Seth Rogen. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW

 

Twice as Anxious: Seth Rogen Unveils Two Comedies at SXSW

Actor/filmmaker wants to find substance behind the laughs

By Amy Nicholson

03/7/2019

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Twelve years ago, SXSW audiences were the first to discover that Seth Rogen was a leading man when the festival premiered a work-in-progress screening of Knocked Up. Three months later, Rogen had earned so much star clout that he reshaped the Hollywood comedy in his image: jokey and smokey and smarter than you expect, the wise-cracking slacker with perfect SATs.

SXSW is his lucky touchstone. It is where he debuted early cuts of everything from Observe and Report and Neighbors to Sausage Party and The Disaster Artist. And every time he comes, he’s miserable.

“Over the years, that’s almost become the most fun challenge: How do we make our work intellectually stimulating and have as much message as possible?”

“I’m honestly so stressed out when I’m there,” admits Rogen. “I really want people to like our work, so I’m just a bundle of nerves until our movies play — and then I just gorge myself on queso and barbecue and tequila.”

This year, Rogen is twice as anxious. He’s coming to SXSW with two premieres — one that circles back to his childhood and another that showcases his growth. On March 9, he will unveil his romantic comedy Long Shot. In the film, Rogen plays a principled political journalist named Fred Flarsky whose ethics get upended when he’s hired to write speeches for Charlize Theron’s Charlotte Field, a presidential candidate who also happens to be his childhood crush.

Good Boys. Photo by Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures

Good Boys. Photo by Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures

 

Two nights later, he’ll be back to launch his R-rated kids’ flick Good Boys, which stars Jacob Tremblay as one of three 12-year-old best friends trying to get to their first spin-the-bottle party. That’s the same age Rogen was when he met his fellow Good Boys producer, Evan Goldberg, in a Vancouver Bar Mitzvah class. They’ve been screenwriting buddies and creative partners ever since.

“It’s a funny age to make an R-rated comedy about, because it’s the first time in your life that you’re testing the waters of R-rated things. You have this longing to do things you’re not supposed to be doing and say things you’re not supposed to be saying, and it really reminded us of what we were like,” explains Rogen. “It was so confusing and scary and exciting to us — and our outlet was just to do nothing and sit in a room and write about it. Other people acted on those things, and they’ve probably gone on to live much more interesting lives.”

Well, none of Rogen’s cooler middle-school classmates accidentally almost started a war with North Korea. The Interview was Rogen’s high-stakes crash course in geopolitics. “I do feel like we have a lot of experience,” jokes Rogen about being the former focal point of Kim Jong Un’s diplomacy, a role also held by Dennis Rodman and, currently, Donald Trump. “I haven’t seen the briefings he has — but I don’t know if he has either.”

Since then, Rogen’s humor has deepened and become more anchored to reality — even if he’s masked his interest in, say, religious conflict by framing it as a debate between a hot dog, a bagel, and a lavash. “I’ve started to long for a little more substance,” he says. “Over the years, that’s almost become the most fun challenge: How do we make our work intellectually stimulating and have as much message as possible? Take the things that we think about as we’re stuck driving in traffic for hours and contemplating life, and include that in what is a movie that is hopefully tons of fun.”

Long Shot. Photo by Hector Alvarez

Long Shot. Photo by Hector Alvarez

 

Right now, political humor is at once vital, furious and inane. Even politicians themselves have become flailing Twitter stand-ups. (“Mike Huckabee’s tweets…” groans Rogen. “God bless him.”) Rogen’s challenge on Long Shot was to make a romance that’s both timeless and relevant from a script that was written in 2012 — which, at the speed of current politics, is basically like when Washington was crossing the Delaware. “Whether you love it or hate it, you would be hard pressed not to acknowledge that things are different than they have been,” says Rogen.

Long Shot’s POTUS, played by Bob Odenkirk, was a fictional TV Commander-in-Chief whose scripted presidency was so popular that the actor himself won a real election. “Two or three years ago, that would have seemed ludicrous to put into a movie that is supposed to be in any way based in reality,” says Rogen. “But today it’s not!”

To keep things real, Rogen met with speechwriters, journalists, and government consultants who have advised emissaries and Secretaries of State. Yet with the 2020 presidential election race possibly including five female contenders, the focus will be on Theron’s candidate — Rogen’s included.

“We’d be acting and I’d think, ‘Wow, she’s good!’ which is not something that you should be thinking while you’re acting in a scene,” admits Rogen.

The early buzz on Long Shot is that Theron is terrific, perhaps even award-worthy. “She’s really funny in the movie, and really human, and really relatable,” he beams. Once Rogen survives his two SXSW premieres, the Oscar campaign is on. Pass the tequila.

As part of the SXSW Film Festival, Long Shot will World Premiere on Saturday, March 9, and Good Boys will World Premiere on Monday, March 11.

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