The genesis for Seth Rogen's new film, currently shooting in the Vancouver area, can be traced back to an out-there, what-if question with tons of potential.
"Seth came to work one day and was like, 'If Charlie Rose or someone got to interview [Osama] bin Laden, why wouldn't they just kill him? They'd be saving so many people,'" recalls Evan Goldberg, Rogen's long-time creative collaborator and old Vancouver high-school pal. "And then we started to be like, 'That'd be a good movie.'"
Goldberg is telling the story on the set of their new film The Interview, which imagines such a scenario not with Osama bin Laden but instead with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. When American celebrity interviewer Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer (Rogen) snag a sit-down with Kim, they get roped into an assassination plot.
"This movie actually has a message unlike anything we've ever done ever, beside the message of like, be a good friend. … And because it's about such serious stuff, it makes making jokes way easier. Like Seth and I this morning were saying I think the crew is laughing more on this than anything we've ever done," Goldberg says.
They knew immediately that they could not write a comedy about bin Laden; audiences were not going to laugh about anything associated with 9/11, and the subject matter is entirely fraught.
"The Middle East is like a super hornet's nest as we like to say at work," Goldberg says. "It's a hornet's nest and it's supercomplicated and people are heavily opinionated and have strong feelings and we would offend somebody."
North Korea, however, is different, he says: "It's a pretty cut-and-dried situation. It's crazy over there and it's not cool. They're very freedomless."
So the Charlie Rose-kills-bin-Laden idea quickly morphed into an assassination in North Korea, first with Kim Jong-il. After he died, it was reworked to target his son, the new leader Kim Jong-un.
For this film, slated for release in October 2014, Rogen is wearing a bunch of hats – along with acting, he's also producing, writing and co-directing with Goldberg.
"I find when I'm acting and I'm the director, it is a little different," Rogen says. "I get distracted. If something isn't going how I'd like it, then I'm more likely to not perform as well as an actor than I would if it was someone else's problem that it wasn't going well."
If there's pressure associated with that, it certainly doesn't come across on set, where the atmosphere is relaxed and hilarious. It's the kind of set where the co-stars could manage to take a break from North Korea to spoof the steamy Kanye West/Kim Kardashian clip for West's song Bound 2, recreating the music video shot for shot – with Franco as Kanye and Rogen, unforgettably, as Kardashian.
It feels in many ways like old home week, with frequent collaborators Rogen, Goldberg and Franco teaming up with old friends Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, whom Goldberg met at McGill University; they both worked with him on This Is The End, 50/50 and Goon. Here, they are executive producers and spend their days on set, writing jokes.
New to the gang is Diana Bang, a member of the Vancouver sketch comedy troupe Assaulted Fish, who took a leave of absence from her receptionist job at an engineering firm to play North Korea's director of communications – her biggest film role by far.
"I'm in a lot of scenes with Seth and with James and they're very supportive," she says. "They are helping me and lifting me and carrying me. So in that way it's great. I feel like I'm catching up to them just because they've been … working together forever."
It might be intimidating for someone like Bang to be on set improvising with the likes of Rogen and Franco, but she says they immediately put her at ease.
"They crack up at anything," she says. "They're such good laughers."