Comedian, actor, producer and director Seth Rogen got his first acting gig on the Judd Apatow produced TV show “Freaks and Geeks” back in the 90’s. Going on to star in many of Apatow’s feature films (middle aged chastity outing “The 40 Year Old Virgin” in 2005, pregnancy drama “Knocked Up” in 2007, and stand-up comedian centric “Funny People” in 2009) Rogen has a fair number of Hollywood comedies under his belt, as well as working on TV shows – including staff writing for Sacha Baron Cohen on “Da Ali G Show” when it was broadcast by HBO in the States. Forming a friendship with Ali G producer Will Reiser, Rogen stood by his friend as he suffered from a life threatening form of cancer and the pair have now worked together on comedy-drama, “50/50”, about these experiences (played on screen by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam who fights the disease, and Rogen as Kyle – a finely veiled version of himself). We caught the Canadian funny man as he was on the promotion trail earlier this month to quiz him about comedy, cancer and his on-screen characters.
Cancer is not the most obvious vehicle for a comedy – so how do you make this subject funny?
I think you can’t make cancer funny and we didn’t want to make cancer funny. I think you can make people’s reactions to it funny and that’s what our experience was. I think if Will hadn’t got sick and we hadn’t all been there for it and we hadn’t seen first hand how absurd the stuff that surrounds something as tragic as cancer is then we wouldn’t have even thought to make this movie. But as we were experiencing it we couldn’t reference a movie that felt like what we were going through so it was more like let’s just not be afraid to be funny in telling this cancer story. It always seems other movies that have talked the subject always seem to suck the humour out of them. We’re embracing the fact that funny shit happens sometimes.
Was it difficult to find a balance between the funny side and the tragic side?
Not really. When I think of the challenges that went into making this movie, it was more just making sure it was all good and honest and with real feeling. I was never worried for Will and if it was going to be weird to transition from the humour to the serious stuff. This isn’t the kind of film you can pitch, really [to film studios]. But we knew it was smart to make it cheaply as it’s the type of movie that if you do it right it will make enough money to make sense for [the studio] making it. Plus it was really well written. Even thought we improvised a lot – it started out as a really good script so that was really helpful.
The type of cancer in the film –
Yes! One of the other characters is like “I didn’t even know that existed” and I was sitting in the theatre thinking “I didn’t know either” and instantly started freaking out. Is 50/50 a film for hypochondriacs to watch?
[Laughs] Probably because he lives in the end so it’s inspirational! It’s a lot better than most cancer movies!
As this film is based on you and your friends experiences of dealing with his diagnosis and treatment. is your character, Kyle, based on yourself?
I think our dynamic is pretty representative of what our real dynamic was like. He was neurotic and complained a lot and I was an asshole and made fun of him. But, I mean, when I watch it I don’t feel like I’m watching myself. It’s more a representation. For example, we would joke about him using [the disease] to get girls but we never actually did it. And I would make light of it but never as insensitively as in the movie.
For the most part, the roles that you take on are always pretty good guys who seem like they’d make a good friend – are you a good friend to have in real life?
To some people. Maybe not all. It depends on who you ask. What’s interesting about [living in Hollywood – where Rogen has lived for 13 years] is that it’s a city entirely populated by people with similar interests so that kind of makes it easy to make friends because no matter who you speak to, odds are they like movies and television. I’m still friends with the same people I first was friends with when I came here. I definitely got lucky and was working with a group of people who were nice and talented and got on well. But I don’t think it’s any more difficult to make friends in LA than any other city in the world.
Yeah. In London it can be quite tough.
What? There’s pubs everywhere! How can you not?
Well that’s my problem. I get so wasted I don’t remember meeting people.
So you made a lot of friends working on Da Ali G Show – is it true that is also where you met your wife [actress/producer Lauren Miller]?
No, actually. Will introduced me to my wife – while he was sick – at a bar. We were kind of set up a little. He invited us both and we met.
And you were recently wed – how is married life going? Is the promotional trail part of your honeymoon?
Exactly! It’s going great! She’s in Los Angeles, I’m in London! [Laughs] We’ve been together a really long time. It’s not one of those rushed into situations. We’ve been together six and a half years and it’s really fun to get married and no one tells you that. With all the stuff you associate with getting married no one tells you that your own wedding is really fun. It’s the one time you get to have a huge party and only have people there that you actually like and from all over the country or the world. I have a lot of friends back home in Vancouver and I have friends in LA so it’s very rare all those people are in the same place. I had more fun at my wedding then any other wedding I’ve been to.
50/50 is out now
Interview: Seamus Duff