By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif.—Cuddly cut-up Seth Rogen reprises his role as a married suburbanite dealing with a group of rowdy residents next door in the R-rated comedy sequel “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.”
The inevitable follow up to the hit 2014 comedy “Neighbors,” Rogen and many of the original cast members return as well as several new younger, female performers, led by “Carrie” star Chloe Grace Moretz. She plays a freshman who just wants to party with her friends but doesn’t fit into dorm life so she and her pals start their own sorority, which happens to be located in a big Victorian house to the right of the home of Mac (Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Aussie actress Rose Byrne, reprising her role).
The former party animals are now trying to be responsible parents. They’re even planning on expanding their family so they’ve sold their home and purchased another one. Of course, during the waiting period known as escrow, they have to convince their new rowdy female neighbors to keep it down so the sale can go through. Nothing doing. To pay the rent, the college girls have to hold loud and obnoxious fundraising parties on a regular basis. That is until the Radners discover a rule that prohibits sororities from holding parties. The girls, in turn, do their best to stir up trouble for meddlesome family next door. The war escalates. Soon the Radners find a secret weapon in former adversary and untethered recent college grad Teddy (Zac Efron, reprising his role).
For Rogen, who also serves as a co-writer and producer on the film, boundaries—comedic and otherwise—don’t exist. The more gross the better. Among the memorable scenes in the sequel include a woman vomiting during intercourse, used tampons used as projectiles and a baby’s foot appear from a woman in labor. The comedy also incorporates some social commentary involving gender politics, the generation gap, police brutality and gay marriage. Dave Franco, Lisa Kudrow, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jerrod Carmichael are among the returning supporting cast members. Twentysomthings Keirsey Clemons (Amazon’s “Transparent”) and Beanie Feldstein (“Fan Girl” and Jonah Hill’s younger sister) join the “Neighbors” franchise as two of the sorority sisters with this film.
The Vancouver, Canada native is best known for his comedies including “The Interview,” “This is the End” and “Knocked Up.” With a booming voice accentuated by frequent rumbles of laughter, he recently spoke on the Universal Studios back lot (where the film wasn’t made but provided an Everytown suburban backdrop) about co-writing his first sequel and infusing the R-rated comedy with complex modern issues.
Q: When did you think a “Neighbors” sequel come up?
Rogen: It wasn’t until it came out and was well received and did pretty well that it became something we were considering.
At first we were thinking of where would the characters go next. Zac would be a guy who graduated from college and had no skills so he’d be depressed about it. That gave us an idea of where his story could go. We didn’t want to go back to (Mac and Kelly) wanting to party anymore. So we thought maybe they would have another kid and they were entering the next phase of parenting and they were wondering if they’re bad parents and they worry about whether their kids will relate to them later on, and all those fears. That’s what gave us the idea of the sorority. We have a daughter and we’re about to have another daughter. They seem like the personification of what your worst fears about your daughters might be as far as not being able to communicate with them, and them not liking you. And then we heard that sororities weren’t allowed to throw parties from an intern at our office. She was in a sorority and we were talking about having a sorority in the film that would throw all of these parties, and she told us you can’t do that. That’s where that idea came from. Then we thought about how these girls going to college are at a point in their lives where they get to choose what they like and don’t like and who their friends are and what you stand for, and that just became part of the story we wanted to explore.
Q: Was it nice to have Zac on your team this time?
Rogen: It was good to nurture and support him while he was lost and to have him become a part of our family. It was nice not to be fighting with him in every scene and to teach him about boiling water.
Q: This film has a good message about how to party safely. What do you hope college students watching this can learn about having fun and partying but also doing it safely?
Rogen: There are probably much better things to teach college kids about how to party safely than the “Neighbors” franchise so I would not look to us specifically for that. If, in any way, it inspires someone to go seek out a much better source of how to party in a safe manner, then I hope they go do that. A theme in the movie is that women aren’t allowed to throw their own parties in sororities then obviously if you delve deeper into that conversation it brings up questions about whether they’d be safer if they were able to that, but again there are probably a lot smarter things written about that subject than this film.
Q: Did you feel like this film was funnier than the original when you were making it?
Rogen: No, we were praying to God that it wasn’t going to be embarrassing. That’s our goal with every film, essentially. Anything better than humiliating is fantastic for us. That’s a success. None of us who were writing the movie had ever made a sequel so we really tried to put a tone of thought into how not to make it terrible and how to make it feel like it justified it’s own existence. We tried to make sure that the idea was strong enough so that even had there not been a first movie we would be excited about this as an idea for a movie. And we really liked the characters. That was the thing we talked most about—where would these characters go next in their lives. Once we found that out then it made everything else a lot easier.
As we were making it, it seemed funny and it was fun but you never know. A lot of things seem funny at first but then they’re not. (He laughs.)
Q: How much leeway did you give the actors as far as the jokes and comedy? Was there a lot of improvisation?
Rogen: We really give people a lot of leeway. There are some jokes in the script that we all end up falling in love with. We want to hit those. Sometimes there are things that just need to occur in order for the movie to progress. With the sorority girls especially, we (the five male writers) don’t know how 18-year-old women speak to one another by any means. We had female writers on set and we gave the script to female writers (to review) throughout the process, but in a moment to moment basis ideas would come up and we would have been crazy to go up to Chloe or Kiersey (Clemons) or Beanie and say, “Here’s how to say this.” Instead, we’d ask them how they’d say it to one another. It’s what they used to do on “Freaks and Geeks.” The writers would come and say to us, “We’re not your age, so how would you say this?”
And we had tons of comedians in the movie in small roles. It’s crazy to have them on set and not tell them, “Come up with funnier stuff than we’ve written.” When you have people like Billy Eichner (Fuse TV’s “Billy on the Street with Billy Eichner”), Sam Richardson (“Spy”) and Abbi Jacobson (“Broad City”) around, you’re like, “Say whatever you want, really.” They’re all very funny and competent comedy people.
Q: Zac Efron is in such great shape in this film and is shirtless much of the time. Did you have him prepare specifically for this movie?
Rogen: (joking) He was in terrible shape before the film. He got in shape just for the movie, which was really nice of him.
Q: How did you balance the crude humor with the more political-leaning themes in this comedy?
Rogen: At times it’s kind a joke with this theme of social consciousness. It just kind of became one of the themes running throughout the movie. Once that happened, it sort of made our brains start going in different directions when it came to commenting on things like gay marriage and the fact that (African-American actors) Jerrod (Carmichael) and Hannibal (Buress) are cops in the movie so that obviously creates some opportunities for humor. It just sort of organically started to funnel in that direction once the theme of social justice became one of the jokes in the movie, basically.