Seth Rogen and James Franco enjoy working together so much, even the end of the world can't spoil their fun.
This feature appears in Complex's June/July 2013 issue.
There’s a problem on the set, and the photo shoot hasn’t even started. Seth Rogen might be late—something about a prior appointment, and a back waxing gone terribly wrong. James Franco is also running a few minutes behind. Of course.
Given all the date juggling and rearranging that went into this day it’s not all that surprising. Let the record show that getting Seth Rogen and James Franco together for a four-hour block of time was a little like scheduling a photo shoot using a lotto-ball machine.
But it’s hard to be mad at them—these are busy young men. This spring, Franco was in two of the most talked about movies in the country. One was a kid-friendly PG fantasy blockbuster (Oz: The Great and Powerful), the other a kid-unfriendly R-rated, art-house flick that’s basically an after-school special as written by Britney Spears–loving crack dealers (Spring Breakers). Franco filmed those in his downtime, when he wasn’t pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Yale, or delivering the occasional undergrad lecture. Or having a documentary made about him by acclaimed artist Marina Abramović. Or visiting a Berlin gallery to view his art installation, Gay Town. Or acting as Grand Marshall at the Daytona 500.
As for Rogen, in 2012, he starred opposite Barbra Streisand (The Guilt Trip), helped write a summer flick for Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn (The Watch), and played one of the most hysterically funny minor characters in television cult-comedy history (guerrilla pornographer Dirty Randy, on FX’s The League).
Rogen and Franco have been friends since starring on Freaks and Geeks together in 1999, but didn’t reunite on screen until the 2008 stoner action flick Pineapple Express. Their upcoming project, This Is the End, is Rogen’s directorial debut (he co-directed, co-wrote, and co-produced the movie with his Superbad collaborator, Evan Goldberg). “Making the movie with Franco was the most I saw him since we made the previous movie together,” Rogen says.
In this one, the longtime friends and cohorts play Seth Rogen and James Franco, trapped in Franco’s house during the end of the world. Their real-life friends and co-stars Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, and Danny McBride are also playing themselves, along with Rihanna, Aziz Ansari, and a few other random walk-ons. This is what Hollywood types refer to as a “creative risk,” one Rogen and Franco almost didn’t get away with. Why?
Well, The End’s trailer lampoons Franco’s tabloid-fodder sexuality, Jonah Hill’s almost-Oscar, and Rogen’s weight. “We did the worst versions of ourselves,” Franco explains. And yet, This Is the End pre-screenings tested so well with audiences that two months before the movie was set to premiere, the studio green lit another Rogen-Franco-Goldberg collaboration, The Interview, about a “Ryan Seacrest type” who goes to North Korea. In other words, in spite of their wildly different schedules, careers, and lives, even the worst versions of themselves—and the chemistry between them—succeed. And succeed wildly at that.
I like hanging out with my friends, obviously. And the moments here and there when they do something that annoys you are vastly outweighed by the billion moments you’re enjoying them all day. But whenever you’re working with your friends, odd situations tend to arise. - Seth Rogen
Rogen strolls into the West L.A. photo studio just before 3 p.m. wearing jeans and a black T-shirt, no sign of the wax that was poured on him by Danny McBride for one of the film’s promotional videos. “It was a botched job,” he explains. “I blame myself.” He looks down, shakes his head, and laughs. When Seth Rogen laughs, it’s a husky chuckle that’s become one of modern comedy’s most unmistakable sounds, like a Wilhelm Scream of buddy flicks. Franco coolly strolls in a few minutes later, assistant in tow, in a black jacket, carrying a book for his comp class (Sister Carrie). After a cursory hello, both are all business.
“You realize how hard it is to spend time with your friends?” Rogen remarks between shots. “You’re like, ‘What the fuck am I doing? I could be doing this with people I like.’"
Sure enough, not an hour after he arrives, there’s Rogen, thrusting an oversized plastic swordfish from his pelvis, grunting at Franco, who has trouble keeping a straight face. And while it might be part of the job, the duo seems to be having a genuinely decent time goofing off at what they call work. We figured we’d get in on the fun, too.
If the world were ending and you could only teach one more class, and your only student was Seth….
James Franco: Seth?!
Yeah, this guy. What would you teach Seth Rogen about life?
JF: Seth! Seth doesn’t need learning. [Grins.] Seth doesn’t need a lecture from anybody.
Seth Rogen: Honestly, I’d like to hear it. [Laughs.]
JF: Seth and I would do what we do best together: make movies.
SR: We would make a movie together. A really sad movie. [Laughs.]
Seth, you’ve been working with James and everyone in this movie for a while now. How was it directing them?
SR: It was great. For the most part....
For the most part?
SR: It’s awesome. I like hanging out with my friends, obviously. And the moments here and there when they do something that annoys you are vastly outweighed by the billion moments you’re enjoying them all day. But whenever you’re working with your friends, odd situations tend to arise.1 Sometimes business and personal shit doesn’t mix in the best way. But what’s good is that a lot of us became friends through work, so we knew each other’s work habits.
James, you’ve been directed by Sam Raimi and Harmony Korine. What’s different about taking orders from one of your friends?
JF: Umm.... [Rogen starts to choke on his water.] It was like working with Kubrick.
SR: [Laughs.] I tortured Franco, actually. Like Shelley Duvall.2
JF: Thankfully, it was not like working with Kubrick. This film felt like the natural development of everything that we’ve done before. We worked together on Freaks and Geeks. When we were on our own time, Seth wrote stuff for us. Then we did Pineapple Express. He wrote and produced that with Evan, and was a part of every creative decision. When he finally was the director, we already had a way of working together. There was nothing about it that felt foreign.