Exclusive: Seth Rogen Laughs His Way Through ‘Observe and Report’

In the third of four interviews with the stars and director of Observe and Report, Seth Rogen talks about doing things differently in Hollywood, his favorite Sleepy Time Tea flavor and the progress of The Green Hornet.
By  · Published on April 8th, 2009

Seth Rogen hasn’t seen Paul Blart: Mall Cop, so when I ask if his new movie was able to reach the same allegorical depths, he doesn’t have an answer. I tell him that the jury’s still out as I’m still trying to process both, and he realizes I’m joking – letting out the car-battery-in-a-blender-laugh that everyone who’s ever come into contact with him knows happens every few moments regardless of what’s been said. In fact, if you’d like a more realistic feeling when reading this interview, go ahead and imagine a lawnmower failing to start up after every 12-15 words of Rogen’s statements.

I’m sure that anyone who has seen the trailer for Observe and Report realizes the giant chasm between the two Mall Cop movies, especially considering the shot where Seth Rogen’s character Ronny asks his mother if he was the reason his dad abandoned the family.

Plus, the difference between Rogen and Kevin James is conspicuous. James is a comedian making movies. Rogen is an actor making comedies. There’s nothing wrong with either, but if fans are walking into Observe and Report expecting Seth Rogen to skid slapstick-ly behind a pylon, they are going to be sorely mistaken and probably walk out by the date rape scene. A perfect time to leave for them, actually, as Anna Faris’s character blurts out, “Why’d you stop mother fucker?” as if to ask those few who leave the theater why they gave up.

Rogen hasn’t seen Paul Blart, but he has seen his own movie several times. And he loves it. Normally with actors, they smile and grin their way through claiming how fantastic their new film is, but when I talk to Rogen, something about him seems genuinely happy about it. Maybe it’s because he truly loves the movie or maybe it’s just that he finds himself laughing at almost everything that happens in life.

“I love the movie. I’ve seen it several times, and you know – for me it’s the exact type of movie that if I wasn’t in it, I’d be very jealous of whoever was,” Rogen says. “It does a lot of the stuff [Evan Goldberg and I] try to do in our movies. It’s challenging in some ways, but has a lot of very personal stuff. It’s shocking in a lot of ways, and has a lot of big jokes in it. To me, that’s all you can really hope for, so I love the movie. If I had nothing to do with it, I would love it all the same. Probably even more.”

After he gives me permission to ask whatever I want (instead of talking about the movie) we go through his favorite Sleepy Time Tea flavor (“chamomile”), whether he’s dating anyone special (“for years”), and the most pretentious film festival he’s ever been to (“The Deauville Film Festival – it’s an American festival in France, and it’s kind of bullshit”). Sadly, we end up talking about the movie anyway.

Rogen claimed that what drew him to the idea behind the flick in the first place was the same thing that made him enjoy Jody Hill’s other work – a free attempt at trying something new with the genre form. In a way, this is the same spirit that Rogen claims to cling to when working on his and writing partner Evan Goldberg’s scripts.

“We talk about ‘what are people not doing?’ you know – the conventions. When we did Superbad it was ‘what’s the one high school movie that has not been made?’ and when we did Pineapple [Express] it was ‘what’s the one pot movie that they have not done?’ I think Jody does that same thing with his characters. He thinks ‘what’s the one character that hasn’t been the star of a movie?’ or ‘what’s the kind of guy that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention paid on him?’ or ‘what’s the kind of guy who’s the last guy to be treated like a hero?’ To me, that’s a very exciting voice in movies, and it’s a great place to start creatively.”

To hear Jody Hill describe it, Rogen was a major reason that the film got made as he went into Warners, guns blazing, ready to put his good name behind the project. Even so, Rogen may not be surprised that they let them film certain parts, but he is surprised that they let them put certain parts in the final cut of the film.

“Those are usually two different things. We were filming in Albuquerque so what were they going to do? Fucking fly to Albuquerque and watch us every day? No, they got other shit to do…The fact that they ultimately let us keep it in the movie is what was really exciting.”

When I ask him to elaborate on what “it” specifically is, he claims that he was most excited about having the tone of the movie kept in tact. Something that the studio could have easily softened up came through in the final print in depressingly clear focus. And, as someone who has seen the movie, I can attest to the tone being miles away from most comedies or dramas that are out there. The subject matter is both funny and disturbing – so it’s no wonder that there would have been some surprise at Warners for giving so much free reign.

As for the scenes he was glad made the cut:

“The fight between me and the cops gets pretty violent at times. The amount of time that I chase the flasher at the end, and exactly how that chase culminates was the subject of many discussions. Exactly how graphic we show the culmination of that was the topic of some discussions, but ultimately they let us go for it. We kept telling them ‘you can’t water these things down.’ The people that love it will love it, and the people who hate it will hate it even if it’s slightly more watered down than it is right now – so you just have to commit to it.”

We talk a bit about the history of R-rated comedies, and the success that he’s found with them, and it somehow leads into a discussion of his upcoming project The Green Hornet – being directed by Michel Gondry.

“I feel no personal obligation to the Restricted Rating, no,” he laughs. “Like, Green Hornet‘s not rated-R, and I feel like it is just as difficult to write as any of our other movies. We don’t feel limited by the PG-13 rating. If anything, it’s a challenge, but that being said you can pretty much do anything except say ‘Fuck.’ Especially violence-wise.”

You heard it here first: the Green Hornet will not be saying ‘Fuck.’

“Well, maybe once.”

Apparently, the production is well underway. They’ve gone through several drafts of the script (they’re in the middle or re-writing it again), have costume designers working up mock-ups, production designers hard at work, and there may even be a prototype Black Beauty as of now. It’s obviously a very cool project that Rogen is psyched about doing – and one of the main reasons for that is a theme that keeps emerging in his work: doing something differently.

I ask one last question about how the character of Ronny in Observe and Report resonates with him personally.

“It’s a guy who – and this isn’t something that I deal with currently, I’m a very happy person – but growing up, he’s a guy that is not viewed how he wants to be. People think he’s a loser, and he wants to be viewed as a cool guy…to me that’s a very relatable feeling. That’s the simple motivation of the character. He sees himself one way, the world sees him another, and he’s trying to make that discrepancy go away. That, to me, is a very universal feeling.”

Pretty poignant stuff. Not bad for a guy who’s never seen Paul Blart: Mall Cop before.

To check out my interview with Michael Pena…go here.

To check out my interview with Anna Faris…go here.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.