It turns out I’m gay. At least in the movie Observe and Report,
starring Seth Rogen and directed by Foot Fist Way helmer Jody Hill.
The movie’s a real change of pace for Rogen – instead of playing a laid
back stoner, he’s a tin pot dictator of a mall security guard (his only
powers are, as the title says, to observe and to report) who lives in a
double wide trailer with his mother. Rogen’s character of Ronnie has a
lot in common with Fred Simmons, Danny McBride’s character from Foot
Fist, in that he’s a little man in a position of some dubious authority
who takes it all too seriously. When a pervert begins flashing
mallgoers, Ronnie has to team up with a real cop, played by Ray Liotta,
to catch the culprit. Ronnie’s incredibly jealous of his turf while
Liotta’s Detective Harrison would rather be off investigating actual
crimes, not a guy showing mallwalkers his dick.
The production had taken over a mostly abandoned mall in Albuequerque,
New Mexico* (only a department store and a Bed Bath and Beyond remained
in business, although the mall itself remained open. Anyone could walk
off the street onto the set) and turned it into their own little corner
of Americana. Fake stores, loaded with real merchandise, filled empty
store fronts, and sections of the mall had been turned into workshops
and offices. Tucked in one corner was a Captain O’Landers, the seafood
place from Foot Fist (here’s hoping Hill gets O’Landers into every one
of his movies). The illusion of a working mall was so good that the
production had to shoo potential shoppers out of the fake stores.
We did the usual interviews – Ray Liotta was very nice, Michael Pena
showed off the comic side he wants to exercise more in his work, Jody
was obviously tired but exceptionally kind and open – but Seth Rogen
blew us all away. When he sat down, former CHUD junket guy Fred Topel
offered to transcribe the interview, no matter how long it was. ‘Even
if it’s an hour?’ I joked, knowing you never, ever get the star for
longer than ten to fifteen minutes. And we did get Seth for fifteen
minutes at the official sitdown… but later, as we were hanging out on
set and as lights were being rigged and whatnot, Seth came over to our
group and spent an extra forty five minutes hanging out, bullshitting
on the record. What Fred Topel’s jokes hath wrought!
It’s important to keep in mind that Seth Rogen is actually a star
(although he did say that when he goes out with Jonah Hill everyone
wants to talk to Jonah and leaves him alone). Maybe on The 40-Year Old
Virgin it would have been a good idea for him to come over to the
visiting journalists and butter them up, but at this stage his career
has taken off and he doesn’t need to play nice with the press beyond
his allotted fifteen minutes. And yet there he was, standing around and
shooting the shit, being incredibly unguarded and answering any and all
questions thrown at him. He’s just a genuinely cool and nice guy. Later on I ended up spending a couple of
minutes chatting with Seth alone, just talking movies – he’s a
real hardcore movie nerd, and a regular CHUD reader.
Part of the set visit involved the journalists doing a little work as
extras, which is when I became gay. We were handed over to the extras
wrangler, who cherry-picked the pretty female journalists to be seen
very clearly in the frame while the rest of us were chosen to be out of
focus blobs in the background. The wrangler looked at me and Reelz
Channel’s Tom and decided that we should walk together into a fake
Container Store, directly behind the main action of the scene, which
featured Seth Rogen and Ray Liotta interrogated Human Giant‘s Aziz
Ansari about being the pervert. Hill loves to let his actors use
improv, so Rogen and Ansari went back and forth for take after take,
and each time Tom and I would reset just outside of the camera range
and walk back to the Container Store, trying not to laugh as Rogen’s
booming voice said some hilarious borderline racist shit (when Ansari’s
character said he couldn’t be the flasher because the flasher had a
white dick, Rogen responded that maybe he had a cream that would make
his dick look ‘American.’).
After a couple of takes Tom and I began to ponder our motivation. Why
were we going to the Container Store? What were we buying? It soon
became clear that the only reason two grown, handsome, virile men would
be going to the Container Store together was if they were a gay couple.
Once we realized that the extras wrangler had cast us as a loving,
committed gay couple, everything else clicked into place. By which I
mean we began trying to make the actual, paid extras crack up on
camera. It’s weird to be doing this elaborate pantomime of ‘I’m
shopping for plastic boxes in which to store my shit,’ and it’s even
weirder when the ‘background actor’ playing the store clerk is taking
it really seriously, even when you whisper to him that you’d like to
make a trade for a crab-themed dining set – I was willing to give up
the opportunity to shave my scrotum to the man. Or my seven year old
daughter. Or a romantic weekend in a prison cell. I wasn’t able to make
the guy crack up, but watching his expression change from one of
amusment to weariness and finally annoyance over the course of six
takes made it all worthwhile for me.
I’m excited to see Observe and Report, and not just because it’s been a
lifelong dream to be an indistinct mass of color and shadow in the back
of a very funny scene in a major motion picture. This movie is going to
continue what Pineapple Express will begin – the redefinition of Seth
Rogen. There’s a darkness, a sadness, to Ronnie that I don’t think
we’ve seen from Rogen before, and it’s going to be cool when he shows
audiences that he’s not just the jolly joint smoker. I think that
between this and Pineapple, the idea of Seth Rogen as The Green Hornet
is going to be a lot less weird.
Look for the full interviews from the set as soon as the embargo is lifted.
*Again. Thanks to local tax breaks, New Mexico has become a filmmaking
mecca in the last few years. I’ve been there in the last two months
more often than I have been at the New Beverly.