Buddies through thick, thin, comedy, and cancer
When writer Will Reiser was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, his pal Seth Rogen persuaded him to write the comedy ''50/50,'' starring Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Reiser's alter ego. They tell EW their story
Will Reiser I was 25. Seth and I had been writing for Da Ali G Show. I was having night sweats where I’d wake up and my clothes looked like I’d just jumped in a pool, which is why I finally went to see a doctor.
Seth Rogen In retrospect the best thing I did was just not disappear. I was not afraid to hang out with Will just because he was going through this, and I think some people were.
Reiser The movie’s two main characters, Adam and Kyle, came out of a conversation Seth and I had one night while we were at a birthday party at a bar.
Rogen We started joking about what kind of movie we could make out of this. And we realized as soon as this happened that we didn’t have a movie to reference.
Reiser Right! How do people in their mid-20s deal with a crisis they’ve never confronted before? Everybody kept comparing my experience to The Bucket List, as if they thought that was reassuring.
Rogen We always knew a buddy comedy about a guy who’s sick and his friend who doesn’t know how to deal with it would be a good idea.
Reiser I never wanted the story to be too sentimental. That was what we didn’t like about a lot of cancer movies. They’re too overdramatic or the poignancy feels forced.
Rogen And we [Rogen and producer Evan Goldberg] would really grill Will over each draft. Early on there was a scene where he goes to a rabbi to talk about the afterlife. And we just looked at Will and were like, ”Would you ever in a million f—ing years have gone to a rabbi?” No.
Reiser The writing was really emotionally cathartic. It made me process all the painful memories and confront them.
Rogen The first title of the script was How I Learned Nothing From Cancer. And although it was a funny title, Evan and I had to look at Will and say, ”You didn’t learn nothing. You bettered yourself a lot from this experience.” And I think even in that moment, Will hadn’t yet gained the distance to see that.
Reiser We knew that no major studio would want to buy this movie.
Rogen We didn’t delude ourselves! We made this for $8 million, and ultimately we got to make the exact movie we wanted to make.
Reiser We screened it for the Livestrong organization the other night, for 250 cancer patients and survivors, and they were so moved and so appreciative.
Rogen I’ve never had people be thankful toward me on an ideological level for making a movie. The closest I’ve come to that was showing Pineapple Express at the High Times awards. It wasn’t quite the same feeling.
Reiser I’ve got six years down, and I’m in remission.
Rogen We asked Sanjay Gupta today how long remission lasts.
Reiser In 10 years I’m officially cured.
Rogen At least that’s what Sanjay Gupta says.
Reiser Barack wanted him to be the surgeon general, so I trust him.