Seth Rogen: Laughing matters
When Seth Rogen speaks, his sentence-to-laugh ratio is about 2:1. It doesn't seem to matter what the 29-year-old Vancouver native is talking about — his trailer, his hometown, cancer. Every other sentence, there's that rumbling laugh. Often, it doesn't even interrupt the sentence; it just rolls happily behind the words.
When talking about his Vancouver abode Rogen says, "I've had that particular apartment a little over a year but I would stay with my parents before that [laughs]. Or my sister. I would actually normally stay with my sister but she just had a baby so I can't do that anymore [laughs]."
These days, unless he's shooting in Vancouver, Rogen rarely gets to spend more than a week there at a time. As we speak on the phone, he's sitting in his messy trailer on the L.A. set of My Mother's Curse, a comedy in which Barbra Streisand plays his mom. "I's great, she's hilarious. She's a lot of fun," says Rogen...with a laugh.
He did get to shoot in Vancouver last year. The movie — 50/50, a gentle comedy about cancer — premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month before opening nationwide on September 30th. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a mild-mannered radio writer who discovers he has a schwannoma neurofibrosarcoma, a potentially fatal form of cancer. Rogen is Kyle, the potty-mouthed (shocker) best friend, who helps Adam deal with the disease in a variety of inappropriate ways, like taking him to a bar so he can use his bald, post-chemo head to pick up women. Ideally, one for each of them.
Comparisons to another Seth Rogen movie — 2009's Funny People, in which Rogen played the assistant/friend to Adam Sandler's character, a famous comedian battling acute myeloid leukemia — are inevitable.
"I was working on [50/50] before the idea of Funny People was even thought of," says Rogen. "They kind of happened congruently after that and we just kind of knew that they were different enough that it didn't really bother me."
In fact, Rogen and his creative partner Evan Goldberg (they wrote Superbad together based on their chlidhood friendship) have been working on 50/50 since 2004. That's when their friend Will Reiser, whom they met while all three were writing for "Da Ali G Show," was diagnosed with cancer.
"We ferociously tried to look for the upside in things to the point that I'm sure it was insensitive at times, but it was the only way that I knew how to deal with something like that," Rogen explains.
In trying to "squeeze something positive" from the situation they encouraged Reiser to write a screenplay based on his cancer experience. And after he did, they became the film's producers, shepherding the project through all of its stages.
"We found the studio by ourselves, we found the director [Jonathan Levine], we found the cast, we hired everyone, we got involved in the budget and the schedule and the post-production process, hiring the editors and the composers. We just tried to oversee the whole process while trying to be as collaborative as possible. We hired mostly our friends for all of it [laughs], so that kind of helped out."
So how much of Rogen is there in the crass, but ultimately caring and loyal, Kyle?
"I would say it's a slightly embellished and cinematic version [laughs] of the role I filled in his life at that time," says Rogen. "I definitely was not as insensitive in real life as my character is towards his plight, and I wasn't as outwardly self-serving [laughs] as my character is in the movie."
That said, Rogen admits the aforementioned bar scene didn't materialize out of thin air. "I did meet my girlfriend, whom I'm marrying, when [Reiser] was sick at a bar, and I'm sure we talked about the fact that he was sick. And [laughs], I would never say that I exploited it to the degree that my character does in the movie, but I can't ignore the fact that…it probably played out in a slightly similar way as it does in the movie [laughs]."
Rogen proposed to that girlfriend, Lauren Miller, in September 2010, just after he finished shooting another movie in Canada, Take This Waltz.
Directed by Sarah Polley and shot in Toronto, Take This Waltz — which also premieres at this month's TIFF — stars Rogen and Michelle Williams as a married couple whose relationship crumbles after she meets an intriguing artist (Luke Kirby) during a business trip to Nova Scotia. The movie explores the idea that the beginnings of relationships are addictive, and questions whether long-term relationships are sustainable.
Not exactly material to inspire a marriage proposal. But Rogen had decided to propose to Miller before arriving on set, and carried through once he arrived back in L.A. "It was interesting, though, because there were times when we were shooting an intense scene with a big argument and then I'd go to my trailer and talk to the ring guy about getting the engagement ring," Rogen says…with a laugh."The humour in that was not lost on me."
Rogen won't give any details about where or when the wedding will take place. He says he's leaving all of that up to the bride.
But we're pretty sure it won't happen this month, since the actor will spend at least part of September in Toronto for the festival. "I will be there," he says with certainty.
It's not the first time he's had a movie at TIFF. Zack and Miri Make a Porno debuted in Toronto in 2008 but Rogen was shooting Funny People and couldn't make it. He insists nothing will stop him from attending this year, saying word among L.A. film types is that Toronto is a trip worth taking.
"It seems to be perceived as one of the few remaining legitimate film festivals," he says, before adding with a laugh, "Although, I have to admit I'm not really part of the 'film lover's community' here. I'm the guy who gets excited about seeing the new Transformers movie."
Marni Weisz is the editor of Cineplex Magazine.
Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a scene from 50/50 (Courtesy of eOne)
At the core of 50/50 there is a loving friendship between two men — Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has just been diagnosed with cancer, and Kyle (Seth Rogen), a buddy who helps him through the hard times. But don't call the movie a bromance.
"I hate it," Rogen says of the ubiquitous new movie word. "The first time I heard the term was when we were promoting Pineapple Express. The first time I ever heard the term dramedy was when we were working on "Freaks and Geeks." I hate those terms, I think they're so weird. When we were making Superbad the term bromance hadn't been invented yet and I think that really helped. It reduces the impact. More than anything i's just dumb. If Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had been called a bromance I don't know if it would have had the impact it did and been thought of as such a great movie." —MW