Seth Rogen Is Surprised More People Don't Hate Him

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SETH ROGEN
Seth Rogen stars in "Neighbors." | Jason LaVeris via Getty Images

Seth Rogen has portrayed a great many man-children in his career, but few adults. That changes somewhat with "Neighbors," which finds Rogen playing a 32-year-old married father who, along with his wife (Rose Byrne), begins warring with the college fraternity that moves in next door.

"I kind of played idiots for years and years and years, so [being an adult] didn't really sink in that much," Rogen told HuffPost Entertainment during a recent interview. "But I'm happy to make a movie where I'm able to play someone who is going through the same stuff I'm going through, but still has the sense of humor that I like, which is infantile and stupid."

Rogen's comedic perspective courses through "Neighbors" (out May 9), which includes jokes about dildos, weed and his weight. It's not a total surprise, despite the fact that he isn't credited with writing the script: Rogen -- who is married (to actress Lauren Anne Miller), but not a father -- produced the Nicholas Stoller comedy. It now stands as the third film to arrive in theaters via Point Grey Pictures, a company Rogen started with Evan Goldberg, his long-time friend and collaborator, and James Weaver. (A fourth film, "The Interview," which Rogen co-directed with Goldberg, and also stars in with James Franco, is out later this year.)

In person, Rogen is as affable and funny as one might imagine -- his signature laugh is never far from the conversation -- but he's also thoughtful, attentive and attuned to what makes a comedy work. Ahead, Rogen discusses his duty as a producer, the reactions to the "Bound 2" parody video he made with James Franco and why he's surprised people still like him.

This movie really feels like it's in your voice, even though you weren't the writer. As a producer, how much time did you and Evan put into the script?
We worked on it a lot. We had the writers [Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien], re-write it a lot. We sat with them, literally in a room, for weeks and weeks on end. We went through things and questioned everything. It's a very collaborative process. The script becomes an ever-evolving thing. You can't be afraid of making big-idea changes. The things that kind of change the concept of the whole movie will sometimes come up three weeks before filming. Once an idea seems good, then you have to do it, and that's what we do. Or, once an idea seems bad, you have to fix it. I think a lot of people maybe aren't as hard on their stuff. Or, if they are hard on it and see there's a problem, decide not to fix it because they're too close to production or because it's not that big of a deal. We really try to make it where it gets to the point where we can stand behind everything in it with 100 percent confidence. We've tried to punch every hole into it that we can. If it holds up, it holds water, as we always say.

Do you have an example of that kind of 11th hour curveball on "Neighbors"?
Pretty far along the road is when we realized that the relationship between my character and my wife should actually be the focal point of the movie. For a long time, it was about me and my friends, and my wife character was the exact wife character you would expect in a movie like this. Then we realized, "Oh, we're doing the exact stupid fucking thing that everyone does." None of us have relationships with our wives that are like that. We all have fun with our wives, and our wives like to do fun shit, too. We get along with our wives! Once we realized that, it literally changed the entire movie. It became such an exciting and interesting idea to us, that we couldn't reject it. We had to go with it.

You mentioned standing behind everything in a script, and you always seem like a pretty self-aware person. Can you anticipate what people will have problems with before the movies come out?
Yeah, usually. There are some things that we do that there's no way that some people won't [get upset]. If anything, though, I'm surprised by how much people are willing to go with, and how much we've been able to get away with. Then I'm also surprised when people will attack us for the stupidest fucking thing. I'm like, "Really?"

In general or on this movie in particular?
Just in general. It's like, "That's what we're getting attack for?" I read some things where people thought the thing James Franco and I did with the Kanye video was homophobic. To me, that was ludicrous. We so weren't even viewing it through that lens. It's so funny for someone to project our motivations and comedic intentions with it onto us. But, if anything, I'm pleased with what we're able to get away. We test the movies a lot. It's no mistake that most of the jokes work. Some audiences see versions of our movies that are offensive and do have stuff that should not be in there [laughs]. We just try to filter things out. It's like addition by subtraction a lot of the time. It's just getting rid of the shit that people don't like.

Like what?
Sometimes it's the smallest thing. Like the joke Jason Mantzoukas has in "Neighbors": "Your baby has HIV." We first tested it and there was twice as much time between when he says that and when he says the next thing: "Which is how bad this could have been." In the current cut of the movie, it's two seconds. In that other version, it was four seconds. The difference between the two and four seconds was so vast that it literally ruined the next 20 minutes of the movie. You could feel that we had dug a hole that we had to comedically claw our way out of. People were just like, "What the fuck?" They hated it. Then the next screening, we were like, "What if we just made it less time?" All of a sudden, it's one of the biggest laughs in the whole movie. That was surprising. That little difference can allow you to get away with a joke like that.

Did you anticipate that joke would be a problem?
As we filmed that, I was like, "There is no fucking way this will be in the movie." Of the two hours we spent filming that scene, we spent 10 minutes doing that joke and an hour and 50 minutes doing other jokes. I thought we had to get other shit. I did not think it was going to work. Then it works! It's always thrilling and, at times, disappointing, what people actually laugh at.

Do you ever shy away from a joke because you think it'll be too controversial?
No. I think if anything we lean into ideas that we know will draw some criticism. We like things that are kind of slightly edgy, I guess. Not safe, necessarily. Ideas that conceptually seem like they wouldn't work.

There are a lot of jokes like that in "Neighbors." Ike Barinholtz gets a huge laugh just by saying rape.
That again is one where I was like, "No." When he did it, I literally laughed for 25 minutes, but I was not confident that it would play well in a movie theater. Then it did, and you're just like, "Jesus fucking Christ!"

Why do you think that kind of joke works?
Because his character is dumb and it's not mean-spirited. The joke is always how dumb we are. We're never making fun of someone or a group of people or making light of a horrible thing. We're making fun of our perspectives on it. In that case, it's how dumb he would be to suggest that. Some people get that and some people totally don't get that. But, in general, more people get it than I would think.

That's got to be nice for you.
It is nice for me. I'm not hated as much as I feel like I could be. I could be way more hated.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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