Steven Spielberg Has A Family-Friendly View Of Seth Rogen's 'Stoner' Comedies

Steven Spielberg's newest film, "The Fabelmans," is both a fictionalized, dreamy trip through the filmmaker's childhood and an intimate portrait of the event that would inform the rest of his career: His parents' divorce. There's no shortage of powerhouse performances in this semi-autobiographical drama. Judd Hirsch gives a memorable one scene wonder performance as Uncle Boris, an ex-circus hand and fellow creative of the family. Michelle Williams and Paul Dano turn in honest and loving performances as flawed couple Mitzi and Burt Fabelman that are understandably making waves in the awards conversation. But one of the more underrated, difficult-to-balance roles was given to stoner comedy legend Seth Rogen.

Rogen plays "Uncle" Bennie, a riff on the real life Bernie Adler, who Spielberg could have easily villainized for the harsh dissolution of his own household. Instead, just like every other figure in young Sammy Fabelman's life, Spielberg chooses to focus on what he loved. Rogen excels at imbuing Bennie with fun-loving, childlike whimsy, but his exit at the midpoint of the film remains one of the highlights of the entire movie.

This week, Spielberg and Rogen attended the Palm Springs International Film Festival to promote "The Fabelmans." When asked by Variety about what the filmmaker's personal favorite "stoner comedy" of Rogen's was, Spielberg gave a classic, dad answer. "Having never been stoned, I don't see them as stoner movies," Spielberg explained to Variety. "I see them as movies about a police officer giving solid, sound advice to a young, impressionable person."

'He's been responsible for my entire career'

Of course, Spielberg was humorously referencing Rogen's film he co-wrote and co-starred in, "Superbad," in which he played an eccentric police officer opposite high school dweeb duo Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. While it's amusing to imagine a sober Spielberg seeking out Rogen's comedies in his free time, it's important to remember that Spielberg has been watching over Rogen's career for quite some time — long before Rogen's portrayal of Bennie Loewy.

In 1999, DreamWorks Television (an offshoot of DreamWorks, which Spielberg co-founded) produced "Freaks and Geeks," which featured Rogen's breakout performance as Ken Miller. Though the show was short-lived, it was a significant acting credit and would find a second life on streaming. "He's been responsible for my entire career," Rogen told Variety, reflecting on his working relationship with the director.

Back when "The Fabelmans" was in its pre-production phase, Spielberg admitted that he had imagined Rogen playing the role of Bennie. "I thought of Seth first; there was no second or third choice," Spielberg said. "Literally, I sent him the script, and [when] he wanted to do it, he made me the happiest guy in the world."

Rogen and Spielberg might make an unlikely pair on the surface, but they clearly have lots of respect for each other as individual artists. On Spielberg's end, allowing Rogen to be part of "The Fabelmans" took a significant amount of trust. This film is such a personal study of the filmmaker's most formative childhood memories, and Spielberg was constantly moved to tears throughout production. For the cast, there was an intense responsibility to handle this material with the highest respect. As Uncle Bennie, Rogen holds his weight against a cast of dramatic actors and proves he's much more than just comedic relief.