In part one of our Seth Rogen interview, the actor let us in on how the creative aspect of 50/50 came together. Rogen dished working closely with his friend and the film’s screenwriter, Will Reiser, to capture his harrowing real life battle with cancer.
Now in part two of our Seth Rogen 50/50 interview, the star and producer of the incredible film talks about filming in his home city of Vancouver, how it occurred to Reiser and Rogen to bring their story of friendship overcoming cancer to the big screen and how one sells a cancer comedy.
Movie Fanatic: What did you like most about filming in Vancouver?
Seth Rogen: Well being from there, it was literally the most amount of time I’ve gotten to spend there probably since high school [laughs]. It was just a good excuse to be there. I got to hang out with my friends and my family, eat at the restaurants I like to eat at and go hang out at the places I like to hang out at. I mean, it was very personally gratifying for me. I’m sure my experience is different than your average person who goes and films a movie in Vancouver because, you know, I grew up there. It was funny, though. Me and Will Reiser (see our interview with Will Reiser) stayed at my parents’ house throughout the entire filming of the movie.
Movie Fanatic: Why did you have to add Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the last minute to the film?
Seth Rogen: James McAvoy was going to be in the movie, but he had to leave due to a family emergency.
Movie Fanatic: But what an actor you got in Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Seth Rogen: Well, he did it really fast. He got cast a week before we started filming the movie. We had around five days to prepare him for the role. That head-shaving scene was the first day of filming [laughs]. Joe had read the script a week before we shot that scene. I’ve known him a little tiny bit socially. I knew that he was into all sorts of other creative stuff. I knew that he had his website and I knew that he was interested in other approaches to film than the traditional one, which was exactly what we needed -- especially if we were going to find someone a week before we started filming to tackle a role of this intensity [laughs]. He was fearless once he signed on to do it. He just did it. He’s almost exactly the opposite in real life as he is in the movie. He’s like one of the most confident, articulate, expressive people I’ve ever met. It was great to work with him. It’s cliched to say it, but he made the scenes easy. He was always so present and just so good that it made it really easy for me to do what I was doing. It always felt really real and natural. We got along well, which was helpful. And he had a similar approach, which was improvising and trying different stuff. He wasn’t precious about it or too delicate about it like some actors might be.
Movie Fanatic: When did it occur to you and Will to make your life experience into a film?
Seth Rogen: We would joke about it while he was still sick, honestly. It was like the joke we would make to each other. I literally remember the night that we first started. We were at a bar and he was still sick and we started joking around like, “Oh, we should make an R-rated Bucket List about a dude who gets sick and they go (expletive) hookers and try heroin and stuff like that.” [Laughs] Yeah, we would literally just joke about it. Then it wasn’t until after he got better that we were like, “Seriously, you should write this into a movie.” He was a writer, you know. He wanted to write. So we thought, you just lived through this incredible thing and you kind of followed the story arc that a movie character follows and then a bunch of funny stuff happened, so why not just write about it?
Movie Fanatic: Has the experience of producing a movie changed how you deal with producers as a writer yourself?
Seth Rogen: You’ve kind of always got to feel it out. Different people react differently. I mean, we’re open to notes. We want the scripts to be as good as possible. And I guess the key is just working with people who you’re willing to listen to and who you think are actually going to make it better -- which was nice with Will because we’d known him a long time. So he was always really open to our notes and thoughts. It was never like he was shutting them out. Yeah, I guess the more we write the more your instinct is to listen to as few other people as possible, but we have a lot of guys who we write with who are our good friends. We send all of our scripts to them in every step of the process. They read it and give us very honest notes.
Movie Fanatic: Any advice you’d give to someone who’s just learned their friend is very, very sick?
Seth Rogen: I don’t know. I did not deal with it very well, as was illustrated in the movie. That’s a very personal thing. I wish I’d been at least a little bit more articulate about the fact that I was emotionally available to him as a friend. But at the same time, I mean, maybe that would’ve not helped things. Maybe that would’ve just bummed everybody out a little bit. It all turned out OK, we’re still really good friends, so it obviously didn’t ruin anything. I would say try to get something positive out of it. If we did one thing right, it’s that we took what happened and made something positive out of it. I think that was a good thing.
Movie Fanatic: Honestly you have one of the best movies of the year on your hands. But, do you think it will still be hard to sell a comedy about cancer?
Seth Rogen: It’s tough. Every movie presents marketing challenges. I like to think that we as producers -- if there’s one thing most of our movies have in common -- it’s that we’re kind of good at cracking how to do a trailer for a movie that is not traditionally done before. And I like the trailers for the movie and the marketing. I think the first decision you have to make is to not shy away from what the movie’s about. I think you have to let people know it’s about cancer and then let them know that it’s not (expletive) miserable to watch. That was kind of our entire goal with the marketing -- to really represent what the movie is and really let them know that it’s honest and what it’s about. It’s going to be a very truthful experience, but at the same time it’s funny and it’s ultimately an enjoyable experience. That was really our goal. And I think that people go to movies about much more graphically horrific things than this -- and those movies aren’t funny -- so I think people are open to it, honestly. I would go to this movie.