If you’re perplexed to hear that this summer’s break out movie star is a 24-year-old, self-described “Canadian Jew” who ends almost every sentence with a donkey-bray laugh, know that Seth Rogen is every bit as surprised as you are.
“It’s just weird, I have no other way to describe it,” says Rogen, the star of the comedy Knocked Up, opening Friday.
Katherine Heigl, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jay Baruchel
(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 1 Jun 2007 (General release); 2007)
“I’ve gone from being that guy whose name nobody ever remembers to being the guy that the movie’s about,” Rogen says of his role in Knocked Up, director Judd Apatow’s follow-up to the smash The 40 Year-Old Virgin.
Rogen plays Ben Stone, your everyday beer-drinking, video game-playing, technically unemployed L.A. pothead. His natural wit gets him noticed by Allison (Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl), whom he meets in a club on the night she’s celebrating a promotion. They hook up—and she discovers a few weeks later that she’s pregnant.
“I’m pretty certain that if Judd hadn’t hit with Virgin, no studio would have taken the chance on me. Hell, I wouldn’t have taken the chance on me,” says Rogen, unleashing one of his many hearty snort-laughs. “I was comfortable playing the irresponsible best friend, you know? But Judd said he thought I would be the right guy for this one, and I had to trust him. If he’s wrong, well, I’m the guy whose face is on the freakin’ poster. But people seem to dig it, so maybe we’re OK.”
Apatow, who cast a 16-year-old Rogen in the short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, says he knew Rogen could carry a film—especially if he was surrounded by friends.
“Seth started doing stand-up comedy in Canada when he was 13, so it’s not like he’s lacking in confidence, you know? It might have been a little scary for him, but the way we make movies, it’s like a gang,” he says. “We start with a premise and a script that turns out being more of an outline, and then everybody contributes. We’re all in it together, for better or worse.”
And like Virgin, Knocked Up is rated R, full of crude and hilarious dialogue and an explicit birth scene.
“It’s what the movie’s about,” says Rogen. “I thought, man, we say and show everything else, why should we wimp out on the real deal?”
Rogen and Apatow argue that the success of Virgin was dependent not just on its dirty words and sexual frankness but also because “it has heart, you know?” says Rogen. “In the end, people said, `You know, that was actually really sweet.’ And that’s what people have been telling me about Knocked Up, too. They like all these characters, and they really want them to be happy.”
The balance, he says, required finding a leading lady who ” would seem to be way out of Ben’s league, you know, way too pretty and smart, but could see beyond his obvious shortcomings to what he was really like inside.”
The audition process was challenging, Rogen says. “Some of the women who came in were really, really good actors, but you could just sense how uncomfortable they were with the humor and the situations.
“But when Katherine came in, it was instant. She just got it right away, and she may not appreciate me saying this, but it’s like she was one of us already.”
“Us” includes Apatow and Rogen, plus Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill, who appeared with Rogen in The 40 Year-Old Virgin; Leslie Mann, who plays Allison’s older sister in Knocked Up and is married to Apatow; and Jay Baruchel, who headed the cast of Undeclared.
“My basic working method is that I like to be around people who are all at least as neurotic as me,” says Apatow. “And of course, who can make me laugh.”
“Uh, I’m not sure that’s really all that hard,” jokes Rogen. “We all have the same warped sense of humor. But it’s looking like there’s a lot more other warped people out there too. I think they call them humans.”