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You’ve read about the panel this past weekend at WonderCon, you’ve seen the fake Pineapple Express 2 trailer; and you’ve watched the most recent Red band spot. But now it’s time to get up close and personal with the two men behind This Is The End.
This past weekend I tripped down to the Anaheim Convention Center where I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with both Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the writers and directors of the new apocalyptic comedy due out this summer. The film marks the duos’ directorial debut after previously teaming up to write Superbad, Pineapple Express and The Green Hornet, and they’re working with one very out-there concept, having some of the biggest names in comedy come together to play themselves in a world taken over by demons and hellfire. Check out our conversation below, in which Rogen and Goldberg talk about the joy of killing off famous people, how directing the film changed their approach to the script, finding a relatable core within all the craziness, and the movie’s bizarre Harry Potter connection.
How much of the fun of this project was getting the opportunity to put your friends into an apocalyptic situation and then just kill them?
Seth Rogen: The most. That was a lot of fun. I mean we definitely wanted it to be funny for the audience, but that was also a big conversation we had. I mean, yeah, it’s funny to see famous people to get killed graphically and it’s even funnier when they’re themselves for some reason.
Evan Goldberg: It’s just fortunate that our friends merit a budget to make a movie because they’re actors [laughs].
Seth Rogen: Yeah, I know.
How gnarly does this movie get?
Evan Goldberg: Oh, it gets gnarly. I wouldn’t say Saw gnarly, but it’s pretty graphic.
This project, it started as Jay and Seth Vs. The Apocalypse, which is a really small kind of idea where you have these two guys trapped in a room. Was there ever a point where you guys were drafting that small version of the script or was it always this big ensemble comedy?
Evan Goldberg: We just made that for a student film project for Jason Stone who made the movie with us and then years later when we were doing better, we realized... we were just discussing what we could do and we kept coming back to the idea of actors playing themselves and we put in a whole bunch of different ideas over the years and then we realized the first idea was the right idea.
Seth Rogen: We had just done so many movies that were all about two guys that we wanted to make it about a group of guys, like a bigger group dynamic and it is definitely still hinged on two guys, because we’re not that good [laughs], but early on we felt like what if it was like six guys or something like that, seven guys and we thought that could give us more of a Real World-y vibe almost that we thought was really funny and then we realized that, yeah, it could also be kind of a bigger movie than just guys stuck in a house which is also a fun idea.
So, is it you and Jay? I mean, would you say that it does kind of does boil down to the two?
Seth Rogen: Well, yeah, I mean the real emotional story of the movie is about how Jay’s my old friend and these other guys are my new friends and they kind of don’t get along too well and I’m kind of stuck in the middle, and I invite Jay to this party at Franco’s house which he doesn’t really want to go to ‘cause he doesn’t like those guys that much and then the apocalypse happens and we’re all stuck together, basically, and we all have to work out this shit that we’ve all been going through.
Evan Goldberg: That being said, if you like Craig or Jonah or Franco or anybody else in the movie, you won’t be disappointed.
Seth Rogen: Oh, yeah, no, I mean and they are in it. They are really part of the other group and it’s really about how the old friends versus the new friends, which we thought was a really relatable place to start with a fucking batshit crazy movie, basically [laughs].
When you are approaching these characters, I mean these are people that you’ve known for years. Are you putting their personalities perfectly up on the screen or kind of a heightened version or completely different?
Evan Goldberg: No, no, no. No one is actually like, exactly the same, but some of them are heightened versions.
Is that just to save your own asses because of what we’re going to see? [laughs]
Evan Goldberg: We came to agreements with them. Some of them have full character takes. Some said, “I just want to play a crazy asshole version of myself.”
Seth Rogen: A lot of these guys are really... we’re all really dumb in the movie is probably the biggest thing. We deal with the apocalypse very poorly, I would say on the grand scale of how a rational human would behave in that situation and I think everyone plays very self-centered kind of temperamental versions of themselves. Honestly, it wasn’t, I don’t think it was about how they were being reflected as themselves. I think, as actors, at first we just wrote a little too much into shit they had all done before, and I think it took some of them being like you know, “I’ve been the loud, obnoxious guy a lot of times. What if we flipped it and I was the super nice guy?” or something like that. That was actually really helpful. I don’t think it was how they wanted to be portrayed as themselves. I think more thought just, as actors, it was a chance to do something else.
Evan Goldberg: Something different.
Seth Rogen: And it was that much funnier because it was as themselves.
And this is the first time you’re directing also, but obviously you’ve collaborated as writers for a long, long time. How much did that collaboration change? Was that collaboration in your writing process similar to how you guys directed together?
Seth Rogen: Yeah, it was exactly the same. Yeah, we’ve worked together so much over the years in so much stuff. Yeah, it was very seamless. There was no real...
Evan Goldberg: We know each other so well we can make assumptions of what the other will do, like one of the things the crew always says is, “If I ask one of you and then you’re not there and the other guy is there, 99% of the time, you’ll say the same exact thing.” So, it lets us move really fast. You don’t have to discuss it.
Seth Rogen: Exactly, yeah.
And did you guys know you were going to end up directing it while you were writing the script?
Seth Rogen: We hoped it, yeah.
Evan Goldberg: Yeah, we hoped it. There was a point when we... And then we eventually realized that no one else could, because to get these guys, the specific group we needed...
Seth Rogen: It wouldn’t have worked...It literally wouldn’t have worked if you weren’t friends with all of them .
When you were writing, did that affect how you were working from a visual standpoint?
Seth Rogen: Yeah. Honestly, it was nice because we always write visual cues into our scripts. They just get ignored a lot - sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, but it was nice writing something knowing it would actually be executed the way we pictured it and so I think we did write a few things a little differently than we would have, because I think we knew... but it was also, normally someone else would take some of our more boring sequences and make them visually interesting, and now we knew that was up to us to do [laughs]. And so I think that played into also it also a little bit.
You guys also, just as writers, you’ve worked with some great directors, I mean Jonathan Levine, Michel Gondry, Greg Mottola. So I mean, how much did you guys get influenced from them just in terms of how you approached this film?
Evan Goldberg: Tons, I mean everybody that we’ve ever worked with, pretty much, Judd [Apatow] and all those guys, everybody.
Seth Rogen: And we’ve been very fortunate and I think we’ve worked with a good mix of directors too, which is nice. We’ve worked with some visually amazing directors…
There’s Michel Gondry [laughs]
Seth Rogen: …some people who are very good with emotional stuff...
Evan Goldberg: Gondry compared to Judd, big difference.
Seth Rogen: Exactly, but Judd, when it comes to the emotional reality stuff is better than everyone so we were very fortunate to have this mix of influences and we spent a lot of time with all of these people, so...
Evan Goldberg: Jody Hill and Michael Dowse make shit dark and gritty.
Showing off the most awful sides of life [laughs]
Seth Rogen: So, I think that’s what nice about the movie. It is visually interesting, I hope... it’s a little more of an action film than people probably expect it to be, but it’s because we worked with all of these people and had so much fun together.
Also, you are dealing with this cast of the funniest people we have working in movies today. So, how much do you rely on them then just on a day to day basis to contribute to their scenes?
Evan Goldberg: As the directors, we feel the need to make sure we’ve got it covered. Everything they do is just a stupendous amount of icing on that cake. We think we could make it good no matter what, but they do make some incredible contributions.
Seth Rogen: It’s amazing what they contribute and sometimes you just can’t believe it. Sometimes the jokes they come up with, like that joke in the trailer where it’s “James Franco didn’t suck any dick last night?” I think that was actually improvised...I think that’s literally how it was improvised, how we used it in the trailer and we were all standing there, like “Holy shit! That’s fucking crazy,” and it was amazing. I still watch the movie and notice the shit some of the guys do.
Evan Goldberg: The physical things, like they all do these weird little physical changes to their characters that I’ve never seen them do.
Seth Rogen: Or there would be like a second of silence and one of the guys will say something that works and lands and gets a laugh and I’m still blown away. And I think the fact that most of them know each other really helped that. It was great. It was amazing to watch sometimes. I mean, it was six guys. That’s not easy to do.
Evan Goldberg: And they’re all so good at improv which means they have incredible memories. Everyone helped everyone. Literally in the circle of friends they’d be like, “Craig, you forgot that...oh, thanks, dude. Good call.”
Seth Rogen: And then if they liked each other’s bits, then they would help. It was great. They all really supported each other.
I heard early on there was some conversation about Daniel Radcliffe being in the film. I’m curious about that story and also was that directly related to Emma Watson being in there?
Evan Goldberg: No, it wasn’t involved with Emma Watson.
Seth Rogen: It was a totally unrelated. I mean, we wrote the part for the people, so obviously there was a Daniel Radcliffe and we wrote the part to him about and it went much farther than he wanted it to and honestly...
Evan Goldberg: In hindsight he made a very logical choice [laughs].
Seth Rogen: I don’t think that we approached it as fresh as we could have.
Evan Goldberg: We were excited to meet him and we just kind of, we were too excited
Seth Rogen: But the Emma thing, we’re just Harry Potter fans! [laughs]