Seth Rogen exploded onto the national consciousness a few years ago while still in his early 20s, but he's far from an overnight success. He began performing stand-up comedy in his native Canada while still in his teens; in 1999, he landed a role as a sarcastic, deadpan stoner in the short-lived but cultishly adored comedy Freaks And Geeks. It marked the beginning of an auspicious collaboration with mentor Judd Apatow. When Freaks was cancelled, Rogen appeared in Donnie Darko and co-wrote and acted in another critically acclaimed but swiftly cancelled Apatow production, Undeclared. Rogen's big break came in Apatow's surprise-hit directorial debut, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Apatow's even more successful Knocked Up and Superbad followed, firmly establishing Rogen as an unlikely but popular leading man and a talented writer. His latest vehicle and co-writing project is David Gordon Green's Pineapple Express, an action comedy about a stoner and his dealer on the run from a drug lord. Rogen has also been tapped for the lead in Kevin Smith's next movie, Zack And Miri Make A Porno, and he's writing and starring in a forthcoming big-screen adaptation of The Green Hornet. The A.V. Club recently spoke with the affable Rogen about his controversial appearance on the MTV Movie Awards, removing an anti-pot message from Pineapple Express, and, of course, the deplorable practice of smoking pot.
The A.V. Club: The cover of Rolling Stone calls Pineapple Express the greatest stoner film of all time.
Seth Rogen: It's true. But the Jonas Brothers are on that same cover, so it kind of removes some of the coolness of that, I guess.
AVC: Do you think the Jonas Brothers are the greatest stoner group of all time?
SR: Yes, exactly. [Brays.] "This from the people who think Jonas Brothers are awesome!"
AVC: Do you think of Pineapple Express as a stoner film?
SR: I've gotta say I kind of don't. I think of it as a movie about stoners. But to me, when you say "a stoner movie," I picture something that only people who smoke weed like, like a Cheech and Chong movie, or something in that vein. Movies like The Big Lebowski and Dazed And Confused, I don't really consider them stoner movies. I just consider them movies about people who smoke weed. That's because those are movies that have managed to kind of wiggle their way out of that category and found an audience beyond just those people.
AVC: It seems like stoner movies get ghettoized.
SR: Yeah, I think so, definitely. But I will say, I think it's their own fault. If you watch Half Baked—I love that movie, but it doesn't really function as an actual movie. If you took the weed away, it really wouldn't be about much. I think that's the difference between, hopefully, what we're trying to do and some of these other movies.
AVC: It seems like if something is good, it isn't considered part of stoner culture. Do you think there's still a stigma attached to being a pothead?
SR: I think there is some stigma, I guess. In L.A.—everybody fucking smokes weed here. It's like, the studio heads we're meeting with, they smoke weed. It's not like they have these misconceptions, "Oh, they must be idiots because they smoke weed." And clearly we found some success; we can't be totally brain-dead yet. Still, it was hard to get the movie made because of all the weed. If this movie didn't have any weed in it, we probably could have made it when we wrote it, seven years ago, instead of slowly having to prove that we weren't going to make a studio go bankrupt.
AVC: Then there's movies like Dude, Where's My Car?, which is basically a stoner movie where nobody ever smokes pot.
SR: I know, exactly, it's just a movie about idiots.
AVC: It's also a sort of stoner minstrelsy where it's just two guys wandering around dazed, wanting to eat food.
SR: Yeah, exactly. But do they not smoke? Honestly, I've never seen Dude, Where's My Car?
AVC: Your life is consequently bereft of meaning.
SR: Oh, I know. [Laughs.] You know why? It's cause I auditioned for it and I didn't get it, and I felt bitter toward it.
AVC: What part did you audition for?
SR: One of the dudes. [Laughs.]
AVC: Was it because you were too good at finding cars?
SR: Yeah, I knew where my car was. I was just like "Oh, it's just right there, don't worry about it."
AVC: So why do an action movie?
SR: I just love those movies. And to us, it just seemed—you kind of want to make the types of movies that you really get excited to go see, and for me, it's action movies. I do like comedies, but I haven't even seen Step Brothers yet, and I'm in it, apparently. And I've seen Batman twice. It's just exciting to be able to make the types of movies that you get super-enthusiastic about in your viewing life. So that's where the appeal was to us. And it also just seemed like an interesting challenge, to make a weed action-comedy. And we thought, "If we can make it function as an actual comedy with a real story, and a weed movie, and an action movie, then that could be a very interesting combination."
AVC: It's reminiscent of Hot Fuzz being an action comedy and a meta-commentary on action comedy.
SR: Yeah, that's exactly what we were going for. We kind of wanted to have our cake and eat it too, in terms of the action. To be able to subtly comment on it and make fun of it, and at the same time truly become it. And that's not an easy thing to do, and I think David [Gordon Green], the director, had a lot to do with pulling that off. It's funny, I'm friends with Edgar Wright, and I got to see Hot Fuzz literally the week before we started shooting Pineapple Express, and it hadn't come out yet in theaters. And I actually sat down with him and was able to pick his brain and get a lot of advice. It's funny, I was just talking to Edgar at Comic-Con over the weekend, and he had just seen the movie, and I told him—there's a lot of shots in the movie of people loading guns and cocking guns and stuff like that, and that's all because of Edgar. I asked him, "What's your advice?" He's like, "You know, the one thing we went back and shot was a lot of shots of people loading guns and stuff, because we knew we could just put them anywhere, and they were good cutting pieces." So I told Edgar, "You've officially been referenced. These shots are directly referencing your movie, and it only came out a year ago." [Laughs.]
AVC: The fight choreography in Pineapple Express is tremendously awkward. Is it safe to assume your character hasn't been in many fights?
SR: Exactly, yeah. To us, that was a large part of the joke. You don't often see fight scenes with people who have no idea how to fight. And for that reason, we thought it'd be funny if it goes on for a really long time, one of the fights. 'Cause it's like a joke that no one is equipped to knock anyone else out completely. No one has the tools to make anyone else unconscious. [Laughs.] I love those scenes. To us, that was a big part of the joke, the last guys that should be in an action movie are in an action movie. Because of that, we did a lot of our own stunts, just because we thought it would be funnier, because I don't know how to really fight a guy, I don't know how to shoot an AK-47. [Laughs.] Being from Canada, I have a Hunter S. Thompson-style ranch, where I just shoot shit all day. But yeah, those are my favorite scenes to watch, just, "I can't believe they let us do this!"
AVC: How did the script for Pineapple Express develop? You've mentioned writing it seven years ago.
SR: Yeah, we wrote it a while ago. It's always been pretty similar—the general series of events is very similar to how we originally laid it out. But the relationship between the guys definitely evolved a lot over the years, as we became smarter and more insightful into that type of thing. It wasn't a Superbad type thing, where it just wasn't there at all at first. This time, we knew enough to start with that and develop around it.
AVC: Did you write the role of Saul specifically for James Franco?
SR: No, we wrote it for me. Very specifically, actually. When we sent James the script, we wanted him to play Dale [Rogen's character]. And then he said, "I like it, but I'd rather play Saul." And we were just like, "Well, that's way funnier, I've gotta say. It's a much more interesting choice." We were kind of having problems with Dale, and when James wanted to play Saul, I was like, "Oh, I guess that makes me Dale," which took it outside the world we pictured it in instantly. We pictured him as a very conventional leading-man type guy. And then once it was me, we added the high-school girlfriend, and we were able to make him a weirder character.
AVC: Your character is kind of the straight man.
SR: Yeah, that's definitely how we approached it.
AVC: Why hasn't Franco done more comedy? It seems like of the whole Judd Apatow group, he's the only guy who doesn't do a lot of those comedies.
SR: I don't know, but he's hilarious. I feel like maybe because he's handsome, people expect him to not be funny. And those are definitely the movies he did after Freaks And Geeks. The first thing he did after Freaks And Geeks was win a Golden Globe for playing James Dean. That is a pretty serious role, and I feel like that is just how people saw him. And that's why when we sent him the script, he wanted to play Saul so badly. It wasn't our idea to get him—we know him better than anyone, and we still didn't think of it. It took him saying "Look, this is what I want to do" for it to happen. And I think because we're friends with him and we know him, we responded to the idea. But I guess he hadn't quite had that opportunity with the other movies he was making.
AVC: Judd Apatow is credited for co-writing the story on Pineapple Express. What in particular did he contribute?
SR: He really was the one who came up with the idea of doing a weed action comedy. That's what he gave me and [co-screenwriter] Evan [Goldberg] to run with. It was as simple as, "A pot dealer and one of his clients witness a murder and go on the run." There were no specifics to the weed or anything like that, or how it happens, or what happens after that. But just that idea was what he had. And me and Evan just really ran with it, and built on it, and really tried to make it something interesting.
AVC: Are you worried about getting typecast as a stoner?
SR: Not really, considering I write these movies. [Laughs.] Never been a real concern of mine. [Laughs.] And again, we're somewhat, at this point, in charge of our own movie destinies. I don't care to prove anything. I don't sit there and think, "People need to know I can do something else!" I don't give a shit about that. But just for our own interest, it's fun to make different types of movies, like Green Hornet. There's no weed in that movie. [Laughs.] That should shake it up a bit.
AVC: Maybe, but he is called the Green Hornet.
SR: Exactly. We'll put the green in the Green Hornet.
AVC: In a lot of movies with stoner characters, there's a scene at the end where the smoker throws away the pot, to symbolize that they've changed. Was there ever any pressure for you to do that, to have an arc that was a little more "redemptive"?
SR: There was from Judd. If you ask Judd, he sees this as an anti-weed movie. I don't know what movie he's watching. [Laughs.] I can't imagine any outcome for this movie other than people watching it and wanting to smoke weed. But I think that's a testament to the fact that we really didn't put in any strong message when it comes to the weed. They don't say, "Hey, everyone should go smoke weed," they don't say "Hey, no one should." Each character deals with it in their own way. There is no definitive conclusion about it. Because again, to us, that's not what the movie is about. It's not about "Will these guys stop smoking weed?" It's about "Will they be friends with one another?" So we didn't feel like that was an issue that needed to be addressed, really. And we purposely didn't. Yeah, Judd definitely—we shot the version where I said, "Ah, I'm never smoking weed again," we just didn't use it. [Laughs.] I think it was probably—that scene in the diner [at the end of the film], I say something like, "You know, I just gotta try better in life." It kills me to do it. I don't know if I was able to form the sentence, "And not smoke weed anymore." I honestly don't know if I actually said that. They always do that in these movies. Like Half Baked again—I mean, I love that movie, but at the end, he quits smoking weed! And it's like, "What the fuck? Who do you think is watching this movie? You're gonna get all these stoners into the movie theater, basically tell them to get high and enjoy the ride, and then you're gonna make them all feel bad about it afterward?"
AVC: It's a buzzkill at the end.
SR: Exactly. So we really didn't want to do that. We knew—ideally, this movie would be for everyone, but if you smoke weed, then you're gonna be the first guy in line, and we don't wanna make that guy feel bad.
AVC: It seems like those movies are saying if you really want to be an adult, if you really want to accomplish something, you have to leave it in your past.
SR: I feel like… You don't look at these characters and think, "Man, these guys have got it all figured out, I want to be like those guys." So I don't think that. But I smoke weed, I know that if you've never smoked a cross joint and you see two guys smoking one, you're gonna want to fucking go home and smoke a cross joint. [Laughs.]
AVC: What happened at the MTV Movie Awards?
SR: They asked us to present an award to promote the movie. And it's almost impossible to come up with an interesting, funny way to present an award—it maybe has never been done, ever. So I had an idea that I thought was funny. I thought "Well, you know, everyone always asks what we're smoking, so it could be funny if we go up there and the whole joke is we say, 'This is what we smoke, it's fake weed,' and the joke is, we act like we're getting stoned." That was it—it was a simple joke, it's not like the fucking smartest thing ever, but I thought, you know, "It's something." And I e-mailed it to MTV and I was like, "Just let me know if you don't like it, just give me time to think of another thing if you don't." And that was it. And I got an e-mail back saying, "We love it! Go for it!" And then literally right before we were about to step onstage, "You can't do it." And we were like "We have nothing else, I don't know what the fuck you expect us to do." So we just did it. And they cut really wide, leaving us literally like an inch in size on the frame. And it made it seem weird, it made it seem like we weren't supposed to do it, even though they knew for weeks ahead of time, they gave us all the props we used. But I think they did it for their own publicity—you went to MTV's webpage the next day, and our image holding a giant bag of weed was the first thing that came up on their homepage. So clearly they weren't upset that we did it, otherwise they probably wouldn't have used it to market their awards show. The 100 percent reason we were there was to do publicity for the movie—I don't give a fuck about who wins an MTV Movie Award. And it did that, we got some press, and mission accomplished. [Laughs.]
AVC: When was the last time anybody talked about the MTV Movie Awards?
SR: Exactly. It was something that at least people talked about. It was like the headline on MSN.com. I was happy with how it went—I thought, "We did it! We did something interesting." It didn't go down exactly how we thought, but who gives a shit? Something happened.
AVC: It seems weird that MTV, which is demonized as leading youth astray, would be so terrified of a mild pot joke.
SR: I know, they cut wide on that, and literally the next thing on is The Real World, where there's a guy doing cocaine all night and threatening to kill his roommates. [Laughs.]
AVC: How did co-writing Drillbit Taylor compare to Superbad and Pineapple Express, which were obviously your babies?
SR: That was more of a gun-for-hire type gig. We wrote that in 2004, before 40-Year-Old Virgin was made. I was really just an unemployed writer at that point, looking for a job. That idea was something that Judd had heard was out there. And me and Kris Brown, my friend, had not worked in quite some time. Really, it was just a job, and I like the movie. I stand by the fact that if I was 12 years old, that is the exact movie that I would want go to see. It was a fun time writing it.
AVC: You were working from a story by John Hughes.
SR: Yeah, he had the idea for it, John Hughes. So we kind of tried to make a John Hughes movie. There was a lot of talk about, "What would John Hughes do?"
AVC: Was it just the treatment that he wrote, or did he write an entire draft of the script?
SR: No, literally he came—literally the phrase, "Kids hire bodyguard." [Laughs.] John Hughes got paid $3 million for that. No, I don't know how much. [Laughs.]
AVC: You're 26, and you've already accomplished more than most entertainers dream about in their entire career. What's left for you? What would you still like to accomplish?
SR: That's a good question. I just wanna keep making—if I just keep doing this, I'll be perfectly happy. I'm not really a goal-oriented guy. [Laughs.] I just gotta take it as it comes. I'm enjoying this, you know, I can just keep doing this. It's my goal to not make any giant-piece-of-shit movies.