IAR Interview: Seth Rogen Discusses Hosting The Independent Spirit Awards

Friday, 24 February 2012 12:36 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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IAR Interview: Seth Rogen Discusses Hosting The Independent Spirit Awards

The day before this Sunday's Oscar ceremony, while seemingly everyone is preparing for the onslaught of pomposity that the Academy Awards bring to the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, there's actually a cooler awards ceremony going down on the other side of town.  On the beach in Santa Monica, in a giant tent literally yards from the Pacific Ocean, Film Independent puts on the Independent Spirit Awards, celebrating the very best in movies made without studio backing.  Following Joel McHale as last year's host, the 2012 Spirit Awards are hosted by Seth Rogen.

Rogen needs no elaborate introduction, but the Canadian hilarity-factory has gone well beyond just acting in the likes of Freaks & Geeks, Knocked Up, Funny People, Observe and Report, and The Forty Year Old Virgin.  With his creative partner Evan Goldberg, Rogen has written and/or produced films including Superbad, Pineapple Express, and The Green Hornet.

Not only is Rogen hosting this Saturday's ceremony, but 50/50, the comedic drama which he produced and co-stars in, is up for three awards, including Best Feature and Best First Screenplay for Will Reiser, who wrote the film based on his own experience with cancer. 

In an interview with a handful of national outlets, Seth Rogen was gracious enough to talk about a wide range of topics.  Those topics included, amongst other things: hosting the Spirit Awards, his directorial debut The Apocalypse, his awards hopes for 50/50; improvisation, taking Kate Beckinsale off guard at the Golden Globes, his friend and collaborator Jonah Hill's Oscar nomination, his love of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol;.and movies he's enjoyed over the last year.

Here's what Rogen had to say:

I was just wondering, one, if you’re nervous about anything hosting—tripping, flubbing lines? Two, if you want to go on to host bigger and better, grander, award shows? Is this your try-out for the Oscars?

Seth Rogen: I’m not worried about—I guess I’m just worried as I am in any element of my life, that I’m going to trip and do something stupid, which is a pretty constant level of concern with me, as I generally do. But no more than usual, I guess. As far as moving on to bigger and better hosting jobs, I, find that insulting because to me this is the holy grail of hosting gigs. That’s not true. No, honestly, it just seemed like a fun thing to do. I probably put much less thought into it than most people assume I did. It was not part of some grand, calculated scheme to one day replace Ryan Seacrest.

Have you gotten any hosting advice from any friends, any other people in the industry that you know about hosting?

Rogen: Have I? Judd Apatow said I should just try to be myself. That was his advice, which I took.

Congratulations on 50/50’s nominations at the Spirit Awards.

Rogen: Thank you.

How do you feel about the Oscar snubs for that movie?

Rogen: I don’t know. I feel like overall there are very few moments when the Oscars’ tastes intersects directly with my tastes, so it’s not—I don’t consider it a snub to be honest. That implies that I assumed it was going to happen. But, no, I work under the assumption that, generally speaking, yes, my tastes and the tastes of the Oscar voters are not one in the same.

You would hope that a cancer movie, and a comedy at that, would get some notice. We were pulling for it.

Rogen: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Maybe the sequel will get nominated.

On a non-indie scale, how is The Apocalypse movie coming along?

Rogen: It actually seems like it might happen. That’s really exciting for us. Studios don’t greenlight movies anymore; they just kind of slowly let you realize that you’re making it. But, I think, if they did still greenlight movies, we would probably be greenlit right now.

Is the title now just The Apocalypse?

Rogen: I actually just heard that Fox owns that title so I don’t know if we can use it anymore. If we end up with a shitty title you can blame Fox.

Do you think there will ever be a Pineapple Express 2?

Rogen: I don’t know. The Apocalypse essentially has the same cast as Pineapple Express, so maybe we’ll write it while we’re filming.

Now, growing up, I know you got into this business at a young age. Were you a fan of awards shows? Because, like you said, your taste doesn’t necessarily correspond over into the Oscars’ tastes.

Rogen: I actually was, honestly. I remember when I was a little kid, I used to say I would rather host the Oscars than win an Oscar. To me that seemed like the more appealing, fun gig. I don’t know if that’s still true, but it shows my mentality. Yes, to me that was the fun part. I remember—that was when Billy Crystal was really on fire with it. It just seemed like the tonal sensibilities of the country were perfectly aligning with what he was doing, which was perfectly complimenting with whatever movies were nominated. I remember—that song he sang about Scent of a Woman is still stuck in my head. I definitely grew up watching that stuff and then as I got older, honestly, I—and then when I started actually making movies I completely lost interest in it.

Speaking of the Oscars, you mentioned Judd had given you some tips. Have you gotten any advice from James Franco on what do when hosting a show?

Rogen: Yes, just don’t host the Oscars.

Really quick. Any updates on if Kung Fu Panda 3 is happening?

Rogen: I have no idea. That’s a good question. I would like it to, but I don’t know for sure.

It seems like the Spirit Awards, you actually sound like a really good person to host this because you actually are a part of the indie community. Can youtalk about how Sundance was for you this year?

Rogen: It was amazing. I was honestly mostly there as a “plus one” for the most part. My wife was really leading the—she was the reason we were there honestly. But, to be able to observe a tiny movie go from being conceived, to made for no money, to getting into Sundance, to selling at Sundance, was unbelievable. It was truly an amazing experience. I’m in her movie for two seconds, but I would say that it was mostly just something to watch. It really actually got me—it made me think that— I think sometimes you get disillusioned with the independent filmmaking process in some regards, and people complained about Sundance [becoming] over-commercialized and stuff like that. But seeing something like this happen was really inspirational to me. I’m sure it was less inspirational to the people whose movies didn’t sell and they have the same issues.

Now hosting is essentially standup. Now I want to know, when was the last time that you actually went out to a club and did some standup?

Rogen: Probably while we were preparing for Funny People. That must have been around three years ago, I guess, at this point. Almost, yes, four years ago almost. That was the last time I actually did standup in like a nightclub. I’ve hosted little things and presented little things at charity events. I’ve done stuff like that since then and that has definitely a standup-y feel to it. But the last time I was actually in a club was probably in preparation for Funny People.

Is that something that you think that you’ve moved on from, or do you see yourself maybe, on some random weekday, pop into a club and doing a few minutes?

Rogen: No, I don’t think so. I remember when I was an up-and-coming comic how annoyed I would be when the famous guys would show up and just take everyone’s spots. On top of that, I’m just not that good at it. When there are guys like Louis C.K. out there, there is no reason for me to be doing standup comedy. I honestly don’t feel like I make the best movies in the world, but I do, at times, feel like I’m adding something to the cinematic community. I don’t feel like I’m adding anything to the standup community.

There is so much hype around The Artist. What are your thoughts on The Artist just steamrolling everything in its sight?

Rogen: I actually haven’t watched it yet. It’s one of the ones on my list. I have to watch it before the awards show next weekend. But yes, it’s not surprising that a black and white silent film is getting a lot of artistic acclaim, I guess. If I was to write a joke in a movie, that’s what it would be.

You’re hosting, and you have a movie up for the award, but are there any other films in the awards show that you particularly liked or particularly would like to see get some acclaim?

Rogen: Yes. Man, what are the other ones that are nominated? Off the top of my head, Take Shelter, that was awesome and that was nominated. That’s good. I think there are a few movies like that that—again, I got to be totally honest. I’m not the most in-tuned guy with what is getting nominated and winning these awards in general. I’m not on the awards blogs generally speaking. On the grand scale of— I’m not, again, I’m not awards-savvy. I honestly don’t know which of these movies have won other awards and … like that, or been nominated for other awards. I just know which ones I thought were awesome. I’ll probably make that clear while I’m hosting.

Do you have any favorite movies of the year that haven’t been involved in the awards races?

Rogen: I honestly thought Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was one of the best movies of the year. It got no love from the awards whatsoever. I love that fucking movie. It was great. I thought Drive was awesome, too. I know that got nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and didn’t get—I don’t think it got any Oscar nominations or anything like that, but I thought that movie was awesome.

I agree. I guess a lot of people thought it was too gory.

Rogen: That’s what it made not incredibly pretentious.

This is a movie-specified interview, but do you happen to watch any TV anymore or –

Rogen: Yes. No. I watch a lot of TV. I love nothing more than having a good TV show on DVD to just plow through. I just watched all of Breaking Bad, all four seasons, in a matter of weeks with my wife. Yes. I love that. To me, that’s awesome. I watch shows that are on—I watch 30 Rock and Parks and Rec. I watch The Soup. I watch comedies that are on television.

So you say you watch a lot of DVD. When you watch movies, do you go to theaters? Do you have any theater experiences, or do you have to watch everything on screeners and such?

Rogen: No. I go to the theater all the time. Yes. I’m not one of these secret movie—watch a 35 millimeter print in my living room that we can’t pick up without …. I’m not Jon Bon Jovi.

Are you anticipating any movies that are coming out this year?

Rogen: Yes, a lot. I just saw Chronicle, which I was really looking forward to and it was fucking awesome, I thought. What else is coming out this year? The Batman movie [The Dark Knight Rises], I’m excited for that. What else?

Are you excited for The Avengers?

Rogen: Yes. I’m excited for The Avengers. It seems like it might be too much of a good thing to me, but I’ll definitely go see it, 100%. Joss Whedon has not ever horribly failed me, so yes, I think that could be good. Jeremy Renner looks a little goofy in the costume. That I will say.

What will you do on stage, if and when, 50/50 wins awards?

Rogen: I’m going to go crazy. It’s more what am I going to do on stage when we don’t win the awards? I don’t know. I’ll be happy if we win. It’s nice to win an award, I would assume. I’ve never won one, but I would imagine it’s great. I have no idea what I’ll do. The good news is since I’m hosting, I get to read my acceptance speech whether we win or not.

You have one prepared?

Rogen: Exactly. I can just read it before the award is even announced.

You mentioned having movies still to watch. As a great movie fan, is it nice to have an assignment like, "Here’s a stack of screeners. I have to watch The Artist and all this?"

Rogen: It really is. It’s pretty awesome. That’s literally the first meeting I had with the Independent Spirit Awards people. They gave me a massive box of DVDs, that this is everything that’s nominated this year. Yes, it’s been—I got to be—I watch a lot of movies, but I don’t often seek out these little independent movies when they’re in this phase. I wait until they come out, or I wait until tons of people tell me they’re good because I’m too busy seeing Mission Impossible. It was a nice actually to watch a lot of this stuff, because in all honesty, I don’t watch a ton of little, tiny, independent movies.

Are you planning to do some skits or improvise?

Rogen: Yes. We’re probably going to film some little things that I hope are funny. I definitely plan to improvise. I find with the stuff I’ve hosted before, none of it’s been televised, but in general I think what people seem to enjoy the most is when you’re very reactive to what’s happening, when you feel like you’re a part of the experience with the audience. That’s what I like the most, is if something weird happens, then you got to say something about it. I think that’s something I always enjoy when I’m watching someone host.

You said that Judd gave you advice to be yourself while hosting the show. What can we expect from you being yourself?

Rogen: I don’t know. It always seems crazy to tell people what to expect from the—has that ever worked out? Well, here’s what you can expect from me. That never works. I don’t know what to tell—they can expect me. That’s what they can expect, however you interpret that. I hope it’s funny. That’s all I can say, as well as, they can expect—it will be an awards show. They should expect an awards show. Awards will be handed out to the winners, none to the losers.

Right. Unless it’s 50/50.

Rogen: Exactly. Then I’m going to steal one and leave. I don’t want to set anyone’s expectations in too far of any direction. The truth is, we don’t fully know what we’re doing yet.

Of the films that you’ve seen, you mentioned Take Shelter and Drive. Do you want to talk a little bit about what you liked about those films and what attracted you to them?

Rogen: I’m just a huge Michael Shannon fan and so that’s what attracted me to Take Shelter, and I like apocalyptic-y themed movies. I knew it was one of the best-reviewed movies of the year. That definitely drew me to that. It was awesome. And Drive, I like action movies, and I like violent movies. I also like movies with Ryan Gosling not talking for hours on end. Those things drew me to that movie.

Everyone’s talked about 50/50 being up for an award, but what’s more nerve-wracking, hosting or finding out whether you win?

Rogen: I’d say probably hosting. Yes, I would say probably hosting. I don’t—it’s much more painful to bomb in front of a group of your peers than it is to not win. Tons aren’t winning awards. Only one guy will be bombing. So, yes, that’s definitely much more nerve-wracking.

You had mentioned that you haven’t won an award before, so it would be exciting. I know your good friend Jonah Hill is actually nominated for an Oscar this year. If there is one award out there, one day, that you could have, would it be the Oscar or would it be –

Rogen: No. Actually I lied and I’ve already won the one award that I would want to win. I won it twice, and that is High Time Magazine’s “Stoner of the Year."

Got to keep your title, right?

Rogen: Exactly. I actually lost it to James Franco eventually, but I think I get a point for the assist on that one. Yes.

Jonah had mentioned that he took this nomination as a wakeup call to do more drama. Is that something that would interest you in the future?

Rogen: I did a movie with Michelle Williams that Sarah Polley directed that was definitely more dramatic. I enjoyed it. I don’t know. I like all types of movies, but I would never—I don’t know. I don’t plan ahead that much. Jonah is much more of a planner than I am. I just see what ideas are entertaining to me at the moment it’s time for me to think of the next movie to do.

And how do you stay impartial as host when you do have 50/50 up for several awards?

Rogen: I never said I would be impartial. They never told me I had to be impartial in any way, shape, or form.

One of the great things about all your movies is that you have such great pop culture references. Now, I’m wondering, is there any special way that you go out and you look at what’s happening in entertainment? Are you on the gossip sites? How do you get all those little lines to put in your movies?

Rogen: I don’t know. I think I just participate in the culture. I’m not—I think some people who make movies aren’t—it’s like the other person or the type of people that don’t go to the movie theater, that sit in their house and watch the print with a group of their uber-rich friends. I think that’s—yes, I don’t go out of my way to do it. I try to do the same stuff I did before I had money and I enjoyed doing that stuff. I think participating in life and culture, instead of just writing about it, is very important. Yes, I think I’m just—I figure out about shit the same way everyone else does. I watch TV. I listen to the radio. I walk around the streets. I am in restaurants and talk to people. I think that, yes, I absorb it the same way everyone else does.

Is it weird now that Jonah Hill has a story to share with you and all the guys about, well, Brad Pitt let me stay in his house? Is that something that any of you guys just say, what the hell?

Rogen: It is pretty weird. Yes. It is a little weird that he’s now friends with Brad Pitt, to me. But, he’s a friendly dude. He can be friends with Brad Pitt. It’s been like a decade since I’ve been working in Los Angeles. I’ve known a lot of people with a lot of famous friends at this point, so it’s not that weird. Judd was friends with Jim Carrey when I first met him. That was a thousand times more mind-blowing. I went for dinner at Garry Shandling’s house when I was 18. That was … crazy. At this point, I’ve grown a little more benign to it. But Brad Pitt, specifically, and Jonah do make a hilarious duo in my head.

Are you at all—not to get into taking any sides, but were you excited when Eddie Murphy was initially attached to host the Oscars?

Rogen: Yes. I got to be honest. I don’t watch the Oscars, and I haven’t in years. I watched a little bit of when James Franco hosted. I watched about half of it. Honestly, all I thought when Eddie Murphy was hosting is, "Oh, Eddie Murphy is going to host a show I’m not going to watch." Now Billy Crystal is going to host a show I’m probably not going to watch.

When you were presenting an award at the Golden Globes with Kate Beckinsale, was that improvised? It seemed that Kate was pretty surprised by it, but it was maybe the best part of the entire broadcast.

Rogen: Thanks. I thought of it around four minutes before I went up there, and no, I did not. I specifically told her I was not going to say anything like that. I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to say it until I got up there. But, yes, it seemed—presenting at the Golden Globes, for me generally, is like seeing your favorite actors just not laugh at you. It was nice to see a couple of them smile.

Are there any performers that you’d like to see host anything? You mentioned Louis C.K., and I think he could pretty much do anything.

Rogen: Him, to me, he's the best standup out there right now, I think. Anything he does I’m a giant fan of, I watch.

What sort of preparation have you done going into the Spirit Awards?

Rogen: I’ve been exercising. I became vegan. No. I’ve been drinking nothing but juice. I don’t know. I just watched the movies, that’s pretty much it. That’s the only preparation you can do really, and I’ve been sitting with my friends who were writers trying to write jokes. But yes, that’s pretty much it. Watch the movies and write a bunch of jokes. It’s not as complicated as it looks.

What’s the movie that you’ve had the most fun poking fun at?

Rogen: It’s so easy, and the answer is Shame. There is no way around it. I like to use the word “poking,” as the exact right word.

You’ve known Jonah for a while. Did it come as a surprise to you that he would end up getting an Oscar nomination, or were you always feeling that he had the stuff?

Rogen: I always assumed that all my friends are talented enough to get nominated for awards. Again, I just am always surprised when things and people I like are also liked by things like the Oscars. Like Franco got nominated last year. Honestly, the first thing—Jay Baruchel is one my best friends and he’s in Million Dollar Baby. I literally remember, we watched—we were stoned off our asses watching the Oscars in my tiny shithole apartment, and Clint Eastwood won and thanked Jay, who was sitting right next to me in his underwear on my couch. That was the first moment I realized like, oh, me and my friends, we could—the people who do these Oscars are actually kind of aware of these guys I’m friends with. It could kind of breakthrough in some way. Again, it’s always surprising to me when, again, people and things I like are also liked by things like the Oscars. But, it has happened before and it’s awesome when it happens. But it’s always kind of surprising to me, to be totally honest. Not because I don’t think they’re skilled or talented, just because I always view my tastes as more on the outside of what I assume those people’s tastes are. Even though, I should say I’m an Oscar voter, so I am literally one of these people.

Have you gotten a chance to talk to Jonah since he was nominated? Has he said anything about what that experience is like for him?

Rogen: Yes. I’ve talked to him a bunch of times. He’s psyched about it.

I know that there was some talk there about doing a Freaks and Geeks movie, and that’s something that’s floated around for a while. Is that anything that there is a actually a chance of coming to fruition?

Rogen: I don’t know. I just don’t even know if legally they could actually do that. No, it’s not something that anyone’s ever actually seriously talked about. It would be funny if they did. But, yes, they don’t usually make movies out of TV shows that nobody watched for free. I think if they think, no one watched it for free, the odds are people are going to pay fifteen bucks to leave their house to go see it, is probably pretty slim.

We’ve been talking a lot about Jonah and stuff, but 50/50, bringing it back to the Independent Spirit Awards, is obviously nominated. Out of all the films you have done, does this one rank up there as your favorite performance? Or is there another film that maybe didn’t get as much critical response that you’d like?

Rogen: Pineapple Express is our favorite movie, and we didn’t expect it to get any more critical response than it got. But me and Evan [Goldberg] talk about it all the time just because I can’t believe they let us make that movie. 50/50 though, it’s totally different. It’s really nice and gratifying that—more than anything, I think it’s so nice that Will went through this horrible experience and actually turned it into something creative that people really I really like the movie and I’m really proud of it. It’s not—if I had to pick one of my movies to watch on a Saturday afternoon, probably not the one I would pick. But I probably wouldn’t want to sit down and watch any of my movies on a Saturday afternoon because I’ve seen them all a billion times. But, it’s different. I do view it as more—it has its unique specialness because it’s based on what happened to Will [Reiser] and this terrible thing that were all there for. That to me is a really unique element of it. But, it’s not a weed action movie.

A lot of times you don’t see the host actually winning awards. Did you ever think when they asked you to host that maybe you were worried—like is this a consolation prize?

Rogen: It’s true. It’s made me think—I instantly thought that. It never happens. It’s a good thing, again, I don’t really care if we win that much. I don’t even know who votes for these things, so it doesn’t really matter.

For The Apocalypse, you’re going to be moving into director’s territory. How did that come about and actually that’s it. How did that come about?

Rogen: That’s it. How did that go? You don’t need to say more. Over the years, we kind of become more and more creatively involved in the movies. We’ve been executive producers on our movies for years. We’ve been producers now on a couple. When I look at the movies we’ve written, I really am thrilled that they’ve been directed by the people who directed them and I think they’ve added a lot to them. I think that it’s going to be really interesting to try to execute our own script for once and to see how that goes. I think that’s more what it is, is that we just were like, "Well we always write these and give them to someone else to do. Maybe we should just try to do it." That’s kind of how it came up.

Are you looking forward to actually having technical control, the power to place the camera in certain places for the jokes and whatnot? Is that the biggest jump from producer to director, is about the camera and where to place it for those –

Sometimes. You’re involved in those conversations, definitely as a producer, with some directors more than others. Yes. It’s going to be—it is the first—we’re the writers, producers, directors, and I’m one of the main actors in the movie. It’s going to be the first time we are almost completely in control of the product.

See Seth Rogen host the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards at 10:00 pm Eastern and Pacific, only on IFC.

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