Exclusive: Seth Rogen on The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet may not be the best-known comic book character out there, especially if you’re under 40. After all, he started off on radio serials in the ’30s, shifted into comics in the ’50s, then ended up on television in the ’60s, before taking a long hiatus. That strange history has left the character wide open for reinterpretation and who better to revive the character but one of the 21st Century’s most prevalent comic talent, Seth Rogen?

Sure, it may not have seemed like the most obvious match when first announced, but the third movie Rogen has written with his regular collaborator Evan Goldberg follows a similar trajectory as their previous two, Superbad and The Pineapple Express, in the way it reinvents a genre with their distinctive take on things, joined on this particular journey by eclectic filmmaker Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

Rogen is quite convincing as Britt Reid, a spoiled rich kid who decides to use his inheritance to fund his fight for crime, choosing to pose as a bad guy to get closer to those he hopes to stop. Helping him out (and doing most of the actual fighting) is his chauffeur and butler Kato, a martial arts expert and a whiz with electronics and motor vehicles, who helps Britt become the Green Hornet. Kato was played in the ’60s television show by none other than Bruce Lee, a hard act to follow for sure, but Rogen and Gondry found an incredible talent in Chinese martial artist Jay Chou, who Rogen allows to steal more than a few scenes. Joining the duo is Cameron Diaz, doing what she does best by being funny and sexy, and Inglourious Basterds‘ Christoph Waltz portraying another memorable screen villain

SuperHeroHype had a chance to sit down with Rogen, the guy who had a lot at stake with his unconventional take on a little-known pulp hero. It was a really comfortable, casual and fun interview where the actor ended many of his answers with his hearty trademark laugh, making it clear how much he’s like his characters in Knocked Up and Funny People even if he does pull off the heroic lead quite well when put up to the test.

SuperHeroHype: Back in 2008, when you were here for "Pineapple Express," you were already talking about "The Green Hornet" back then.
Seth Rogen:
Yeah, I know. (laughs)

SHH: It hadn’t filmed yet, but you obviously had a really good idea what you wanted to do with it but it still took a long time for people to actually picture what you were trying to do, because a lot of people just couldn’t picture it at all. They didn’t know the character, hadn’t seen you do anything like it, so in the time since then, what’s been the biggest surprise from your concept to how the movie came out?
Rogen:
I’m surprised that it actually worked, honestly! I’m surprised that we got to make it in a lot of ways. I’m honestly surprised that creatively it remained interesting to us after all that time and under that much scrutiny. It’s such a big movie. The studio was just so much more aware of it than they are a movie like "Pineapple Express" or "Superbad" that there were times that you just start to question, "Is it possible to make a good movie of this size?" (laughs) I mean, honestly, going into it, you would think, "How do they make so many big sh*tty movies?" Now I’m just like, "How do they make any good big movies?" (laughs) It just seems completely counter-intuitive, so the fact that when I watched the movie, I’m actually creatively excited about it and think we really do some interesting, subversive stuff is really surprising to me ultimately, and ultimately very exciting also, because I think it is one of these big, commercial movies, but there’s a lot of stuff in it that’s really weird. (laughs)

SHH: Back when we spoke two years ago, Michel wasn’t involved, and when he came on, that was another factor where everyone was like, "It’s weird that Michel Gondry is going to do this big superhero movie." I just loved the movie and thought it worked in a similar way as Sam Raimi doing "Spider-Man"…
Rogen:
Aw, thanks!

SHH: Yeah, he really nailed what makes those movies work.
Rogen:
Yeah, he really did.

SHH: Was it easy for him to get into that kind of head or was it working with Producer Neal Moritz and having Neal balance the commercial studio side of it while letting him do his thing?
Rogen:
It was kind of all of us. I think Neal’s on one far end of the spectrum and Gondry is on the other far end of the spectrum, and me and Evan are kind of in the middle, and that’s really how it worked generally. Neal, God bless him, is very commercially-oriented, and Gondry, God bless him, will, if left to his own devices, at times, abandon any and all comprehension for anyone other than himself just to kind of live out this image that he has. Me and Evan I think are pretty good at being somewhere in the middle. I think our movies, they’ve commercially done well and creatively, we’ve gone for it in some ways, and so we kind of became the balancers of all of it, but I have to say, going into it, Gondry was very clear about the fact that he wanted to make a big movie that had a broad appeal and he didn’t want it to be one of his weird little movies that barely anybody saw. He was very articulate about that, which is very reassuring that it’s a choice. I think a lot of people underestimate how much control filmmakers have over their products ultimately, and I don’t think people would assume that a filmmaker just would choose to make a movie that not a lot of people want to go see, but they do all the time, and that it’s literally a creative choice as to how broad an appeal your movie will have. We all talked about how we wanted this movie to have a very broad appeal and that meant really just watching, "Is this something that will alienate people? Is this something that is removing us from the world of these types of movies to a degree that people will just hate?" That was really a part of the balance, because we wanted to be kind of subverting the superhero genre and commenting on it in a way, but at the same time, not alienating it, because those movies do well and they have a lot of fans, and you don’t want to say, "F*ck you if you like superhero movies." You want to say, "Here’s a different version of them."

SHH: It’s funny because there are all different levels of qualities of superhero movies… There’s good ones, there’s bad ones…
Rogen:
Oh, yeah!

SHH: And sometimes, the bad ones do really well, while the good ones get lost in the shuffle…
Rogen:
Yeah, it’s totally crazy, right? Like "Kick-Ass" did not do that well, and I thought it was amazing. It’s true, so it’s really tricky, especially with the superhero movies, and I think the key is obviously to… I think the online press is very misleading also when it comes to these movies. I think people who are making them will read these webpages and really think that that’s an actual barometer for the rest of the world, and it isn’t in any way shape or form, and I think that some people fall victim to buying into the vocal few.

SHH: Well, that’s the thing. You have to get to the non-comic fans with a superhero movie, that’s why "Spider-Man" succeeded, because it got to the other people.
Rogen:
Exactly! And I think that a movie like "Kick-Ass" like was so focused on winning over those comic book people that they lost sight of the fact that they actually had a really commercial movie that everyone would have really liked.

SHH: I also realized that you and Evan helped transition David Gordon Green to directing studio movies as well.
Rogen:
Yeah, and Mottola. It’s kind of become our trick, is to hire a very cheap independent filmmaker (laughs) and put them on a big commercial movie. Yeah, and it worked so well with Greg and David… and we really also like working with writer/directors. All three of those guys have written their own movies in the past, and so, to us, it was really always as valuable to have someone that really comes in with a strong set of ideas. I think some people would hate that process or be intimidated by the notion of having to accommodate this other strong creative voice, but to us, that’s what makes the movies interesting. The reason "Pineapple Express" is how it is is David has such a weird sense of sensibilities, and me and Evan worked with him to wrap it all in together, and I think that’s why our movies–even though we’ve written all of them–feel really different, because we encourage the directors to inject their own sensibilities in them. We don’t want someone to just execute what we’ve written. We would never say, "Here’s a script, how would you shoot it?" We really want them to add their own sensibility to it.

SHH: If this does really well, who do you think you might get next? Gaspar Noé or maybe Lars von Trier?
Rogen:
Exactly! (laughs) That would be amazing, the Gaspar Noé superhero movie. (laughs) I rape Kato for 15 minutes. (laughs)

SHH: It’s funny you mentioned "Kick-Ass" because this did remind me of that in some ways. I’m not sure if you’ve seen James Gunn’s movie yet.
Rogen:
I did actually.

SHH: This is sort of in a similar vein, because it’s about a guy who doesn’t really have any skills or talents who decides to be a hero and fight crime, in this case because he has the money to do so. Though you’ve done a more accessible version of that. So when you saw those movies were coming around, were you worried that they might be similar in tone to what you were doing?
Rogen:
In some degree. I guess any time you’re making a certain type of movie, any time another movie like that comes out, you’re like, "Oh, sh*t, are we going to have to like…?" I was worried that… because Britt Reid’s drinking the whole movie, we were worried that "Iron Man 2" would do the "Demon in a Bottle" thing–which they didn’t, thank God!–so yeah, every time one of these movies comes up, you’re like, "Oh, sh*t, does it screw up something we’re doing?" You do kind of watch it with that in your head a little bit, but luckily, it never did. I remember watching "Kick-Ass" and not thinking that it stepped on anything we’re doing, and I really liked it and felt like it did explore a similar idea and same with "Super." But "Super" is just so ballistic and insane… (laughs)… but I really liked it, too. You do watch them with a slight part of your brain just thinking, "Is this f*cking up our sh*t?" (laughs)

SHH: One thing I don’t think I ever really knew was how "The Green Hornet" even came up and was on your radar. Was that something you found or something that was suggested to you?
Rogen:
Yeah, we were filming "Pineapple Express," we were kind of looking for something else to write, and yeah, we got a call saying, "Green Hornet is looking for writers and there are a few writers coming in and pitching their (version)…"

SHH: Oh, so they already had the property.
Rogen:
Yeah, they had the property, Neal Moritz had it, and yeah, and they were like, "And do you guys have a take on it?" We instantly were like, "Britt and Kato, can’t work out the relationship." It was just so simple, and the more we watched the old show, the more it just fed it, more and more. It’s like, "He’s getting him coffee, it’s crazy! He just saved his life!"

SHH: Did you actually have access to the old show, because it’s not like it’s being aired anywhere?
Rogen:
Oh, yeah. It was hard to find them on DVDs but we got them, and we just saw how crazy it was in a lot of ways, this relationship they had, and we just thought it was very indicative of every superhero sidekick relationship, like Batman and Robin even. It was just such a funny dynamic we thought, is that these guys are essentially partners, but for some reason, one guy is the hero and one guy is the sidekick and "How would that really make you feel?" That was the core of the idea, and that was it realy. That’s all we pitched to them. "It’s about Britt and Kato and they don’t get along." (laughs)

SHH: The other crazy thing about the original show is that they don’t get along, but also the fact that his sidekick was Bruce Lee and he was an icon and most people won’t even know who played the original Green Hornet on TV.
Rogen:
Exactly!

SHH: So with that in mind, let’s talk about Jay Chou. Obviously, you knew he could do the martial arts stuff, but how did you know he could pull off the humor and really stand toe-to-toe in scenes with you and Cameron Diaz.
Rogen:
Yeah, I mean we read with him, that was the only way to know. We flew him in from Taiwan, and we read with him on camera. Me and him acted out a lot of the scenes together, and just read the script essentially, and we really just had to see if it would work, but we read a lot of guys, and he was just super-cool more than anything. It really just worked. The idea that I would be in charge of him was preposterous. He was just clearly so capable and confident and awesome, that the notion that I would be a leader was what fed the whole idea. Seeing us together, it just worked, and he was just funny. I’m sure they’ll put the audition tape on the DVD or something like that, but he could just do so much by doing so little and it just worked really well. It was such a tough decision ultimately who would be Kato and we knew that would make or break the movie in a lot of ways. He worked hard and he nailed it. He’s like super-cool.

SHH: He really could be like Jet Li in the "Lethal Weapon" movie, and he could be a big star here if someone finds the right part for him to do next.
Rogen:
Yeah, I hope he does keep working, and I’m sure he’d like to, but he doesn’t need the work. (laughs)

SHH: Are you and Evan writing or developing other stuff to do next?
Rogen:
Yup.

SHH: Have you been too busy acting in other movies?
Rogen:
No, we’ve been writing. We’ve been writing our apocalypse movie, which is coming along.

SHH: For you and Jay Baruchel?
Rogen:
Yeah, it’s crazy. (laughs) It’s kind of a horror-comedy. We like those movies like "The Mist" where it’s a bunch of people like trapped in a place together and something horrible is happening outside, so that’s probably what it will be like.

SHH: It literally is what the title says, "Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse"?
Rogen:
Yeah, exactly. (laughs)

SHH: Maybe that will be a good project for Gaspar Noé to direct.
Rogen:
Yeah, exactly! (laughs)

SHH: He’s actually a pretty cool guy and he’s actually less weird in person than you would expect.
Rogen:
I heard that he’s not that weird. I haven’t seen his new movie ("Enter the Void"), I heard it’s great.

SHH: You don’t have to smoke pot before watching it. It makes you feel like you did anyway.
Rogen:
I heard it’s like the trippiest thing. I’m excited to see that, I heard it’s awesome.

SHH: What about some of the other things you’ve been attached to? I know that DreamWorks was going to give you your own film, "Boo U," is that something you’ve been working on?
Rogen:
I’ve done no work on it thus far. (Laughs) Apparently, it’s going to happen, but I think in 2083… (laughs)

SHH: Well, they have to do your voicework first before they do any animation.
Rogen:
Yeah, exactly, it takes a while. I’m not sure when that’s supposed to come out, but I’m relatively confident that it’s actually going to happen. (laughs)

SHH: I think you actually have to make the movie before they release it.
Rogen:
You do? That’s too bad. (laughs)

SHH: Or maybe they can take your voice from all the other animated movies you’ve done and piece it together.
Rogen:
I know. They have it all somewhere. It’s funny. I was recording something for "Kung Fu Panda 2" and they’re like, "We just need a laugh in the microphone" and I’m like, "You don’t have my laugh? There isn’t a big DreamWorks vault somewhere with Seth Rogen’s laugh in it somewhere? I’m sure there is."

SHH: They probably have every actor’s laugh in there.
Rogen:
Yeah, exactly… Eddie Murphy’s laugh, Seth Rogen’s laugh, Mike Myer’s laugh…

SHH: What else have you been up to? I know you’ve done some cool independent stuff including a movie with Sarah Polley?
Rogen:
Yeah, I did Sarah Polley’s movie "Take This Waltz," with Michelle Williams, which was really awesome and I look forward to seeing it. I’ve seen none of it so far.

SHH: Was it a little more comedic than her last movie?
Rogen:
It has comedic elements, but it’s definitely and generally a more serious movie than I’ve generally done I would say. But there’s definitely funny parts to it. Sarah Silverman is in it, she plays my sister, and there’s a lot of very funny people in it so…

SHH: "Away From Her" was so serious, I couldn’t imagine what she would do to follow that.
Rogen:
Yeah, it was great. She was amazing. I had an amazing time working with Michelle and Sarah and Sara, with both Sarahs and Michelle. (laughs)

SHH: Do you know what you’re going to shoot next or do you have anything shooting soon?
Rogen:
No actually. I have nothing that I am officially going to start making next right now. We really want to write and we’re working on the apocalypse thing, and we’re trying to make an R-rated Pixar-style movie (laughs), which has been difficult to get going.

SHH: After finally finishing this movie, do you see it at all as a franchise and like you’d want to do more movies with these characters or has it been such a process that it has to be its own thing?
Rogen:
No, I would do it again. I think realistically, the only reason studios make these movies is to develop them into franchises from their perspective (laughs) so creatively, you don’t get into something like this not knowing that that’s the direction it would take. Thank God, it’s something that creatively something that we’re still into and we like the idea and the characters and we think that there’s more we could do with it, but we haven’t started writing it or anything yet. (laughs)

SHH: Gotta wait until January 15 for that.
Rogen:
Yeah, exactly. (laughs)

The Green Hornet opens on Friday, January 14. Look for more interviews and other fun stuff about the movie the rest of the week!