Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller Have made a man out of James Franco.
We mean this in the most literal of senses. On Sat. Oct. 17, the Rogens hosted a very public rite of passage for their pal—one that’s usually reserved for 13-year-old boys: his very own bar mitzvah!
Most Jewish teenagers don’t have the kind of affair Franco, 37, was afforded, but then, most kids don’t have the Rogens orchestrating their coming-of-age do. Most bar mitzvah boys certainly don’t have their bris—a circumcision (albeit a fake one) aired live on Funny or Die, or have Zac Efron posing as the newly-clipped appendage with a blanket around his head. Most teens can’t book Miley Cyrus as their evening’s entertainment—wearing a bodysuit dotted with Stars of David, no less—have their ceremony officiated by a famous rabbi who looks a hell of a lot like Jeff Goldblum, or see Bill Hader’s supreme auctioneer skills in person. They definitely can’t bid serious moolah to score a date with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak or dance the hora to “Hava Nagila”—performed by L.A-based It-band, Haim instead of your mother’s best friend’s son’s typically cheesy bar mitzvah band, that is. And, you certainly don’t see Seth Rogen wearing a yarmulke shaking it to “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof on the dance floor on the night you’re becoming a man.
Since all of the above actually happened, what we’re essentially saying is, the Rogens are miracle workers.
Then again, who could doubt this philanthropic super couple—no matter how crazy the request—especially when all of the amazing aforementioned moments took place not just for James Franco, but in the name of charity?
The cause in question—Alzheimer’s—is one that’s personally very important to both of the Rogens. Lauren’s mother was diagnosed with the disease nine years ago; her condition is now so advanced that she can no longer stand, dress or feed herself. Her rapid deterioration and lack of a cure prompted the couple to create the nonprofit Hilarity for Charity, an annual variety show, as well as accompanying yearlong programs and events, which raises funds for Alzheimer’s research through the Alzheimer’s Association. Thanks to Franco, Wozniak (whom Seth plays in the new Universal Pictures release Steve Jobs), in addition to longtime supporters like Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman and Mindy Kaling, the organization has brought Alzheimer’s awareness to generations X, Y and Z, and made Hilarity for Charity one of the hottest tickets in Tinseltown.
The help of the Rogens’ celebrity friends—and they have many—has been essential to the organization’s growth—though bringing in big guns like Franco and Cyrus, or upping the ante each year by booking talent such as The Backstreet Boys and Bruno Mars, hasn’t been as difficult as you might expect.
“I came up with the idea [for James’s bar mitzvah] at last year’s event [but] it’s not like we sat down, had a brainstorming session and said, ‘We have to do that for next year,’” Lauren, 33, says.
“[Lauren is] friends with James as well, and over the years, he’s talked about wanting a bar mitzvah,” Seth, also 33, interjects. He pauses a moment before releasing his infectiously boisterous chuckle and saying, “Maybe we’ll have to have a brainstorming session this year—maybe we’ll circumcise Dave Franco!”
Whatever weird and wonderful idea they eventually come up with will have an important purpose, especially for Lauren, whose mother was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 55; she has also lost two of her grandparents to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“I was very familiar with the pain [Alzheimer’s] causes, and the destruction it has on a family,” she says. “In the beginning, I was living in a very angry, sad and depressed place about it. I felt like it was taking over my whole life, because it had.”
But then, writer Matthew Bass had the brilliant idea to do a variety show benefitting Alzheimer’s research, and before long, convinced the Rogens to take part alongside fellow co-founders Tum Cohl and Raffi Adlan. Six months later, the first Hilarity for Charity show was born.
After the success of the inaugural event, something incredible happened. Young people who related to Lauren’s dilemma and who had caught wind of the variety show started reaching out, happy they could speak to peers about living with the disease, and happier to discover they weren’t alone. “In doing the event, we started to get contacted by a lot of young people who were like, ‘Why is this guy who makes weed comedies talking about Alzheimer’s?’” she recalls.
For Seth, becoming a champion for curing the disease was natural, especially because it was so personal for his wife and his mother-in-law. “I probably did enough to harm the younger generation over the years, so it’s nice to give something back,” he jokes, before adding more seriously, “As I was getting more recognizable, I noticed a lot of other famous people had these causes. I was like, ‘I don’t have a cause. Am I an asshole because I don’t have a cause?’ There [are] a lot of things I care about, but not a lot of things I could find myself talking about in a way that didn’t feel like I was a fraud of some sort, I guess.”
He continues, “When all of this stuff started happening with Lauren and her mother, I found myself in a position where I could very easily talk about something in a way that was insightful. I didn’t have to do any research or learn any statistics or numbers. I could literally just talk about my own personal experiences; that I was able to do something that apparently was helpful to people was great.”
Being authentic is particularly important to the couple, who wanted to bring much-needed attention to Alzheimer’s, but in a genuine way. The neurodegenerative disease has symptoms including short-term memory loss, mood swings and behavioral issues at its best, and at its worst, a loss of all bodily functions.
Thus, the Rogens decided to focus on what they did know. “It’s such a sad and heavy disease, and all the [existing] events surrounding it are more serious, and rightly so—but we wanted to do the anti-that. While those are meaningful and necessary, our way, into pretty much anything, is comedy. We’re comedy writers!” Lauren notes, proclaiming, “That’s what everyone should do. The reason it’s been so natural for us is that, it’s natural for us. I’m a big believer that when things are sad, all you can do is laugh.”
Armed with authenticity, the two grew Hilarity for Charity (HFC) by creating mixers and online support groups for relatives and friends of patients under 40. They have also implemented the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Grant Program with Home Instead Senior Care, which has, to-date, awarded more than 17,000 hours of free, at-home care to senior citizens, as well as HFC U, a nationwide program that encourages and supports college organizations to throw their very own HFC event; it has, to date, raised more than $200,000.
The charity’s success is a testament to how much the Rogens care about the cause, and how hard they’re working to terminate the disease. While angry that Alzheimer’s has consumed her mother, Lauren refuses to give up hope: she’s confident that one day, she and her husband will find a cure.
“I felt very alone; I felt like I was the only person in the world that was losing my mom in this way at that point in my life, which wasn’t true at all—there are many other people going through it. [That said], it’s very easy to slip into [a] dark hole and live in that dark hole. You have a lot of rage,” she admits, before noting that altruism really has been the best medicine. “I felt alone; I thought I should help people who also felt alone. Helping others has helped me tremendously.”
LAUGHTER: A LABOR OF LOVE
It’s 1 p.m. on a rainy Sunday afternoon in New York, and the Rogens are propped up on a plush Trump SoHo penthouse bed with their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Zelda, eating double-wide pastrami sandwiches from Katz’s Delicatessen for our shoot. That said, Lauren assures us that, had they been at home in L.A., they would have been doing the same exact thing—minus the high-end hotel stay, that is.
“For us, the thing about being together is that we don’t have to be on and funny. We can just be who we are. I’m my most comfortable self when we’re doing this— [chilling out], eating pastrami sandwiches in bed. We make each other laugh,” she says.
Laughter, as you might have already guessed, is the recipe for their successful relationship. They have been together for more than 10 years and, in fact, are actually celebrating their fourth wedding anniversary on the day of our shoot. From here, Lauren is heading to a bachelorette party, while Seth is attending Franco’s real bar mitzvah—the actual footage of which was later shown at the variety show.
That they can’t actually celebrate on the day-of is no big thing. They’re completely down-to-earth, and don’t need a grand affair to show one another that they care. Sorry to be trite, but they’re cute together. The Rogens finish each other’s sentences and laugh at one another’s jokes. Lauren is supportive, saying how incredibly funny her husband is (though Seth clearly doesn’t need the praise, dead-panning “That’s nice” in response); he very clearly dotes on her, quietly allowing her to take the stage.
They’re that rare, mythological couple whose relationship was easy, right from the start. They met through Seth’s friend, Will Reiser, a screenwriter and producer most famous for scribing Seth’s 2011 dramedy 50/50—not working together as TV writers on Da Ali G Show, as many have assumed.
“I worked on the show, and [Will] was dating [Lauren’s] friend,” Seth recalls. “Will and I were friends, and he said that the girl he was dating had a friend, and that we might like each other, so we went to a birthday party and met.” They hit it off so well that they decided to have their first ‘date’ that very night, where they went out for grilled cheese sandwiches at 4 a.m. and played Spanish Scrabble until the sun came up.
To both, the beauty of their relationship is that neither has to be “on” around the other, and there is no one person competing to be the funniest. They do support one another and stimulate each other creatively. For example, Seth and Will actually came up with the idea for 50/50 the night that he and Lauren met—just being around her, he says, sparks his inspiration.
Aside from being famous and philanthropic though, both assure us that they’re completely normal–and we believe them. When you don’t know someone, and you’re in the public eye the way that Seth is, it’s so easy to make up exactly what you think their lives are like—but we’re just normal people,” Lauren says. “We go to the drugstore and buy toothpaste. We’re just people.”
Seth can’t resist an obvious opportunity for a joke and quips, “Stars—they’re just like us!” before agreeing with his wife. “I think that’s right. I think people meet me and expect me to have one of those hats that you drink beer cans out of. I don’t have one of those; I never have. People always think I’m going to be partying, like I’m Pitbull. I don’t live like that. Pitbull lives the life people think I live.
”Lauren adds, “I don’t think it’s good to have any one thing define you. When [people] hear one thing about you, it defines you, and you are forever that person.”
Seth’s movies are a perfect paradigm. Aside from a few select projects like the superhero film The Green Hornet, 50/50 and the indie drama Take This Waltz, he has a reputation for being the funny dude who talks about weed and stars in stoner- fueled comedies. While this is certainly part of his life—and something he has no qualms about admitting—it isn’t the only thing that defines him.
“As long as it doesn’t limit my ability to work in some ways, I really don’t care what the public perception is, as long as it generally coincides with people wanting to go see my movies,” he says with a shrug, noting that the reason he actually talks about marijuana use so frequently is that, as an open and honest advocate of legalization, it’s become a constant question in interviews. “People ask me about it, [so] what am I going to say?”
Another topic of constant discussion is his 2014 North Korea satire The Interview, which caused a national uproar and reportedly led to the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Rogens were in New York when the situation broke, and remember that unfortunate moment in time with crystal clarity, as could be expected.
“[After the situation occurred] in the following few weeks, we didn’t do much of anything,” Seth admits. “I just wanted it to end and get back to work, honestly.” Lauren adds, “People kept asking if we were scared; I was never scared—but it was sad. [Seth and co-star James Franco] had worked so hard and made an incredible film shedding light on some f***ed up shit in the world, and it didn’t get seen in the way it was meant to be seen.”
Though that period in their lives was trying, to say the least, they didn’t let it keep them down. “It was a bummer,” Seth admits. “Would I make another movie about North Korea? Probably not—and I won’t be making any Isis movies any time soon—but I’d say in general, overall, that it showed how effective a comedy can be, and how you can really get the attention you’re looking for. It can become unwieldy and ultimately lose the focus you’d hoped it had, or the goal you hoped it had. At the same time, it was sad, but also very creatively validating. We created a piece of art that was so talked about, and there’s something that’s validating about that.”
That said, Lauren wasn’t as physiologically attached to The Interview as Seth was as a saving grace; she could be his rock when the shit hit the fan.
“I think it’s good that we’re not emotionally invested in the same projects at the same times, like if I have a movie that does shitty, or people hate it, or it causes a war, she isn’t involved in that, and can help counsel me through it from an out- sider’s perspective, from some degree,” he notes. “If we worked together on some of the things that I’ve worked on in the past, the fallout probably would have been much harder.”
Lauren has a different take on the matter; she champions her husband. “Seth just really knows who he is and knows his thoughts and opinions,” she says. “He’s not afraid to stand strong.”
WHAT’S NEXT? MORE HILARITY & A SAUSAGE PARTY
Although Seth Rogen is this generation’s King of Comedy, don’t try to pigeonhole him. Take his most recent role as an example: he played Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in Danny Boyle’s and Aaron Sorkin’s new biographical Steve Jobs drama so well that he’s now developed a lifelong friendship with the guy he calls “Woz.”
“It’s fun to participate in as many genres as possible; I like horror movies and I want to make a horror movie one day,” Seth admits. But don’t expect him to cut comedy in favor of Oscar-worthy roles any time soon—hilarity is in his genetic makeup, after all.
“That being said, if you told me now I was only allowed to make comedies for the rest of my life, I would be pretty happy with that,” he continues. “I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone [by doing Steve Jobs]; I was excited by the idea of working with Aaron Sorkin, Danny Boyle, Kate Winslet and Michael Fassbender, more than anything.”
He’s also refused to shy away from comic book content—his brief foray playing DC Comics character The Green Hornet is a particular topic of discontent—by co-producing Preacher, a drama based on another DC Comics imprint revolving around Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a conflicted preacher in a small Texas town who merges with a powerful creature that has escaped from heaven.
“Preacher is something we’ve been trying to make for a really, really long time. I was reading it while [Lauren and I] were dating. It’s irreverent and subversive. It’s dark, and there’s violence and swearing and all sorts of insane characters. Working with AMC is great; you can’t say f**k, but you can pretty much do what you want. You can just go crazy.”
The experience was completely different from filming 2011’s Hornet. “The truth is, I didn’t love The Green Hornet,” Seth admits. “I liked it fine; we got into it when the opportunity came up. It was probably not a superhero that I would have ever mentioned before that, though. The Green Hornet was hard, because it was PG-13, honestly. It was really difficult for [writing partner Evan Goldberg] and me to navigate communicably.”
He’s not having that problem at the moment, having just wrapped the holiday comedy The Night Before (which hits theaters Nov. 20) co-starring Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Kaplan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and bar mitzvah performer extraordinaire Miley Cyrus.
While expressing the desire to work with fellow Judd Apatow disciple Amy Schumer in the future—“She’s really nice [and] I’d love to work with her in a meaningful capacity at some point”—he just wrapped production on Neighbors 2, the sequel to his 2014 box office smash hit Neighbors, a comedy about the problems—and ensuing hilarious moments—that occur when a frat house moves next door to a young, thirtysomething couple with a baby. It was all fun and games on set, in particular when Seth is able to affectionately haze hunky co-star Zac Efron.
“We tend to be mean to Zac,” Seth says with a chuckle. “No one is sympathetic to Zac Efron. He’s so handsome. All comedy comes from making him experience pain in some way—that’s what we’ve found out.”
Pain is also a hot topic for his upcoming 3D, animated August, 2016 release, Sausage Party, a comedic, animated film voiced by Salma Hayek, Bill Hader, Franco, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera and Edward Norton, with a serious underbelly about one sausage’s quest to discover the truth about his existence as he tries desperately to get purchased—not knowing what will happen when he actually does.
“They think something good happens to them when they get purchased, and slowly, the truth of what really happens to food is revealed to them. It’s an existential journey, I would say,” Seth reveals, adding, “It’s not easy to make a movie like that; people aren’t begging us to make a movie like that. That movie took years and years and years to get made.” (Try 10 years—he and frequent co-star Jonah Hill came up with the idea over dinner one night at Fred 62 in Los Feliz back in 2005).
Lauren, too, has a small part in Sausage Party playing Camille Toe [her character’s name is the only detail Seth will let her share] as well as a plethora of different projects in the works.
“I just sold a TV show to NBC that I’m writing, and I just directed a pilot presentation for FOX digital that I’m starring in. The show is based on a book called “The Day I Turned Uncool: Confessions of a Reluctant Grownup” by a writer called Dan Zevin. It’s a book of essays about the time in your life when you go from sending dick pics to when you’re sending photos of your pets. It’s really just about a group of friends in this time of their lives when they’re starting to feel like uncool grownups,” Lauren reveals, noting with a smile, “I know a little bit about that. I’m writing with a friend [Alanna Thompson], and it’s very much based on our lives. I’ll literally text my friend throughout the day that I’m writing with, and hashtag: uncool.”
Seth takes a moment to lean over and wipe a smudge from his wife’s mouth. “You text hashtags?” he asks incredulously. “Who does that?”
Lauren pauses from her train of thought to defend herself—“It’s creative inspiration for the series!”—before discussing another imminent project of importance. “I’m writing an Alzheimer’s movie,” she reveals. “It’s super personal. I’m still brainstorming and outlining.” She is also producing the documentary This Is Alzheimer’s, a film about three families—including her own—and how they’ve struggled and suffered, but also how they’ve managed to live with the disease on a day-to-day basis, which she hopes to finish and release next year.
As for the possibility of starring with her husband on the big screen [he appeared in her 2012 feature For a Good Time, Call…and she had bit parts in his films 50/50 and Zack and Miri Make a Porno], well, that’s still TBD. “I don’t know if we’ll make a feature together,” she admits. “We have two sets of couple-friends who are working together, and I’m a little jealous of it, but [also] a little afraid.” What’s to be scared of? Personally, we think a feature film co-starring the Rogens would be, well, hilarious.
See out behind-the-scenes shoot with The Rogens: