the wall in that house.
This Is the End didn’t quite grab the No. 1 spot at the box office this weekend (we all knew how the Superbad-vs.-Superman battle would turn out), but it did score an impressive $33 million-plus debut, holding it down in second place and already recovering its $32 million budget.
In the over-the-top comedy, the film’s six core stars (Rogen, Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride) play “themselves” and fight to survive after the apocalypse strikes their A-list party. It’s a wholly original concept – no sequels, spin-offs or reboots here – that features a familiar flock of funny people and a highly touted string of cameos, including Rihanna and Emma Watson. That combination of new and old clearly resonated with movie audiences and critics (the film has an 85 percent Fresh rating over on Rotten Tomatoes), and Rogen couldn’t be more pleased.
We caught up with the man behind the hit – Rogen co-wrote and co-directed with longtime friend and collaborator Evan Goldberg – to talk about the movie’s positive buzz and how taking the apocalypse seriously made the movie even funnier. (SPOILERS AHEAD if you haven’t seen the movie.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, congratulations on This Is the End’s box-office success.
SETH ROGEN: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
You’ve already made back the film’s budget in the first weekend, and given that you were involved in nearly every aspect of the movie, that has to feel pretty good.
Yup, it’s a massive relief! [Laughs] It’s always a nail-biter with these things, and you honestly never know how it’s gonna go. I mean, I’ve obviously had movies do badly, some movies do well, and leading into them, it sometimes feels disturbingly similar. [Laughs] It’s really nice in general that everyone’s happy. It’s fantastic. I remember the last time I had a movie come out, I said, “Man, if my next movie does well, I’m gonna really try to appreciate it.”
This Is the End originated from the short film Jay & Seth vs. the Apocalypse. What made you want to expand that idea into a feature film?
Honestly, people just kept asking us about it. Like it seemed to be an idea that really resonated with people, for some weird reason – just the idea of guys stuck in a house together if the world was ending. And I honestly think that’s why we kept talking about it, is because people kept bringing it up to us. And then [after hearing], “Are you gonna make it into a real movie? Are you gonna make it into a real movie?” Eventually we were like, “What if we did make it into a real movie? How would that go?” And that’s why it took so long to actually make. It took years and years to figure out how to expand it.
How did you decide which of your friends would be involved?
It was largely just who we wanted to be around and who we thought was funny, mixed with who was available for a long period of time, mixed with who you would associate us with. I think a lot of the movie is playing off the expectations of who we are as people, so we kind of wanted the friends to either play into that or against it. With the six main guys, we wanted it to be who we were most associated with, basically.
And once you nailed down the cast, how much input did each actor have in the writing of his “character”?
We went after everyone before we even wrote the movie just to make sure that they were conceptually OK with it. I mean, you don’t want to write a whole movie set at “James Franco’s house” before you know if James Franco is even open to being in it. [Laughs] So before we wrote it, we went out to them, and as soon as we finished our first draft, we gave it to all the guys. Danny’s character actually changed very little, and Craig’s character didn’t change that much, but Jonah and Franco’s characters changed quite a bit from how we originally wrote them – for the better, I would hope. They had a lot of input into how those characters would ultimately be in the movie.
Yeah, I think with James Franco specifically, he was in Pineapple Express, but he’s not typically associated with comedy, and he really held his own with you guys.
He’s just as funny as anybody. He’s kind of an actor that comedians are intrigued by, because he’s a serious actor – literally as good as any – but he really can be in a room with comedians and keep up, which is not something that a lot of those guys can do. He’s not intimidated by it. I think his performance in the movie is incredible. It’s such a bizarre, weird thing he’s doing that when I watch the movie over and over, it’s one of the things that makes me keep laughing as I watch it, just some of the insane stuff that he’s doing. He kind of played it like a 14-year-old girl in one of the scenes. [Laughs]
A running joke in the film is that Jay is the least famous among the group, but he’s also the star of this movie. Do you think this movie will change the perception of him within your crew?
Jay is probably happy with how his career is going. [Laughs] I mean, he works a lot – all the time. I think it’s more a joke than anything. I don’t think we’re trying to set the record straight or anything like that. But it’s nice that Jay’s been getting a lot of recognition. I think he’s a great actor and a great comedic actor, and we made him the star of the movie because we knew he’d be able to do it. But it is nice when I read the reviews, and there are articles that Jay is the real star of the movie, which is nice, because he is the emotional anchor and the movie would not function if he wasn’t as good as he is. It’s nice that he’s getting the recognition that he deserves for that.
The movie has been very well-received by critics. One thing they seem most surprised by is how earnestly you treated the end-of-days. I think they expected that the apocalypse would just be another part of the joke, but it’s the dead-serious core of the movie instead. Was that a conscious decision?
We’ve made a few kind of action-y comedy movies, and one thing that we learned very early on was that the threat needs to be real and that you really need to feel like there’s an actual thing happening, or else the whole comedy doesn’t play as well. When we approached the apocalypse, we found that the more seriously we treated it, the funnier the movie was. In a weird way, there was an equation that the less comedically you treat some things, the more comedically the whole movie will resonate, you know? Also, we just thought it was kind of funny if it was the actual Christian apocalypse and all the moral implications that go along with that. I mean, that being said, we definitely Jewed it up a bit. [Laughs] No one accepts Jesus in their heart in order to get redeemed; it’s more about self-redemption, which is not what Christians really believe in, for the most part. To us, that was a much more interesting story line for the movie and something that we really related to. Movies are always about redemption, so when you find a mechanism that kind of has that as one of the built-in triggers, it was really nice from a writing standpoint.
You mentioned the science of making an action/comedy film, and one of the things I kept thinking when I was watching the movie was that it had a really similar tone to Ghostbusters. Was that something you used as a reference point?
You know what’s funny? We didn’t really talk about it that much when we were making the movie, if at all, but then I think when we watched it afterwards, we were like, “Oh, Ghostbusters!” [Laughs] It is, obviously, one of mine and Evan’s favorite movies of all time. I’ve seen it so many times, I probably know every word to it. I wasn’t surprised in retrospect, because it was one of our favorite movies. And then when I started to think about it, I think one of the things that makes it funny is that their reactions are how you feel like you and your friends would react, you know? They’re always running away from the threat; they’re never running towards it. They’re always very reluctant in having to deal with the bad stuff. No one’s brave; no one’s a hero. I think that’s what makes it funny. And in that movie, I think they treat the threat as real as anything.
The movie also had a reality-TV vibe. Instead of the Real World or Jersey Shore kids trapped in a house, it was six movie stars.
That was something we talked about even in the writing process. That’s how we came up with that idea of the confessional cameras that we’re using throughout the movie. And we actually tried to set them up like the Real World confessional cameras and put them alone in a room, and it was a separate camera that we pre-lit, so we could kind of go in there and do them without shooting our main-unit stuff. So it was a little more self-contained, because we did want it to feel like The Real World or something like that. And it did – to a point. [The difference was] we had a lot of space, and we could leave if we wanted to.
We talked to the Backstreet Boys last week about their totally unexpected cameo at the end of the movie. Can you tell us how that came together?
When we wrote the script, we had a scene in heaven. And when we were filming, we just – we didn’t write it that well initially, and we were kind of like, “Eh, let’s not do this.” It’s always mine and Evan’s instincts, probably poorly, to end the movie before we actually should. So the actual movie ended with us just getting sucked up into heaven, and you didn’t see what happened. And then when we finished the movie, there was an overwhelming voice of “What the f— happens in heaven?” You want to see what happens. Even when we watched, we were like, “Yeah, you want to see what happens in heaven.” So we were already using the Backstreet Boys song [“Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”] in the movie for when me and Jay were hanging out, playing videogames. We kind of chose it because it’s nostalgic and [we] thought, for the guys, it was a song that they would have listened to when they were younger and hung out and do all the sh— that they’re doing in the scene, basically. And it kind of always played really well. It’s kind of the emotional high point of the movie. It’s when everyone’s the happiest. So we just had the idea: “What if the Backstreet Boys are in heaven?”
They told us that you now owe them a favor and that you should direct their next music video.
Yeah, I’ve heard they want me to do that. I’m open to that.
So what would a Seth Rogen-directed Backstreet Boys video look like?
Well, there’s already one at the end of our movie! [Laughs] Maybe we’ll set this one in hell …
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