Monday, September 26, 2011

Evan Goldberg Talks - 50/50

Over the course of fall KCET will be hosting a Cinema Series at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, California. Nine special nights showcasing eight new movies before their theatrical release along with one classic Johnny Mercer scored film. Each screening will also include a Q&A immediately following the film with actors and filmmakers hosted by film critic Pete Hammond. The fourth film screened was "50/50," a comedy centered on one young adult's struggle fighting a rare breed of cancer. There to take part in the Q&A was producer Evan Goldberg and Ben Karlin along with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Read the highlights from the rising 30 minute exchange below...

"50/50" is written by producer Will Reiser and based on his own experiences fighting through cancer. In 2003 Will was an associate producer on HBO's Da Ali G Show and worked with (at the time) writers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen on the show. The three guys became friends and as Seth and Evan watched Will get worse, they told him he should develop his fight with cancer into a screenplay. They told him that everyone has "one great story" and he definitely needed to tell this one. Evan Goldberg also said that Will began the process, "about a year and a half" after they'd pushed the idea on him.

One question that quickly came up was how closely Joseph Gordon-Levitt was going to play the character of Adam to Will Reiser? Joseph Gordon-Levitt told the audience that the role was merely inspired by what Will went through. "What emotionally he went through. His experiences and the person he became," Gordon-Levitt explained. Evan Goldberg gave the crowd some much need background on Will eluding that he was always worried. "Will was neurotic. He would eat himself up," Evan said of Will. Evan said that he and Seth had even told Will that "he gave himself cancer" from the constant stress. Producer Ben Karlin added that Will Reiser's actual MRI's are shown in the film during a couple of the doctor's visits.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt wasn't always going to play the role of Adam in "50/50." Originally, James McAvoy was cast in the role. producers Evan Goldberg and Ben Karlin told the audience that McAvoy had to leave production about one week into shooting for a family emergency back in England. His exit however shut down production and with under two weeks of footage being shot, the studio was ready to completely shut down the film. Evan said, "if Joseph would have said, "no," this movie would have never happened." Ben Karlin added after McAvoy had left, "there was only one person we wanted."

Luckily for all of us, Joseph Gordon-Levitt did say yes however, with very little time to prepare for the role, the actor was just sort of being thrown into things. Gordon-Levitt explained that instead of worrying about not having much time to prepare he just went with what came naturally. "It was kind of a blessing in disguise. If I had more than a month to prepare I could have over thought it. This allowed me to just go with my instincts," he said. Joseph Gordon-Levitt said he drew most of his inspiration from Will. He said he wanted to capture how he felt, "I didn't want to walk or talk like him but to go through what he felt." The actor expressed that while on set the entire group was very collaborative and that a lot of improvisation would happen. "We'd start off the script and then feel things out," Joseph Gordon-Levitt said. He added, "dialogue was written, but it would often become something else."

Speaking of dialogue written Will Reiser's original screenplay was on the notorious Hollywood blacklist, which is a collection of the best un-produced scripts. At that time the film was titled "I'm with Cancer." A title that producers knew was going to be a rough sell. Ben Karlin said that they went through about a million different titles including, "Have You Seen Terms of Endearment?" and "Tumor Has It." A interesting question was brought up about studio reaction to making a comedy/drama that dealt with cancer. Producer Ben Karlin said that there were two reasons a lot of doors were open to them. One is the fact that Will's script was on the blacklist. The second was Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's involvement. Rogen and Godberg were coming off big success with "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" and Rogen had already agreed to star as the best friend of Adam in the film.

"50/50" is a great film that I cannot recommend high enough. It is a comedy/drama that comes across completely natural showing us that even in the darkest times, funny things can happen. Stay tuned for my full review of "50/50" and more from the KCET Cinema Series as it runs through fall.