When asked for probably the 4,543rd time about how he got into shape to play a superhero, Seth Rogen didn’t even try to bring the funny.
"I dieted a little and worked out. It's an answer that's so boring, I'm not even going to try and make it interesting," Rogen said while speaking before a roomful of reporters about “The Green Hornet” at Comic-Con International: San Diego. Rogen is one of the funniest guys in Hollywood in any kind of interview setting, but he had bigger fish to fry at that point than poking fun at his workout routine.
His main objective at Comic-Con was to reverse the pessimism surrounding the long-in-the-works ‘Hornet’ and get people excited about seeing a film he’s devoted more than three years of his life to developing as star, co-writer and executive producer.
“The Green Hornet” movie has endured more adversity than the character ever faced in the radio shows, film serials, TV programs and comic books he’s starred in since he was created, back in the 1930s, by George Trendle and Fran Striker.
First came all the changes in the cast and crew list.
Stephen Chow was first onboard to direct and co-star, but eventually was replaced in the director’s chair by Michel Gondry. Nicholas Cage was cast as the villain for about five minutes before he left and Christoph Waltz was tapped for the role.
The script reportedly underwent numerous rewrites, and the film’s release date kept getting pushed back. It’s now locked in for January 2011, not the greatest indicator of studio confidence, but at least it’s a firm date. Getting shuffled across the calendar though, hurt “The Green Hornet” in the arena of public perception. The movie also appears to have been damaged as much by plain bad timing more than anything else.
When the project was first announced, comic book adaptations were burning on all cylinders. But the tagline ‘based on the comic book’ has lost substantial luster in the past year, thanks to the underwhelming critical and/or commercial efforts of “Kick-Ass,” “The Losers,” “Jonah Hex” and most recently, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”
And how excited are people going to be about another movie based on a comic book character, when said character doesn’t have much built-in nostalgia and mainstream recognition?
"I had no idea who the Green Hornet was,” admitted Waltz, the Academy Award-winning scene-stealer from ‘Inglorious Basterds.’ “I am not a comics-educated person."
You could also hear the collective groans from the online film community when it was announced the movie was being released in 3-D. It wasn’t shot in 3-D, meaning it’s being converted in postproduction. This didn’t go over well with many fans who were unhappy with the poor quality 3-D conversions done on “Alice in Wonderland,” “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender.” Many moviegoers consider post-conversion 3-D a con job by greedy studios out to stiff consumers with pricier tickets.
The backlash against slapdash 3-D has not gone unnoticed by the people behind ‘Hornet.’
"The last thing we want is bad 3-D," said co-writer and executive producer Evan Goldberg." When we decided we wanted to ask the studio to convert it to 3-D, we asked how long it would take to do it right, not some 8-10 week spit it out job."
"It was not a studio decision to turn it into 3-D," Gondry said, when asked who pushed for the change. "It was something Seth and I had discussed from the beginning."“We just didn't have the power to [shoot the movie in 3-D],” adds Rogen. But most of the fight scenes we shot were done with 3-D in mind."
Cynics will no doubt roll their eyes at that statement, but Rogen is one of the more candid and forthcoming people in Hollywood. He deserves the benefit of the doubt when he says turning the film into 3-D wasn’t just another Hollywood cash-grab strategy.
The actor is a well-known comic book aficionado, who in a recent interview with the L.A. Times, admitted he’s more of a Marvel guy than a DC fan.
"I'm at the comic book shop just about every week. I read very few books without pictures of men in very tight clothes,” he said.
"It's weird that everybody knows who Deadpool is [now]. It's weird that everyone's talking about the things me and my friends talk about,” he said. “But it's cool, and its fun that we're able to participate in it."
That chance to finally do a movie about capes was ultimately what drew Rogen and Goldberg, his longtime writing partner, to the Hornet’s nest.
“We wanted to write a superhero film and felt Green Hornet and Kato's relationship was interesting,” he said.
In “The Green Hornet,” Rogen plays Britt Reid, a carefree rich party-boy who gets a rude awakening when his wealthy newspaper mogul father dies. He gets inspired to do something more than just go clubbing, so he decides to use his financial resources to fight crime. The clips screened in San Diego displayed a markedly lighter tone than the typical superhero movie. It’s not camp or parody, as Gondry pointed out. Just a different take on the genre, which was necessitated by the fact that its star happens to be a very funny guy.
"It became very clear [early on] that there was no way this could be a serious movie. The Green Hornet isn't even that dark a character,” Rogen noted. “His parents weren't murdered. He's more of a lighter character. It was more about capturing the fun of being a superhero."
Adding to the lighthearted tone is the fact that, despite the weight loss, Rogen isn’t exactly the first person you think of to star in a superhero movie.
”I think [co-star] Cameron Diaz could kick the s&*! out of me. She could whoop my ass pretty good,” said Rogen, who aside from a few scenes in the stoner action-comedy “Pineapple Express,” has never done action film work before.
Don’t expect to see Waltz, unforgettable as the calculating Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s WWII hit fantasy actioner, playing a typical bad guy, either.
"I never consider so-called villains, villains,” Waltz said. “That's what I did here. Michel told me we are going after the humanity here [of the character]."
Gondry said he incorporated the natural language barrier between Rogen and Jay Chou, the Taiwanese star playing the Hornet’s right-hand man Kato, into the film because it lent authenticity to the relationship between the two characters.
"I had good time watching Jay try to keep up with Seth [in certain scenes]," Gondry said.
Chou is stepping into the role played by the legendary Bruce Lee. To many people, the most memorable portion of the Green Hornet mythos is the short-lived TV series that aired in 1966-67. Van Williams played the title character, but Kato is what most remember about the show, simply because of Lee’s dynamic presence. Rogen said the film pays homage to Lee, who died in 1973, in subtle fashion, and also hinted at an Easter Egg or two in the film.
Rogen, whose first exposure to the character came from watching reruns of the old “Batman” TV series where the Green Hornet and Kato guest-starred, is well aware “The Green Hornet” doesn’t carry anywhere near the name value that Green Lantern, Green Arrow, or even the Green Goblin has.
What they lack in mainstream awareness, they make up for with a bad-ass car. The Black Beauty will be front and center, loaded with firepower. Whether it’s enough to overcome the negative buzz current swirling around the film won’t be known until the film opens next January. But Rogen knows one reason why he thinks the Hornet is cool, Q ratings be damned.
"Prince said he was a pimp once."
(Michael Avila is a writer based in New York City. Follow him on twitter – www.twitter.com/mikeavila)