Seth Rogen is no Christian Bale. A scruffy, mild-mannered Canadian whose voice is laced in sarcasm, with seemingly every statement punctuated by a “Huh-Huh-Huh” chuckle, Rogen is best known for his stoner-slacker roles in films like “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express.” Even his bodily transformation for his role as billionaire playboy-cum-masked vigilante Britt Reid in THE GREEN HORNET wasn’t nearly as drastic as Bale’s – Rogen merely went from pudgy to out-of-shape. He is, in many ways, the anti-superhero.
First conceived as a radio program in 1936, then a comic, then a short-lived TV series in the 1960s – most notable for the first stateside appearance of martial artist Bruce Lee as the ass-kicking chauffeur, Kato – Britt Reid (a.k.a. The Green Hornet) is the original billionaire playboy (sorry, Bruce Wayne). Unlike Batman, however, The Green Hornet suffered a far more arduous journey to the big screen. The property was first being shopped around in 1992 with George Clooney attached in the title role, until he left to film “Batman and Robin.” Then, in 1997, Michel Gondry signed on to make his directorial debut with Mark Wahlberg in the lead, but it was stuck in development hell, and all parties left. In 2000, Jet Li was attached to play Kato, but again things fizzled. Then, in 2004, Miramax president Harvey Weinstein hired cult filmmaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith to write and direct the film, and Smith approached Jake Gyllenhaal for the lead, but by 2006, Smith left the project.
Finally, in 2007, producer Neal Moritz (“The Fast and the Furious” films) obtained the rights, optioned them to Columbia Pictures, and hired Seth Rogen to star as Reid and co-write the screenplay with his writing partner, Evan Goldberg (the duo wrote “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” together). Stephen Chow (“Kung Fu Hustle”) signed on to direct and star as Kato, and Nicolas Cage was in talks to play the villain, but Chow soon left, and Cage reportedly wanted to play the villain, Chudnofsky, with a Jamaican accent, and left the project over creative differences.
So, over a decade later, Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) was brought back to direct THE GREEN HORNET, with Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou cast as Kato, and Cameron Diaz in the role of love interest Lenore Case. The film concerns billionaire playboy Reid, heir to a newspaper publishing fortune, whose father (Tom Wilkinson) dies mysteriously. Reid must reassess his life, and eventually assumes the identity of a masked vigilante, The Green Hornet, who, along with his Kung Fu fighting chauffeur, Kato, cruise around in their souped-up ride Black Beauty, ridding the streets of crime. Their main target in Benjamin Chudnosky (“Inglorious Basterds’” Christoph Waltz), a Russian mobster who controls the Los Angeles criminal underworld.
MMM sat down with Seth Rogen to chat about how this project finally came to fruition – including the hilarious opening scene featuring James Franco, why it’s in 3-D, and finding the right mixture of action and comedy.
MMM: Can you talk about how Gondry and Cameron Diaz came into play?
ROGEN: After Stephen Chow left we were really just charged with finding a new director. We met with tons of people and Gondry was really passionate about it. He had been attached to a version of it fifteen years ago. It was the first movie that he was ever attached to as a director. He really just oddly seemed to get what we were trying to do. He really wins the award for being the most different than you think he’s going to be. You picture him for being this very pretentious kind of artsy fartsy guy, but he’s not. He’s really funny and he’s in no way pretentious. He’s incredibly sloppy in his appearance and disorganized seeming, but when he came in and met with us he really just seemed to get what we were going for. It was clear that he’d be able to do the action in a way that was really original and to us that was really important because we were pretty sure we’d be able to make an interesting story and we’d make it funny, but we knew that in order for it to stand up against these other superhero movies that the action had to be something exceptional. We wanted to make sure that we had a director who could do that and he definitely could.
MMM: And Cameron Diaz?
ROGEN: Cameron. It’s funny. We didn’t know if we were going to get enough money to hire a big actress or a little actress or what. The studio was in a good mood that day, I guess, and they were like, “You can get a big actress,” and we were like, “How about Cameron Diaz?” And they were like, “All right.” I mean, sometimes things just work out well. We called her and I think it was like a few hours from when we called her to when she said yes to doing it. I don’t think she even read the script fully before she committed to it. She just liked the idea of me and she liked mine and Evan’s movie. She loves ‘Pineapple Express’ and she likes Gondry, and so she was just like, ‘Sure, yes. Why not,’ which was amazing. She’s really cool.
MMM: Can you talk about how long it took to do that scene with James Franco and if it was improvised?
ROGEN: A day, and it was great. Again, sometimes you just ask someone to do something and they say yes. That was one of those things. He had some free time and it just worked out really well. We had this funny idea for the scene of how to introduce Christoph [Waltz] and we really wanted to give it something to kind of add some importance to it, I guess. Franco is one of the funniest dudes that I know and so we asked him and he said yes and it worked out well.
MMM: Was it your idea or Evan’s [Goldberg] idea or both, coming up with this unorthodox idea of the superhero and the sidekick getting into major brawls as part of the story?
ROGEN: It was me and Evan, definitely. I mean, from the first conversation we had about whether or not we should do this movie, that was really the only idea that we had. It was really the only reason that we had to do it, that we just started thinking, “It’d be funny if we did ‘The Green Hornet’ and it’s all about how him and Kato don’t get along well and they don’t feel like they appreciate each other in the right way.” That was really all we had initially and I think because the idea was so simple it’s the only reason that it actually kept going. With all the weird ups and downs that the movie had the fact that you could always look back to that idea, like, “Oh, it’s just about a hero and a sidekick and they don’t get along well,” I think that’s what always kept it moving forward. At its core it was just this really simple idea that everyone understood and liked and could picture what was funny about it.
MMM: Did you have any hesitation in making this a comedy since it’s sort of small, but vociferous fan base is loyal to the serious tone of the ’60’s version?
ROGEN: Not really. We just wanted to go for it. I view comic book movies and comic books themselves as two completely different things. As cool as ‘The Dark Knight’ is that’s not really how Batman is portrayed in a lot of comic books. If you’re a comic book purist then you probably wouldn’t make the argument today because you’d look stupid because the movie is so awesome, but you could make the argument that ‘The Dark Knight’ is actually completely unrepresentative of how Batman is often portrayed in the comic books. And so that was never really a fear of ours, or a consideration. We wanted to make the best movie possible, but at the same time include all the stuff that you expected from a ‘Green Hornet’ movie whether you were really familiar with it or completely unfamiliar with it. I think if you’re really familiar with it there are a hundred references that we put in that you should be able to find. And if you’re completely unfamiliar with it then hopefully every time one of those things happen you don’t think, ‘Oh, it must be something from the TV show. That’s why I don’t understand it.’ We really wanted to try to have it so if you knew nothing it all seemed funny and interesting and original, and if you knew everything it seemed like we were kind of honoring the source.
MMM: Regarding references, did you have a map of all the things that you wanted in the script? How did you decide that?
ROGEN: We went through the radio show and we watched all the episodes of the show and just every once in a while a thing, like, the Pony Room. There’s an episode in a Pony Room. We were like, “Oh, that’s a good name for a bar. If there’s a bar in the movie we should call it the Pony Room,” and there were things like that. The Zephyr was the original Black Beauty and so we thought, like, “Oh, if we can get a zephyr in there somewhere that would be cool.” Literally, the whole end action idea from the movie is actually from an episode of the TV show wherein I’m trying to conceal this bullet wound that I’ve gotten. So we tried to take it all out. We really went through everything and thought, “Yeah, that could be cool. That could be cool,” but again the first priority was to make a good movie and if possible include as much of this stuff as we could. And we got a lot of it in there.
MMM: Whose idea was it to Bruce Lee in it?
ROGEN: I think that was actually [Michel] Gondry’s idea, to put the Bruce Lee drawing in it. Me and Evan were honestly very cautious about drawing any attention to the Bruce Lee thing in any way, shape or form, but Gondry was right. He was like, “Everyone likes Bruce Lee. We should acknowledge it.” He thought it was a cool idea if this guy likes Bruce Lee, that the character himself is a fan of Bruce Lee’s. What you say to that is what all smart filmmakers say. “We’ll shoot it and decide later.” So that’s what we did and we tried versions without it and then we put it in one day and everyone was like, “That’s awesome.” We were like, “I guess we were wrong.”
MMM: How did you come up with the features for the car? Obviously it’s a character in the movie.
ROGEN: There was some stuff that we just knew we wanted because it was cool like machine guns and missiles and all of that stuff. Gondry just really got into what original things we could add. He had the idea for the doors that swing out with the machine guns hidden inside of them. I mean, we really just started to get into the fun of looking at this car. There was one sitting in the parking lot at Sony. We’d literally just go out and look at it and be like, “Oh, you could hide a flamethrower there. You could do this thing.” Our production designer, Owen Patterson, who’s awesome and did all ‘The Matrix’ movies was very helpful in coming up with a lot of stuff for it. He had a big play in designing the car, also. But then we also wanted to make sure that as the car did stuff it did in some way feel like it was a part of the story itself, especially in the third act. So, in the design of the final car chase we really wanted to have all these weapons tell a small story of what the car could do, like, at first it only shoots straight, but then it has the missiles and then it has the doors that open and can shoot and then it gets cut in half and it can still drive and it has the seats. We got into the idea of giving this car its own little story as it gets reduced down to nothing as the big end action sequence goes on which turned out, again, really cool.
MMM: Are you a car guy?
ROGEN: No. I’m not really a car guy at all.
MMM: What do you drive?
ROGEN: I drive a Toyota Highlander hybrid which since I got I’ve noticed is a car that’s marketed towards fathers in their thirties. I’m like, “Oh, man, I bought a family car.”
MMM: I really saw ‘48 Hours’ in the relationship between you and Kato –
ROGEN: I love ‘48 Hours.’ I think it’s amazing and that movie really goes for it a lot harder than ours does in a lot of ways. I mean, Nick Nolte’s character is very salty in that movie. But those were the types of movies that we talked about, these like buddy-action comedies. I think there have been a lot of those that have worked very successfully. So to us adding masks to the guys didn’t destroy this legacy of action comedies. Although in some people’s heads it would’ve, but we just thought that you could take this type of movie and tell it in this way and it wouldn’t destroy the universe.
MMM: Jay Chou came on very last minute to the film. He’s got a very different energy than Stephen Chow, who was supposed to have been Kato. What was it like to work with this guy who was making his first Hollywood film and what did his persona change in the character’s relationship?
ROGEN: We had quite a bit of time to re-imagine it, I would say. Me and Evan write pretty fast. So that’s helpful. The age difference was the biggest thing. Stephen is almost fifty years old and Jay is around my age. So that was actually really helpful, we thought, because it made the relationship much more like a brother relationship rather than like a father-son relationship which isn’t really what we wanted. So it made us much more like peers, which was very helpful. I would say that Jay did not know much English when we started this, and it’s funny, while we were filming, I’ll be honest, everyday would be like, “I understood that. Did you understand that?” “Yeah, I understood.” It was one of the most unbelievable relief’s of my life, the first time that we showed the movie to people and the lady asked the audience, “Who here understood Jay Chou,” and everyone raised their hand. So that was a huge relief because when we first met him he literally spoke no English whatsoever. I think we kind of saw the evolution and it’s hard to make the judgment when you’re there all the time. He’s just unbelievably cool and funny and by the end he was able to fully improvise and add tons of stuff into the movie. A lot of the funny stuff he says in the movie he totally made up on his own.
MMM: Can you talk about the 3-D version of this?
ROGEN: Well, 3-D was something that we were passionate about from the get go. Honestly, the first conversation that me and Evan and Gondry ever had about the movie was that we thought we were going to be filming it in 3-D, but so many things happened leading up to filming that kind of made us look insane that I think the idea of giving us a giant chunk of money and an incredibly logistically complicated filming method was just the last thing the studio wanted to do right before we started filming. It was more like, “You guys make your movie. If it turns out good we’ll let you make it into 3-D, and otherwise we’ll spend as little money as we can.” Luckily they liked it and we had enough time to really do the 3-D well, which was something that I’m happy about because it was a real pain in the ass.
MMM: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a filmmaker in terms of this experience and what advice would you give to anyone who’s going to go through this?
ROGEN: I’d say don’t make a really expensive movie unless it’s an idea that you really like because it’s harder. It’s really difficult to make a really big movie. I didn’t realize how much we were flying under the radar until we did this. I’m convinced that Sony never even read ‘Pineapple Express.’ We really got a lot of freedom in the past to do things and with literally no conversation, and ultimately with ‘Green Hornet’ we got everything we wanted. It was just a lot harder to get it, basically. The amount of scrutiny that a movie like this goes under is just exponentially more than anything than we’ve experienced before, both internally and externally. The fact that you meet with an actor and then you go online and read that that actor is the star of your movie and you’re like, “What the hell happened?” It was crazy to see the amount of attention that it was getting and to see how really things were happening on this movie that happened on every movie that we’d ever done, but just because of the perception of the type of movie it was all getting blown into this crazy proportion. The only reason that we kept with it was that we liked the movie and we liked the idea and it would’ve been really easy to bail. I mean, we could’ve made ten ‘Superbad’s’ in the amount of time that we made this. So we knew that we’d only get one opportunity to make a superhero-type movie.
THE GREEN HORNET is out now in theaters nationwide.
Tags: Bruce Lee, Cameron Diaz, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, George Clooney, Harvey Weinstein, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jay Chou, Kevin Smith, Knocked Up, Mark Wahlberg, michel gondry, Neal Moritz, Nicolas Cage, Pineapple Express, Seth Rogen, Stephen Chow, Superbad, The Green Hornet
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With New York Fashion Week on the horizon, it’s fitting – no pun intended – to hear from veteran filmmaker Joel Schumacher. After all, the NYC native studied at Parsons and FIT and worked in the fashion industry before transitioning to film, where he started out designing the costumes for Woody Allen’s 1973 sci-fi flick “Sleeper.”
Schumacher’s film career has been a subject of great debate, and derision.
He became a household name with a pair of back-to-back ‘80s Brat Pack hits – “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “The Lost Boys.” These popular cult films represent the most cohesive mélange of Schumacher’s penchant for camp humor, a coterie of talented young actors, and an unconventional visual style. Then, after a few other films – some modest hits, some misses – Hollywood beckoned in a big way when Schumacher was handed the keys to the Batmobile. While 1995’s “Batman Forever” was a huge box office hit, his second go-around, 1997’s “Batman & Robin,” was the lowest-grossing film in the franchise’s history, and, with its nippled-out Batsuits, neon people, and FAO Schwartz set pieces, attracted the ire of Batman fans.
This tragic misfire forced Schumacher to tackle smaller, more interesting projects like “8MM,” “Tigerland,” and “Phone Booth” – with mixed results. The Hollywood Reporter said, “Tigerland lands squarely in the top tier of best movies about America’s Vietnam experience,” while most critics, including Salon, weren’t as kind to “8MM”: “My advice is get drunk, cook dinner, watch infomercials or do your taxes — anything to keep those two hours for yourself.”
Despite his hack reputation, many of Schumacher’s small passion projects have been impressive. And, he has garnered a reputation for discovering new talent like Matthew McConaughey (“A Time to Kill”) and Colin Farrell (“Tigerland”). His latest film, “Twelve,” is the first edgy bigscreen role for “Gossip Girl” mangenue, Chace Crawford, and concerns a motley crew of lascivious, drug-dealing privileged teens on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The film is adapted from a novel by Nick McDonell that, written when when he was 17, garnered comparisons to Jay McInerney’s debut novel “Bright Lights, Big City” and Bret Easton Ellis’ “Less Than Zero.”
The film, however, has proven to be one of the most critically maligned and lowest grossing movies of the year. Salon film critic Andrew O’Hehir said of “Twelve”: “The director has built his career on pretentious emptiness. His new quasi-porn prep-school fantasy lives up to it.” Ouch.
MMM got on the phone with the controversial – and outspoken – Joel Schumacher to chat about “Twelve,” the legacy of “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “Lost Boys,” what went wrong with “Batman & Robin,” and much, much more.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: What attracted you to Nick McDonell’s novel?
JOEL SCHUMACHER: I thought it was a very pure, real voice. He wrote it when he was 17, which blew my mind. There were a lot of themes in the book about young people’s lives that I thought needed to be addressed, and I hope we were faithful to them.
MMM: Was it strange for you to return to this teenage milieu where you started out?
SCHUMACHER: What’s interesting about it is “St. Elmo’s Fire” didn’t get a good review in the United States of America. It was scathing. The critics were so shocked in “St. Elmo’s Fire.” And now, fortunately for us, it’s become this big valentine of a movie. This is a whole different subject because this is a much different era. I think these kids are victims and villains of a lot of what western culture has become. Recognition has become more important than accomplishment. In “St. Elmo’s Fire,” they were expected to have huge careers and become very accomplished. It was the year of Reaganomics. I think many kids are still expected of that, but they grow up much sooner, and they’re bombarded by the Internet, the blogs, the Facebook, the media, the celebration of badly behaved famous figures – bad behavior has become expected. And these are kids with bad parenting. This is a movie about bad parenting. And I don’t think it only exists among the privileged.
MMM: You have knack for discovering new talent – Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, etc. What did Chace Crawford have?
SCHUMACHER: When I met him, I hadn’t seen “Gossip Girl.” I met him as a favor to his agent. He was a total stranger. I was very impressed with how absolutely sincere and dedicated he was to his acting. He said that he was playing a relatively nice guy on his TV show, and when you play a part it’s great that the show’s a hit, but said he wanted to explore so many other characters. I said to him, “Look – I may be doing a movie with a lot of young people’s parts, and we’ll see if one of the parts is right for you.” When I did get the movie, I thought, “Well, I’m going to audition Chace for the lead and see how that goes.” Then, I thought he was the right choice.
MMM: Do you think Chace Crawford has what it takes to be a Colin Farrell?
SCHUMACHER: I didn’t think Colin Farrell was going to be Colin Farrell. What I did know was, when I met Colin Farrell, that there was no one like him and he was perfect for the role. We did “Tigerland” and “Phone Booth” back-to-back. With “Phone Booth,” they were like: ‘Wait, this unknown Irish kid is in a phone booth for the whole movie? The whole movie?’ ‘Yes.’ We were happily surprised. I actually was going to cast Matthew McConaughey in a different role in “A Time to Kill.” I was going to cast him in Kiefer’s role. I hadn’t auditioned Matthew, I just brought him in to read for the role of the redneck racist. While I was talking to him I thought, “You know what? This guy could be great in the lead in this movie.” I’ve had a lot of luck with first-timers, but I don’t know what’s going to happen to them.
MMM: But are you drawn to these young actors because they’re less cynical and more enthusiastic about the craft?
SCHUMACHER: Yes. They’re young. They’re beautiful. But they’re surrounded by bad examples and try not to be those. When you work on people that closely on a movie, you get to know who they are. And these were good kids. “St. Elmo’s Fire” was my third film. No one on “St. Elmo’s Fire” knew “St. Elmo’s Fire” was going to be “St. Elmo’s Fire.” Nobody knew “Lost Boys” was going to be “Lost Boys.” And there were many kids I’ve worked with who I thought would have bigger careers, and people who I’ve forced studios to hire have become huge stars.
MMM: And about the Brat Pack…
SCHUMACHER: John [Hughes] and I did make movies at the same time. We did have offices across from each other at Universal. We did steal from each other’s casts all the time. But, only because they were the great, talented kids of that time and we were lucky to work with them. John and I were friends. The inside joke was he was making the wholesome, young movies, and I was making the ‘R’ movies. He’s doing the “Pretty in Pink’s” and I’m doing “Flatliners” and “Lost Boys” and “St. Elmo’s Fire,” where it’s dark, twisted, and overly sexualized. I think it also was very much our personalities.
MMM: Why do you think “St. Elmo’s Fire” has held up so well?
SCHUMACHER: The basis of “St. Elmo’s Fire” is there’s a group of people. Everyone had their group and you always think you’re going to be best friends forever. But life comes in. So, can you be best friends forever? It touches on universal themes.
SCHUMACHER: Well, I’m certainly proud of all my casts. Are there films I think I did a better job than others? I think I’m up to 25 or something, so it is like having 25 children. You love them for different reasons. The ones that are the hardest, you learn the most.
MMM: What was the hardest one where you learned the most?
SCHUMACHER: I did a horror film in Romania that I thought would be a lot of fun. It wasn’t fun. It kicked my ass. I know it’s very popular on DVD, and I’m glad, but it was very difficult. It was very hard working conditions, etc. I think “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “Lost Boys” were very important because, back-to-back, doors opened for me in Hollywood that I didn’t know existed. I did two movies with Julia Roberts – “Flatliners” and “Dying Young” – and I just LOVED working with her. “Falling Down” was a big turning point. I was very glad that I got that script. I had to fight for it. Warner Brothers didn’t want me to do it. They wanted me to do “Phantom of the Opera,” and I wanted to do “Falling Down.” I had to sell myself for it. It was so politically incorrect. I look back on it now, and Michael Douglas was really the first Tea Partier! He was, “Who are these people in my country, and where’s my gun?” And of course, he was psychotic to boot. And, the two Batmans and the two Grishams. I had never made blockbusters before, never thought of myself as a guy that could hit it out of the park before. And “8MM” would never get made today. I think it’s a really bold, really controversial film – as are a lot of my films. It’s interesting, though, how films are held by audiences as the years go by. “Tigerland” and “Phone Booth” launched [Colin Farrell] into the world.
MMM: What do you think of Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman? I understand the franchise got handed to you after “Batman Returns” because Warner Brothers was worried that the franchise had gotten too dark.
SCHUMACHER: Warner Brothers said “Batman Returns” ruined the franchise, Batman is dead, can you revive it? I don’t think “Batman & Robin” destroyed the franchise. It made too much money and sold too many toys, which was part of our job. And, it brought a lot of kids to the audience because it was supposed to be not dark. And then I’m sure Christopher Nolan was told, “Batman is dead. Can you revive him?” And he sure did, and he’s one of my favorite directors. But I learned a lesson. There had been a lot of disturbance about “Batman Returns” because it seemed too dark for families, kids were scared. I know [Tim Burton] well, and know he went through a lot doing it. But “Batman Forever” was a huge success. I think it was the biggest grossing film of 1995. [*It was 2nd to “Toy Story”]. I take full responsibility for “Batman & Robin.” But, I did my job. I was supposed to do a lot of items in the movie that would make toys, and get a lot of young kids into the audience. We tried to make a family-friendly Batman. I know we disappointed the fans, but it made a lot of money.
MMM: You talked about “8MM” briefly, and you were all set to be reunited with that film’s star, Nicolas Cage, in the upcoming film “Trespass.” However, I read that he abruptly left the project. What happened there?
SCHUMACHER: Well, he was on a worldwide press junket and Nic is going through some personal problems. He got some rest and came back. I think it was a 72-hour thing where he thought he was too exhausted and thought he couldn’t go through it. But he’s back.
MMM: I don’t know if you’re familiar with “Rules of Attraction”…
SCHUMACHER: I LOVE “Rules of Attraction!”
SCHUMACHER: Ugh, you know what, do you actually think that way? Do you think I saw what Roger Avary did and emulated it? No, I didn’t think that way. But, I get a kick out of it. It’s funny when people read into your movies. Since I have, what you said, a good track record of finding unknowns and putting them into my movies and getting lucky, why would I have to look at what he did and do that? That’s the weirdest question I’ve been asked.
TWELVE opened on August 6th in select theaters.