I should have known it was a silly question. But here’s why I asked: At the movies these days, I’m seeing lots of “possessions porn”: long scenes of people wandering through monster homes, stopping awestruck to revel in their stuff – from the 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles through Baz Luhrmann’s loot-loving The Great Gatsby and the kandy-koloured krime sprees of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and Sofia Coppola’s latest, The Bling Ring. A defining moment occurs in Spring Breakers, when a criminal (James Franco) who’s showing off his bounty jumps up and down on his bed, crowing, “Look at all my shit! Look at my shit!”
Then I saw the new comedy This Is the End, which opened Wednesday. It’s written and directed by long-time friends and collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express). In it, Rogen and some of his real-life posse, including Franco, Jay Baruchel, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill – playing exaggerated, “I knew he was a jerk!” versions of themselves – go to a party at Franco’s manse and end up facing the apocalypse together. It’s hilarious, but I did note that in between the frolicking and the hellfire, the movie takes a few real-estate detours.
First, Rogen gives Baruchel a tour of his spanking new house; then Franco shows off his sleek aerie, with its vast art collection (it’s actually a set, built in a warehouse in Louisiana, where the movie was shot); then our heroes, scavenging for food, take time to comment on how nice a neighbour’s place is.
So when Rogen and Goldberg came to Toronto in late May, I had to ask: Do they, these nice Vancouver boys, who met in bar-mitzvah class, ever feel odd seeing their friends in huge Hollywood houses, attending star-packed parties, and being the masters of so much stuff?
A beat passes. They look at each other. “It’s not that weird,” Goldberg answers.
“It’s mostly awesome,” Rogen admits.
Yeah, what I was thinking? If there’s anything not great about being Rogen and Goldberg at this moment, we didn’t get to it. The epicentre of comedy circa now is their sandbox. Their next three projects are set (one is Townies, a frat house vs. yuppie showdown starring Zac Efron). When they made The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand, even she dished dirt with them.
“She smoked weed with Peter Sellers,” Rogen says.
“The way she started dating Pierre Trudeau was, she was flipping through Life magazine with a girlfriend, looking for a guy to date,” Goldberg says. “She saw his picture, he was wearing sandals, and she thought, ‘That’s sassy.’ And she pursued him.”
“I love that that’s how Barbra Streisand finds her men,” Rogen adds, with his signature stutter-chuckle.
Everyone asks me if that laugh is real. It is – and if I were he, I wouldn’t be able to stop laughing either.
“We work a lot,” Goldberg says, “but we have the best situation you could possibly have: Sometimes we don’t want to leave work, because it’s so much fun. I don’t think many accountants have that.”
Sure, it took six years for the duo to convince a studio that the short they’d made, Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, could be expanded to the feature This Is the End, but that’s partly because they were busy with other things, and partly because studios were nervous about stars mocking their images. “No one in Hollywood wants to do anything first,” Rogen says. “They admit that to your face. But to us, this kind of movie was inevitable. The questions are so prevalent in the culture: What are celebrities like? What are they not like? Are they aware of how they’re perceived? As movie fans, we knew it would be funny.”
“As with most of our movies, it’s a stupid, dumb idea, but with a true emotional story that people relate to,” about male friendship, Goldberg says. “Sometimes studios forget that’s our thing.”
Mostly, it was a matter of hitting the right budget number: Once the duo settled on $32-million (they’d originally asked for $45-million), they got free rein. “It’s what we plan to do for the rest of our careers – find the number where they let us do whatever we want,” Goldberg says.
The two co-directed as they co-wrote, hashing out ideas in advance, and leaving plenty of room for improvising on the day.
Almost every celeb they invited along accepted (one exception: Daniel Radcliffe didn’t like the part they’d written for him; and, they admitted, it wasn’t very good), and everyone did “whatever we asked,” Rogen says, chuckling. “Everyone who’d trusted us in the past about doing something ridiculous had seen it pay off. They’d seen us not mishandle their disgusting efforts.”
So Emma Watson wields an axe, Mindy Kaling chases tail, and Channing Tatum sports an unexpected getup. For one scene, Rihanna wound up punching Michael Cera in the ear so hard that, says Goldberg, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he had permanent damage.”
“At least he’s got a good story,” Rogen chimes in.
As well, there’s an inordinate emphasis on the genitalia of computer-generated demons – exactly the kind of detail two chuckleheads with all the crayons money can buy might get obsessed with.
“What’s with the penises?” I ask.
“Dicks are funny,” Goldberg answers, shrugging.
“They’re just funny,” Rogen echoes.
“In Superbad we had penis drawings, done by my brother, who’s a lawyer,” Goldberg elaborates. “At one point we said, ‘Try some breast and vagina drawings.’”
“They weren’t funny,” Rogen says.
“Here’s why,” Goldberg continues. “When you show a dick on screen, all the women are like, ‘Ha, silly dicks,’ and the men are like, ‘Haha, it’s a dick.’ When you show a vagina, the men go, ‘Ooh.’ No matter how funny you make the vagina, some guys in the audience will be, like [here, his face becomes transfixed, and speaks in a zombie voice], ‘It’s a vagina!’ And the girls see the guys doing that, and they’re like, ‘Ugh.’ And then the comedy’s not happening.”
“It’s true,” Rogen says, mock-sadly. “Horniness and comedy are conflicting emotions.” He brightens. “But everyone can laugh at a dick.”
They’re on a roll now; I couldn’t stop them if I tried.
“At first the demons had no penises,” Rogen says. “We were trying to be mature.”
“Yeah, we made this $500,000 CG creature and we didn’t put a joke on it,” Goldberg says. They tried a tiny penis, but it wasn’t funny. “You need a big ol’ floppy one,” Rogen says.
“If we had a nickel for every time we discussed the shadows of penises,” Goldberg says, and both men chortle – because they’re swimming in a sea of nickels, and what’s not to love about that?
“Everyone knows that in Hollywood, when you’re hot, you’ve got to run with it,” Goldberg says, “because eventually they kick you out. So we’re running with it.”
“But we can’t fully acknowledge how great it is, because then we’re assholes,” Rogen finishes. “In our circle, everyone shoots everyone down. It keeps you humble.”
The better to appreciate all your great stuff.