Q&A: How Rogen and friends’ ‘The Night Before’ dawned

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Ethan, who has just lost his parents and broken up with his girlfriend.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Ethan, who has just lost his parents and broken up with his girlfriend. Columbia Pictures

’Twas seven weeks before Christmas and, sitting down in a Beverly Hills hotel suite to talk about their new holiday comedy The Night Before, Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie were feeling suitably jolly.

“We’re not miserable,” Rogen said. He let out his familiar, rumbling huh-huh-huh laugh, like Santa Claus after a bong hit. “We’re not on, like, the Daniel Craig press tour, where he just wants to kill himself in every interview.”

Every year as Christmas approaches, Hollywood’s elves busy themselves rolling out holiday-themed movies filled with warmth and good cheer. Suffice it to say, The Night Before is not one of those movies.

The R-rated comedy, which opened Friday, tells the story of three longtime friends who reunite for one last wild Christmas Eve together before giving in to the more sober realities of marriage, parenthood and careers.

Balancing drug- and booze-fueled mayhem, sharp, sometimes surreal satire and genuine emotion, the film sets out to do for Christmas something roughly akin to what Rogen’s last comedy, The Interview (also, coincidentally, distributed by Sony Pictures), did for international relations — minus the devastating cyberattack.

Joined by The Night Before director and co-writer Jonathan Levine, who previously worked with Rogen and Gordon-Levitt on the 2011 comedy 50/50, the film’s stars — showing the same easy rapport offscreen that they do in the film — discussed what they love about Christmas movies, the challenge of becoming full-fledged adults, life after the Sony emails hack and more.

There haven’t been very many R-rated Christmas movies over the years. There’s Bad Santa, The Ref

Gordon-Levitt: Die Hard.

Was that the main appeal of doing this movie — that you could push this family-oriented genre to more adult places?

Rogen: Aside from the rating, the appeal was just getting to do a Christmas movie because I just love Christmas movies. Growing up, I honestly didn’t have any emotional connection to Christmas whatsoever, but Home Alone was one of my favorite movies of all time.

Levine: When we were sound-mixing 50/50, Seth and (producing partner) Evan (Goldberg) asked me if there was anything else I wanted to do, and I had a very early form of this idea, which was just that there’s no Christmas movie for our generation. Living in New York, I had always gone out with my friends on Christmas, and crazy things would inevitably happen.

That was the initial seed of the movie, and once the idea came up that these guys’ tradition of going out on Christmas had all started because Joe’s character didn’t have any family — that was when it really sort of crystallized.

Gordon-Levitt: That’s the thing about a holiday like Christmas: You see the passage of time. You compare this Christmas to last Christmas and you can measure how your life has evolved. So there’s a bittersweetness to the Christmas movie because there’s a nostalgia that comes along with that ritual.

The big theme of the movie is that, as these guys are becoming adults, they’re realizing they need to leave some of their old ways behind. You are all in your 30s, some of you have kids — is that something you can relate to?

Mackie: No question. I recently had my third kid, and it just messed up everything that was my reality. It just changes your entire perspective on the world. Even traveling is an issue now — I’ve got to buy five tickets! I look at my parents — they had six kids. I always wondered why we never took vacations further than Florida or the Gulf Coast — it’s like, ‘Oh, because they couldn’t afford eight plane tickets, so you just put all the kids in the Lincoln and drive to Florida!’

Levine: (Joe, Anthony and I) all had babies within like two months of each other. I do feel like there’s a certain part of my ability to hang out with my friends that’s gone now, and it’s scary because you don’t want to lose them in that way.

Rogen: I don’t have kids, but I definitely relate to it. I think we try to make movies that in some way reflect what we’re going through at the time. We couldn’t make Superbad now because I personally don’t feel that strongly about whether an 18-year-old is having sex.

Seth, we’ve seen you smoke weed in plenty of movies, but with this one you elevate the drug-taking to a whole new level.

Rogen: We tripled down in this movie. It’s not aspirational — I don’t think you’d watch it and think, “That’s what I’d want my night to be like!” Cocaine definitely comes out looking bad, which it deserves.

At the peak of his drug freakout, your character ends up at a church midnight Mass, vomits in the aisle and yells that the Jews didn’t kill Jesus. How did you all decide where to draw the line with the religious humor without pushing it too far?

Rogen: (Deadpan) We’re really good at that, basically. It’s kind of our specialty, knowing exactly how far to push things with no negative repercussions in any way, shape or form. (Laughs)

So there weren’t any notes from the studio saying, ‘Maybe we could lose the vomiting in church’?

Levine: No, I think when you’re making a movie like this, more is more.

Rogen: I don’t think anyone was technically running the studio while we were editing the movie. (Laughs) I think we kind of landed in a little magical grace period.

Speaking of which, we’re coming up on the anniversary of the Sony hack. A year later, have there been any lasting repercussions for you, Seth?

Rogen: It’s amazing. On Friday we were at a meeting in (former Sony co-chair) Amy Pascal’s office and she mentioned how Scott Rudin was going to have a meeting with her later in the day, and as we were leaving, we were like, “Nothing has changed!” Everyone kept working — maybe with new titles and in new offices, but everyone is fine and still on good terms with one another.

Have you guys talked about potentially bringing these characters back in a sequel if this movie is successful?

Rogen: We’re not that confident in ourselves by any stretch of the imagination. I wish I was one of those people who on the set was like, “Man, when this does well … “I’m like, ‘Please, for the love of all that is holy, let this scrape up enough money that we don’t look like idiots.’” I would make eight of these, though. I’d do every major holiday. The Night Before Martin Luther King Weekend!