Courtesy of 50/50
Seth Rogen may have lost a lot of weight recently, but the 29-year-old still carries the image of a friendly teddy bear dressed in plaid. With his rather minuscule friend, 30-years-old Will Reiser, whose skinny arms look even skinnier in an overlarge T-shirt, standing next to him, they look like some kind of comedic duo. And they are, fondly laughing and remembering the good old times, seeming as if they hadn’t a trouble in the world.
Which is untrue, of course. In 2005, Reiser was diagnosed with a rare spinal cancer, giving Rogen and Reiser’s family plenty of troubles to deal with. Of course, being in show business, that means they had to make a movie about it.
Rogen and Reiser elaborated on the beginning of the process in a round-table interview with The Eagle and other D.C. media outlets at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown.
“It all started when I was sick, and Seth and I were going through the ordeal,” Reiser said. “We saw that people’s idea of cancer comes from the movies, like ‘The Bucket List.’”
“I said we should make a movie called ‘The Fuck-It List,’” joked Rogen.
Instead, the duo wrote “50/50,” a bittersweet comedy based on Reiser’s true-life battle with cancer.
“We felt there had been no movie that had portrayed what we were going through,” Reiser said. “We wanted to do something that was tonally honest.”
This was a new concept for both Rogen and Reiser. Rogen was used to writing comedy scripts, or in his own words, “used to having a movie that’s not a bummer,” and Reiser had never written a movie script before.
They decided to draw less from personal experience and make the film more thematic. They drew on ways in which their friends used humor to cope and what Reiser’s feelings were while battling cancer.
“It was more about ‘what would happen’ not ‘what did happen,’” Rogen said. “Sometimes we would let life guide us if we couldn’t think of anything else.”
Rogen and Reiser’s writing process was very different. Rogen would start more with general scene ideas. His writing process essentially started as a bunch of lists.
“Funny ideas come out of it,” Rogen said. “We always go in knowing a loose story we’re going to tell.”
Reiser, on the other hand, would start slow, spending time developing characters.
“I find that if I force myself to write things, that means I don’t know the characters well,” Reiser said.
Reiser said the main character, Adam, is an “extension of me and what I went through.”
To cast this character was difficult, to say the least. When the original actor, James McAvoy, dropped out, Reiser and Rogen had a week before filming started to scramble to find a talented actor to play Adam; in this case, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
“I called him and said, ‘This is not an ideal situation,’” Rogen said.
Gordon-Levitt was remarkably agreeable, getting on a plane to Vancouver to talk to Rogen and director Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”), where they essentially talked and drank until 5 a.m.
“It was a forced attempt at a generally organic process,” Rogen said. “[Movie negotiations] usually happen over the course of a few weeks.”
With little time to prepare, Gordon-Levitt dove straight into the role, flying back to L.A. to pack his things and back to Vancouver by Monday. He didn’t even have time to get a proper wig made. Rogen remarked, “I think he’s wearing Cobra Commander’s wig” in part of the film.
“It was incredibly courageous as a performer,” Rogen said. “He just took over as the character. We didn’t want him to act like Will or do a Will impression.”
Gordon-Levitt evidently succeeded in this, only asking Reiser about “emotional things, like ‘How did you feel?’” rather than how he would behave in a particular scene.
Despite the trouble getting actors and the rushed production, Rogen said “50/50” was probably “the easiest film” he’d ever made.
“I feel like these are all members of my family,” Reiser said. “It was like a dream.”