Seth Rogen combs the comic-book store like he’s on a mission. He starts at one end of Golden Apple in Hollywood and methodically works his way down the aisles, scanning the shelves for The Authority and other favorites. The clerks give Rogen a “what’s up, dude” nod.They recognize him —— not because his shaggy curls and cherubic face have been plastered on movie billboards across America all summer, but because Rogen is a regular. He’s been coming to Golden Apple on a weekly basis since he was a teenager.
Suddenly, Rogen sees something in a glass case that excites him: a large, detailed figurine of Sabretooth and Wolverine battling it out on an iceberg. Sure, it’s $190, but check out those bloodstains. “Hell, yeah,” says the clerk, as he wraps it up for Rogen.
After stuffing the figurine and some comic books into the trunk of his dust-encrusted sedan, Rogen heads across the street for lunch. Sitting under the fluorescent lights of the Hot Wings Cafe, Rogen looks exactly like the kind of schlubby slacker he played in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. (“Hey, I just remembered I bought that Wolverine figurine,” he says halfway through a large basket of wings. “I’m really psyched about it – it just popped into my head.”) At twenty-five, Rogen has avoided the pitfalls of panty-chasing celebrity, choosing instead to pursue a far more deviant agenda: reshaping young Hollywood in his own rounded, writerly, geeky image. Surrounded by a band of like-minded outsiders, Rogen has written, produced or starred in some of the most talked-about comedies in recent box-office history, including this summer’s Knocked Up and Superbad. His life is unchanged by success – mostly because he spends his time at home, smoking weed and playing video games. The whole fame thing, he says, takes up about four minutes of his day. “I’m not, like, Matthew McConaughey mellow,” he says, “but I’m mellow.”
As if on cue, a pack of young Korean dudes at the table next to Rogen seize an opening and ask him to pose for a photo with them. “Sure, sure,” he says. He smiles as broadly as the fans and flashes a meaningless gang sign over his chest for the camera.
“See?” he says as we walk out back into the sunshine. “Four minutes.”
That may be about to change, following the release this month of Superbad. It’s not just that the movie traces the adventures of three high school boys – Seth, Evan and Fogell – as they spend a hellish night trying to buy alcohol and get laid. It’s that Rogen sticks so close onscreen to what he lives, there are times that he seems more like the star of his own reality-TV show than one of Hollywood’s most successful new actors and writers. A few key factors about Superbad point to the art-imitating-life-imitating-art agenda that Rogen is pursuing: (1) He co-wrote the movie’s screenplay when he was a fat, angry, funny teenager, (2) The main character of the movie is a fat, angry, funny teenager named Seth. And (3) said role is played by one of Rogen’s best friends, the fattish, an-gry-ish and extremely funny Jonah Hill, who offscreen lives in Rogen’s old apartment.
Rogen began writing the movie with his best friend, Evan Goldberg, back in 1995, when they were a couple of thirteen-year-olds growing up in Vancouver. Goldberg liked to write short stories, and Rogen – well, Rogen was a loud kid whose hair alternated between bright blue and dreadlocks. “He was a loud fucking dude,” says Goldberg, who met Rogen in bar mitsvah class. “I’m pretty much sure I called him ‘the loud dude’ in my head.”
Then one day, just like that, they decide to write a movie. “There was some movie we watched on TV and it was just terrible,” Goldberg recalls. “We were like, ‘We could do better than this —— let’s go upstairs.'”
So they do. They go up to the family computer, in the pink bedroom of Evan’s little sister. Evan types, Seth sits next to him. It will be a high-school movie, they decide, but way better than the crap they watch on TV. It will be real, and awkward, and full of the fear that seems omnipresent at school. “There was a guy who wanted to stab us because he thought we’d ripped him off,” Goldberg says. “There were always these random beefs, people saying ‘fuck you’ to each other all the time.”
No, this movie —— their movie —— will be about what really matters in high school: “It was always about two guys trying to get alcohol for girls,” says Rogen. “We actually didn’t do any research. Horniness is a timeless feeling.”
So Goldberg sits there and types out the jokes that he and Rogen come up with. “The first scene we wrote took place in a Spanish class, with Seth fantasizing about the teacher,” Goldberg says. “My mom kept hearing me laughing hysterically and wanted to know what we were doing.” They work on the script throughout high school, for three years, in between rugby practice and video games and spending time with their other friend, Sammy Fogell. And they keep working on it after Rogen’s mom starts driving him to comedy clubs, where he mines his grandparents and his bar mitsvah for material.
It was while he was still in high school that Rogen went to audition for Judd Apatow, himself a Hollywood wunderkind who was casting for his new show about kids in high school. “When I first saw Seth, he was reading for Freaks and Geeks,” Apatow says, “and he read every line in such a pissed-off manner that no sixteen-year-old should have. It really cracked us up. Why he’s funny, I don’t know. You ask him and he’ll tell you something about having Rasta dreadlocks in junior high.”
Apatow took Rogen under his wing, serving as a sort of comedic mentor. He gave Rogen a part on his comedy series Undeclared when Rogen was nineteen, cast him in The 40-Tear-Old Virgin and offered notes as Rogen and Goldberg did rewrite after rewrite on Superbad. “I guess on some level I see myself in them — which is sad for them and for me,” says Apatow. “I always saw myself as a goofy guy who was kind of funny, and I didn’t understand why I was getting picked on at school, why I couldn’t meet girls. When I see these guys, they remind me of a certain kind of goofy, smart guy who people should like more than they did. They weren’t popular, they weren’t unpopular. They had their own little world.”
Rogen has repaid the favor by adopting Apatow’s core methodology: Employ misfits you like, make them your friends and then, once the cameras are rolling, make up funny shit together. In 2004, Rogen went to see The Life Aquatic at the Grove, the mall complex near his old apartment. Before the movie started, a chubby kid with curly hair tapped him on the shoulder and introduced himself. Jonah Hill said he was a fan and that he had an audition coming up fora small part in The 40-Tear Old Virgin. The next day, Rogen walked into Apatow’s office and said, “This kid is a cool dvide, you should hire him.”
Since then, Rogen has looked out for Hill in the same way that Apatow shepherded Rogen into Hollywood. On a recent afternoon, Hill and Rogen are outside Canter’s, the frozen-in-time deli; both live within walking distance and come here often. As they pass a homeless woman who asks them for change, Hill reaches into his pocket. Rogen shoves him with the good-natured menace of an older brother. “Don’t just give her money because it’s Rolling Stone,” Rogen says, cracking VIP. Hill denies that’s why he’s doing it, but he takes his hand out of his pocket and walks away.
The next day at breakfast in a fashionable Hollywood restaurant, Hill is full of regret. “See, if you all hadn’t been there I would’ve given her money,” he complains.
Rogen’s old apartment, where Hill now lives, is in a neighborhood of mostly Jewish old-folks homes. The apartment is clean and spare, with all the signs of a bachelor movie nut — leather couches, geometric rug, large TV and posters from his favorite movies: The Jerk, Rushmore, Defending Tour Life. “Seth won’t let his girlfriend come over because he doesn’t want her to see how nice it is now that I have it,” Hill says proudly. He uses a soup can as an ashtray, a relic from Rogen’s residency.
After he handed over his apartment to Hill, Rogen moved a few blocks away to a modest, two-story home he bought with his very pretty and very normal girlfriend, Lauren Miller. Surrounded by agate and thick vegetation, it’s a cavelike oasis away from the glare of Hollywood. On a recent afternoon, he and Lauren are hanging a set of small cartoons that Rogen has painted. “He’s very handy,” she says with a giggle, as Rogen scans a laser level up and down her body.
The house’s decor is somewhere between Moroccan casbah and comic-book shop. Most of Rogen’s money goes to comics and his extensive collection of action figures – a hobby that Lauren supports, up to a point. The rule is that if she doesn’t know the character, it is banished from the living room. “See, it is amazing and cool,” she says, pointing to one muscular and deformed figure. “But I don’t know which one it is” – so Rogen meekly places it in his office, alongside a host of other obscure superheroes and villains.
The house may be newer and tidier than Rogen’s previous place, but he hasn’t strayed far from his roots: His childhood friend Evan lives only a few blocks away. “We don’t want to walk far,” Goldberg says. “We have a lit’ tie community here.” They even got Goldberg’s brother David, a student in law school, to spend his nights and weekends toiling to draw the reams of penis images – phallicized robots, tanks, bar graphs, even George Washington — that comprise the high point of Superbad. On any given day of the week, the clan of awkward boy-men who write and star alongside Rogen are likely to be found sprawled on his couch, playing Castlevania and Guitar Hero. “Young Hollywood,” Rogen says, cracking himself up. The group shares such a tight sensibility that one of their favorite topics seems to be trying to come up with a nickname for themselves: Jew-Tang Clan and the Princes have been tossed around.
“They haven’t changed at all,” says Shauna Robertson, a producer of Superbad. “They’re still slobs. It’s like when you’re hanging out in high school in your friend’s basement, and it’s a question if you should drink peach schnapps or play foosball. Or, like, maybe we should play Wii?”
The latest actor to be adopted by Rogen is Christopher Mints-Plasse, who plays the archgeek Fogell in Superbad. It is Fogell who acquires a fake ID – under the single, improbable name of McLovin – and proceeds to become the coolest kid in school. This time last year, Mints-Plasse was a scrawny seventeen-year-old from the Valley who loved to act in school plays. But things changed when he heard about a Hollywood audition for the part of a high school senior who looked thirteen. Sitting outside the audition room, Mintz-Plasse had to work up the nerve to ask Rogen to autograph his script. Then he went inside and blew everyone away. “He went hard at Jonah in the improvs,” recalls Apatow. “Afterward, Jonah said, ‘I don’t know if I like this guy.’ I said, ‘I’m definitely hiring him if he irritates Jonah.'”
The gamble on bad chemistry paid off. Superbad crackles with the fussy line separating friendship and contempt, hate and codependency between Hill and Mints-Plasse, who steals the movie as Fogell. And this being Rogen’s world, Fogell is a real person, as in Sammy Fogell, a real-estate analyst who still lives with his mother in Vancouver. “I’m convinced the secret of Superbad is Fogell,” says Goldberg. “He looked like the guy who you should fuck around with, but then he would have this attitude that was fucking hysterical —like he just didn’t care.”
The real Fogell seems far from the wild dork played by Mints-Plasse. “I’m sort of an average person, not as nerdy as that character,” he says. “I did have a fake ID. We went to one place, and the guy took the ID, and we ran away. That’s it.”
Like the character he plays, Mints-Plasse also lives with his parents – but thanks to Rogen, his life has changed. “I just feel more confident now,” Mintz-Plasse says, packing his mother’s suitcase for a publicity trip. “Like, I don’t want to sound cocky, but I see girls at my school and other ladies noticing I’m an actor. You’ve got to be yourself and outgoing and funny. Stuff like that’s what’s been working lately.”
Everything seems to be work ing lately for Rogen and his crew. “It’s definitely weird and awesome,” he says. “I feel like we all just won the lottery.” He and Goldberg have another movie they co-authored in the can, Pineapple Express, about a stoner (played by Rogen) forced to go on the lam after witnessing a murder. And now Rogen is planning to write- and more improbably, star in — a big Screen adaptation of the Green Hornet. Rogen says he would play the role of Britt Reid, millionaire-cum-masked crime fighter, completely straight. For a man who knows something about alter egos – pot-smoking slacker by day, Hollywood kingpin by night – there’s simply no place for camp when it comes to a hero like the Green Hornet.
“He’s a billionaire and he’s a playboy, but he’s really, like, a normal guy who really has no real reason to be the Green Hornet,” Rogen said. “Other than he really wants to be a superhero — which I really relate to.”