I didn’t have to be asked twice if I wanted to visit the Vancouver set of Seth Rogen’s latest comedic endeavor, The Interview. Not only was he teaming up with James Franco again, it’s always a treat to watch the comedy genius in action especially behind the scenes.
Rogen co-directs The Interview with his childhood buddy, Evan Goldberg (This Is the End, Pineapple Express), drawing from a script that the pair co-penned with former Daily Show executive producer, and South Park writer, Dan Sterling. The duo who refuse to be pigeon-holed are touching on a new genre: Dr. Strangelove-esque absurdist political satire.
The action-comedy The Interview, sees Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) run the popular celebrity tabloid TV show “Skylark Tonight.” (Think TMZ). When they discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show, they land an exclusive interview with him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as ‘proper’ journalists. As Dave and Aaron prepare to travel to Pyongyang, their plans change when the CIA recruits them – perhaps the two least-qualified men imaginable – to assassinate Kim Jong-un. Needless to say, comedic antics ensue.
Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) plays CIA Agent Lacey, and it’s Diana Bang’s breakthrough cinematic role as Sook, the Director of Communication for Kim. (Basically, she's his propaganda master.) The premise alone for the raunch-comedy was enough for North Korea to denounce the film several months before its theatrical release scheduled for October, which has since been pushed back to Christmas Day.
It’s full on snowing when we arrive at the studio on Enterprise Street, Burnaby, Seth and Evan’s hometown. This marks the last day of filming out of a 42 day shoot. The studio was formerly Norco, a bicycle factory, and the guys know the town like the back of their hands. They wanted to shoot the movie where they grew up as they had a clear idea of what back drops would double up for New York, China and Korea. Judging by the trailer, they convincingly pulled this off as unbelievably, the film is entirely shot in Vancouver.
Unlike with a lot of other directors, there is a lot of improv on a Rogen/Goldberg movie. Seth is up for trying anything and doesn’t possess ‘that’ inner barometer that informs you if the joke crosses the line. “Define too far?” he laughs. “That’s what post is for.”
Standing quietly behind the camera, it is almost impossible to keep a straight face when Rogen feeds Franco the most outrageous farcical (and not to mention, politically incorrect) lines during the scene where his character, Dave Skylark is in a war tank with North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un. This is while they’re dancing like a couple of teenage girls, reciting Katy Perry lyrics at the top of their lungs!
Wearing a black military style suit, Park emulates the part with his hair shaved at the sides leaving a floppy mop on top. He’s holding an arrow piercing guarded sabot bomb resembling a phallic symbol, all the while, Franco is belting out "Firework". They eventually man up to discuss whether ‘Margaritas are gay.’ “Because they're so sugary,” Franco protests. "We're not gay for liking a sweet drink. We're sitting in a tank, which is basically an armored penis…." More stifled giggles.
Off camera, Rogen is continuously feeding lines to the actors; amping it up on every take. It's so hilarious that us, journalists who are watching the scene from a nearby monitor, are silenced for laughing too loudly. It's impossible not to crack up. Rogen is side splitting hilarious. This naturally comes through in our interview (see below). “Franco is always up for anything,” Rogen says. “There isn't a thing he wouldn't do for a laugh on camera. He’s always game.”
After watching the masters at work, it’s evident why their comedies rake in millions at the box office. They share a unique creative partnership, with a kind of unspoken shorthand on the set. Interesting to observe, they instinctively know when they’ve nailed a take, and when they’re at odds with one another as to how to approach a particular scene, they shoot it both ways, making the final decision in post.
Rogen doesn’t blink at directing a 25-minute take. Some of his takes have been known to run a lot longer. He prefers to keep the camera rolling so as not to miss an impromptu comedic opportunity from one of his actors, or throwing his own spontaneous suggestive quip. His sets are always calm, full of stifled giggles and generate a family-like atmosphere.
The film features many celebrity cameos, which - despite our bribes - Rogen keeps tight lipped about. In between set ups, we catch up with creators and Franco to find out how this project came about.