The new superhero movie The Green Hornet has been dividing people’s opinions long before its release. Traditional superhero fans wanted a typically macho actor to portray the hero, while other movie buffs have expressed intrigue at the star and director chosen to steer the film. At the center of the controversy are lead actor Seth Rogen (who also produced the film and co-wrote it with his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, who previously wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express with him) and acclaimed French director Michel Gondry, who’s better known for making arty cult classics like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind than big-budget action films.
But after more than 15 years in development, it’s that oddly dynamic duo who have managed to beat out numerous other talent combos to bring one of the earliest superheroes (dating back to the 1930s, when he was introduced as a cousin of the legendary cowboy hero the Lone Ranger) to life. Rogen has added plenty of humor to the tale of Britt Reid, a playboy who is forced to grow up and avenge the death of his newspaper-publisher father with the help of a mysterious Asian martial-arts-master sidekick named Kato (a character once played by the legendary martial-arts star Bruce Lee in a 1960s Green Hornet TV series). In fact, some fans are complaining the film is largely a comedy now.
Gondry, meanwhile, brings plenty of pizazz to the film, which is one of the seemingly endless recent wave of releases that are coming out in 3D. But considering the utterly unique visuals he’s long been known for, Gondry may actually keep things interesting and manage to give viewers something worth being wowed by.
Rogen and Gondry recently spoke about their film, dishing about the unusual decisions that came into play along the way.
Seth, you’re better known for playing average, slacker-type guys rather than for being an action hero. So how did you make this work?
Rogen: In most superhero movies, the guy starts out as someone already pretty capable: Iron Man is already a genius, Christian Bale is already physically adept. These people generally have their hearts in the right place, and we thought it would be fun to have a man who didn’t have any of that stuff—wasn’t particularly nice, wasn’t that physically capable or particularly smart even—and show him become all those things and become a hero by the end of the movie.
How do you manage to juggle having three jobs on a film like this, being not just the star but a co-writer and producer?
Rogen: It doesn’t feel that compartmentalized to me when I’m doing it. You’re just trying to make a movie. Sometimes there’s a writer meeting, or a producer meeting, or things you do just as an actor, but they all kind of flow together. I don’t feel like I have three jobs, just one job: getting the movie to the screen.
How did you guys decide to take such a comedic approach to the film, and how did you get this gig?
Rogen: Me and my writing partner, Evan Goldberg, always liked the idea of writing about a superhero and his sidekick not getting along. That was just a fun idea, and we liked action-comedies. Years later we heard someone was looking to remake The Green Hornet, and we were working on The Pineapple Express, which was an action-comedy, and we thought this was a way to do a bigger-scale movie and tell that story we wanted to tell about a hero and sidekick with relationship issues.
Where did you guys find the right guy to play your sidekick, Kato? He has big shoes to fill, following Bruce Lee.
Rogen: Jay Chou is a huge star in Taiwan, which we didn’t know when casting told us about him. We met him on Skype, and he seemed cool and confident, which my guy wasn’t in the movie. We flew him out, read together and we just seemed funny together.
He wasn’t looking to do a Bruce Lee impression. He wanted to make it his own character, which to us was really good because we didn’t want someone just doing a Bruce Lee impression.
Cameron Diaz is the spunky female sidekick in the film. What did she bring to the table?
Rogen: We thought Cameron would be fun in her role and were pleasantly surprised she was down with being in the supporting position. She came up with a lot of ideas for her character and how to make her different from how female characters in these movies usually are, which was very helpful. She’s really about figuring out a scene, and I like actors who have a funny scene and find five more funny things about it.
You picked a red-hot actor for the villain role by grabbing Christoph Waltz, the lead Nazi in Inglourious Basterds.
Rogen: I wanted a villain with a different twist, much like what we were doing with the the rest of the film. We liked the idea of a villain who’s going through a crisis of character, wondering if he’s bad enough. We thought that was funny and [something that’s] never been seen before, and Christoph ran with it.
How do you find a way to balance action and the more meaningful moments in the film?
Rogen: You have to show people something they’ve never seen before. That’s what I like when I see an action movie—going, "Wow, I’ve never seen that before." But I think what we really have going for us is that we have these jokes and relationships that work underneath it all. We have these big action scenes, but then there’s a little character moment that’s clever in the middle of that, and that’s what people take with them.
Michel, what do you think you brought to the party here?
Gondry: I think the general tendency of a superhero movie is to take itself very seriously. I think there’s a sense of humor and humanity in the story, which is common to my work and to Seth’s work. It’s not definitively my style of film, but I think I contributed to making the audience feel for Seth’s character by how I visualized it. It’s hard to express in words, but that’s always on my mind, and it’s still me going through the camera.