Singapore hates me, says Bad Neighbors 2 star Seth Rogen

Zac Efron (left) and Seth Rogen star in the bawdy Bad Neighbors 2.
Zac Efron (left) and Seth Rogen star in the bawdy Bad Neighbors 2.PHOTO: UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES

Comedian Seth Rogen, star of Bad Neighbors 2, is convinced Singaporeans hate him after he made fun of the country's strict laws a few years ago

If you want a semi-awkward encounter with Seth Rogen, just tell him you are from Singapore.

"Singapore? They hate me there." These are the actor's first words, unprompted, when The Straits Times sits down to chat with him about his new film Bad Neighbors 2, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.

He is referring to the backlash following his comments about a trip to the island while promoting his superhero flick Green Hornet in 2011. He made fun of the country's laws on drug smuggling, chewing gum and caning, and some Singaporeans took exception to his remarks.

But the Knocked Up (2007) star clearly likes a bit of a scrap, doubling down on his remarks when, a few years later, he issued a tongue-in-cheek "apology" to those who had taken umbrage.

The 34-year-old is still as prickly and feisty as ever, whether he is talking to the press or making off-the-cuff remarks - including a tweet that likened the 2014 war drama American Sniper to a Nazi propaganda film, which he apologised for after being slammed.

He cannot quite seem to let go of the whole Singapore thing, either, even though this reporter tries to tell him that Singaporeans do not hate him.

Every movie I’ve done that’s R-rated has done better than every movie I’ve done that’s not R-rated. So I think actually it’s a better time than ever to make R-rated comedies.

COMEDIAN AND FILM-MAKER SETH ROGEN in defence of his R-rated

"They hate me, be honest. They doooo," he says, laughing heartily.

But the jolly smile fades a little during an unguarded moment before the interview proper begins, when his Bad Neighbors 2 co-star Zac Efron, baffled by the whole exchange, asks him what is going on, and Rogen awkwardly whispers that he will explain later.

"Why? Is it because of the movie?" mutters Efron, 28.

It is a good guess because Rogen, of course, has a track record when it comes to causing offence on an international scale. His political comedy The Interview (2014) famously ruffled the feathers of the North Korean government, which many believed was behind the subsequent cyber-attack on Sony, the studio behind the film.

With the Bad Neighbors franchise, the Canadian comedian and film- maker is on much safer ground - although he manages to find a reason to argue here, too.

The first movie in 2014 was about a suburban couple, Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), who are forced to deal with the neighbours from hell when a rowdy fraternity moves in next door.

The sequel sees a sorority moving in this time, with Kick-Ass star Chloe Grace Moretz playing one of the girls.

So the only things that can cause offence here are the bawdy humour and abundant references to drugs and alcohol, which have earned it an "R" or "restricted" rating in the United States, meaning under-17s who want to see it need to be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. In Singapore, the film has been rated R21 for sexual content and drug use.

R-rated comedies have hit a rough patch in the US lately, with movies in the last year such as Entourage, Ted 2, Spy, Vacation, Magic Mike XXL, Get Hard and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 all disappointing at the box office.

This has led media commentators in The New York Times and trade magazine Variety to question the viability of the market for such films.

But put it to Rogen that R-rated comedies might be struggling and he gets a trifle defensive.

"Really? Well, s***ty ones do.

"Deadpool, the biggest R-rated movie of all time, just happened a few months ago," he counters.

And he is right, although the Ryan Reynolds superhero film took 10 years to get off the ground and the studio initially baulked at releasing it precisely because the story was R-rated and quirky.

Rogen - whose bread and butter has been stoner and slacker comedies such as the R-rated Superbad (2007) and Pineapple Express (2008) - then tries to suggest that such films actually do better, even though the classification is known to shrink the potential audience by imposing an age restriction.

"Actually, R-rated comedies traditionally do better than non R-rated comedies. Sisters did well, that was an R-rated comedy," he says of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's film last year.

"Deadpool did really well," he repeats.

According to a survey by the US movie website The Wrap last year, however, PG and PG-13 films earn roughly twice of what R-rated ones do.

But, Rogen, who is married to Superbad actress Lauren Miller, 33, reasons: "Every movie I've done that's R-rated has done better than every movie I've done that's not R-rated.

"So I think actually it's a better time than ever to make R-rated comedies."

The censorship rating can also be a plus for certain viewers, he believes. "If anything, it draws them. When I see a comedy that's R-rated, I'm more inclined to think it will be hilarious. Maybe because I'm very immature," he says, chuckling.

Nicholas Stoller, who directed both Bad Neighbors films, is more willing to talk about the potential downside of making movies such as these.

"I've noticed a huge, unfortunate contraction in the movie industry that I think is in regards to all original content, and that applies specifically to R-rated comedies and comedies in general. Because most comedies aren't sequels, most comedies are originals," he tells The Straits Times.

"Having said that, there's a huge opportunity in TV right now - with all the streaming services and all that stuff - to be able to tell certain kind of stories. So I also see a lot of these stories are shifting to TV," he adds.

Perhaps that is one reason Rogen himself is making a move to TV - he has developed a supernatural dark comedy called Preacher, about a priest who enlists the help of a vampire to go on a journey to literally find God. It debuts in the US later this month.

In the meantime, Rogen and Stoller are hoping to repeat the success of Bad Neighbors (2014), which was made for US$18 million (S$24.2 million) and grossed more than US$270 million worldwide.

While it is meant to be a silly popcorn movie, they are also trying to smuggle in an important message about the premise of the film, which is a little-known rule barring American sororities - but not fraternities - from throwing parties where alcohol is served.

Stoller and the writers stumbled on this while they were researching ideas for a follow-up film.

"What the rule does is it creates situations where sorority sisters have to go to frats to party instead of being able to do it in their own homes, which ends up being not totally safe a lot of times," the director says.

"I have two daughters and all that stuff makes me really angry. And obviously the movie's a fun, light, ridiculous comedy, but I think there's something truthful we're trying to get at."

Moretz, 19, plays one of the girls who decides to circumvent the rule by setting up a sorority house off-campus.

She says she can relate to a scene where her character and other female students complain about not being able to host their own parties, and instead having to attend booze-soaked fraternity parties with a "rapey" vibe.

"Yeah, there's a reason I don't go out, still. I don't go to parties like that because I find them unsafe.

"I have a lot of friends who have been taken advantage of in settings like that, especially at colleges, and it's unfair that we can't take in the same amount of alcohol as boys can and not be taken advantage of."

Her male co-stars agree. Efron says the double standard "is totally real and it's B.S. and it needs to be addressed. And we do address it".

Rogen adds: "There are like a thousand more important things to address in the world, but after we've cleared that up, we should fix this too."

•Bad Neighbors 2 opens in Singapore tomorrow.

Watch the interview with SethRogen and Zac Efron at http://str.sg/44YF

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline ''Singapore? They hate me there''. Print Edition | Subscribe