Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
The last time I spoke with Israeli-born writer-director Rod Lurie—whose remake of Sam Peckinpah’s controversial film, “Straw Dogs,” opened this past week – was before the premiere of “The Contender” (2000), his political thriller about a female U.S. senator (Joan Allen) who is nominated for the vice presidency, only to encounter allegations of sexual scandal. The movie critic-turned-filmmaker had made his debut feature, “Deterrence,” in 1999, exploring the dilemma of the first Jewish president of the United States thrust into a nuclear crisis.
In making “Straw Dogs,” the 49-year-old Lurie—the son of famed Israeli political cartoonist Ranan Lurie and the first Israeli-born graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point—braced himself for a more personal kind of attack. “One of the first things that Clint Culpepper, president of Screen Gems, said to me after giving me the green light to write and direct the remake of Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” …was ‘You know, there’s going to be a big bull’s-eye on your back.’ Boy was he right,” Lurie told The Hollywood Reporter. “From the minute we announced our plans, the bloggers made it clear that I was ‘no Sam Peckinpah,’ that I was a virtual heretic, a blight on all that is cinema.”
The original film, adapted from Gordon Williams’ novel, “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm,” stars the iconic Jewish actor Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner, a New York intellectual and mathematics professor who travels with his sexy new wife, Amy, (Susan George) to her hometown in rural England. There, tensions escalate between the pacifist David and Amy’s ex, Charlie, who hangs with a thuggish posse. The end result is that David is willing to kill to defend what he perceives as his property (including his wife), and discovers the savage within.
Lurie’s version stars James Marsden as a Hollywood screenwriter with a hot new actress wife (Kate Bosworth), who finds his humanity, rather than his inner caveman, when attacked by Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård of “True Blood”) and friends.
I caught up with Lurie last week to discuss why he was drawn to this signature film by Peckinpah, who in the 1970s proved himself a master of bloody, brutal cinema. We also discussed how Lurie’s Jewish worldview affected the outcome of his remake and why he cast Marsden to portray David, rather than an actor reminiscent of Hoffman, one of the most identifiably Jewish movie stars ever.
Here are excerpts from our conversation:
NPM: When did you first see Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs?”
RL: When I was at West Point, I was in charge of the film society, meaning that every Friday I would bring in a film and show it to the cadets in the auditorium. It was always supposed to be a classic film, but sometimes I would bring in a film that I had never seen before. When I brought in “Straw Dogs,” I didn’t even know what its content was; I just knew that it was a controversial film from an esteemed director. I will never forget the horrified look on the generals’ and colonels’ faces in that middle sequence [the scene in which Amy is raped]. They allowed the film to play out and the cadets were really into it. But there was a certain sensibility at the academy—at least when I was there—that we were officers and gentlemen and this wasn’t a movie at the time that a gentleman watched. And so I got a very big ass-chewing and was relieved of my duties as curator of the film society for a few weeks. Now that I look back on it, maybe making this film is somehow connected to that – the sense that I got in a lot of trouble and I’m going to get my revenge. [He laughs.] I’m joking as I say that, obviously.
NPM: Hoffman’s character, David Sumner, is not specifically Jewish in Peckinpah’s film. Even so, do you think Hoffman’s own Jewishness added any kind of subtext to the story?
RL: There were five actors ahead of Hoffman who were offered the role of David: They were Beau Bridges, Stacy Keach, Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and Sidney Poitier. And the film would have been much, much different with each one of those actors.
The layering of Hoffman’s performance, and what makes his character such an unusual protagonist —perhaps unique in film history—comes from the fact that it was Dustin Hoffman himself. There is something about Hoffman that does smack certainly of an intellectual; somebody you cannot in any way imagine being physical. And there is, attributed to many Jews, a certain intellect-over-brawn mentality; there is not a sense of internal violence.
And so in his effort to demonstrate that all men are genetically coded to violence, Peckinpah ended up with an actor who, perhaps among all the other major actors of his time, one would least expect to become violent. In the trailer for the original “Straw Dogs,” there is a moment where they say, “Sam Peckinpah unleashes– dun dun dun [imitates scary, dramatic music] – Dustin Hoffman!” Now that seems semi-comical, because Hoffman is the last person in the world you’d expect to have any violence within him.
NPM: Back in the 1970s, Were you conscious that Hoffman, as well as actors such as Elliott Gould, had become stars despite the fact that they were Jewish and not the so-called all-American ideal?
RL: Absolutely. But since I was growing up with those actors and those films, it never struck me as particularly out of sync with the way that movie stars were at the time. I thought that being a movie star meant you were Dustin Hoffman or Elliott Gould. Or if you’re talking about non-Jews, Al Pacino. There were also the gorgeous actors like Robert Redford and Paul Newman, of course. But certainly back then when character was king, the best character actors became the most successful actors. Gene Hackman is another example.
NPM: You weren’t particularly gung-ho about “Straw Dogs” when your producing partner, Marc Frydman, brought it to you years ago.
RL: We were obtaining the rights because we thought it was a good, commercial piece of property. And then I ran into Dustin Hoffman at a cocktail party at Mike Medavoy’s house and we got to talking about the story; he regarded the original film as simply a Western, like “High Noon,” in which the lone hero, who is not accustomed to having to fight, suddenly has to take everyone on.
Dustin told me that Sam had his own ideas about humanity, and if I had my own ideas, why didn’t I put my own spin on the story? That really is what convinced me to make the movie. I immediately went to my partner, Marc, and said, “Dustin says we should do the film.” Then we went out and started trying to see which studio would make it.
NPM: How would you describe the difference between Peckinpah’s “spin” and your own?
RL: I don’t know too much about Peckinpah’s politics, but I do know that he was semi-obsessed with the writings of Robert Ardrey, who wrote “African Genesis” and “The Territorial Imperative.” Peckinpah called Ardrey a prophet; but the truth is, Ardrey had semi-fascist ideas, in particular that we are genetically coded to violence. And Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” certainly was played that way.
I don’t share that view at all; I believe that we’re conditioned to violence, rather than the fact that we are innately violent. That’s the reason some countries have never been to war, while others always seem to be at war.
NPM: What part does your Israeli background play in your worldview, as expressed in the film?
RL: I think that Israel does what it feels it needs to do to survive as a nation. I go back to that quotation, which I can only paraphrase, from “Munich” [Steven Spielberg’s film about the mission to assassinate terrorists responsible for murdering Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics]: Sometimes we have to compromise our own beliefs in order to survive.
There is a macho-ness in Israel, that’s for sure, but I don’t think it’s a nation of people who have blood lust in their hearts. Although I am, in principle, in disagreement with almost everything that Ariel Sharon has had to say, I do believe he was right when he said, “If the Jews lay down their arms, there would be no Israel, whereas if the Arab nations did, there would be no war.” That goes back to what I am saying about a conditioning to violence. I don’t think Israelis are necessarily taught to hate their Arab neighbors, but they are taught to beware and to be cynical – and to be ready to survive.
NPM: You’ve said you didn’t try to cast a New York Jewish intellectual type to play David; instead you went for a “sort of Greenwich, CT, country club sort of intellectual.”
RL: I didn’t want somebody who was evocative of Dustin Hoffman. I thought that if I did cast an actor who was too similar– and I don’t want to mention any names – it would have been an impossible weight for that actor to carry. People would say, “That person is no Dustin Hoffman, just like the director is no Sam Peckinpah.”
I’ll tell you a funny story: I was at an Oscar party a year ago and Dustin Hoffman was there, and I wanted to introduce him to James Marsden. But James didn’t want to meet him; he said, ‘[Dustin] is going to be angry with me.” And I said, “Jimmy, you’re the only guy on earth who’s scared of an ass-whooping from Dustin Hoffman.”
NPM: In your film, David is a Hollywood screenwriter working on a project about the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II – in which the Russians ousted the Nazis despite the fact that the Wehrmacht controlled more than 90 percent of the city at times. How did you intend this bloody battle to parallel David’s journey?
RL: Stalingrad is the ultimate example of the underdog using all of its resilience to beat back a ferocious enemy. It was the most important battle not just of World War II, but it may well be the most important battle of the 20th century. It was an example of people fighting because they had to; it wasn’t just the Red Army that won that battle, it was the citizens—women fighting with broomsticks, kids throwing bricks and using whatever they had in their arsenal to survive. Perhaps this comes off a little too neatly in the film, but the bottom line is that these citizens were not fighting and killing Nazis because there was a blood lust inside of them. I was keen on using Stalingrad to exemplify how people can behave violently, but that doesn’t mean they are innately violent.
Of course, you have to be very careful whenever you make reference to the Nazis, because their heinousness was so extreme that you diminish it by comparing it to almost anything. I wasn’t so much comparing our villains to the Nazis as comparing our hero to the citizens of Stalingrad – in the sense that he was fighting a much stronger foe, and using whatever resources he had at his disposal.
NPM: The playwright Harold Pinter – who also happens to be Jewish – was incredibly disturbed by Peckinpah’s film; you have a copy of the letter he sent Peckinpah about the project.
RL: The letter has been in the Peckinpah archives for a long time. Basically what happened is that Peckinpah had wanted Pinter to write the screenplay for “Straw Dogs,” but Pinter had turned it down. I think that a), the subject wasn’t his cup of tea, and b), it was perhaps too repetitive of a play he had written called “The Homecoming.” So Sam wrote his own version of the screenplay and sent it to Pinter, who wrote back – I remember one of the lines reading that he “detested it above all detestation.” Like me, Pinter did not think that men are biologically coded to savagery. That letter was one of the reasons I decided to make the film.
NPM: The film critic Pauline Kael called Peckinpah’s film the first great American fascist work of art.
RM: I think the word, “fascist” is extremely hyperbolic, but I understand her point of view.
NPM: Is there anything else in your worldview, as expressed in “Straw Dogs,” that comes from your Jewish background?
RL: I think that Jews tend to have a very realistic view of human nature, and a very humanist one.
“Straw Dogs” is now in theaters.
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September 19, 2011 | 4:20 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Listen to the podcast below.
The kosher Porky Pig was up for an Emmy Award on Sept. 18. Bob Bergen, a nice Jewish boy from Woodland Hills, was nominated in the voice-over category for his performance as America’s favorite traife hero on “The Looney Tunes Show” on Cartoon Network. And while he lost to “Futurama’s” Maurice LaMarche, he said, “I’m thrilled just to have been nominated.” He was, after all, the underdog—er—pig.
Bergen, 47, received the nomination for the episode titled, “Jailbird and Jailbunny,” in which Porky must testify before a judge after Daffy Duck gets arrested for littering at the Grand Canyon. (Naturally, Daffy tries to blame the infraction on Porky and Bugs Bunny.) The judge asks the stuttering character why he isn’t wearing pants, an issue Bergen joked he has brought up with animators.
Besides LaMarche of “Futurama,” which also won the best animated series Emmy, Bergen competed against Christopher Plummer, who narrated TCM’s “Moguls & Movie Stars” series, Brenda Strong for her voice over work as Mary Alice Young on “Desperate Housewives,” and the animation performers Seth Green (“Robot Chicken”) and Dan Castellaneta – the guy who voices Homer Simpson – D’oh!
When the hilarious, affable performer came to the Journal offices for an interview on Sept. 16 (listen to the podcast on the right), he regaled us with the sounds of Porky, Marvin the Martian, Sylvester, Tweety and other Looney Tunes characters he has voiced. He also demonstrated the range of background voices he has done for films such as “Tangled” and “Up” – crying babies, buzzing flies and barking dogs that sounded uncannily real (and delightfully surreal) coming out of a person’s mouth.
Bergen (in his own voice) pointed out that he is not the first kosher Porky. The first, of course, was the late, great Mel Blanc, who voiced all the Looney Tunes characters and who was Bergen’s childhood idol. “I wanted to be Porky Pig when I was 5 years old, and my mom said you can’t be Porky Pig, you’re Jewish,” he recalled. Even so, Bob spent countless hours practicing the pig’s voice—even figuring out the pattern of Porky’s stutter—to his mother’s chagrin.
In grammar school, he got in trouble for saying the “Pledge of Allegiance” in Porky-speak. More discipline ensued when he answered teachers’ questions as the porcine character while attending Portola Junior High (now middle school) in Tarzana, Stephen S. Wise’s religious school and Taft High in Woodland Hills. “I got in so much trouble,” he said. Even the Passover seder wasn’t immune: “Why is this night different from other n-n-n-neh-n-n-evenings,” he demonstrated.
But Bergen wasn’t without ambition. By his early teens, he was spending hours thumbing through the yellow pages, calling every animation studio in town, figuring out how to break into the voice over field. Eventually, he studied with legends such as Daws Butler (the voice of Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound), and took classes in comedy improv and acting. Bergen even finagled a way to watch his idol, Blanc, record in the studio.
His Jewish mother was initially heartbroken when he chose not to attend college. But Bergen’s chutzpah again paid off after a friend sent him an autographed photo of Casey Kasem for his Taft graduation. Bob promptly mailed Casey a thank you note with his phone number, stating that he hoped to work in cartoons; to his shock Kasem phoned with offers to help. A homemade demo tape of 85 voices that the teenager sent Kasem led Bob to snag his first agent when he was 18.
Within five years, Bergen was working full-time as an actor; in between commercials for McDonalds and such, he landed his dream job – voicing Porky as well as other Looney Tunes characters – in 1990, the year after Blanc’s death. He’s done Porky in everything from the film “Spacejam” to Cartoon Network’s “The Looney Tunes Show,” which premiered this summer.
Among other endeavors, he has also written and performed a one-man show, “Bob Bergen: So, Here’s the Deal!” which he describes as “the story of a nice Jewish boy who wanted to be Porky Pig.”
These days, Bergen remains a staunch Porky fan. During the holiday season, he dresses a figure of his traife hero in a Santa Claus suit, which graces his front yard. And now he has an Emmy Award nomination under his belt—Mazel Tov, Bob!
For now, as Bergen himself told us, “That’s all, J-j-j-j-j-Jews!”
September 19, 2011 | 4:18 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
On a recent afternoon, Mayim Bialik, having finished rehearsing a scene for “The Big Bang Theory” — the CBS comedy about a clique of uber-geeks that premieres its fifth season this week — had retired to her dressing room for a bit of Talmud study and to begin planning her kosher vegan menu for the High Holy Days. The 35-year-old actress, who plays the brainiac Amy Farrah Fowler on the show, will chant the haftarah on Yom Kippur morning at UCLA and blow the shofar for the campus services, which are conducted by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller and are open to the community.
Bialik, who grew up Reform but now considers herself “Conservadox,” became known for her role as the eponymous “Blossom” on TV in the 1990s. After taking more than a decade off to earn her doctorate in neuroscience at UCLA, she has re-emerged as the newest member of the “Big Bang” posse, while also serving as “celebrity spokesmama” for the Holistic Moms Network, as an advocate for attachment parenting and writing her debut tome, “Beyond the Sling” (Simon & Schuster), which will hit stores in March. In her Warner Bros. dressing room, copies of the Mishnah and the Gemara shared coffee table space with her “Big Bang” script.
“Judaism is a huge part of my life — it is absolutely inseparable from who I am,” Bialik said, as the conversation turned back to the Jewish New Year. “There is a spiritual dimension to this month, and one of the beautiful aspects of Judaism is that there is a rhythm to our year that holds a mystical significance. Rosh Hashanah was the day that the world was created; it’s a time that feels ripe and pregnant with possibilities.
“So I feel this tremendous sense of anticipation, but also a healthy anxiety,” she said of her synagogue duties. “I feel a very positive sense of obligation, and that I take on joyfully, but I’m very hard on myself.”
Until her parenting responsibilities precluded all-day shul duty — her sons, Miles and Fred, are 5 and 3, respectively — Bialik served as cantor throughout the High Holy Days. This year, the actress, who also plays trumpet, will practice daily to get her mouth muscles in shape for the shofar blasts required for Seidler-Feller’s services. She says she already knows her haftarah well because she has chanted it at Seidler-Feller’s invitation for more than a decade.
Although Modern Orthodoxy is the denomination to which Bialik aspires, she chooses not to use that term to describe herself because she says her practice is not strictly Orthodox. After all, the practice of chanting in synagogue is forbidden to women according to Jewish law.
Yet doing so links her to her grandfather, a lay cantor in Poland who later served as chazzan to a congregation of Holocaust survivors in San Diego. “I’m part of thousands of years of people chanting this section of haftarah,” she said of the words she’ll chant on Yom Kippur. “I feel very connected to a community when I get to chant on their behalf. I praise God privately whenever I pray, but it’s very powerful to do it in a public way.”
Bialik was down-to-earth and good-natured as she showed a visitor her Tiffany Star of David — a gift she received from her parents when she was 19, just after “Blossom” wrapped, and which she wears daily. She explained that she will need to take it off to tape her “Big Bang” scenes, although this season, the set decorators have added an empty maroon velvet tefillin bag to the décor in Amy’s room. “For all I know, she may be Jewish; I’m still holding out hope,” Bialik said. (The show’s co-creator Bill Prady said in an interview that Amy is not Jewish, so the reason for the tefillin bag remains mysterious.)
Bialik has not publicly worn pants since 2007, when her continuing studies led her to increased Jewish observance, including aspects of tzniut, or modesty. “I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to wear skirts as Amy,” she said. “They dress her frumpily and in layers because they want her very asexual, so my curves are protected. I work in an industry where everything is very external — and in a good way, it has to be; we’re entertaining people with what is presented. But something really resonated about having a lot of positive control over how I present myself.
“It’s an interesting bind as a woman in Hollywood, where being classically attractive is still very valued,” added Bialik, who blogged on Kveller.com about her search for a dress to wear to last weekend’s Emmy Awards, which she dubbed “Operation Hot and Holy.”
“For those of us who are labeled character actors, because we don’t fit that mold, it can be a challenge. I come from the Barbra Streisand-Bette Midler concept of Jewish actresses, who are very recognizable by their look. Even the Jewish community is constantly torn by how to handle the concept of how we find women desirable,” Bialik said.
Bialik got an in-depth education on how actresses should look when she returned to show business, rather than pursuing a career in academia, after her younger son was born in 2008. The actress and her husband, Michael Stone — who parent without nannies or housekeepers — had determined that a television job would allow Bialik more flexibility for their 24/7 attachment-parenting style.
To jump-start her TV career, Bialik signed up to appear on the TLC makeover show “What Not to Wear,” whose producers “chose me to ‘fix,’ ” she said, with a laugh. They encouraged her to be “sexy” and to not hide under her clothing, but “I feel much more comfortable with what I call ‘subdued sexy,’ ” Bialik said. “The idea that you have to be sexy at all is kind of amusing, but part of my job description is to do publicity events where I look competitive. If you want to get more work, you need to be valued the way other actresses are valued. Even when you get auditions for roles that call for the homely girl, you still have to show your assets in a positive way. But I can only do that within the limits of what I find personally appropriate.”
When Bialik auditioned for “The Big Bang Theory” two years ago, it was perhaps another asset that helped her land the part of the asexual girlfriend to the obsessive-compulsive physicist Sheldon, played by Jim Parsons, who just won his second Emmy Award for the role. After Bialik had delivered the three lines her character was to utter in the third-season finale, she recalled that co-creator Prady scanned her resume and asked if she really did have a doctorate in neuroscience.
It also helped that Bialik had watched YouTube clips featuring Sheldon: “I had been told that they were looking for a female Jim Parsons, so I just did my best mimicry of what looked like a pretty socially challenged guy,” she said.
“Mayim is a very bold and fearless performer,” said Prady, whose writers made Amy a neuroscientist, like Bialik. “She never does anything with just one toe in the water. Whatever you ask her, she dives in.”
Bialik’s Amy, as a female nerd, is far more interested in social bonding than Sheldon, and her blunt questions about sexuality have been sidesplitting. “I’ve said the word for every piece of genitalia: uterus, breasts, areolas, buttocks,” Bialik said, demonstrating Amy’s flat affect.
Does this conflict with Bialik’s ideas about modesty? “I had a quite religious rabbi point out that I’m just acting,” she said. “And some friends of mine actually thought Amy was shomer negiah [observing the practice of not touching the opposite sex], because Jim and I almost never touch.
Bialik does share one trait with her character: “I’m a meticulous person,” she said. “I like science, and I like halachic Judaism. As a performer and as an actor, I tend to be a perfectionist,” she added.
That trait will apply to chanting the haftarah and blowing the shofar in shul: “It’s what makes me dedicated and consistent.”
September 8, 2011 | 6:44 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
In a back booth at Canter’s, Seth Rogen is digging into his matzah ball soup with gusto as his close friend, screenwriter Will Reiser, sips a glass of club soda. In person, Rogen — who has emerged as one of the leading comic actors, writers and producers of his generation — offers up the same rumbling laugh (think a Jewish Santa Claus) and humorous banter as the stoner-slacker characters he plays in such films as “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express.”
Reiser, part of Rogen’s “Jew Tang Clan” entertainment posse since the two met on “Da Ali G Show” eight years ago, is quieter and thoughtful, even as he and Rogen seamlessly finish one another’s sentences on this late afternoon.
The same dynamic appears in the best friends who make up the heart of their new movie, “50/50,” which is loosely based on how Reiser’s life and relationships — including his friendship with Rogen — evolved after he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor of the spine in 2005.
In “50/50,” which is by turns poignant and hilarious, Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 20-something writer for public radio who has an artist girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a pothead-jokester best friend, Kyle (Rogen). But early on, it’s clear all isn’t well with Adam, when he fatigues while jogging and complains of worsening back pain. When Adam finally visits a doctor, the news is shocking: A tumor is snaking alongside his spine, with the almost unpronounceable name of neurofibrosarcoma, or malignant schwannoma. And his MRI — actually based on Reiser’s own MRI — indicates he has only a 50 percent chance of survival. A life-threatening surgery is his only option.
Adam is by nature emotionally repressed and stoic, and as he struggles to come to terms with his cancer, his friends and relatives respond in disparate ways: His girlfriend is unable to deal with the illness and cannot even bring herself to drive Adam to his chemotherapy sessions. Kyle, after an initial freakout, wants to use Adam’s sympathy card to score chicks. Friends say exactly the wrong things, and Adam’s mother (Anjelica Huston) is supportive but smothering.
As Adam’s health deteriorates, help arrives in the form of a novice oncology psychotherapist (Anna Kendrick) assigned to him by the hospital. “She is young and unable to face what she is dealing with — just like Adam — which creates a strong connection between them,” said the film’s director, Jonathan Levine (whose credits include “The Wackness”).
There is levity amid the drama, much of it akin to the raunch-fests-with-heart for which Rogen, and his comedy mentor, Judd Apatow, are known. In the scene where Adam shaves his hair before it can fall out due to chemotherapy, Kyle reveals that his razor has been used on hairs other than from his head. “It’s inevitable, it’s just where my head goes,” Rogen said of the joke.
Online, some individuals have critiqued Rogen for even attempting to make a comedy about cancer, stating that their experience with dying loved ones was anything but funny — some even went so far as to write, “F—- you, Seth Rogen.”
“I’m used to people hating all my s—- before they watch it,” Rogen said. “But I think we did the movie honestly and respectfully and based it on our own experiences.”
Levine, who has helped care for relatives braving cancer, agreed: “It’s not just because I’m Jewish and I own a bong that I relate to this,” he told the producers while lobbying to direct the movie.
“What this film does with character and pushing the boundaries of comedy is incredibly resonant and important. The salient theme is: What does it mean to be young and facing this disease? What does it mean to be facing the end of your life before you’ve really lived it?”
Rogen, 29, and Reiser, 31, met when they were the two youngest staff members on the American version of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Da Ali G Show.” “I remember feeling threatened that there was another young dude working on the show,” said Rogen, who was recently named by Forbes as “the hardest-working man in Hollywood.”
At the time, Rogen shared an office with his current writing and producing partner, Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”), a friend since being in the same bar mitzvah class at their Reform synagogue in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Reiser, who had his bar mitzvah at a Jewish community center in White Plains, N.Y., remembers being envious of Rogen and Goldberg, who were staff writers while he was an associate producer. “Our office was divided by just a window, so we could see each other all day long,” Reiser said. “In their office, they’d be joking, imitating Sacha’s accents, shouting in Kazakhi [a reference to Baron Cohen’s character of “Borat”] and running back and forth, and I would be on the phone, really stressed out, on the verge of having a nervous breakdown, trying to book guests.”
Rogen and Reiser quickly bonded, however, in part because of their similar ages; they were the only staff members who smoked (both have since quit). Since they couldn’t light up in the show’s skyscraper offices, they’d have to trek down to the parking garage, which provided a nice break from the office intensity. “You needed a reason to leave, and the only reason to leave was to smoke, so we would go smoke cigarettes all the time,” Rogen said.
Reiser, who at 24 was already a workaholic and always the first person in the office at 7:30 a.m., initially dismissed his early cancer symptoms as stress-related. “I had no energy and my knee kept swelling up with fluid,” he recalled. “[Eventually], I could not stay awake, and I was having these horrible night sweats, where I would wake up and my shirt would be drenched, like I had just gone swimming.”
“Your skin just got bad,” Rogen said of the “Ali G” days. “It was like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ when those people were melting. … Will began looking worse and worse, but of course we had no idea how sick he was; we just thought he was working too hard. We’d always joke, ‘The hours are killing him.’ Sacha would say, ‘Should we tell him to go home?’ ”
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“50/50” will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 12 before opening in theaters on Sept. 30.