Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Seth Rogen's The Interview Harnesses the Power of Butthole Jokes [UPDATE]

Posted By on Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Seth Rogen finds the absurd in North Korea in The Interview. - RYAN ORANGE
  • Ryan Orange
  • Seth Rogen finds the absurd in North Korea in The Interview.

Update: Sony has officially canceled the theatrical release of The Interview following terrorist threats against theaters -- and the announcement that several major theater chains had opted not to exhibit the film. Here's Sony's official statement on the decision:

In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers. Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale - all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.

Sony assumed North Korea would hate the movie. The question was: What would it do? Pyongyang had just tested its atom bomb and threatened "preemptive nuclear attack." And the Supreme Leader with his finger on the trigger was barely over 30, with less than two years of experience.

But Kim Jong-un didn't care about Olympus Has Fallen, even though the violently anti–North Korean 2013 film showed his people strangling women, murdering unarmed men, kidnapping the U.S. president and even executing their fellow citizens. That wasn't worth a fight.

A year later, North Korea had a bigger enemy: Seth Rogen.

In the new film The Interview, which Rogen directed with long-time writing partner Evan Goldberg, he plays trash-TV producer Aaron, who has become bored with pop-culture gossip. Then he and his bimbo host, Dave Skylark (James Franco), score an interview with Kim Jong-un (Randall Park).

There's a catch and a twist: First, a CIA agent (Lizzy Caplan) commands Aaron and Dave to assassinate Kim Jong-un for the good of the world. Second, Skylark and Kim Jong-un instantly hit it off and spend the trip cruising in tanks listening to Katy Perry, banging chicks at orgies and bonding over the pressures of media scrutiny and disapproving parents. Sighs Kim Jong-un, "You know what's more destructive than a nuclear bomb? Words."

In June, two weeks after Sony released The Interview's first trailer, the Korean Central News Agency slammed Rogen as a "gangster filmmaker" who had made a "blatant act of terrorism and war." The country promised stern and merciless retaliation and warned that Kim Jong-un himself would see The Interview.

"We were told that they have good hackers in North Korea and that they've probably hacked into Sony's servers and watched the movie already," Rogen says.

Sony had been worried about The Interview for months. At its Tokyo headquarters, the company had a front-row seat to Japan's diplomatic efforts to soothe relations with North Korea. Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai reportedly asked studio head Amy Pascal to tone down the film, which she told Rogen was the corporation's only creative command in her 25-year career. "You have the power to help me here," Pascal emailed Rogen.

One month before The Interview's Christmas opening date, computer hackers imploded Sony's online network, vaporizing its communications, pirating five new films, publicizing employee Social Security numbers and spilling embarrassing inside information. By the time pseudonymous emails threatened Sony employees' families, some workers were so exhausted that they stood in the hallways and wept.

Was North Korea behind the attack -- or the subsequent threats on American theaters? A government spokesman denied involvement but accused Sony of "abetting a terrorist act" and suggested the studio "reflect on its wrongdoings."

What's most telling about Kim Jong-un's regime, a mind-controlling, monolithic dictatorship beyond the wildest dreams of Joseph Stalin or Mao, isn't that it was furious at a Hollywood film. It's which film.

It wasn't Olympus Has Fallen, the cruel action flick with three Oscar nominees in its cast.

It was the comedy written, directed by and starring a man last seen sword-fighting with a dildo.


Here's why the North Korean government didn't mind Olympus Has Fallen: It made them look capable of blowing up the White House. By contrast, The Interview dares joke that Kim Jong-un — gasp! — is scared to drink margaritas because his dad, Kim Jong-il, convinced him they were "gay."

Fear is fine. But humiliation means war.

In response to the Korean Central News Agency threats, Rogen tweeted, "Apparently Kim Jong Un plans on watching The Interview. I hope he likes it!!"

Does he really?

"I don't know, he probably will hate it because it literally has a goal to debase him and humiliate him," Rogen says.

But at least The Interview does so with a smile. As Randall Park plays him, Kim Jong-un is, well, adorable. At least at first.

"It was important for me to bring a vulnerability to him," Park says. When he meets Franco's Dave Skylark, Park squeals with excitement. Park based the moment on the Vice documentary where Kim Jong-un is visibly nervous before meeting basketball player Dennis Rodman.

Kim Jong-un's classmates from his international school in Switzerland remember the future leader forever doodling pictures of Michael Jordan, "something that I probably did when I was younger," Park says.

"As an actor, I'd have some reservations about playing a living dictator," says Rogen, who later admitted to Park that he was the only actor to audition. "I'm impressed that he did it, honestly."

The reaction Park was most afraid of was that of his parents, both immigrants from South Korea. Luckily, they gave him their blessing. "They just thought it was a really funny concept — and daring," he says.

"It's all based on real shit!" Rogen exclaims. Which is crazy for a few reasons. First, because this is the first script Rogen and Goldberg ever bothered to research. ("If North Korea was a Jeopardy! category, I would do well," Rogen insists.)

Second, because of the "facts" they've found, which sound fake but aren't. The Interview's Kim Jong-un has convinced his subjects that he talks to dolphins. An even bolder claim: Kim Jong-un doesn't have an anus. "He has no need for one," says his fictional press handler, Sook (Diana Bang).

"I've heard defectors say that, too," North Korea expert James Person of the D.C.-based Wilson Center confirms. "The cult of personality is built to such an extreme that it's something you would never think of: the leader defecating."

"As idiots, we obviously gravitated to that one," Rogen says. "We couldn't even put in a lot of the shit that is real because it almost starts to feel like we're just making shit up." Fun "facts" he and Goldberg couldn't use: that Kim Jong-un designed every building in North Korea, that he was born with a unicorn in a magical cave and that he invented the hamburger.

Third, despite all of that, the closing credits insist that The Interview is a work of fiction, in which any similarities to persons living or dead are coincidental.

"It's legally the weirdest shit ever," Rogen says. "Normally in a movie like this, they would make up a guy — it would be Kim Song Bob."

But he and Goldberg had fought a similar battle the year before with the rapture comedy This Is the End, in which Rogen, Franco and friends played themselves fighting the demons of Hell. Initially, the studio said no. They fretted it would be too confusing. But Rogen eventually won that debate and This Is the End went on to make quadruple its budget. This time, when the studio resisted, his counter-argument was prepared.

But Sony's lawyers weren't satisfied. They fretted over things Rogen and Goldberg weren't expecting. In the film's opening scene, a North Korean moppet sings that she wishes Americans would "drown in their own blood and feces." The lawyers weren't nervous about the lyrics. They were nervous that she was superimposed in front of an actual North Korean monument. Legally, movies need permission to show most monuments, Rogen says, no matter what country they're in. (Sony did not answer requests for clarification.) They're works of art. But who would grant it?

"Some things that are not quite legal were done under the assumption that North Korea won't sue us," Rogen says. "But then other things, they just for some reason decided we have to operate under the assumption that North Korea might sue us."

Studio laywers said The Interview could keep the name Kim Jong-un, the flirtation between the dictator and Skylark, the anus joke, the real-life monument and even the line where the Supreme Leader leers, "Guess what I get tons of? Pussy!" But they asked Rogen to digitally erase Kim Jong-il from the buttons on the North Korean military costumes, for fear that it would be considered blasphemous.

"That's what you want to change?" Rogen guffaws. But he agreed. Apparently to North Korea, it would be no laughing matter.

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