A curious thing happened on our visit to the set of This Is the End, the directorial debut of frequent collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express, Superbad) about a group of celebrities (all playing themselves) trying to survive the apocalypse from inside James Franco’s house. A few months prior I’d done an interview with Goldberg for his excellent hockey movie Goon. When asked about how this movie’s apocalypse happens, Goldberg replied, “Exactly how most Christian people expect it to go down is how it goes down.”
On set, however, there was a different answer, which is to say there was no answer. Goldberg was cagey about that question, saying, “I’m not really enlightening people as to exactly how that goes down, or what happens. It’s just the end of the world.” At first I thought that he was backpedaling on his answer from the Goon chat. Now I realize, though, his original answer might have been the sly one.
Having seen a (highly entertaining) chunk of footage from the movie on set, and the subsequent trailers and clips released, there’s just no way that this apocalypse is “exactly how most Christian people expect it to go down.” I’m no Bible expert, but I’m guessing the end of times according to scripture isn’t quite so raunchy, gory and filled with celebrities being terrible to one another before falling into giant sinkholes, getting hacked to pieces, or even eaten. This is a biblical apocalypse as envisioned by a bunch of heathens, and that’s kind of glorious.
Our day on set was spent watching James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson working through a scene where they were drawing the short stick to see who had to brave the living nightmare outside to retrieve some bottled water. It’s hard to say how many days have gone by between now and when Franco’s party -- packed with celebs ranging from Rihanna to Aziz Ansari to Emma Watson -- gets interrupted by the end of the world, but it doesn’t matter. The gang isn’t equipped for this kind of a situation, and it makes for all kinds of funny barbs as they try to psyche each other out before one of them walks out into the scorched ruins of Los Angeles.
Warning: NSFW Red-Band Clip
It seemed like a simple setup, just six guys sitting around a table drawing matches, but it was exciting to see a sort of comedic dance take place between all of the actors and the directing duo. While they stuck to the bones of the script, actors would throw out a line here and there, and Rogen and Goldberg would decide what to keep. It may sound mundane, but it was a wonderfully organic process and you could just see the scene get funnier and funnier with each new take. And it was particularly memorable because pretty much every line of improv involved an actor saying something horribly denigrating about another. And since they’re all playing themselves, it was like watching real friends brutally insult one another with the full knowledge that it’d eventually end up in front of millions of people.
Of course, they’re not all strictly playing themselves. We chatted with each of the actors between takes and every single one agreed that they were playing, as Baruchel eloquently put it, “douchier” versions of themselves. And so when it came to making fun of each other’s careers on camera, apparently nothing was off limits. Everyone clearly has a good sense of humor about the real them, the “movie” them, and how audiences are going to interpret the two. In real life Franco not only doesn’t have outlandish parties like this, but he doesn’t even own a house. But audiences think of the types of movies he’s in and assume he’s the biggest, richest celebrity of the group, so naturally he’s the one who they pin that status to.
So what else did we learn on set? Let's take a look at a few new stills from the movie to find out.
1. James Franco collects things from all of the movies he’s in. This gun is from Franco's high-stakes WWI fighter pilot movie Flyboys, which means this is probably the first time anyone has referenced Flyboys in another movie ever. It'll probably be the last time, too.
2. Danny McBride is completely oblivious to the apocalypse happening the night before, so he cooked up all of the food in the house to make breakfast for everyone. He’s mad no one appreciates his gesture.
3. In real life Craig Robinson carries a towel with him everywhere because he gets sweaty. His manager gave him a monogrammed towel as a present, and he had it with him at the first wardrobe fitting for the movie, and so they decided to include it in the movie.
4. The blood on the floor is from... let’s just say someone from the outside tries to get inside and it does not end well for them. And there is a whole lot more blood where that came from. As Rogen put it, “The human head does not hold that much blood, right? It kind of adds to the imagination, but we are not necessarily striving for realism in every moment. I mean I think that’s what makes it funny too. It’s played for laughs.”
1. I have no idea why they’re all dancing in unison, but note that Franco is once again flaunting that pistol, which means this movie is going to introduce an entire generation to the forgotten, uh, gem that is Flyboys.
2. The art on the wall was actually created by an artist named Josh Smith. He was a friend of Harmony Korine’s and Franco met him on the set of Spring Breakers, which is where they came up with the idea of painting the art on Franco’s walls together. So all of the art in Franco’s house are tributes to the other actors and were actually painted by the two of them.
Check Fandango for more on our visit to the set of This Is the End, which hits theaters on June 12.