From the Set of ‘Neighbors’: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Evan Goldberg on Their R-Rated Comedy
When I got a chance to sit down with Zac Efron, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen on the set of their upcoming R-rated comedy, ‘Neighbors,’ Efron was easily the most amped to be there. Perhaps he worried that he would be stuck for much of his career playing in romantic comedies, and similar Disney-fied films (more women break out of the child star shackles than teen heartthrobs). For him it might very well change everything.
Where for Rogen and Goldberg, who recently finished ‘This Is the End’ at the time of our interview, the movie was a transition point as Rogen is now getting old enough to play a responsible adult and parent. And though he produced ‘Neighbors’ with Goldberg, he definitely maintains his hand in the process.
It seems that one of the themes of the movie is that you’re playing against someone who is a character you could have played 10 or 12 years ago.
Seth Rogen: That’s true. I think part of what’s funny about the movie is he [Efron’s character] recognizes that he might be me in 10 years. It’s about not wanting to grow up.
Zac Efron: Yeah. There’s a scene where we talk on the couch and Seth seems to be doing it all, doing everything right. Whatever this age is, he’s doing it correctly. And I get the feeling that I’ve hit my peak, and it really makes me afraid. So when he starts one-upping the fraternity, I have a crazy vendetta against him. Literally we almost kill each other.
Rogen: I’m ruining his perfect moment. The moment in his life where, like, there’s really no repercussions and he’s not really yet an adult. And because I’m jealous and resentful, I try to destroy that. My character is married and has a new baby and a house and responsibility. And I think my character is just really grappling and in denial about the fact that he can’t do all the fun sh-t that Zac does on a regular basis in the movie.
Efron: We start out as buddies.
Rogen: We get along really well, and then we realize it can’t work. We can’t coexist. Like most superheroes and villains.
There seems to be an evenhandedness to this film. You guys both seem to have well-rounded characters.
Rogen: I think people will sympathize with both of our characters and see where he’s coming from and where we’re coming from. And I think that’s why it’ll be a fun movie, because we both push it too far and we’re both wrong at times, but we’re both right at times, too.
How does being married in real life actually help you with this new role?
Rogen: From an improvisational standpoint, it helps. I’m very domesticated. Me and my wife watch ‘House of Cards.’ We don’t go out and drink anymore, but we both would like to. “Do we go out to the club and hang out with our friends and stay out all night, or do we catch up on ‘Game of Thrones‘ and go to sleep?” I really relate to that, and that’s what the movie is about.
Efron: This is true. He never comes out with us.
Rogen: Exactly, but I’m all caught up on ‘Game of Thrones.’
Can both of you talk about how nice it is to have the freedom to make a hard R movie. Zac, what’s it like saying f—?
Efron: I’ll tell you, it feels f—ing fantastic.
Rogen: It feels right.
Efron: We f—ing say f—, like…
Rogen: Hundreds, thousands, a lot … We’ll take some out, but — .
Efron: On TV it’s going to be shucks.
Rogen: Yeah, there’s a lot of swearing in it. It’s fun, right?
Efron: Yeah, it’s really fun. It is liberating. It’s …. yeah.
Now, did you only sign on because of the amount of male nudity?
Rogen: I did. I can field that one.
Efron: Yeah, I knew I’d get to touch Seth’s bare chest. I signed on because I was always excited about the prospect of being in an R-rated comedy. But I didn’t want to do it with anybody except Seth. I was excited because he called me up and said, “Come hang out in the trailer. I have something to pitch you.” And I was like, “That is the coolest thing ever for someone to do,” because you never get those calls. It never happens for me, anyway.
Could you see each other working in another movie together?
Efron: Absolutely. The first thing I asked on set was, “So, do you stay or do you go home?” And he said, “No, why would I go home? All my friends are here.” And I’m like, “That is how I want to make movies.” It feels like you’re part of a family, so it’s really nice.
Is he officially a part of your crew now?
Rogen: He’s in. You saw how much he was swearing. That’s the initiation.
When did you guys know that you had chemistry together?
Rogen: It was when we did the first table read, after that we wrote into the movie that it seemed like we would get along in a way much greater than we expected. The first time we read the whole script out loud, one of the responses we got from our friends was, “It seems like you guys would get along at first.” And that was a beat that we extended, the honeymoon period of me partying with them, thinking he’s cool, him thinking I’m cool, and us enjoying each other before we realize that it’s an explosive situation. And then, even beyond that, we’ve maintained this thread of just like it could have gone well between us.
Efron: Which is exciting because in the first draft I was an anti-Semite.
Rogen: It’s true.
Efron: I was horrible.
Rogen: I stand by some of that stuff.
Will you be doing more roles like this and more comedy films?
Efron: I may never work again after this.
[Writer's Note: With that Zac had to leave, and producer Evan Goldberg came in.]
Now that Zac’s gone …
Rogen: Now I can take my shirt off.
You just came from directing. Now you’re producing, but you’re clearly very involved. Can you talk a little bit about the dynamic that goes on between Evan, you and Nick [Stoller]?
Rogen: It’s great. We’re producers on the movie, so we can enforce our will if we really feel like we want to. We’re here every day. I’m not acting today, and we’re just here. He’s a lot more organized than we were as directors. It’s very fluid. Nick is super open and not protective of what he’s doing in an aggressive way. We learned how to do this the same way, we shared an office on ‘Undeclared,’ literally. So I think, like, the ideology that we approach filmmaking with is really the same, which is be open, be fluid, explore everyone’s ideas and just try to make the best version of the scene. One of the biggest lines between being the director and not the director is you can’t just yell sh-t out at the actors. That’s basically it. If you’re the producer or the writer, you got to go up to the director and whisper jokes in, and then he decides whether or not he wants to yell them out to the actors. But that’s a big power, being the guy who actually yells sh-t out at the actors.
Evan Goldberg: I can whisper two things to Nick a take.
Rogen: Exactly, and then he decides if he wants to yell them out or not.
How does it feel to be reunited with Christopher Mintz-Plasse after ‘Superbad’?
Rogen: He got so much better since we had worked with him. And he was great when we worked with him in the first place..
Goldberg: It’s just nice to see he’s not going to be trapped as McLovin forever.
Rogen: He’s acted his way out of that. If anything, he’s going to be The Mother—er, which is way better.
Goldberg: When we made ‘Superbad,’ he was the only guy who felt like the really young guy. So, if he turned out to be, like, a cokehead or a heroin addict, we would have been “That’s our fault.”
Rogen: He just moved out of his parents’ house. What’s weird is it’s the first movie we made where we’re significantly older than a large chunk of the movie.
You guys had comedian friends come in, read the draft, figure out what works, what doesn’t work. Who are the people that you guys call?
Goldberg: Well, it always starts with Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, and they directly work for us.
Rogen: Yeah, they’re executive producers on ‘This Is The End,’ and we’ve worked with them for years. They’re the first to read it. And if we have a table read, we reach out to everyone that we’ve worked with. Judd [Apatow] came to the table read.
Goldberg: Chris Brown.
Rogen: Chris Brown, not the R&B singer, the guy who wrote for ‘Undeclared.’
Goldberg: Rodney Rothman, Jason Mantzoukas.
Rogen: Dan Sterling came.
Goldberg: Sometimes Nick Kroll. David Krumholtz.
Rogen: What’s funny is, at every table read, there’s one person who seems to get more than anyone else in the room how to fix the movie, and it was Mantzoukas on this movie. He was like, “I know what you need to do.” It generally happens at one of those things. He was able to pinpoint a lot of the issues that we had structurally. A big thing in the movie is that me and my wife are always on the same team. That was important to us, she’s not like the traditional naggy wife who’s trying to stop me from doing fun sh-t. There’s almost no conflict between me and her in the movie. We’re a unit. And that was something that was nebulous in an initial draft. And Mantzoukas was the one to solidify it and say, “Go through the whole movie, and anytime you see she’s being a wet blanket, take it out. That’s not what this is.” And it worked great.
That’s the cheapest, easiest conflict.
Rogen: It is. If anything, our problem as characters is that [we're] too similar. It’s mostly our conflict with Zac, and we’re a team, which is much more reflective of our relationships. And our friends helped us recognize that was an original idea that we should pursue.
You’re used to working with James Franco. How do you like working with Dave Franco?
Goldberg: I worked with Dave Franco first. I worked on ‘Superbad’ with him before I worked with James. They’re super similar to work with.
Rogen: I call James “Franco.” I just call him Franco. So, it’s weird because I always go to Dave and say, “Oh, I was with Franco yesterday. Oh, you’re a Franco.” So, I’ve had to adjust what I call them. Every once in a while Dave will do something where — because we’ve worked with James so much — you start to recognize the small patterns in what they do.
Goldberg: They f— with annunciation in the same way.
Can you tell us more about Franco’s role? Can you shed a little spotlight on him?
Rogen: He’s Zac’s best friend in the fraternity. And he’s the guy who has a future and recognizes that this isn’t the best time of his life. He’s studying to be an architect, and it looks like he will graduate and go to school.
Goldberg: He understands this is fun but temporal, and he’s going to have to move on.
Rogen: So his story with Zac is really about how a rift is forming, because the more Zac gets into f—ing with me, the more Dave’s like, “This is stupid. This whole thing is just supposed to be fun, and we have futures beyond this. Why put so much energy into this?” But, for Zac, it’s all he has.
When we were talking to Nick, he said that he sees you as a writer when you’re performing. I’m curious if you feel the same way.
Rogen: I think I’m not Daniel Day-Lewis. In short bursts I can do different characters and stuff like that, but I don’t know if I’ll ever do a whole movie where I have a f—ing accent or something like that. I do approach it kind of as a writer. I look at how the scene should be played from the larger standpoint.
Do you have a ceiling budget-wise when making an R-rated comedy? Were they [Universal] looking for a PG-13 for this one?
Rogen: No. No.
Goldberg: No, no, no.
Rogen: No, no, no, no.
Goldberg: I think people are done playing that game with us.
Rogen: We got the movie to a budget that was small enough that we could do whatever we wanted. They have no risk. We can do whatever we want. And, like, in the end, everyone’s really happy. But what you gain freedom-wise from not having a lot of money is much more valuable than what you lose freedom-wise from having a lot of money, you know? And I think what we’ve learned over the years is having a lean budget but the creative freedom to do whatever you want is far more fun and enjoyable and generally creates a much better product, and a more profitable product than if we have a ton of money pumped into it and a bunch of people trying to control the outcome.
How does it feel when you’ve come up with a new dick joke?
Goldberg: Super, super rad.
Rogen: Pretty psyched.
Goldberg: What was more fun than us coming up with new ones is the visual effects dudes on ‘This Is the End.’ They would show us their previews.
Rogen: On this we have more practical dicks.
Do you prefer CGI or practical?
Goldberg: Practical takes a lot less time.
Rogen: But you can control how the dick moves better with digital.
Goldberg: Lights on nonexistent dicks. And the shadows they would or wouldn’t cast.
Rose Byrne, who I feel like we should mention at some point, plays your wife.
Rogen: Yeah, she’s the best.
How was it bringing Rose into this gang, though she’s obviously worked with a lot of people you’ve worked with before.
Rogen: I couldn’t imagine doing this with anyone else, honestly. She’s so funny and game.
Goldberg: She has no flaw, she does it all. Though I don’t know if she’s excellent at action.
Rogen: She probably is.
She was in ‘X-Men: First Class.’
Goldberg: OK, she’s good at everything.
Rogen: Perhaps her greatest acting ability is she really seems like she likes me at times. When I watch it, I’m like, “We look like a real married couple.” It’s crazy.
Was there anything too far for her?
Goldberg: I will say I think she’s pushed it further than any other actor on the movie. She’ll say some crazy sh–.
Rogen: Every once in a while, there’ll be a thing where she’s like, “Really?” The line I always give her is, “It’s an edgy movie. It’s edgy material.”
You started out autobiographically. Now that you’ve achieved a great deal of success, that seems to be a little harder maybe to get in touch with. Has that been a problem? Because “rich people problems” are a little different.
Rogen: Well, we made a movie where we play ourselves. So we figured out a way to still do it, I guess, in some way. I think you have to be aware that you can’t complain about being rich. And I wouldn’t, ’cause it’s awesome. That isn’t our instinct anyway. We’ve always been interested in making the types of movies that we like to go see. Sometimes they turn out to be those movies. Sometimes they don’t. But that’s always our goal.
Goldberg: I think it helps that I’ll always be less rich than him. Where it’s like he’ll get a check, he’ll see me frown, and he’ll understand.
Rogen: And I’ll just be like, “You know when your Ferrari won’t start?” And he’s just like, “I don’t have a Ferrari.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, we can’t write that.”
What does your character do in this film?
Rogen: In this movie? I have a job at an office.
Goldberg: At an office.
Rogen: It’s probably on camera because me and Ike [Barinholtz], we work together in the movie, and there’s a scene where we’re behind our desks, and we hear “Rolling. Okay. Get ready, everyone quiet.” And Ike says, “What do we do?” And I’m like, “I have no f—ing clue.” Then they go, “And action.”
Goldberg: They work on files.
Rogen: We work in an office.
Goldberg: Rose is on maternity leave from a job.
Rogen: I think we’re accountants. It’s one of those movies where the jobs just aren’t that significant. I think it’s a recent trend in movies where the job is such a big thing. We would always talk about how in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ you don’t really know what they do. It just doesn’t matter.
Goldberg: On ’50/50,’ we were always like, “Does he need more than one friend in the world?” The answer was no. One friend worked.
I’m assuming you guys heard, like, crazy frat stories. Was there anything that you guys heard about that was too far or too unbelievable to even make in the movies?
Goldberg: I mean, they f— kids in the butt with brooms in frats.
Rogen: They do crazy sh-t in frats. Something we had to be aware of is just, like, as nerdy dudes, I think it was our initial instinct to demonize fraternity life in general. And Zac is the one who early on said, “Frat guys have to like this movie. If they don’t like it, then it’s not going to work.”
Goldberg: “They can still do some douchey stuff every now and then because they know they do. But, in the end, you have to appreciate their love for one another.”
Rogen: You have to recognize that there are positive elements to it. But there’s not even frats where we’re from. But it’s just your instinct as a nerdy dude to be like, “Aw, f—ing frats.” It’s all because of ‘Revenge of the Nerds.’ It all goes back to that.
Evan, I’d like to congratulate you on ‘Goon.’
Goldberg: Oh, thanks man. I think we’re making a sequel.
Rogen: They play the ‘Mighty Ducks’ in it.
‘Neighbors’ opens May 9.