Funnyman Seth Rogen has provided audiences with more than a few laughs over the years. But in director Danny Boyle’s biopic Steve Jobs (opening in limited release, on Friday, October 9), the affable comic actor gets serious–and seriously brainy–as computing pioneer Steve Wozniak, partner to the late Apple co-founder, played by Michael Fassbender. We recently chatted with Rogen about tackling the role, as well as his next comedies, this holiday season’s The Night Before (co-starring Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the sequel Neighbors 2 (with Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, and Chloe Grace Moretz)…
Nerdist: Your part in Steve Jobs differs from your usual comedic roles. Did you feel confident about it?
Seth Rogen: I mean, I read the papers. [Laugh.] So I was aware of the thoughts someone would probably have when they heard that I was gonna be in a movie like this. I had some of those thoughts myself. My instinct when I heard about it was that it probably wasn’t a movie that I would be in. Then when I read the script; it was first and foremost one of the most amazing scripts I’d ever read. That’s what first struck me. But what struck me next was that I felt I actually could play the role. Which was very surprising to me, honestly. But they wanted me to audition, and I felt very strongly that I should audition. Because I really wanted everyone to be on the same page, and for there not to be any surprises. I wanted at least to know that if I sucked in the movie I could have said, “Hey, I auditioned for it! Blame Danny [Boyle] and Aaron [Sorkin]! They saw what I could do and they picked me anyway.” [Laughs.]
N: You’ve had a great deal of visible success in your career, but Steve Wozniak was very much the man in the shadows behind Jobs. How did you find a way to identify with him?
SR: It was actually pretty easy. It’s analogous to comedians in the film world, honestly. Wozniak was viewed as less intellectually valid, because he was affable and friendly and liked. That’s something I’ve personally experienced, and am experiencing almost more than I ever have now that I’ve done this movie. [Laughs.] People think that because comedies are funny, they’re easier. That we put less thought into them, or that there’s like a haphazard quality to them that is in some way less creatively valid than things that are serious and don’t seem like they’re any fun; and that seem like no one enjoyed doing them and were born of a great trial rather than born of joy. That’s something I personally experience all the time, and I think that is something that I greatly related to in the character. That’s kind of his problem throughout the whole movie, that because he’s nice people don’t respect him.
N: It reminds me of Wozniak’s line: “It’s not binary.”
SR: Yeah. And I think, again, as a comedian, that people, especially who write about movies, tend to be very susceptible of falling into that trap.
N: You have a terrific chemistry in the film with Michael Fassbender. From the first moment he calls you “Woz,” you can feel the history between your two characters. How did you guys develop your on-screen rapport?
SR: We really got along. We’d met a few times in the previous years. We hung out. I think we got drunk in New Orleans a couple of times together. While they were making Twelve Years a Slave, we were making This Is the End [laughs]. I think their crew rightfully had wanted to blow off some steam and hang out in a different environment once in a while. So they would come to our parties from time to time. It was then actually that I remember sitting and talking about how much fun it would be to work together someday. I never assumed it would be one of his fancy movies. If anything I assumed I’d convince him to be in a Funny or Die video or something. But I really think you can tell that we like each other and that we get along. I think that is where that shared history feels real, because it is my and Michael’s shared instinct to get along with one another.
N: Aaron Sorkin’s scripts are known for the challenges they provide for actors. But did your own background as a screenwriter help you navigate this one?
SR: Yeah, I actually didn’t struggle with the language of it that much honestly. I found it quite easy to memorize. When something is written well in a way that is logical, and the scene progresses in a way that makes sense to me, and the tones lean toward one another, then it’s very easy to memorize. Because it’s like a good catchy song. It gets stuck in your head. It really is a performance to a degree that I don’t usually do. We usually go find the rhythms in the moment a little bit, and we like a little bit of that sloppiness. To us that kind of adds a charm that makes it a little bit funnier at times. But this movie was not going to be like that. The script is written so specifically that the words you get interrupted on are scripted. I’ll start saying my first line while he has three words left in his final line. It’s that specific. Just working with the other actors and getting those rhythms down took a little time, but we had a lot of time to rehearse. So by the time we were filming it felt like we were very prepared to do what we were doing.
N: We’re also looking forward to The Night Before. Would you say that’s a return to some of that “sloppiness,” or is it a tighter comedy-drama?
SR: We spent a lot of time writing it actually, and Jonathan [Levine] is a very visual director. When you do a ton of improv it’s hard to make strong visual choices, because you’re kind of painted into a corner to some degree. So the movie’s actually a little more written than some of our other movies have been the last couple of years. Because you want it to really feel like a Christmas movie, and in order to do that it had to really look like a Christmas movie. In order to do that we had to not improvise everything. [Laughs.] We really wanted to deliver what was truly our version of a Christmas movie, and we wanted to really make good on both those promises. So I think it’s very funny, and has some scenes that are as funny as any scenes that we’ve ever had in a movie. At the same time it’s very sweet and has a lot of heart, and actually might make you cry. Which is a balance that few [directors] other than John Levine are able to pull off.
N: Just looking at the trailer, it appears Anthony Mackie finally has a chance to show the world the comedic chops he’s always demonstrated in interviews.
SR: Yeah, Mackie is, in real life, one of the most ridiculous humans I’ve ever met. We tried to capture just one percent of that and put it into the movie. It’s hard to imagine him on, like, a dramatic set. It seems so natural for the way we work. We’re like, “You’re in sad movies. How does that work?!”
N: What can you tell us about Neighbors 2?
SR: We’re shooting it now. It seems to be going very well. The cast is all back, and more. Chloe Moretz is incredible. And frightening at times. Just her youth terrifies me [laughs]. But I think it’s gonna be really good. I hope it is. It was one of the hardest scripts to write that we’ve ever written, because it really is hard to make a good comedy sequel. To come up with an idea that truly deserves existence as much as any other movie was very difficult obviously. But I think we’ve scrutinized it to the point where we have something that I’m very happy with so far.
Photo credits: Sony, Universal
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