Forget the man in the spandex superhero suit or the dude with the eyeliner and the pirate garb. This summer’s real breakout star is one of the least likely leading men to amble across the screen in quite some time: a paunchy, gravel-voiced, stoner-y, cuddly bear of a guy. No, we’re not talking about Shrek. In writer-director Judd Apatow’s romantic comedy Knocked Up, Seth Rogen — previously best known for his scene-stealing work in Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and on the cult TV series Freaks and Geeks — plays Ben Stone, a shlubby underachiever who is horrified when his dream one-night stand with a beautiful woman (Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl) turns into a nightmare after she becomes pregnant. On the heels of that career-making performance, Rogen will costar in the much-buzzed-about high-school raunchfest Superbad, which he also cowrote. With his comedy stardom clearly aborning, the actor talks about achieving fame, dating women out of his league, and doing standup in lesbian bars.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Around the time of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you and Judd Apatow were collaborating on a script about a long-distance college relationship. How did you end up doing Knocked Up instead?
SETH ROGEN: Judd just came up with the idea. We were actually in a meeting [with Universal studio executives] about a rewrite that we had to do for that long-distance relationship movie, and Judd pitched Knocked Up all of a sudden. I’m like, ”Wow, that seems like an awesome idea.” He’s like, ”And Seth Rogen is the guy who gets the girl pregnant!” I was like, ”Sweet!” They pretty much bought it right then and there.
The tagline of the Knocked Up poster reads ”What if this guy got you pregnant?” with a goofy picture of you. How do you feel about the fact that the whole joke of the movie is —
That getting pregnant by me is pretty much the worst thing that could possibly happen? [Laughs] I couldn’t agree more with it. I mean, a lot of the terrible things my character does were my ideas. At least I could support a child, but that’s about the only difference [between me and Ben Stone]. The sight of my face and the thought of my DNA growing in Katherine Heigl’s body — it shouldn’t happen. The universe negates itself if that happens. It’s kind of a crossing-the-streams thing.
What was the casting process like to find Katherine Heigl?
It was interesting. It was a very long process and I read with many, many girls who had no f—ing clue who I was and were thinking, ”Why am I doing a 15-minute, improv-y, jumping-through-f—ing-hoops audition to pretend that this guy got me pregnant?” It was very hard to find someone who was very funny in their own right and you’d believe would ultimately be attracted to me, and yet you’d believe is way out of my league and just someone that had good chemistry with me. And Katherine Heigl was instantly perfect.
You guys did a huge amount of improvising on the set, too. Was there a full-blown script for Knocked Up or was it sort of sketchy?
I was talking to Harold Ramis about it and he put it the best I’ve heard it: ”The script is the worst-case scenario. It’s what you do if you can’t think of anything funnier.” We started out with a great script, so that’s a good worst-case scenario, but it’s always fun to f— around.
Did you inject much autobiographical stuff into the character of Ben?
Not a ton. As far as girls finding your porn and stuff like that — that’s pretty par for the course. I have had experiences when I lived with roommates — specifically, with [Knocked Up costars] Martin [Starr] and Jay [Baruchel] — just having girls see what that 20-year-old-dudes-living-together lifestyle is like, the amount of stray pubic hair and all that. That kind of stuff came directly from experience.
NEXT PAGE: ”I was huge among the lesbians and am to this day”
And, of course, the reality is that once you’re on a TV show and in movies, beautiful women like Katherine Heigl throw themselves at you left and right.
Yeah. [Laughs] No, I have a girlfriend I live with. I’ve been with her almost two years. And I met her before 40-Year-Old Virgin came out, which was nice. She was out of my league then and I still scored her, so I’ve gotten women out of my league before the movies.
What does she think of Knocked Up?
She has a hard time watching some of the scenes, definitely. And I imagine [Heigl’s fiancé] Josh Kelly does as well.
Before you got into acting, you started out doing standup comedy when you were a 13-year-old kid in Vancouver. What was your act like back then?
I first did standup at a lesbian bar. I didn’t know it was a lesbian bar at the time, but the lesbians loved me. I was huge among the lesbians and am to this day. I’m thrilled with the lesbian support. [Laughs] My material was about my grandparents and getting handjobs and touching boobs and s—. That was my approach: I’m young so I’ll talk about young-people s—. Later on, I did standup at Jewish summer camp.
At this point, what do you get recognized the most for?
The 40-Year-Old Virgin, I’d say. I get the ”You know how I know you’re gay?” thing a lot. But sometimes people get it wrong and they’re like, ”Hey, you’re the gay guy!” But I don’t go out that much. I kind of hide.
You won’t be able to hide much longer. Between Knocked Up, your supporting voice role in Shrek the Third, and Superbad, out this August, your profile is going to shoot way up.
Because of Shrek 3, I could technically have the biggest money-making summer. [Laughs] ”Billion-dollar box-office star Seth Rogen.”
You just finished shooting your next big movie, Pineapple Express. What’s that about?
I’m a process server who’s a big pothead, and James Franco is my weed dealer. I witness a murder, and through a series of events the big weed kingpin in town is trying to murder us. It’s like a weed action-comedy but with an oddly emotional friendship story. We tried to retain all of our emotional credibility from Knocked Up and Superbad [and] slide it into the weed action-comedy genre. It’s a very strange, awesome action movie.
I know you’re a major comic-book fan. Maybe with your new Hollywood clout you can fulfill your dream of playing a big-screen superhero.
You never know. My writing partner Evan Goldberg and I met with Marvel about what properties are out there. [Hot Fuzz director] Edgar Wright is doing Ant-Man. It seems to be a more and more realistic avenue. Edgar was like, ”If I can do it, you can.”