On the eve of the debut of their critically adored new comedy, The Disaster Artist (in select cities Friday, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, opens nationwide Dec. 8), James Franco and Seth Rogen reflect on 20 years of friendship, the sexual harassment scandal engulfing Hollywood, and how Rogen still has no idea what really happened with the Sony hack, spurred by the release of their film The Interview.
Q: How would you define the evolution of your friendship and creative partnership?
Franco: I met him on Freaks and Geeks and we hung out
Rogen: I was like 16 and you were like 20. That was a pretty big (age) gap.
Q: So when did you become legit friends?
Rogen: Pineapple Express. We’ve been around each other pretty consistently since then.
Franco: We’ve been through a hack by another country.
Rogen: We almost started a war together.
Q: The Sony hack was the biggest story in Hollywood for more than a year. And now it’s not.
Rogen: Thank God we’re not currently the biggest story in Hollywood. It’s still playing out, though.
Franco: Look at the DNC. All this stuff. That was sort of the beginning.
Q: What have you learned from that experience? Have you recovered?
Rogen: It probably took me a solid year to be over it. Having a few other movies come out was helpful and have them be received well.
Franco (joking): Sausage Party just wiped it away.
Q: Were you worried about your career?
Rogen: I was worried that (it would) have some effect that I wasn’t aware of. Like, 'Will people just not think we’re funny anymore because we have this connotation of being involved in this somewhat serious international incident?'
But it turned out OK. I don’t even know if North Korea hacked Sony, to be totally honest. The more time goes by, the less I actually feel like I know what happened, truthfully.
Q: Let's talk about the sexual harassment allegations piling up inside Hollywood. What can men in positions of power do to make work environments healthier for women?
Rogen: They can hire more women. It is a systemic issue. Personally, we try to make movies with a lot of diverse people and diverse filmmakers and we try to occupy our company with a lot of people who aren’t white dudes, because we’ve got that box ticked really (expletive) well.
I don’t think men writing women’s roles better is the answer. I think women having more opportunities to write those roles is probably a much better solution.
Franco: I just get plain bored of the same old stuff of white male heroes. As a producer, I’m just looking for projects that don’t have that.
Q: Have you been witnessed men changing their behavior based on what’s no longer deemed acceptable in the workplace?
Rogen: Judd Apatow, who is the person who really raised us in this industry, was outrageously respectful — and what I’m learning is maybe exceptionally respectful — in the workplace. My parents always raised me to be that way. It literally never even honestly occurred to me until I was a little older that this was something that was probably a problem throughout Hollywood. ... It’s insane to think how much it’s out there, honestly. It’s just gross. Because it’s something that seems so easy to avoid, acting disgusting. I think I very almost effortlessly have avoided acting disgusting my entire life. It’s not even something I try to do!
Franco: Everybody is now thinking differently. You’d have to be pretty dense not to just be aware of it. Every company’s had a workplace lecture.
Q: Is it true studios across town are holding reactive lectures on sexual impropriety in the workplace?
Rogen: They’ve had those on everything I’ve ever worked on for the last decade. Everyone treats them like a joke. .... A lot of the rules they’re generally conveying don’t apply to a movie set, which is a very weird environment. I can see how if you’re disgusting, it’s easy to use those blurred lines to justify horrendous behavior. And if you’re not disgusting, it just creates a pleasant work environment that doesn’t feel too uptight and is casual and allows you to be yourself.
But I do now understand how that behavior could thrive under the guise of, ‘Hey, it’s a movie set, we make edgy material. That’s what we’re doing here.’ I would just shut down if I saw it. I literally wouldn’t be able to work in an environment where I thought that was happening. But I guess a lot of people are very comfortable working in environments where that’s happening. A lot of men seem to be. Which is terrible. And very disappointing.