“Baby, you’re a fiiiiiiirework,” sings entertainment reporter Dave Skylark and his biggest interview to date, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, as they blast the hit single from inside a heavily-armed tank.
Kim, who was at first embarrassed to have Skylark discover the song on his iPod, is beginning to come out of his shell as Skylark assures him that there’s nothing wrong with loving Katy Perry.
“She’s like a vocal acrobat!” Skylark beams.
After winning over critics and mass audiences alike with their debut directorial feature, This is the End, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are bringing it all back home, shooting large portions of their new comedy, The Interview, in the city of Burnaby, not far from where they both grew up in British Columbia.
“It’s cold as f–k,” Rogen laughs, taking a moment to chat with ComingSoon.net between scenes during our visit to the set last December. “It’s literally snowing right now, but it actually works really well for our purposes.”
It’s the final day of shooting in Canada for the film, which stars James Franco as Skylark, a famous fictional entertainment reporter and host of “Skylark Tonight,” and Randall Park as the infamous political leader.
“What do you think about margaritas?” Park’s Kim asks in the scene, quite nervously. “Are they gay because they are so sweet?”
“Even if they were gay, I’d drink them!” shoots back Franco’s Skylark in a first take. “I would come out just to drink them!”
“Dude, I love margaritas,” goes an alternate response. “If the cost of loving margaritas is a d*ck in my ass? Bartender, I’ll take two!”
Goldberg and Rogen have quite a few alternate jokes for many of the lines and they seem to have no problem also coming up with new ones on the spot. Clearly a tremendous benefit of having worked together so much in the past, Rogen or Goldberg can throw a line out to Franco and he can instantly repeat it in character without skipping a beat.
“There’s really some jokes that he literally doesn’t get at all,” Rogen laughs, “Like some of the references? There was a scene when we kept asking him to say, ?Exsqueeze Me? Baking powder?’ from ?Wayne’s World,’ and he did not get it, like literally at all? God bless him, there was not one moment when he was like, ?Stop, I need to understand what this is that I’m saying. I literally don’t understand what this means. He was just like, ?Okay, exsqueeze me. Baking Powder.’ It’s f–ing unbelievable. It’s amazing.”
“I think [James template=’galleryview’]–> really trusts Seth and Evan comedically,” explains producer James Weaver. “…Eventually Evan would say something that one of the other actors would not say on ?This Is the End.’ Never happened with Franco. He would just try anything. He’s super game.”
Franco’s Skylark, described by Rogen as “Oprah meets Ryan Seacrest? amped up like f-ing crazy,” wasn’t initially written for Franco, although the character did evolve from an earlier take on the fictional Franco written into earlier drafts of This is the End.
“A suit-wearing dude who is very much about his appearance,” Franco smiles. [This is the End Spoiler Ahead! template=’galleryview’]–> “I guess that’s how they see me? I also think they probably felt guilty about killing me in ?This is the End.'” [This is the End Spoiler Ends template=’galleryview’]–>
“He thinks we made a terrible mistake,” Goldberg laughs.
“He’s never gotten over that!” Rogen chimes in. “He literally brought it up five minutes ago!”
Likewise, the Kim Jong-un character wasn’t originally going to represent the actual dictator.
“This was actually written when Kim Jong-il was still alive initially,” says Rogen who, with Goldberg, came up with the story before passing it along to screenwriter Dan Sterling. “The idea came from reading articles about how [someone like template=’galleryview’]–> Mike Wallace interviewed Osama bin Laden. Journalists are in a weird position to get closer to these kinds of evil dictators than anyone else is.”
The Interview was already moving forward when it found a similar storyline actually being played out in reality with Dennis Rodman visiting Kim in North Korea as a guest of honor.
“You hear that these guys are fans of Western culture and pop culture specifically, so we thought an entertainment journalist might be a funny way into that,” says Rogen. “Then the Dennis Rodman s–t happened and it really actually made it much less far-fetched, which was great, honestly. At first, part of what we were worried about was that we wanted the movie to kind of exist in the real world. Our fear was that no one would buy this would actually ever happen. Then that happened and it was way f–ing dumber than what we came up with!”
“In the original version of the script that I got, it wasn’t Kim Jong-un,” says Park, who played a small role opposite Rogen in the recent hit Neighbors. “It was actually just this kind of fictional North Korean President, but I was told right before my audition that it was going to be Kim Jong-un.”
The original plan was for Park to wear prosthetics to appear heavier, but it was ultimately decided that the look was too artificial. Instead, the actor gained 15 pounds as quickly as he could, instructed to eat anything and everything he wanted to. Getting into the mindset of Kim, however, was another trick altogether.
“[He’s template=’galleryview’]–> this real-life dictator who’s responsible for a lot of crimes against humanity,” says Park, adding that he found himself watching Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland repeatedly. “I feel like maybe the tendency for most scripts would be to portray him as evil, almost one-dimensional, because he deserves that kind of treatment, at least in the eyes of many people. I felt like, just as an actor, I wanted to give him some layers and portray him as more of a human being.”
So what does Park think of the potential for Kim actually watching Park’s on-screen portrayal?
“Well, there’s ?The Great Dictator,'” he says, citing Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 powerful political satire. “…Hitler supposedly loved it and could not stop watching this movie, even though it was super critical of him. I’m not saying I hope that Kim Jong-un loves this. I don’t care what he thinks.”
Rogen himself takes on the role of Skylark’s producer, Aaron Rapoport, who travels with Skylark to North Korea for his big interview with Kim.
“I’m his friend and his producer and definitely the slightly smarter, more together one of the group,” says Rogen. “He kind of looks to me as this intellectual. It’s a very codependent working relationship we have in the movie. I know money and employment and I like him and the ride of the show, but I wish that we were going something more serious and like that was always my intention as a journalist was to be a real journalist and not just someone who talks about people not wearing panties as they get out of limos.”
“It’s kind of an unhealthy, codependent relationship,” says Rogen, joking that description applies to both Aaron’s relationship with Dave and his own partnership with Goldberg. “It’s like a married couple type relationship in the movie. Like, we clearly spend tons of time together and we clearly love each other, but we clearly are, at times, incredibly frustrated, him with my probably uptightness and me with the fact that he’s just psychotic.”
The Aaron character has a reflection in Kim’s underground palace in the form of Sook, Kim’s militant propaganda minister. Actress Diana Bang, who has previously appeared on shows like “Bates Motel” and “Fringe,” takes on her first major part in The Interview.
“She’s the one who sort of makes Kim Jong-un look like the god that he is,” says Bang. “She’s the one who makes all the propaganda videos and press releases. The PR kind of thing. In the movie, she’s quite strong and powerful and I kind of think of her like a leopard or panther type of character. But there is also a soft side and you see a little bit of that as well.”
Sook immediately takes an immediate dislike to Skylark, but she and Rapoport at least find some kind of understanding.
“I think there is some respect in a sense that Aaron’s character’s a producer,” Bang continues, “which is kind of somewhat in line with what Sook would do, producing something.”
Bang’s scene for the day is a bit more spoiler-heavy, but we will say that it takes place on a large palace set, with hallways laced with genuinely terrifying propaganda paintings. One shows a bullseye across the face of an American soldier, while another depicts a missile exploding into the Statue of Liberty. The aim for Goldberg and Rogen was less to depict a comedy world and more to ape the look of some more serious cinematic fare.
“We actually based it more on political thrillers,” says Rogen, “like Ridley Scott movies and Michael Mann movies. We tried to use a lot of long lenses and we probably played some of the scenes tighter than they generally would in these types of comedies. To us, the fact that it looks kind of serious and has this weight to it makes it funnier, because it really looks like we’re stuck in like a serious political thriller.”
“Which is funny to us,” Rogen adds, “because a lot of things get shoved in asses in this movie!”
The Interview hits theaters on December 25.