Think fame is easy? Spend three-plus years working on your passion project—while dashing off a few certified classics along the way—and get back to us. As he prepares to drop The Green Hornet, the genre-bending, big-budget opus he wrote, produced, and stars in, Seth Rogen muses on the good life, and how hard it is to make time for It.
Interview By Noah Callahan-Bever; Photography By Robert Trachtenberg; Styling By Annie Psaltiras
Seth Rogen is just like you and me. You know, that affable, well-liked stoner who fills silences with awkward laughter, reads comics, collects KAWS toys, plays Xbox, and yearns to be romantically un-challenged. But this is a lie. You have been hoodwinked. BAMBOOZLED! We didn’t land on Seth Rogen, Seth Rogen landed on us! Wait...what? Never mind. The truth of the matter is that the 29-year-old auteur who’s managed to be the funniest man in Hollywood for the last three years is absolutely all of the above things—but he is nothing like you. Or me. For all of his laid-back jokes and seeming mellowness, Rogen is a relentlessly ambitious creative with a definite vision and the follow-through to see it executed. Case in point: his latest, The Green Hornet. Like, why stick to your core competency of mid-budget laugh-fests that are guaranteed moneymakers when you can invent a new genre: the kinda-unhip-old-timey-radio-serial-turned-awesome-modern-action-comedy? And get acclaimed avant-garde-ass Michel Gondry to direct, while you’re at it? Why? ’Cause if you’re Seth Rogen, you can do it and succeed. And then go back to smoking weed on your couch while playing God of War III and listening to Kanye, surrounded by boxes of comics and KAWS toys. So yeah, we’re down with Seth because he reminds us of ourselves—our insanely talented, insanely disciplined, insanely paid, better selves. Dude was kind enough to take a break from his rigorous genius/regular-guy schedule to talk to Complex about his passion for all the stuff we’re passionate about, and, along the way, what makes him altogether different from you and me.
We’re days from New Year’s Eve. What would you say was your biggest personal win of 2010?
Well, I got engaged. I’m going to get married, so that’s a big personal win. We’ve been together for...fuck, like five or six years. I can’t even remember at this point, that’s how long it’s been. [Laughs.]
How does engagement change a relationship?
It means your girlfriend stops bugging you to get engaged!
That’s probably a major change five, six years in.
We’ve talked about it before. It wasn’t a total shock for her. It really hasn’t changed that much, except we’re planning a wedding now. Well, she’s planning a wedding now, and I’m kind of observing the planning of the wedding.
Agreeing—a lot of agreeing.
“Sure, whatever!” [Laughs.] And then every once in a while I almost disagree with something, and I’m like, Oh man, just go with it.
Always go with it. Was there any anxiety leading up to popping the question?
No, I was pretty sure she’d say yes. [Laughs.]
Yeah. It would have been so fucked at that point if she had said no.
Well, while that was the biggest win, it obviously wasn’t the biggest challenge. What was?
Editing The Green Hornet. The whole post-production process of putting that together has definitely been the biggest challenge. There’s so many different versions of it, and there’s so much action that we used, and there’s so much stuff that we didn’t use. Me and Evan [Goldberg, his writing partner] talk about how many more movies we could have made in the amount of time that we spent making this movie. We could make 10 Pineapple Expresses!
Up until now, you’ve done films with modest budgets. During those projects you must have become somewhat of a businessman. Does the pressure of the budget on a 3-D action film like this change your process at all?
A little bit, I guess. As a filmmaker, I believe in fiscal responsibility—to a degree. I would never make a movie as weird as Pineapple Express for the amount of money that this movie costs, for example. [Laughs.] I just know that that’s not a good idea. There’s just inherently some things in some of our movies that will make a lot of people not want to go see them, you know? And we very consciously had to balance those things in a movie of this scale or it would have just been irresponsible. I don’t want to be the guy that makes the weirdest fucking movie ever, and then when it doesn’t make any money, I’m like, “What? I can’t believe no one liked it!”
“But I thought Waterworld was going to be a hit...”
Exactly, “A guy with gills. Who doesn’t want to see that?” [Laughs.] But what was actually very gratifying was when we tested the movie, and it tested better than any of our other movies. We thought, “Whoa. Well, we actually did it.” Beyond that, we’ve done our jobs. As far as the marketing goes, if the movie makes its money back—at this point it’s out of my hands. That’s up to the studio. I assume they want to make their money back a lot more than I give a shit about them making their money back. [Laughs.] We’ve given them a movie that I think is good. I know it tested well, so we’ve given them the ball, it’s their job to run with it.
So you’re happy, the audience is happy, and hopefully the suits will be happy. How did you Jedi-mind-trick the studio into letting you execute your vision?
There’s a lot of trickery involved—and sleight of hand. We’re not above lying to the studio. We have this trick now where we listen to their notes, and even write a version of the scene [that incorporates them], and then the night before we shoot the scene, we just completely rewrite it and don’t give the final script to anyone except the actors. It works pretty well.
The overlords aren’t on set to see it?
No, they’re almost never there. At that point it’s kind of a runaway train, which is great. But editing is where they can really fuck you if audiences don’t like what they’re seeing. But luckily, when we screened the movie, it tested really well. So they had no argument to change any of the stuff that we did.
You’d think they’d have a little more faith. Looking at your career, you’ve had a pretty much unblemished record since Knocked Up.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. [Laughs.] Financially, or just good-movie-wise?
I don’t know. Funny People, I’m not sure if it quite made its money back. Did it?
Well, I saw it in the theater...and on cable, too.
[Laughs.] I think creatively they’ve all been good. I don’t know if everyone who paid for those movies is 100 percent thrilled about it. You’ll have to ask Harvey Weinstein about that.
What was the story with Eminem’s part in the movie? Was that completely improv?
We had this idea that Eminem was the guy that makes [Adam Sandler’s character] realize that even though he’s better, his life still sucks. That was all we had. Apart from that, it was totally improvised. What happened was me and Ray Romano shot our part first, and we started doing a joke where we were taking pictures of Eminem. Then, when they did their part, he watched that and started screaming at us. It was fucking hilarious.
It was totally random—
Between that and working with the RZA, I am far more involved in the hip-hop community than I ever could have hoped in my entire life.
Speaking of which, tangentially, how did you come to know KAWS?
A lot of my friends in high school were into graffiti and underground hip-hop magazines, and I remember seeing the Calvin Klein ads and stuff that he did, and I just thought it was amazing. It was such a cool way to approach that kind of thing, which was not to vandalize it, but to improve it. And ever since then, I’ve kept up with him and collected. I probably have almost every single figure he’s ever made. And I just got his book. He sent it to me signed, which was fucking awesome.
So you’ve met?
No, but we have emailed. That’s one of the amazing things about being an actor. You—and I will milk it until I fucking die—get to meet some of these people that you think are fucking awesome, and you realize that they kind of like you, too.
What’s your next project?
We don’t know for sure, honestly.
Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse?
Yeah! Me and Evan are writing that right now. And we want to direct it if someone actually lets us; and I think they will. That’ll be crazy. It’s insane. It’s a very crazy movie. It’s kind of a horror-comedy.
We’ve been watching movies like The Mist and Tremors. Also, every apocalyptic movie we can find. We want it to be one of those movies where people are trapped in a little place while the apocalypse is occurring outside. We’re heavily inspired by The Exorcist as well, and Rosemary’s Baby. We want my character to get raped by a demon. [Laughs.]
You had me at “raped by a demon.”
And no one believes I’m pregnant!
How do you find the mental headspace to write and the actual physical time to do it, given your schedule?
It’s easy to find the headspace to write. The physical time to write is getting harder and harder. But we find time. Honestly, it’s what we enjoy doing more than anything, so we aggressively fight for our time to do it. Making movies is very stressful sometimes, but there’s nothing stressful about sitting in your sweatpants just writing on a computer, you know? That’s just fun.
How does your collaboration work? Do you break the script into parts?
Nope. We just sit there together. We do as much of it in the same room, at the same time, as humanly possible. Which is pretty much all of it. We only live a couple of blocks away.
Do you draw straws for who’s the hands?
Evan generally types, because he’s way faster at it than I am—
—Which is kind of something that pisses him off, a lot. I can type for a period, but we can’t deny that it’s just a waste of time. I failed typing in high school.
There goes your secretarial career. Let’s switch back to Seth Rogen’s interests. And you can talk about yourself in the third person if it makes you feel more comfortable.
Yeah, I will, thank you.
What are you listening to?
Team Canada. You ever listen to those guys? They’re mash-up DJs from Montreal. They’re fucking awesome.
Have you sat with the new Kanye?
Actually, I was literally listening to it when we started doing this interview. It’s awesome. I’ve also been listening to the new Girl Talk album all day. Although I haven’t seen the movie, I’ve been listening to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. [Laughs.]
What websites do you go to?
What websites do I go to? I honestly spend very little time online.
Yeah, isn’t that weird? My girlfriend, conversely, spends a fucking shit-ton of time online. But, no, a couple of years ago my Internet went out in my house for like six months and I just never got it fixed. And it literally didn’t affect my life at all.
That’s probably why you’re able to get all this stuff written.
I really think it is. I see a lot of people waste a lot of time on the Internet when they should be writing.
You may see that very phenomenon happen when it’s time for me to pen this article.
There’s one thing me and Evan waste time doing online when we should be writing, and it’s watching movie trailers. I go to The Movie Box usually, or Trailer Addict.
How do you unwind?
I play video games. I’ve been playing God of War III for hours and hours and hours a day lately. I read comic books, too. I like to garden, but it’s the winter so I can’t do that. But if I have a chunk of time, I’ll buy a video game and play it all fucking day.
Any recent favorites, aside from GOW3?
I have a 3-D TV, and I got Call of Duty: Black Ops, and I can play it in 3-D. I did that all day, every day, for several weeks.
Online, or do you play just the missions?
No, I just play myself. I should play online, but those fucking nerds are way too good for me. I thought, I’m pretty good at these games. I played GoldenEye in high school. I grew up with this shit. And then you play and you’re like, “These kids are fucking way better than I am.”
Yeah, all you can do is regenerate, and then get shot in the back of the head again.
Exactly! That’s when I realize how old I am. Like, “Oh yeah, I’m almost 30. There’s 13-year-olds that literally have been doing this their entire lives.”
So when was the last time you had a day to yourself when you could just loaf on the couch?
The last few days, actually. It’s been pretty nice. I haven’t been doing shit.
Yeah, it’s been awesome.CLICK HERE TO SEE SETH ROGEN'S EXTENDED COMPLEX COVER GALLERY!