Exclusive Interview: Green Hornet Co-Writer Evan Goldberg
By 2007, Seth Rogen was an established star, seen as the breakout performance in Judd Apatowís The 40 Year Old Virgin and starring in Knocked Up. But that same summer audiences found out about Rogenís best friend and writing partner, Evan Goldberg. Since Rogen and Goldberg were 13 they had been working on a script called Superbad that ended up driving audiences to tears in hysterics. The very next summer they did it again with Pineapple Express, and now the two are releasing their third project into the world on Friday: The Green Hornet.
This past weekend I had the incredible opportunity to sit down with Goldberg one-on-one while at the Green Hornet junket and talk about the ins and outs of his newest film. Amongst the various topics, we discussed how action writing legend Shane Black helped them go against standard comic book conventions; how the character of Chudnofsky changed when Christoph Waltz was brought in to replace Nicolas Cage; and the difficulty that comes with writing a PG-13 movie. Check out the interview below!
***WARNING: The post below does contain minor spoilers about The Green Hornet. If you were looking to go in 100% fresh, Iím not sure why you clicked on this story to begin with, but I suppose thatís on you. Read at your own discretion.***
With Pineapple Express, you and Seth had your first experience scripting action, but this movie is on a whole other level in that regard. How much detail is put on the page when writing those scenes?
The answer is that everythingís been different. Superbad, exactly what we wrote happened, when we have our one action moment. In Pineapple, like our car chase sequence, we had two days to film it, two blocks to film it on, and we had to do exactly what we wrote because we had no time to do anything else and no money. On this movie we wrote intensely elaborate sequences constantly in ten different versions of this movie. We had our Stephen Chow version, then our first Michel [Gondry] version, and there was the no Michel version, and the studio version, one, two, three, four, five and six. So we kept writing pretty elaborate action, because we were like, "We donít want them to screw up our action." And then they were like, "Oh, we hired Vic and Andy Armstrong," which is the biggest winning move ever, and we were like, "Oh, we donít have to write elaborate action anymore."
We still wrote out the action we wanted. But an example of how things changed is we had this big car chase, and we want a car to come out with a Gatling gun and start ripping apart The Black Beauty and Kato will go over there and beat them with nunchucks. And they were like, "Great, weíll film it." And then they filmed it, and as we were watching the end of it Ė they did second unit without us there Ė theyíre filming the end of it, and theyíre like, "Watch this bit," and then they beat the guys in the SUV, it veers off to the left and it flies to the other side of traffic and a semi-truck hits it. And they didnít tell us that was happening! They were like, "We found it in the budget!" And then the big trailer moment, when the truck goes through the bus, we didnít write that! Thatís probably the most stunning visual piece of the film, when it comes to the trailer, thatís probably the moment when all the young guys are going to be like, "Iím gonna go see that." And we did not write it.
Oh, that was extremely written and very hotly debated for a long time. Because originally Michel wanted to pour cement on them and then the cement would solidify and they would come out with cement on them and Kato would smash people with the cement on his body. And we were like, "YeahÖ" Thatís one of those too kooky ideas. It was like, "How could that happen?" and he was like, "No, I can do it!" We were like, "No. Thatís not happening." So we deduced that we would all settle on a hole Ė that took a long time to figure out.
One thing is the Kato/Britt fight. We went up to Jeff Imada, fight coordinator, and we were like, "You just have to beat the Pineapple fight. Make it feel like the Pineapple fight, but bigger and better." And they came up with most of that.
Though this movie would certainly qualify as part of the superhero genre, there are certain aspects, particularly dealing with the love interest and the villain, that are the complete opposite of what we typically see. What was the motivation behind doing that?
Shane Black is the answer to that question. We met with him, and we came up with the idea to flip the hero/sidekick thing and really dissect that. And we were unknowingly kind of doing that with the dad by making him a dickhead, because we weíre like, "Letís do the opposite of Batman." And then we met with Shane Black who was considered as the director for a while and we met with him a whole bunch of times and had a great time, because heís our idol. Heís just the greatest. And he was like, "You flipped some of it. You have to flip everything!" So he kept telling us, "How are you going to do this one? How are you going to do that one? How are you going to flip that one?" And we were unknowingly kind of flipping everything, but he was very knowingly, "You should flip everything."
And the one thing we didnít do was properly flip the Cameron Diaz thing. We thought we did by making her smarter than them, but she was the one, she said, "Iím not kissing them." And we were like, "You have to kiss someone!" Sheís like, "No, no I donít. Thatís what always happens. I donít want to kiss anybody." And the studio was like, "Can you please make her kiss Kato? Please make her kiss Kato." And she was just like, "I ainít kissing no one." And Iím glad for it.
But the original idea was for her to have the relationship with Kato?
We wanted them to actually kiss and make it seem like somethingís happening and then it doesnít in the end. And she was just like, "Iím not kissing anybody at all whatsoever at any point."
Cage had a character that heís always liked in his head that heís always envisioned doing and he wanted to do that character, which was something we totally could have made happen, but it just didnít pan out with him. And then we wrote a completely different character for Christoph Waltz. Thereís literally no connection whatsoever. We had an idea, Nic Cage became involved, Nic Cage was no longer involved, we kind of went back to our old idea.
It was crazy. They were like, "Nic Cage is out." And twenty-four hours later they were like, "I got Christoph Waltz in!" And then twenty-four hours later Christoph Waltz was there and it was like, "Youíre first scene films in sixty hours. And we sat with Christoph and rewrote the character. You know the shot where heís in the hibachi restaurant standing above? Thatís his first shot. We were writing his character as that sequence was being filmed with him the whole time. He came on in wardrobe, in his red stuff, and I was like, "Guess weíre sticking with this red thing." That was a mad rush.
This is actually the first script that youíve written with a PG-13 rating. Was that always the plan and how did it affect your writing process?
It was always the plan, and it affected it by making it less fun. Way, way less fun. Not swearing is less fun. I mean, if you really break it down into a more esoteric thing, itís like theyíre limiting my use of language. Thereís not words to replicate all of those words. We have to get kind of creative, which I guess is kind of fun. Like the movie Mean Girls, which I think of and think is an excellent film. They donít swear but they swear the whole time. They donít ever say the word fuck or anything, but theyíre saying worse things in subtle ways. I think that this whole PG-13 thing is kind of bullshit, but I gotta do what I gotta do. If thatís the price I have to pay to make a movie this big and funÖ
The whole thing about saying "fuck" twice and getting an automatic R is absolutely ridiculous.
Well, itís all a very, very, very non-subtle ploy by the people in the MPAA, which is the stupidest organization on Earth, to bolster whatever companies they work for in a backhanded manner that we all know itís happening, but for some reason none of us can stop. I donít get it. Thereís not even a guiding mission statement to the MPAA. Like one "fuck"Öwhy? Why the hell would you let them say one "fuck"?
And itís just language. Itís the way people speak.
I think thatís one of the reasons why Superbad did that well is that people hadnít seenÖ swearing had become uncouth in that regard. And people were just like, "Oh, you guys wrote natural dialogue in that movie." Itís like, "No, we just wrote it like how people would speak, rated R, and these movies have not been rated R for the last while.
Thereís no plans for him to be in it, but you never know what could happen, though. I wanted to do it to make some cash, because Green Hornet took way longer than it was supposed to. You have a whole bunch of employees and I donít get a $10 million paycheck. So we had to figure that out real quick, I just wanted to do something, and someone said, "We have this ideaÖ" and I liked the idea because it was kind of out there and not just "Itís two guys in a comedy!" And weíre writing it right now, we just handed in the first draft and they liked it and theyíre going to get us to do some more. And itís a super fun idea because itís broader than anything weíve kind of done, but weíre writing it now and thatís all weíve got planned for now.
On the subject of future projects, Pineapple Express 2 is being demanded and we hear a little bit about the project occasionally. Where do things stand?
We have the whole thing plotted out. Very lengthy. We have three versions of it figured out, we think we know which one we want to do and, really, Iíve been the one stopping it. Because I was just like, not to say weíre the greatest filmmakers on Earth Ė as the Coen brothers kind of are Ė but they didnít make Blood Simple 2. They didnít make The Big Lebowski 2. And I keep thinking Ė and again, theyíre much smarter than us and much more sophisticated and much better at all of this Ė but I look at them as some of my idols and Iím just like, "Really?" But then I think about Lethal Weapons. They made four of them and I loved every one of them.
But, I mean, Pineapple Express and Superbad are our babies. But in the end, really, if we made a Superbad 2 that would be putting a bullet in our heads, I think. But Pineapple 2? I pitched it in front of enough dudes and theyíre like, "Please! Just do it!" And really when it comes down to it I think is I went to Danny McBrideís wedding recently and Danny and Franco and Seth and me were all there and I was just like, "Fuck it, letís do this!"
I donít know if I should. I still donít know whatís going to happen. Now everyoneís super famous so now we have to work on all of these deals. We probably wonít have time for like two years. Iím warming up to it. Iím still hesitant though. If it was terrible, it really would have a damaging effect on our career in a massive way. But, man, would I just like to work with all of those guys again.
How real are Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse and Sausage Party?
Super fucking real. Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse weíre outlining right now, we have the first run-through of the outline done. And Sausage Party is the most real project in the history of the world. Weíre never going to stop until we get that thing made. We might get financing, literally, on Monday. Weíre very close. We know which animation people we want to do it with. The script is completely finished and, Iím very proud to say, excellent.
The story is been a bit under wraps, can you maybe spill a bit about the project?
Yeah. Itís about sausages, hot dogs, and theyíre whole goal is to get purchased. And they get lost and they need to get back to theyíre aisle before the Fourth of July starts. I donít want to give away too much.
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