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Seth Rogen On James Franco: He ‘Helped Me Be Happier With My Work’

IndieWire Honors: Rogen salutes his longtime friend and collaborator Franco, sharing an amusing anecdote from the set of "Pineapple Express."

James Franco and Seth Rogen "The Disaster Artist" film premiere, SXSW 7

James Franco and Seth Rogen

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James Franco is one of the six names in entertainment being celebrated at the inaugural IndieWire Honors on Nov. 2. His vision as a filmmaker and actor is showcased in “The Disaster Artist” as well as HBO’s “The Deuce,” and he’s receiving the Vanguard Award for film. Seth Rogen, who produced “The Disaster Artist” and has been friends with Franco for years, shares his thoughts here on collaborating with his actor friend:

So, before I start this story, I just wanna say that, first, I get that it kind of has an element of me, like, explaining that I thought of a funny joke. So I get that. I’m not, like, oblivious to that. But it’s mostly a story about how great Franco is and what he taught me and all that, so just hang tight.

We were filming “Pineapple Express” in 2007. I had first met James about eight years before that when were making “Freaks and Geeks.” We got along well at the time, but if you told me then that he would ultimately become, like, a fixture in my life for the next several decades, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. After the show was cancelled we didn’t see each other for years and years. I think he was entering a part of his life and career that I didn’t really get or appreciate. I actually remember trying to talk him out of playing James Dean in that TV movie. I was like “yeah, I’ll play Marlon Brando in a movie, we’ll all just play the greatest actors of all time. It’ll be dope. Nobody will think we’re assholes.” And then he went and did it and I remember watching him win a Golden Globe and I was like, “Fuck me, he really did play one of the greatest actors of all time, and did it well enough that he won this award.”

At about that time, Evan Goldberg and myself were writing “Pineapple Express” and Judd Apatow suggested that Franco star in the movie with me. I always thought Franco was hilarious and kinda watched him enter this super weird career where that part of him was like, totally just being squashed. I mean, I dig “City By the Sea” and “Annapolis” as much as the next guy, but it was weird to see James play those kind of roles when to me he seemed to be more excited by taking big swings (and not at Tyrese! That’s an “Annapolis” reference for all you “Annapolis”-heads).

So Franco comes on board the movie and we re-connect and it’s beautiful and wonderful and all I could ever have hoped for. We start filming, and there’s a scene where me and James are smelling a big bag of weed (fucking shocker, I know) and the director cuts. Between takes, I kind of laugh to myself, and Franco’s like “What?” and I’m like, “I just thought of a joke, but I don’t think I can say it in the movie because it’s probably too ridiculous. But I thought I would be funny if when I smelled the weed, I said it smelled like ‘God’s vagina.’ But I don’t think I can say that.” Franco smiles and then the next take starts. We smell the bag of weed and Franco goes, “It smells like God’s vagina!” The director cuts and everyone laughs heartily and showers Franco with praise. It goes on to become one of the funnier jokes in the movie, and a joke that I personally am very fond of.

So, again, the moral of the story isn’t that I came up with a joke and Franco stole it, although it feels good to get that info out there. The lesson that I learned was that the ideas that you think are personally great, especially the ones where your instinct is like, “I shouldn’t do that. Nobody wants to hear that. That could make me look bad. That could be too crazy.” Those are probably the best ideas. The world might not agree with you. (The Smithsonian has refused our many requests to have our “God’s Vagina” joke inscribed in their foyer.) But these are ideas that will keep you (read: me) happy. The ideas that you (I) look back on and think, “I’m so glad I did that. For better or worse, that’s a true expression of me and my sensibility.”

Franco helped me learn that. And it’s helped me be happier with my work, and myself in general. And he’s just a great friend and makes good pie. That’s all. Tribute DONE!

IndieWire Honors is presented by Vizio and DTS with premier support from Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City.

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