This weekend’s big, R-rated studio comedy “Neighbors” is funny in the way that big, R-rated studio comedies rarely are (read our review here). In the movie Seth Rogen plays a man in his thirties, who is happily married (to a flawless Rose Byrne) and with a new baby. Of course his suburban idyll is disrupted when a rampaging fraternity (led by Zac Elfron, his malevolent charisma turned all the way up) shows up and moves into the house right next door to theirs. That leads to an all out war between the boring suburbanites and the hard partying frat brothers that have invaded their neighborhood. While at South by Southwest, where the movie first premiered (it received a riotous response), we sat down with Rogen and chatted about the movie, what the appeal of the script was for him, what Byrne brought to the role, and how the distinctive look of the movie was developed.
When we spoke to Rogen’s producing partner Evan Goldberg, who worked on “Neighbors,” he said that when they were brought the idea, the immediate response was, “Oh, it’s the greatest idea ever, we’re in,” although the initial pitch was slightly different. It involved a small squadron of dudes up against the frat, which was deemed too similar to “Old School” – although one thing remained, Goldberg said. “The initial idea was frat war with Zac Efron,” Goldberg explained. “Maybe Seth, but definitely Zac Efron.” It’s a good thing Rogen signed on, because the two make perfect comedic foils.
This was something that was brought to you, not something that you wrote yourself. What was the appeal for you?
First off, it was just funny. Usually our ideas are the type of ideas when you first hear them, they aren’t that good. I remember when we explained “This Is the End” to people before we made it, we would get a lot of looks like, What the fuck are you talking about? But this is one of those rare movies where the idea was good and made sense and it wasn’t as far of a leap as some of the stuff we were doing, which was very appealing to us. And at the same time, it was really relatable to us, which in a way is the most important thing when you’re looking for the types of movies to make. We are getting older and a lot of us have kids and we’re all married pretty much and we’re always looking for ways to creatively write about wherever we are at in our lives. And it seemed like the idea of exploring a couple that is really struggling with their kid and the fact that they want to party more was something that we haven’t really seen in a movie before and it seemed like a cool thing to explore.
Originally it was you and two other dudes and director Nick Stoller changed it to you and a family. How did that change your relationship with the material?
Yeah, to me that made it even better because it became less about me and some guys fucking with a frat. It was much more about me and my wife, which was way more interesting. My wife was actually one of the first people to read the script and she was the one who said, “You really have to make her cool and not a stick in the mud.” Which I also think is one of the best parts about the whole movie.
Can you talk about what Rose brought to that role?
There’s a ton of improv in the movie, so obviously whoever is saying what is being said had some influence on the movie and the character. She’s so cool and likable and we had a good dynamic and in some weird universe I think we look and behave like a married couple. And that’s just a testament to her skills as an actor.
What about Zac Efron? Did you always think about him for this role?
Yes. Right after we got pitched the movie, we went to Zac; Zac has been attached to the movie longer than Nick has. We were attached as actors even before we pitched the movie to the studios. And then we pitched it and Universal bought it and they wrote a script and we helped them.
Was he able to go with the flow in terms of improv?
Yeah. I think he hadn’t done a lot of it before and it’s kind of a unique situation to be told you can do whatever you want to make the scene better, as it’s happening. And he did a great job. He’s a really great actor. That’s probably what surprised me the most – he took acting really seriously. But I hadn’t seen that much that he had been in to be honest with you. “17 Again” I watched but that might have been the only Zac Efron movie I’d seen the entirety of.
The movie looks amazing. Was that something that you guys talked about from the beginning?
We pushed [director Nicholas Stoller] really hard to have him hire our cinematographer from “This Is The End,” Brandon [Trost]. He’s just so awesome and our age. I’ve seen a generational gap between cinematographers and directors. For some reason it’s not generally a job that a younger person has on set. So when we met Brandon, it was really exciting because had all the same references we had – videogames, movies, books, comic books. There was no gap in how we talked about movies and how we would talk about the look of things, so we just pushed Nick to hire him. He’s so willing to make comedy not look like comedy. That was a conversation that we just had on this new movie that we just had. We would always marvel how most DPs have a really hard time wrapping their head around making a comedy not look like a comedy, just making it look like a regular movie that has comedy in it. And Brandon is very in favor of that and still can’t believe that we’re doing that. He’s made other comedies and other people don’t want to do that either. But it’s not just us. I think Adam McKay‘s movie’s look incredible and Judd Apatow has worked with some incredible cinematographers but generally, when you watch a lot of comedies, it’s very lit and there’s a lot of contrast and hard shadows and the camera movement’s not too active. So yes I am very happy that Nick took such an aggressive approach to the look of the movie.
“Neighbors” opens everywhere on Friday.