Interview | Seth Rogen on ‘Steve Jobs’ and ‘Preacher’
Seth Rogen is America’s buddy. Famously friendly, on camera and off, the comedian and star of blockbuster buddy films like Pineapple Express and This Is The End has made an entire career out of being the most affable person in the room. How many people have a famous laugh? Not many, but we audiences seem to tire of Rogen’s iconic chuckle.
It’s a sound we heard a lot while interview Rogen about his new film, a serious drama about the life and career of Apple figurehead Steve Jobs. In Danny Boyle’s film, aptly titled Steve Jobs, Rogen plays Steve Wozniak, a technology pioneer who played an enormous role in developing what we now know of as personal computing. But Steve Jobs still gets most of the credit. In the movie, Wozniak spends fifteen years trying to convince his friend Jobs to say something nice about the Apple II, a computer that kept the company afloat but which Jobs had very little to do with.
I spoke to Seth Rogen over the phone about his impressive new movie, and how he built a character out of what amounts to only three scenes revolving around a single, solitary topic. He also waxed rhapsodic about the decades-old feud between Sega and Nintendo fans, which will no doubt arise once again once his film Console Wars comes out.
And of course we pressed Seth Rogen for an update about the AMC series Preacher, which he is currently producing, and which is based on an award-winning comic book by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. How are they going to cram that much story into one television series? Rogen has the answers.
Steve Jobs arrives in select theaters on October 9, 2015.
Crave: Before we begin I think you should take a moment to acknowledge the Apple II team.
Seth Rogen: Yes! Finally! Someone needs to. [Laughs.]
It’s an interesting thing to be obsessed with for 15 years. You have to establish an entire relationship with Steve Jobs over one single grievance between them.
Yes, it’s not easy!
What do you talk with about Michael Fassbender, about working with so few tools?
We really talked about what it represented a lot, and the point of it. I mean obviously it was about more than just hearing these people’s names. It was about, ultimately, acknowledging that the company only existed based on the product that Steve Jobs had nothing to do with. And I think there is a lot of layers to that, the more we analyzed it. I think at first it seems very altruistic but it’s not! It’s very ego driven in some ways, and self-aggrandizing in some ways. The more we got into it the more we found it actually was quite a layered conversation to be having.
Are you saying that it’s also self-aggrandizing for Wozniak as well?
Yeah. I’m just talking about in the movie, yeah. I think the character wants his ego served in some capacity, you know?
“The more successful we get the less middle ground you have with the people you’re trying to entertain, in some ways.”
I was thinking… Steve Wozniak has been played a couple of times before, and it’s typically by actors who have a comedy background. Like you, or Josh Gad, or Joey Slotnick.
Do you think that’s a coincidence?
No, I don’t actually. I think Wozniak is a very lovable person in a very abrasive environment, and a very harsh career, and was surrounded by harsh characters. I think in order to get that levity and that sweetness, filmmakers have gravitated towards comedians.
An enormous portion of your career has been spent illustrating and analyzing the nature contemporary friendship.
Yeah, it has! [Laughs.] People are going to get sick of it soon though. Trust me.
“It can be very stressful and exhausting to be expected to come up with new, funny things, take after take. Sometimes it’s nice to just say what’s on the page.”
But is that something that particularly interests you, or did you just fall into that?
I think I just sort of fell into it, honestly. I never sat down and was like, “Let’s fucking pick apart every male interaction we’ve ever had in our entire lives and write movies about it.” [Laughs.] I think it’s just ultimately, as writers, what was relatable to us, and what we felt ultimately were dynamics that we could talk about in an honest way, and that audiences saw their own lives in. I think that was really it. Especially the more successful we get the less middle ground you have with the people you’re trying to entertain, in some ways. So when you find some emotional thing that both you and audiences feel, the instinct is to gravitate towards it.
Speaking as a writer, and someone who’s written a lot of relationships like this… you’re working with a script by Aaron Sorkin, who seems to have a rather different voice than you. How do you approach that?
With a great deal respect and time and energy! I mean, Aaron is much less intimidating and much more approachable, from my personal experience, than what I’ve been led to believe he was. I found him very easy to talk to and he was more than willing to talk about lines or scenes or anything, to the point that you felt comfortable with them or he would go change it into something that everyone did feel comfortable with. But I’ve worked with writers and directors before who kind of want you to say exactly what they’ve written, and honestly, in some ways that’s a giant relief from what we normally do! [Laughs.] It can be very stressful and exhausting to be expected to come up with new, funny things, take after take. Sometimes it’s nice to just say what’s on the page.
Can you tell me an example of something that might have changed a bit, after you talked about it with Aaron Sorkin?
[Thinks.] Oh man, I literally can’t remember. It was literally like a word here or a word there, semantically. Like, I honestly can’t remember anything specific.
That’s fine, man. I know you did a bunch of research on this. In real life, were Steve Wozniak’s glasses always sliding off of his face, or was that your contribution?
[Laughs.] No, that’s just something that happened to me! But I didn’t fight it. It does just kind of slightly make someone look like they don’t have their shit together very much. In comparison to Jobs, who could not seem more pristine, I don’t think he adjusts his glasses at any point in the whole movie. So yeah, I mean I wanted there to be a real contrast between the guys, and it was almost like I was tripping over things, I had on too many layers, I couldn’t navigate. Whatever kind of made Woz seem like a bit of a mess in comparison to Jobs seemed valuable for the narrative.
There’s a project you’re working on that sounds kind of similar in a way, Console Wars [about the founders of the Sega video game company].
That’s an interesting overlap, because you’re doing a film about a startup company and they’re trying to make their way into a very competitive market. Is that film going to be similar? Will it take place just before the release of The Master System, The Game Gear and the Saturn?
Yes, it takes place on Mortal Monday, when Mortal Kombat came out. [Laughs.] No, I mean, honestly right now we’re making a documentary about it as well, and so any narrative feature is years off from that. We’re still in the part of the process where we’re trying to uncover what the narrative would be exactly, rather than just throw in a bunch of information about Sega and Nintendo. [Laughs.]
I grew up in the generation where you were one or the other…
Me too! Yeah.
Or you were that one kind in a hundred who had a Neo Geo.
Yeah, or like a TurboGrafx-16! [Laughs.]
“It’s incredible, that people have the delusion to set out on some of those journeys, and then the gumption to actually see them through.”
But I’m curious, I know you’re doing a lot of research and you don’t want to give anything away… can you tell me a little bit about what you’re learning? What’s surprising you about that whole process, and that history?
It’s amazing, again, how a company can truly go from having zero percent of the market share to almost all of the market share. It’s something happened with Apple and it’s something that happened with Sega, and it really is – on a personal level – quite inspiring to see these guys who just had what appeared an unclimbable mountain of competition in front of them, and they somehow just decided to take it on and then beat it. You know? That is… it’s incredible, that people have the delusion to set out on some of those journeys, and then the gumption to actually see them through. And the skill, the skill to actually see them through.
Were you a Sega or a Nintendo kid?
I was Sega all the way.
Oh, we would have had to fight.
Yeah, and my writing partner was Nintendo.
That must have reopened a lot of old wounds.
Yeah! It does. We wrote the forward for the book and it has pretty much a real argument between us.
I have to ask for an update on Preacher because we’re all super excited about it. How is it coming along?
It’s coming along great! The writers are in Los Angeles in a big room, writing away, trying to plan the series. We’re trying to plan the whole season before we start shooting and writing it. So our hope is to start filming in February and I think we’ll start airing sometime next summer, basically.
How much material do you think you can cover in an entire season? Is it going to be one episode, one issue?
No, we are changing the specifics of how the narrative is unfolding. A lot of the building blocks we are not changing, a lot of characters we’re keeping, but we want to make a show that if you’re a fan of the comic, you don’t know what to expect. And we have no interest honestly in just doing a literal page-to-page adaptation. It just seems like the most boring creative endeavor one could go on! [Laughs.]
“That’s something that we wholeheartedly intend on indulging in because it’s one of the best parts about the comic. Just the massive tapestry of fucking weirdos.”
Do you have the Preacher spin-offs? There were ancillary characters…
Oh yeah, I’ve read everything. I’ve read almost everything Garth Ennis has ever written, yeah.
But do you intend to fit it all in?
In some capacity. I mean there’s some things that even Garth will argue, is quick to admit that we probably should not even attempt to put on television. There’s some characters, we’re talking about maybe we combine these two into one person. But to us the tangential element is one of our favorite things. The fact that it does go off into these other worlds and explore these other characters, I mean that’s something that we wholeheartedly intend on indulging in because it’s one of the best parts about the comic. Just the massive tapestry of fucking weirdos. [Laughs.]
Who do you even get to play someone like John Wayne?
I don’t know! [Laughs.] That’s a good question. Someone shrouded in shadow.
Top Photo: Getty Images North America
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.