Posted on Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 by Germain Lussier
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” screams one of the most evil men in the world. “Me and David Skylark, in my tank, blasting Katy Perry!” The horrific dictator is right. The mix of pop music, foul language and male machinery is just about the perfect amount of awesome on a cold, snowy Vancouver day.
David Skylark is a character played by James Franco in The Interview, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s follow-up to the massive 2013 hit This is the End. The faux entertainment journalist is driving in the tank of Kim Jong Un (played by Randall Park), the North Korean dictator who is preparing to be interviewed by Skylark. Oh, and by the way, the CIA has asked Skylark and his producer Aaron (Rogen) to kill him.
Though the tank and North Korean setting are fabricated on a soundstage in Rogen and Goldberg’s hometown of Burnaby, British Columbia (just outside of Vancouver) that Katy Perry love isn’t fabricated. Everyone on set is singing, laughing, and that’s just the beginning of the madness that went down on December 10, 2013, the 42nd and final day of shooting on The Interview, which hits theaters December 25.
The idea for The Interview came to Seth Rogen years ago. “The idea came from reading articles about, like Mike Wallace interviewed Osama Bin Laden and that journalists are in a weird position to get closer to these kind of evil dictators than anyone else is,” he said. “And it was also inspired by the idea that you do always hear Saddam Hussein was a fan of Western movies. You hear that these guys are fans of Western culture and pop culture specifically, so we thought an entertainment journalist might be a funny way into that.”
He and co-writer and director Evan Goldberg sold a pitch to Sony in 2013 and, along with writer Dan Sterling, created the main character of David Skylark, described by Rogen as Oprah meets Ryan Seacrest but on TMZ. The co-director and co-producer also stars as Skylark’s producer, Aaron, and it’s an extension of the bond the two have build in Pineapple Express and This is the End. “It’s like a married couple type relationship in the movie, like we clearly spend tons of time together and we clearly love each other, but we clearly are at times, incredibly frustrated. Him with my probably uptightness and me with the fact that he’s just psychotic.” Rogen said
How psychotic? Well, Franco’s description of the character should explain. “I mean, I imagine the way this guy is so obsessed with any kind of celebrity gossip,” he said. “I imagine the offices at TMZ or something where it’s just like ‘Oh my God, we just got somebody! We just got the pantiless shot of so and so getting out of the car. We have to have to… Oh my God, this is huge!’ You can imagine them celebrating it.”
Once the psychotic Skylark is granted an interview with Un, the CIA will approach them to assassinate the dictator. And while he and Aaron agree, once they arrive, Skylark and Un develop a friendship that complicates things.
On the final day of shooting in Vancouver, that developing relationship is fully on display. The production is attempting to shoot seven and a half pages across three stages on this last day with the main crew filming Skylark and Un in Un’s tank.
Skylark discovers a sound system in the tank and hits play to Un’s dismay. The Katy Perry song “Firework” comes on (on set, it doesn’t actually come on, because it would screw up the sound). “Oh, my wife must have left this on,” the dictator says embarrassed. But Skylark isn’t phased. “I love Katy Perry!” he gushes. They discuss her body, her message and agree she can “write a mean pop hook.” As this happens Rogen, the director, throws a few lines out for Franco to improv. “Fucking ‘Roar?’ Are you kidding me?”
This exchange makes Un feel comfortable enough to ask another question. “Dave, do you think margaritas are gay?” The out of left field joke is so funny, a production assistant is sent to tell myself and fellow journalists to stop laughing so loudly. “Who told you that? If liking Katy Perry and drinking margaritas are gay, who wants to be straight?” Skylark retorts. “If the cost of a margarita is a dick in the ass, I’ll take two.”
Those are just some of the lines that’ll be thrown around in this scene, which they shoot about 3-4 times in long takes from each side.
After This is the End, Rogen and Goldberg were just happy to make another movie. And while that meta-masterpiece messed with expectations on a story level, this movie does it in another way.
“The style in which we filmed it is totally different,” said Goldberg. “It’s not gonna start as a subtle hint. It starts with a level of scope we kind of maintain.” “As contained as This is the End was, we tried to make this as filled with scope as it could be,” Rogen added. “We tried to use a lot of helicopters and cranes and tried to move the camera a lot. We tried to develop a visual style that allowed us to improvise a lot but allowed us, at the same time, to do things they don’t usually do visually in comedies. We kind of tried to completely abandon how comedies look as much as we possibly could.”
Don’t be fooled by that talk though. This is not an action comedy. “We based it more on political thrillers like Ridley Scott movies, Michael Mann movies,” Rogen said. “We tried to use a lot of long lenses and, you know, we probably played some of the scenes tighter than they generally would in these types of comedies. But to us the fact that it looks kind of serious and has this weight to it, makes it funnier because it really looks like we’re stuck in like a serious political thriller, which is funny to us, because a lot of things get shoved in asses in this movie.”
“Tight” is a great word for the tank shoot. Walking by the physical set, it’s only about 5 feet high and 15 feet long. Though it looks like a tank inside, outside it looks like a giant coffin. After Skylark and Un bond over margaritas and Katy Perry, they take the tank out for a spin. With the wind blowing through his hair (created by a fan) Skylark screams about how driving the tank is like a video game. “This is like Grand Theft Auto,” he says. “Driving the tanks in Grand Theft Auto is harder than this.” And then, he and Un start to wail that Katy Perry song. (Franco has it playing in an ear monitor off camera.) “Baby you’re a firework!”
One might think in a film with these political overtones, there would be some major fireworks over the portrayal of the North Korean dictator. Actor Randall Park disagrees, saying he feels the character is much less one dimension than he could have been been. “Because it is this real life dictator who’s responsible for a lot of crimes against humanity I feel like maybe the tendency for most scripts would be to portray him as evil, almost one-dimensional,” Park said. “But I felt like just as an actor I wanted to give him some layers and portray him as more of a human being, a vulnerable multidimensional human being that just so happens to be responsible for all these horrible things. I think that really was kind of how they were seeing it as well.”
That’s humanity is on full display in the tank scene. “Can we fire the gun?” Skylark asks. “Hell yeah we can, David Skylark!” Un answers. “Me and David Skylark, in my tank, blasting Katy Perry, it doesn’t get better than this.” The unlikely duo aim and fire an armor piercing round into a mountain and the whole set shakes to mimic what would happen upon release. Rogen cues when the round would hit and from across the stage you can hear Franco and Park scream in excitement at the implied explosion. “Fuck those trees!” “We just came on that mountain’s face!” Never forget this is a Rogen/Goldberg movie.
To figure out the look of North Korea, besides extensive research in books and as many documentaries as they could get their hands on, the production licensed new footage the Vice TV show. They’re using that footage to create digital extensions. And yes, Vice is the show that got Dennis Rodman into North Korea, a situation that feels oddly similar to the film. But the idea for the film came before Rodman’s trip. To acknowledge it, some unscripted jokes were thrown out on set but there’s no guarantee they’ll make the final movie.
Whether or not Rodman is name dropped won’t be the only surprise in the movie either. After leaving Vancouver, the production was moving to Los Angeles for a few days to shoot some episodes of Skylark Tonight, Dave’s celebrity interview show, and that means cameos. Plus, though it was never mentioned directly, every interview talked about squibs and violence. This will be a violent, hard R rated movie.
With This is the End and now The Interview, it seems Rogen and Goldberg are slowly carving themselves a very interesting niche in comedy. Unapologetically course, subversive, but always with something to say, whether it be the nature of celebrity or how media plays a role in our perception of the world. And if you don’t care about all that, there’s plenty of dick jokes.
The Interview opens December 25. Check back later this week for our full interview with Franco, Rogen and Goldberg.Cool Posts From Around the Web: