Months after the limited theater and digital release of Seth Rogen and James Franco‘s controversial 2014 comedy, The Interview, the actors are still being asked to reflect on the film’s political and ethical implications. During a sit-down Thursday on The Late Show With David Letterman, Franco was adamant that the movie’s plot – which finds the duo playing celebrity journalists tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – did more good than harm. “We never felt like we were irresponsible or doing something wrong,” he told the host.
“We made a comedy,” Franco continues. “And we weren’t going out on a limb saying, ‘There are some messed up things going on over there.’ I think the rest of the world agrees it’s not right over there. The way Seth put it is, ‘It would be irresponsible not to say something.’ I think as time goes on, maybe we’ll be better prepared as a country or as a world to deal with these things, but it was the first time.”
Letterman addresses the panic surrounding the film’s initial promotion – which involved a group called the “Guardians of Peace” hacking into studio Sony Pictures Entertainment, leaking sensitive e-mails and making cryptic terrorist threats to theaters screening the movie. Eventually, most major theater chains pulled the film, though it did see a record-breaking digital release.
“Free speech runs right up to the notion that you can’t stand up in a crowded theater and yell, ‘Fire!'” Letterman says. But Franco argues that didn’t happen at all. “Sony got a lot of flak for pulling it, but in fact, it was the theaters who said, ‘We can’t risk it,'” he says. “But in the end, it came out – nothing happened.”
Despite the controversy and limited theater release, The Interview did end up making a profit. According to Variety, the film has generated $40 million through online rentals and sales, as of January 2015. But Franco says that’s a far cry from the blockbuster it could have been. “It was tracking so well,” he says, confirming Letterman’s guess that it could have generated over $100 million. “If it had gone out in theaters, it would have just been enormous.”
But the actor believes The Interview was ultimately about more than money. Security risks in a post-9/11 world might be a reality, “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, make comments about it,” Franco says. “Expose when there’s wrong, especially with comedy.”