It's no coincidence that in the new comedy Superbad, the film's two awkward adolescent protagonists are called Seth and Evan. After all, long time school friends Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote the script.
In the midst of San Diego's Comic-Con after the film was screened to a standing ovation, Rogen jokingly concedes that, yes, to some degree, his script is somewhat autobiographical. "Well, it's about two guys who had a hard time getting laid in high school, so that was fairly close to life," Rogen said to a small press gathering away from the fan-obsessed madness of Comic-Con. But Rogen insists that their real-life relationship differs from the fictional characters they were to create. "Evan and me never really had an emotional head, so-to-speak, that we ever came to, nor never really hugged each other, I guess."
Superbad is the comedic story of three friends, Seth [Jonah Hill], Evan [Michael Cera] and Fogell [newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse] who would eventually become McLovin. These three often-disparate characters set out on a journey to find booze, and sex with the girls of their dreams before they head off to separate colleges the next year. As wildly comic the film is, like anything the Rogen/Apatow combo is, it's also a heartfelt tale of friendship, mainly between Seth and Evan. But real-life counterpart Rogen insists that his actual relationship with co-writer Goldberg was not quite as luvvy duvvy as is depicted in the movie, but still based on the pair's recollections of what they went through. "We held hands for humour, but some of the stuff, I would say is inspired by true events. I guess, if we were about to get sued, that's what I would say our defence is, but it's more just kind of based on how we FELT in high school. Some of the little details and things that happened are stuff that actually happened to us, but it's mostly just kind of autobiographical internally, I would say, which is a weird thing to say," says Rogen, laughingly.
What is especially unique about this script, is that Rogen wrote the first draft and Goldberg when the two school friends were 13, but the writer/actor recalls it has gone through major changes in the past decade. "At the beginning, we just decided to try and write a funny movie that we would love to see," Rogen recalls. "We started and we wrote a very bad, dirty movie and then rewrote it for 15 years," he adds laughingly. Goldberg adds that the biggest change that their script would undergo over the years was the script "always lacked a really good emotional story, which this young man here [referring to producer Apatow] helped us out with." Rogen agrees. "it was always basically about two guys who were trying to get alcohol for the girls they liked, but there was really no emotional story to it other than that. There was no real good story about their friendship with one another, so Judd really helped develop that. We really wrote it backwards, but now we would know that's not the way to write a movie."
The film's response has been extraordinary, and star Jonah Hill, a virtual unknown a year ago until he stole last year's Accepted, looks as if his star will rise even further as a result of Superbad. The 23-year old says he is "just excited. I think like Judd has given me a ton of opportunity and without them I probably wouldn't have had all these opportunities. I'm just psyched and I'm hopefully not letting them down for giving me these opportunities. I get to work with all my friends, which is like the most exciting part of all this." Asked if he could relate to Seth, Hill offers a wry smile. "Yeah, totally, I didn't get laid in high school," he says laughingly. But playing a fictionalised version of Seth Rogen was not without its challenges. "Seth and I hang out a lot and I remember, about a month or so before we started shooting it was kind of said in a one-sentence thing of like, don't do an impression of me, do it in your own style to make it your own. I wasn't trying to be like Seth because the character was really well written so I just tried to add as much of my own sense of humour and what my strengths probably would be."
The film's human centre is due to what Judd Apatow brings to his work. One of Hollywood's most successful maker of adult comedies, rather than making films designed to merely shock at our own foibles, he has successfully combined a raucous comic tone with genuine humanity, a fine balancing act. Asked why he has been able to tap into contemporary audiences, Apatow offers a serious explanation. "I don't really understand what's happening right now. All I know is that as I begin to ponder it, it is disappearing out of my hands," the writer/producer says. "I feel like Peter Frampton after "Frampton Comes Alive." I'm locking up as we speak and last night's standing ovation of Superbad basically was the beginning of the end. I mean, I don't know, it's the same stuff we've been trying to do from the beginning, always wanting to make movies like these. We weren't allowed to. We tried since I started, and suddenly they're letting us. I think as they do well, they give us a little more reign each time and because we haven't screwed it up, that reign allows us to take chances. The budgets are small enough that people aren't too anal about what we're doing, and I think there's something natural happening that will soon screw up and we'll all price ourselves out of the business. That's what I'm looking forward to."
Seth Rogen, too, has found a footing in Hollywood he never expected both as an actor and writer. Now, he and Goldberg are scripting a much bigger film for Sony, The Green Hornet. "We're trying to keep it as true to the 1966 TV series as possible," Rogen explains. "We want it to be an adventure action movie, somewhere in the world of Lethal Weapon and Indiana Jones. I mean, that's kind of what we're striving for and we just want it to be fun, sexy and kick-ass." One would assume that if Rogen and Goldberg were writing it, it might be perceived as a comedy, but not so, insists Rogen. "We're not doing like a goofy re-imagining of The Green Hornet, in that he's not get bitten by a radioactive hornet or anything like that, but we're making it urban."
As for the casting of Steven Chow as Kato, Rogen won't be drawn on casting rumours. "He is one of many awesome people out there. I mean, I don't know, we haven't actually talked to him or anything like that. It's hard to cast someone when you have no idea. We've never written anything that anyone thinks will allow you to write this movie." In fact, Rogen confesses that he has no idea why Sony asked he and Goldberg to write Green Hornet in the first place. "I mean, it's one of these things I'm sure a lot of people wanted to do it, but they picked us." Maybe someone sees parallels between Superbad and The Green Hornet. "They're buddy movies and they're both about relationships between two guys."
And Rogen also completed his first action movie, Pineapple Express, also written by Rogen and Goldberg. "The people who have seen it really think the action is kick-ass, which is one of the reasons we thought we could even maybe make a movie like The Green Hornet, because we saw that it actually works, and tonally you can kind of keep it real, have good action, emotions and humour, and I guess it all can kind of work together." It seems that for the Apatow juggernaut, the future could not be brighter. Jonah says that "I'm writing right now, taking some time to write some movies and trying to get better at that. I don't know what I'm going to act in next, but I just kind of want to take my time and not rush into acting in another movie unless I really think it's going to be awesome."