On The Set Of This Is The End, Where Improv And The Apocalypse Finally Meet
" 'More blood' is something that's said often on this set."
And here I thought I had traveled to New Orleans last June to visit the set of a comedy. It starred a laundry list of likable dudes from the Apatow orbit-- Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride-- and was marking the directorial debut of Rogen and his childhood friend Evan Goldberg, with whom he wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express. It was a movie that took place entirely in James Franco's house. It had Franco wearing a velour tracksuit. How serious could this shit get, anyway?
Not especially serious, as it turned out, but that doesn't mean that blood won't be spilled-- or that Michael Cera won't be impaled by a lamppost-- when This is the End opens in theaters on June 12. A giant party at James Franco's house-- Franco insists he doesn't even own a house, for the record-- is suddenly interrupted by a very big, very apocalyptic event that traps the six main characters inside the mansion. On the set Rogen dismissed a glimpse of a monster we'd seen in the sizzle reel and said "Who knows if thatís a place-holder creature or what? Jay could be a demon this whole movie." But it's clear the cause of the apocalypse isn't really the point-- nor was it in "Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse," the short that inspired the movie. This is the End gives Rogen and Goldberg an excuse to trap their funniest friends inside a room, give them a huge crisis to argue about, and let them riff for the length of a 50-day shoot.
"I mean, we have a script," Rogen insists, after Goldberg jokes "We're shit writers." Rogen continues, "Iím sure we got a take of it here and there but itís so silly to have all these guys in a movie together and not let them riff-off each other. You know, that was always our plan." In the scene we watched them shoot, the guys take turns drawing straws-- well, drawing matches-- to see who will have to go outside to get more food and water. Each actor did the scene in their own close-up, with Rogen offering direction from just off-camera, or in the case of his own shot, right in front of it (he screwed up one take by accidentally looking into the lens). But Franco would toss in suggestions of his own, and the takes would stretch on longer to accommodate more ad-libs, more room for each actor to show his stuff. It's the kind of thing you can imagine happens on other comedies, but not nearly as smoothly-- and with as much affection-- as with a cast that knows each other this well.
Of course, that friendliness wouldn't be any fun at all to watch onscreen, which is why each actor-- while playing a character with his name-- has been transformed into a far more extreme version of himself. "I cry a lot in this movie, for the silly factor," admits Robinson, who draws the unlucky burnt match in the scene was saw them shoot. "I donít think I am that cry babyish. I think I'd be more like, "Yeah, bring it mother fucker." Though Baruchel has been acting since he was a teenager, he's turned into the "friend from out of town" for the movie, and admits "they definitely pounced on the self-righteous holier than thou aspects of me, so thereís a lot of preaching in this." And Franco, pretending to own a mansion that contains a painting of his own name, says he had to agree to the biggest stretch of all:
They said, "You're sort of playing the version of yourself that's the most distant from you who you are." Part of that has to do with the dynamics they need for the film. There are aspects of me-- like I'm an actor, I like art, I like Seth-- that the character shares, but it's pushed to a goofy extreme. The character's, y'know, stupider, he's got the emotional level of a 13-year-old. They all do, I think. And you know, he's just a little shallower than I like to think that I am.
In the end we didn't get to see any of the copious fake blood-- after lunch they set up for a stunt shot, in which a character is yanked outside the house by a mysterious force-- but the film's trailers have revealed plenty of that gore, including a movie that took shape from what seemed like endless ad-libs. Even though Rogen and Goldberg said they had a full hour of the movie cut together-- and this was just halfway through the shoot!-- they knew how much of it was still to take place in the editing room, when they had to sort through thousands of ad-libs to find a story worth following. "Weíre shooting more than weíll use," Goldberg admits. Rogen continues:
Basically - people donít laugh, we generally donít use it. So as long as the people are laughing at it, then weíll use it and if there is something that seems like itís too inside or something like that or just a reference the people donít get, then, you know, we donít want to like impose things on people. We let the audience tell us. Honestly, like even having you guys watch it was a testing ground for us to see what you guys respond to. I mean, itís helpful for us. We show it to as many people as we can just to see how people react.
The final proof comes June 12. For more on the film, come back later today for more of our conversations with the cast, plus some serious soul-searching about who wound up playing a character closest to their real selves.
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