Long Shot, in theaters May 3, isn’t so brash as to name-drop President Trump. But the film certainly contains some real-life parallels: Theron plays Secretary of State Charlotte Field, who’s running to become the first female president while falling for her speechwriter — and former babysitting charge — Fred Flarsky (Rogen). The story also features an uncommonly handsome Canadian Prime Minister (Alexander Skarsgård) and hilarious riffs on Fox & Friends.
“[The audience] doesn’t need to feel that the movie takes place in the same world that they live in, but it’s helpful if the people who made the movie live in the same world that they live in,” says Rogen, who hired Girls writer Dan Sterling to pen 2014’s The Interview after seeing his first draft of Long Shot (then titled Flarsky) on the 2011 Black List, a space for Hollywood’s favorite unproduced screenplays.
Rogen workshopped the script for several years with Theron, Sterling, director Jonathan Levine (50/50), and Hollywood script doctor Liz Hannah (The Post), during which time the Obama administration gave way to the Trump administration. As Theron says, “We felt there was a need to address the state that we’re [currently] in.”
Theron and Rogen speak with Entertainment Weekly about the script’s evolution, separating the comedy from our current reality, and that Boyz II Men cameo.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is the culmination of a long process. Given how many projects both of you have been involved with, what about this story kept both of you wanting to return over the years?
CHARLIZE THERON: I think for me it was the potential that I saw in not just the story but what that would look like with me and Seth, and a real desire to want to work with him. For me, I’m constantly looking for things that feel like I’m challenging myself and not just doing the same thing over and over. Comedy, especially in this genre, is something that I’m not necessarily that experienced with. All of those things were positives for me to really want to figure it out. It meant that we both knew it was a huge commitment and that we would spend a lot of time developing it and getting it to that place where we both felt like it represented the potential we thought it had. The whole process, for me, got more exciting as we were going along because we discovered so many good things. I didn’t want to stop the process, for sure.
There aren’t a lot of sequels or reboots between the two of you. Did the originality of the project also appeal to you?
SETH ROGEN: We try to make original movies as much as humanly possible. As a moviegoer myself, I like going into something that I don’t know exactly, I haven’t been familiarized with the characters since my childhood. Sometimes it’s nice to see those kinds of movies, sometimes it’s also nice to see original movies. You see from things like us, people really like original work and are excited when something comes. I’m always so thrilled when I see other original movies doing well because it makes it easier for us to make these, it makes the studios more open to ideas that aren’t based on well-established properties, which I’m not that successful to get my hands on. Once Marvel offers me movies, maybe I’ll have to… but until then, original movies!
THERON: We’re both Marvel rejects.
ROGEN: We have to make original projects.
THERON: This is all we have.
ROGEN: We’re the last two.
I realize this movie isn’t overtly political and that you wanted to make more of a love story, but you do still have the neo-Nazi undercover sequence and the plays on Fox & Friends. Were there guiding principles for how to toe that line between playing with our current reality and making a political statement?
ROGEN: The thing we talked most about was making a movie that just acknowledged reality as the movie-going audience at large experiences. I found that is very powerful in movies. The audience, they don’t need to feel that the movie takes place in the same world that they live in, but it’s helpful if they feel like the people who made the movie live in the same world that they live in. And that was a thing that we just talked a lot about. There are a lot of things you can include in your work that acknowledges the realities of our times without really trying to sway people too drastically on those acknowledgments. I think just the acknowledgment is very powerful for people and very nice. You see people appreciate it. So we focused on things that, regardless of your political beliefs, they are just factual. We live in a polarized time, the type of person who can become president is not necessarily the type of person who everyone thought could become president a few years ago and a laundry list of things like that were the things that we wanted to put in the movie. We’re not trying to make you feel a certain way about this, we just want to let you know we’re in this with you. We are all living in the same world.
THERON: Originally when the script was written we had a completely different administration. The first time I read it living in that world it felt very accurate to that world and then, before the development process started, Seth was working, I was working, there was a period where both of us weren’t available and in that period we had a whole new administration. Re-reading the script, we felt there was a need to address the state that we’re in in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching something that feels something you know but isn’t necessarily something that’s commenting on what’s right or what’s wrong.
What lessons did you learn along the way about keeping things light?
ROGEN: From our experience, nothing’s funny, really, if the audience doesn’t connect with the characters and relate to them and understand them and what they’re doing and their choices and see themselves in them in some way. [If] the tones are consistent and the rules of the world are consistent, those are things that we talk about the most when we’re trying to make things funny. Is the emotion clear? Is it born of that? And are we sticking to a reality level that is understandable and, in a good way, predictable so the audience doesn’t feel like you’re playing with that. Then it’s just having good joke writers and coming up with funny jokes.
Dan Sterling has been involved with both The Interview and Long Shot. I definitely understand these movies are very different, but they also play with politics on different levels. Did you learn any lessons from the cultural response to The Interview that maybe informed the approach on Long Shot?
ROGEN: This script was around before The Interview and we actually hired Dan to write The Interview because of the draft of [Long Shot] he had written. What we learned is, we’re not doing that again.
On a far less serious topic, I was obsessed with how Boyz II Men is all over this film, even in just your characters’ mutual love of the group. How did the stars align to make that cameo happen?
ROGEN: We just asked and they showed up!
THERON: I didn’t sleep with any of them… yet!
ROGEN: Sometimes you just ask and they show up. It’s lovely. Do I wish Boyz II Men had a busier schedule? In some ways, yes. For them? Maybe. But for us it worked out very conveniently.
Take me through filming that scene.
ROGEN: It was great.
THERON: Yeah, we shot for three nights — and they were fun nights.
ROGEN: They were up there awhile.
THERON: They were there every day, and they were just so professional.
ROGEN: So lovely and professional. They’re Boyz II Men! They’ve been Boyz II Men for a while. Let’s be honest, they’re Men now!
Were there contingency plans in place in case Boyz II Men weren’t able to do it?
ROGEN: No. They were it. Who do you replace Boyz II Men with? And if you say All-4-One, I’m gonna reach through this screen! No, there is no replacement, but “I Swear” is a good song.
I did hear about you, Charlize, that there was a moment when you were singing Smash Mouth, but that didn’t work out. Is that right?
ROGEN: Don’t mention anything Charlize did!
THERON: Whatever! But hands down the most embarrassing moment of my life that I will ever experience on a set. Hands down. I think I lost 10 pounds that day sweating. It turns out that I’m a terrible singer.
ROGEN: You would never have known. It was a structural issue.
THERON: I thought I was a bad singer. Then I discovered I’m a f—ing terrible singer…
ROGEN: It wasn’t right for the story.
THERON: … and I can’t even pitch with Smash Mouth.
ROGEN: The song starts awkwardly.
THERON: Is that what it is? You’re so kind!
ROGEN: “Some-BOD-y once told me…” You gotta hit the “BODy” way more than intuition would tell you.
THERON: I would sing it and then my very trusted friend and assistant, who knows pitch, apparently, and is a singer, would come up to me. I would sing it and I would feel very confidently and then Jonathan Levine would cut and I’d be like, “What is it? The camera?” My trusty Matt would come up to me and be like, “Some-BOD-y.”
ROGEN: It’s hard.
THERON: I just stood there and silently reminded myself, “I have an Academy Award. I have an Academy Award.” It was really a bad day for me.
I also loved that scene where Charlotte has to defuse a hostage situation while being incredibly high. What do you remember from actually shooting that scene?
THERON: That scene is an example of something that you watch and it’s so enjoyable to watch, and really that’s not the case. I, for some reason, was really struggling with my energy level. I just did too much Molly for research. Prep was intense.
ROGEN: We didn’t time it out right.
THERON: It was a great moment of just trusting Jonathan and Seth and all of our producers. Sometimes when you’re in moments like that you feel nothing is working because of something as simple as being tired.
ROGEN: There’s a scene in Knocked Up where we’re on shrooms and we’re taking about…
THERON: This is not about you and Knocked Up!
ROGEN: Everything is! The title of this article involves Knocked Up in some way… We were saying though, often you’re doing these scenes where you pretend to be on drugs and it does not feel funny as you’re doing it. [Joking to Theron] If you were me, every movie you are doing three scenes where you are on drugs. [To EW] And at that point, it doesn’t feel funny anymore. There are so many times where I’m like, “This sucks!” And it is actually funny and it does not feel funny to pretend. It’s the inverse of actually being high, where everything feels funny but it isn’t.
For more of our Summer Movie Preview, read it here, or pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly — on stands or buy it here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.