By Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
As Sony Pictures’ cancellation of The Interview continues to raise a clamor around the world, the two people at the center of this growing storm — the film’s co-directors, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg — have been silent. James Franco, who co-stars in the film, popped up Thursday night to help Stephen Colbert bid adieu to The Colbert Report. But at press time, Rogen and Goldberg, longtime best friends and collaborators, who just over a week ago were smiling for photographers at the film’s Los Angeles premiere, had not sent out so much as a tweet.
What they originally envisioned as a silly, over-the-top comedy about a TV reporter (Franco) and producer (Rogen) trying to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sparked an international incident unlike anything the film industry has ever seen. Now, in the wake of the devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures that has been reportedly tied by U.S. officials to North Korea, the film has been indefinitely postponed.
That has put a halt — at least for now — to what has been a long winning streak with some of the decade’s biggest comedy hits. But don’t expect that hiatus to last long.
Coming in to The Interview, Rogen and Goldberg were on a roll that has made them one of the most powerful comedy teams in the industry.
Their directorial debut, last year’s apocalyptic comedy This Is the End, earned rave reviews and proved hugely profitable for Sony. Last summer’s Neighbors, for Universal Studios, which they co-produced and Rogen starred in, earned more than $268 million worldwide and was praised for offering a fresh twist on the otherwise stale frat-comedy genre.
Those successes — which came on the heels of earlier hits they wrote and produced, including Superbad and Pineapple Express — gave them the clout to push The Interview into what was clearly, in hindsight, perilously edgy territory.
Edginess, of course, albeit of a generally juvenile (and nonpolitical) variety, is essential to the duo’s comic brand, as they explained to The Times last month, just days before the Sony hacking came to light.
“Our comedic sensibility was shaped in a lot of ways by what happened in high school, which is why our movies are so immature and stupid,” Rogen said.
“You never know if a movie is going to be funnier or better than your last movie,” he added. “But what we always think is, ‘Maybe we can make the next movie crazier.'”
Rogen and Goldberg are already deep into work on other projects, two of which they’ve trying to bring to fruition for years.
This month, AMC ordered a pilot for a series adapted from the dark, violent comic-book series Preacher, to be executive produced by Rogen and Goldberg, a passion project the two have been pursuing for nearly a decade.
Both in format and genre, Preacher — the story of a preacher possessed by a supernatural being and looks to confront God — marks a major departure from Rogen and Goldberg’s earlier work.
“It will be much more dramatic than comedic,” Goldberg told The Times last month. “At times it will be funny like Breaking Bad was funny, but there are whole episodes that will be, like, scary.”
On the big screen, Rogen is set to co-star in an untitled Christmas comedy, due November 2015, which he and Goldberg produced. After that, the two are co-writing and producing an animated comedy called Sausage Party, a sort of demented, gleefully profane takeoff on Pixar movies like Toy Story about anthropomorphized food.
“Visually it’s a lot like a Pixar movie, but it’s super R-rated,” Rogen said. “We’ve been trying aggressively to make it for years. I feel like it couldn’t have happened until now.”
Sony is set to distribute Sausage Party, due in 2016.
As for their next big-screen directorial effort, Rogen and Goldberg haven’t figured that out yet.
“A couple of days ago we were like, ‘Maybe it’s time to move off of male-friendship movies a little bit,'” Rogen told The Times. “We’ve explored that a lot, and maybe it’s time to try another thing. … We want to do a bigger ensemble movie, something with a lot of people in it. We know so many funny people, it just seems exciting.”
This much is probably safe to say: Whatever film they make next, it won’t have anything to do with global politics.
Photo: Ed Araquel / Columbia Pictures