TORONTO — Before the Sony hack, terror threats and screening cancellations, ‘The Interview’ co-directors and co-writers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen were reassured its plot of an assassination attempt against North Korea’s leader wouldn’t incite much of an uproar.
“We reached out to a few people who are in the know on international stuff, when we started out the (development) process, and just asked if it was not a good idea to do something about this,” Goldberg said in a telephone interview earlier this month, before the film was pulled and then reinstated in theatres over a terror threat.
“And they all said it might frustrate the North Koreans in some capacity but there’s no real problem with the situation, it’s still just a movie.”
As the longtime collaborators found out, not everyone felt the same way about the comedy, in which Rogen and James Franco play TV journalists enlisted by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a trip to Pyongyang to interview him.
North Korea condemned the film in the summer, and in late November speculation was rampant that the country was behind a cyberattack against Sony Pictures (North Korea denied the claims). After the hackers issued terror threats against movie theatres planning to screen the film, Sony cancelled its scheduled Dec. 25 cinematic release in the U.S. and Canada but eventually decided on a limited theatrical release south of the border. Sony also released the film on several digital platforms and this week announced it will screen it in some Canadian theatres beginning this Friday.
Goldberg said the idea for the film arose when Rogen saw a dictator being interviewed on TV. He found it interesting how such a reclusive or elusive figure could be accessible.
“The way we decide what movie we’re going to do is if we just keep having one idea pop up again and again, eventually we conclude that’s probably something we should do, and that idea just kept coming back,” said Goldberg, whose previous collaborations with Rogen include the comedies ‘Superbad,’ ‘Pineapple Express,’ and ‘This is the End.’
“Then one day we thought it would be cool to combine it with something based on real life, because of our experience on ‘This is the End’ having actors play themselves.”
The two initially wanted to do a film featuring former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, but he died in 2011 so they wrote son Kim Jong Un into the script instead.
“We kind of just hit this bizarre zeitgeist, which is an extremely bizarre coincidence,” said Goldberg. “We came up with this before Kim Jong Un, before Dennis Rodman went there, before all these things.”
Goldberg, who was childhood friends with Rogen in Vancouver, said they watched documentaries and read books and articles on North Korea as they wrote the script with Dan Sterling.
Fellow Vancouverite Diana Bang, who plays a North Korean propaganda minister, said movie-goers will find it to be more of a “buddy comedy” than a controversial or provocative story.
“They’ll realize that it’s just a hilarious Seth and Evan movie with Seth and James doing their bromance thing,” said Bang, a part-time receptionist who considers the role to be her big breakthrough.
Goldberg got rapper Eminem to agree to a cameo appearance after meeting him on the set of ‘Funny People.’ Goldberg was an executive producer on that film and Eminem told him ‘Superbad’ was one of his favourite movies, he said.
“He recited a full scene by memory, which I guess for him is not that hard but it impressed the hell out of me, and he said he loved ‘Superbad’ and he’d love to be in one of our movies,” Goldberg recalled. “So we remembered that and we called him up. It was bizarrely simple.”
Goldberg said ‘The Interview’ has “way more action” than ‘This is the End,’ including helicopter scenes, which the filmmakers found “quite exciting.” They shot the entire film in Vancouver, using CG and other film trickery to depict scenes in which Rogen’s character is travelling to North Korea on a train. The montage of him journeying to North Korea was actually inspired by Goldberg’s solo backpacking venture through China in 2003 and was one he’d been trying to put in a movie for 10 years, he said.
Though they’ve incorporated action sequences into a couple of their films now, Goldberg said he and Rogen aren’t looking to delve more into that genre — or any particular brand of moviemaking. In fact, they’ve even discussed doing a superhero movie and a simple romantic comedy, he admitted.
Their next project is an AMC pilot for an adaptation of the comic book series ‘Preacher.’ It will be funny but “not remotely as comedic” as their other films, said Goldberg.
“The thought of doing a scene and having to get there emotionally and this and that, and making sure the cinematography is good and then not having to make sure it’s funny is a massive relief,” he said. “I feel like it will be easier. I believe that comedy is harder than most other genres. I could be eating my words massively one day, but that’s what I believe today.”