After taking on the sex comedy in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up and redefining the coming-of-age film in Superbad, the filmmaking team at Apatow Productions makes its first action-comedy in Pineapple Express, a Midnight Run for the stoner set about two lazy guys on the lam and their comic attempt to stay one step ahead of a band of vicious killers. Process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) has a grudging business relationship with the laconic Saul Silver (James Franco), deigning to visit only to purchase Saul's primo product - a rare new strain of pot called Pineapple Express. But when Dale becomes the only witness to a murder by a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) and the city's most dangerous drug lord (Gary Cole), he panics and dumps the Pineapple Express at the scene. When it's traced back to him, Dale and Saul run for their lives… and they quickly discover that they're not just suffering from weed-fueled paranoia. If they survive, these two just might become real friends. All aboard the Pineapple Express.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
"Pineapple Express uses comedy to say that nothing good comes from getting high," says Judd Apatow, producer of the new action-comedy. "All these guys' lives are a mess, they are going nowhere and, hopefully, almost getting murdered makes them rethink their current way of life. I always want the movies we make to be hilarious and thoughtful. I want to feel good about what we are saying."
As funny as the movie is, the filmmakers were also very aware that they had to put their characters in real peril to trigger the high-stakes action that fuels the movie. "If you don't believe that these guys are in danger of getting killed, you won't believe that they would ever change," says Apatow. "So, we looked at other action comedies that we liked - Midnight Run, Pulp Fiction - that had a common thread of just enough silly, over-the-top violence to show that the characters are in way over their heads."
The idea for the film was one that Apatow had hidden away on a file. As Apatow tells it, "Many years ago, I thought to myself, 'What would an action movie be like if the leads were chronically stoned?' It seemed funny to me, and I was even sober at the time."
Apatow wrote the story with Seth Rogen and Rogen's writing partner, Evan Goldberg, and then Rogen and Goldberg wrote the screenplay. At the time, the team had already written Superbad, and Rogen had also penned several episodes of Apatow's brilliant-but-canceled series, "Undeclared." "At the time, I was trying to get Superbad made, and failing at every turn," says Apatow. "So I said to Seth and Evan, maybe you need to write something a little more commercial. Looking back now, I wonder if this idea was really the most commercial idea I could have given them, but that's what I thought at the time."
The writing team was intrigued by the chance to write an action movie and explore the comedy of the characters' situation. "The hook for us was to create characters that are so stupid and lost, it'd take someone trying to murder them for them to realize that they need to get their act together," says Rogen.
And so, Dale and Saul were born. In writing the screenplay, Rogen and Goldberg were careful to craft a story with a truly endearing core that audiences have come to expect from Judd Apatow's comedies, and helpful comments from friends showed them the path. Table reads are a common practice in television and motion picture production, but they often take place weeks or even days before shooting beings, as a means of the actors familiarizing themselves with the characters. Apatow makes a practice of table reading material very early as a way of testing the screenplay - what's working, what's not, which ideas could be developed, which pulled back. As Apatow recalls, "We did a table read a few years ago with Seth and James Franco and it was hilarious. A bunch of friends came to give notes, and our buddy Ian Roberts, the actor from Talladega Nights, said he thought the most interesting part was the idea that Seth and James did not know whether or not they were really friends or just business associates. So Seth and Evan went further with those moments and the scenes which focused on their developing friendship, and it got much funnier and sweeter."
"That unlikely friendship is the heart of the film," says producer Shauna Robertson. "When you see their friendship forged by fire - literally - you get why they would start to see each other as more than just a buyer or dealer."
Of course, the other great way for the film's sweet nature to come through is in the casting.
"Originally, we wrote Saul for me," Rogen states. "We just assumed I'd be the funny stoner buddy and we'd get some kind of leading man type to play Dale."
Enter James Franco. Now well-known for his more serious role in the Spider-Man™ series, Franco first gained acclaim starring with Rogen as a regular on Apatow's television series "Freaks and Geeks." Franco and Apatow had hooked up at the Austin Film Festival, where Franco was screening a dark comedy short film he directed called The Ape and invited Apatow to take a look. Franco recalls, "He really liked it and afterwards he said, 'You know, I really miss the funny Franco.'"
Rogen recalls, "So, we talked about Franco and thought, 'What if we flipped it? What if he was the stupid buddy and I was the leading hero straight man, uh, so to speak?' It just started suddenly seeming different - which was good. Anything that kind of set ourselves apart from how these movies are usually done was valuable to us."
When Apatow sent Franco the script for Pineapple Express, "They didn't tell me which role," the actor recalls. "I thought they wanted me to play Dale. And I was thinking, 'Gosh, I really like it, but I really wish I could play Saul.' And then they said, 'We want you to play Saul,' so it was perfect."
As the idea of Seth Rogen, leading man, took hold, so did his character. "Dale is a giant loser," he says. "He's a process server, dating a high school girl, not going anywhere in life and not really all that unhappy about it."
Not all that unhappy, that is, until he unwittingly witnesses the one hit that changes his life forever. With a drug lord and a crooked cop on his tail, he gets unhappy about his directionless life in a real hurry. "These guys are forced to realize how pathetic they are - they don't have anyone that they can connect with emotionally and they realize that they're each other's best friend," says Rogen. "They need to get their acts together, not just to live through this situation, but to live happy lives when it's all over."
"It was great that Seth and James were friends before we shot the film," says Robertson. "They have a shorthand that pushes them both to be funnier. They really are genuinely amused by one another, and we got to exploit that."
With the two main characters set, the producers next considered the director. After a successful collaboration with independent film director Greg Mottola, who helmed the hit film Superbad, the filmmakers again looked outside the box. They found their man in David Gordon Green, best known for such thoughtful, character-driven independent films as George Washington and All the Real Girls.
Again, though the collaboration might not seem like a natural one, Green says that he shared with Apatow a similar approach to filmmaking. "I had just finished a real heavy dramatic film and was thinking I wanted to aim in a lighthearted direction," says Green. "As we started talking about the way we like making movies, we found we had very similar sensibilities. They do things in a more broad commercial comedic genre and I've worked more in a low-budget, independent, dramatic genre. But stylistically, we both look for the same kind of natural inflections and have very similar senses of humor, and we have similar theories of how to have a good time making a living."
Apatow had heard that Green was looking to direct a comedy, and the director got a recommendation that sealed the deal. "Danny McBride - who's as funny as they come, thinks David is funny. I like David's films and we know he's a good director, and if Danny thinks he's funny, he must be."
McBride, who went to film school and lived on the same dormitory hall with Green, says that although the director is known for his dramas, he cut his teeth on comedies. "In film school, he was insanely funny," says McBride. "His first-year movie was called Will You Lather Up My Roughhouse?, about two guys who lived together and made soap. It was ridiculous but also very, very funny. His dramatic work is, obviously, very impressive, but his comedic work is also amazing."
Rogen says that Green's approach is what they needed to help Pineapple Express stand apart from the pack. "David has a great sense of how to tell character-driven stories. We thought that's what would make this movie different from other comedies of this kind: get a director who, in a way, works against that. His main focus is how to tell the story well and the character work and the acting. That way, we would do what we could to make sure the film has all the emotional relevance that people are used to from an Apatow comedy, but with action and excitement and drugs."
According to Robertson, Green was the ideal choice to add the unexpected element. "David looks at things in a way that is really fun to be around," she says. "He is very creative and shows up ready to get a lot done in a short amount of time. He is always prepared, but also always prepared to throw all those preparations out the window if something funny happens in the moment. David wants people to be totally committed to the process. One time, he told me he only wanted to hire extras who would shave their sideburns totally off. He didn't actually want a sideburn-free movie - he just wanted folks who were that committed."
For his part, Green had no reservations about working with "guys with a really wonderful reputation within the industry of delivering projects that made sense commercially but also pushed the boundaries a little bit. People are willing to take a chance with them."
Once on the set, the actors found working with Green an unusual experience. "The best word I could use is different," says Rogen. "One of his favorite directions is, 'Say it like you've got ear wax in your mouth.' 'Do it like a drunken sailor on leave.' 'Do it like a frustrated nun.' He throws you curve balls - he takes you out of your comfort zone and do something you'd never have thought of doing on your own."
Together, the filmmakers rounded out the cast with Danny McBride playing the third-wheel Red, Gary Cole as the suburban drug lord Ted and Rosie Perez as the dirty cop and Ted's partner in crime, Carol.
McBride had acted in Green's independent films before staking his own comedic ground in The Foot Fist Way, an independent comedy that found fans in some of the world's biggest names in comedy after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. The film was released in theaters earlier this summer. Says Rogen, "Danny is hilarious. We'd never met him when we wrote the script, but once we did, it was like we'd written the role for him. We were like, 'You gotta play Red if they ever make Pineapple Express.'"
"Red's a slippery fella," says McBride of the middleman between drug lord Ted and local dealer Saul. "He's really a jerk. But he gets what's coming to him, and in the end, he comes to realize the power of loyalty to his friends, even if it means getting shot several times by Rosie Perez."
When McBride says that Red "gets what's coming to him," he's not kidding around. The character gets the business end of a whack to the head by a bong and a vicious hit by Seth Rogen to the back. But the actor made it through okay. "I did one day of yoga to prepare for the fight scene, and it was good - it helped me recover - though I did have bruises in weird places, like under the arms. I really don't think I would have made it through without the breathing techniques I was using."
Gary Cole, the character actor whose turns in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Office Space, "The West Wing," "Desperate Housewives," and countless other films and television shows have garnered a legion of fans quoting his lines, says that he was thrilled to join what some would see as a silly comedy. "You make your choices based on the material and who you'll be working with. Not only did I like the script, I liked these guys. I was a big fan of Seth's from The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
Cole's characterization of Ted Jones fleshes out the villain in ways not normally seen in movies of this genre. "David, Evan, and I talked a lot about what kind of villain Ted would be," says Cole. "The most important thing to us is that he was not a cliché drug lord. I like to put physical or emotional obstacles in the way of my characters - they lend, for whatever reason, an authenticity."
But he also enjoyed the silly moments, like a shootout scene. "They wanted me to do the John Woo-style double pistols. Hey, why not?" he says.
"Gary Cole is a professional," says Rosie Perez, who takes on the role of the crooked police officer, Carol. "He's been around forever and done everything - television, theater, movies - and as a result of doing it all, seeing it all, he's so relaxed. I had most of my scenes with Gary and it was quite easy - give and take, talk and listen, the fundamentals of great acting, which he applies every single day."
Green was thrilled to work with Rosie Perez again after having worked with her "on stage with a reading we did. I remember seeing Rosie when I saw Do the Right Thing. I was immediately struck by her."
"It couldn't have been easier," says Perez. "I was just supposed to have a meeting with David to discuss if we were going to work together on this movie. I go to the meeting and we start doing scenes. We started working right away. I was thinking, 'This is going to be really good.'"
Perez says that her greatest challenge was learning to fire a gun. "I do not like handling firearms," she says, "but my character Carol is a sergeant, she's been on the force for several years, and she is a badass. I've never sought out a role like this - as I said, I really don't like guns - but I'm glad I did it, because I had a blast on this movie."
The film's cast also features Amber Heard as Angie, Dale's girlfriend, and Craig Robinson as Matheson and Kevin Corrigan as Budlofsky, two of Ted's henchmen.
READ MORE ABOUT SHOOTING PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
DAVID GORDON GREEN (Director) garnered the Best First Film Award from the New York Film Critics Circle and the Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival with his directorial debut, George Washington. The film also landed on the annual top-10 lists of Roger Ebert, the New York Times, and Time magazine.
Green's most recent film is Snow Angels, starring Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale, released earlier this year after making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival.
Other credits include Undertow, which starred Dermot Mulroney and Jamie Bell and was an official selection at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals, and All the Real Girls, which received two jury awards at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and starred Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel.
Green was born in Arkansas, raised in Texas, and currently resides in New Orleans.
JUDD APATOW (Producer/Story by) made his feature directorial debut with the 2005 summer box-office smash The 40-Year-Old Virgin and followed up with the Universal release Knocked Up. His next film as a writer, director and producer is Funny People, starring Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann and Seth Rogen, which will start production in September.
Apatow recently co-wrote the hit film You Don't Mess with the Zohan. He also produced the current release Step Brothers, as well as April's Forgetting Sarah Marshall, last December's comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (a film he also co-wrote), last summer's Superbad, the summer 2006 hit Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Upcoming Apatow productions include 2009's Year One.
Apatow's credits on the small screen include the critically praised, award-winning series "Freaks and Geeks," as well as the series "Undeclared," which was named one of TIME magazine's Ten Best Shows of 2001. Apatow also worked as a writer, director and producer on the award-winning and widely acclaimed series "The Larry Sanders Show."
Born in Syosset, New York, Apatow aspired to become a professional comedian at an early age. While still in high school, he created a radio show and began interviewing comedy personalities he admired, including Steve Allen, Howard Stern and John Candy. Inspired, he began performing his own stand-up routines by the end of his senior year.
SETH ROGEN & EVAN GOLDBERG (Executive Producer/Screenplay by/Story by) grew up in Canada together and wrote their first screenplay, Superbad, at the age of 15. Superbad, which the duo also executive produced, was released by Columbia Pictures in the summer of 2007 and opened to overwhelming acclaim from critics and audiences alike, taking in more than $120 million at the US box office.
Rogen also co-wrote the Owen Wilson feature Drillbit Taylor, released by Paramount Pictures earlier this year, and served as co-producer on Apatow's sleeper hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Rogen and Goldberg also executive produced the summer smash hit Knocked Up, which was written and directed by Judd Apatow and starred Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, and are set to executive produce Apatow's next feature film, Funny People, starring Rogen and Adam Sandler.
The team's next project as writers and executive producers is The Green Hornet, which is set for a June 25, 2010 release by Columbia Pictures.
After moving to Los Angeles, Rogen was a staff writer on Judd Apatow's television series "Undeclared." Rogen and Goldberg went on to write for Sacha Baron Cohen's cult hit "Da Ali G Show."
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING