It didn’t take long for actor Seth Rogen to earn leading-man status after coming on the scene in 1999 as the sarcastic underachiever Ken Miller on the TV show “Freaks and Geeks.” While the Judd Apatow-produced series was shortlived, Rogen has since become one of the core players of a group of actors Vanity Fair recently called “comedy’s new legends.”
It’s not a distinction Rogen is necessarily comfortable with, but after hilarious roles in the “40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” and “Pineapple Express,” it’s one he’s going to have to get used to. In his newest film, “Observe and Report,” Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, the head of mall security on the lookout for a flasher who is revealing himself to mall patrons.
Between his bullish man-child chuckles (It really is one of the greatest natural laughs I’ve ever heard), the Current spoke with Rogen while he was in Austin last month for the South by Southwest Film Festival.
It’s easy to see that most people don’t consider Ronnie much of an authoritative figure. How do you handle authority yourself?
I’d say not too well, generally speaking [laughs]. I’ve always had trouble with that. But I have gotten better now that I am getting older…and now that I have a girlfriend.’
And you as the authoritative figure? Any recent power trips?
Not really any. I’m much more comfortable with a subservient role at this point in my life [laughs].
I know you were pretty busy as a teenager doing standup, but did you ever hang out at the mall like the skaters in “Observe and Report,” and, if so, what exactly did you do there?
Oh, yeah, we would hang out at this knife store a lot. It was called the House of Knives. They sold these really weird Klingon knives and swords and shit. Later we would hang out at a store called Revolver because they had a big Zippo collection.
I’m not quite sure I understand what flashers find so satisfying about revealing themselves. Any theories?
Yeah, I have no idea either [laughs]. I have no clue. That’s something you’d have to ask a psychologist or a psychiatrist or someone like that.
It’s too bad we never hear about female flashers.
That is so true. That’s the real travesty here [laughs]. Where are they?!
Well, guys have always had penises, so why is it just now that we’re seeing them more in comedies, like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” last year and now “Observe and Report?”
I think it’s just the next frontier of what’s funny. You have to ask yourself what hasn’t been done before and then go out and do it. Showing your dick is the next big thing. It’s the new butt. It used to be butts for guys, but now we’ve moved to the front.
Do you think the overall heterosexual male demographic that a movie like this is aimed at is comfortable enough in their own sexuality to find this funny? I mean, I do, but there’s also guys who would never admit to enjoy seeing junk on the big screen.
Yeah, we were definitely aware that that might be an issue. Our core audience are probably the last guys in the world who want to stare at a dick for even just a few minutes. But at the end we thought most would probably go along with the joke. And how it ends is just so spectacular that it’s worth getting there. It’s worth the journey.
Ronnie, of course, has a crush on Anna Faris’s character, who works at a cosmetics department in the mall. Who would you say are the sexiest mall employees in real life?
That’s a good question. Um, probably those girls — the cosmetics ladies. They always put up a nice front.
I’m going to have to say the girls who give free samples at Great American Cookies.
Yeah, that’s true. Anyone giving out free food is sexy.
Speaking of sexy, nice Vanity Fair cover with Jonah [Hill], Jason [Segel], and Paul [Rudd]. Do you feel any pressure when people refer to you as part of the next generation of great comedians?
It’s not something that I would ever say myself, but it is a great compliment. You have to take it for what it is. It’s magazine cover. I made the cut, so it’s nice.
There are a couple of dramatic moments in “Observe and Report.” Would you ever consider switching genres?
I don’t think so, but you never know. Maybe if it looked like a good movie I would. But I like doing movies that I would go see myself, and those aren’t the type that I would generally go run out to see. I haven’t even seen “Gran Torino” yet.
I know you look up to actors like Adam Sandler as a comedian, but as an actor in general is there anyone you like to watch?
Oh, I think Alfonso Cuarón is really amazing. Fernando Meirelles is someone I think is pretty rad. Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, they’re all awesome.
I’m surprised you named directors. What about actors?
Hmm, let me think. Uh, Sean Penn is pretty rad. Who else is good? Hmm. I’m a big fan of Meryl Streep.
I think a few people were surprised when you were cast in the lead role for “The Green Hornet” and even more so when Michel Gondry was named as director. Why is this combination going to work?
It’s going to be great. [Michel] really wanted to direct this, so he went out and shot scenes on his own to show the studio. He shot these fight scenes using these new camera techniques he said he had been experimenting with. It was instantly unlike anything I had ever seen. It’s been really exciting. Aside from all the story ideas and character ideas, he proved that he could visually take the movie in a really original direction.
Another movie you’re currently featured in is “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Why do you think producers thought of you when they were casting for a brainless mass of blob?
Actually, I was really just glad to hear that it was animated.
Do I deserve any credit for not asking you any “Paul Blart” questions?
Yes, you do. You deserve mad props!