Over the past 6 years, in addition to being a steadily working comedic actor, Seth Rogen has produced 7 films. Beginning in 2005, Rogen acted as co-producer on Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year Old Virgin and has continued to have a hand in the production of many of his recent acting projects. His latest film however may just be his most personal to date.
50/50 is the story of a 27-year-old man named Adam, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s diagnosed with a rare and possibly fatal form of cancer. The idea came about after Rogen’s real-life best friend, 50/50’s writer Will Reiser, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 24 while the two were working together on Da Ali G Show. Rogen watched as his friend’s health began to unravel and struggled to make sense of it.
“When you’re younger it’s just so far removed from what you’re thinking about. We were in our early and mid-twenties; it was so outside the realm of what we were thinking about: mortality due to illness. We were thinking about how much E we could do in a week and not die. It was not are we going to get cancer and die.”
Rather than dwell on the possibly terrible outcome of Reiser’s condition, the two began to hatch a movie idea about a young man dealing with a disease that’s normally depicted on the big screen as something that happens to much older people.
“We couldn’t think of a movie that was about what (Will) had gone through that tonally felt like what it felt like for us. That’s usually what inspires us to make movies is seeing a void. Looking at something that we have experienced and seeing that no one has made a movie about it or in the way that we see it.”
And so 50/50 was born. Both Rogen and Reiser were adamant about wanting the film to stay away from sentimentality and melodrama, something that tends to plague movies dealing with serious illness.
“Most movies about cancer are very sad and sentimental and emotional and there are a lot of people hugging and crying and making these big, bold life decisions and that just wasn’t what we went though. To us, it was very scary and absurd and it was very funny at times because we very rarely talked about what we were feeling.”
In the film, Rogen plays Kyle, Adam’s insensitive best friend who deals with Adam’s condition by making light of it and using it to lure women into sympathy sex. The character is based on Rogen but the depiction of how he reacted to Reiser’s diagnosis isn’t entirely true.
“I think we did fictionalize some of it but yeah, I never talked about it seriously, I did always joke about it and kind of tried to find the funny version of what we could talk about. The movie version of that is that I’m trying to get him laid but that’s not specifically what I did. I guess I was slightly, insensitively optimistic. It was more the feeling we were trying to replicate.”
The film went into production in early 2010 with Rogen acting as the main producer (along with his partner Evan Goldberg) for the first time in his career.
“This is the first movie I produced where we had no one above us. It was nice to be able to not worry about getting yelled at or disappointing your employers. I was a caring yet stern dictator. We set a fun mood. People saw us and were like, “these guys are in charge?”
One of their first big decisions was to change the name of the film from its original title, the slightly irreverent I’m With Cancer to the more audience-friendly 50/50.
“We tried really hard to make a movie that was inclusive. We knew a title like that was potentially repellent to people. It seemed like the movie itself should be the risk and a title like that was silly to take a risk on.
Our goal with the title more became, let’s just think of one that doesn’t repel people – I do that well enough.”
Rogen enjoys producing as much as acting. He has two more producing projects in the works for 2012 and plans to continue to seek out projects that inspire him.
“You work on a project a lot longer when you’re a producer so you have a lot more invested. It means a lot more to you. You care a little more.”
In the meantime, Rogen is looking forward to the release of 50/50; a film that he hopes will strike the right chord with audiences, but isn’t going to let it get him down if it isn’t a huge success.
“I don’t really gauge my movies by the critical reaction or the financial success. I look at them and I can tell whether I think they’re creatively good or not good, if they’ve succeeded or failed and over the last few years have been able to just be satisfied with my own assessment of the work. I don’t know if that’s terrible or not.”
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Seth very much for talking with us. Be sure to check out 50/50 when it opens in theatres on September 30th.