By Christopher Bell | The Playlist March 15, 2011 at 5:00AM
How The Film Doubles As Seth Rogen Biopic & More We Learned In Our Chat With The Cast & Director
Two nerds, after spending the time of their life at the geek haven that is Comic-Con, soon find themselves in the epic situation of having to get an alien to his homeship. And though it's a dream come true for the protagonists, it's also a certain death sentence with multiple villains on their tail. But thankfully in "Paul," nobody's yelling at any marines nor are there abrasive video game action scenes -- this is the "better" alien movie in theaters, chock full of laughs and coated with a genuine sweetness that you wouldn't expect from a movie centered on a foul-mouthed alien voiced by Seth Rogen.
We were able to sit down with director Greg Mottola and some of the talent -- Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost -- and here is a brief rundown of what we learned. And a big warning, there is a big spoiler at the end of the article so if you don't want the movie ruined for you stop reading after number 9. We even put a big image in front of it so you can't read it by accident. With all warnings in place, continue reading....
1. Mottola Was Intimidated By Previous Pegg/Frost/Wright Collaborations, Weather
You don't have to be a condescending film theorist to figure out that "Paul" is something completely new for the director; though it has similarities to his previous films it's also an entirely different beast. "They weren’t going to be able to do it with Edgar Wright, and I love him, was very intimidated to do a film with these guys who made these incredible collaborations but I thought I had to try. It was just too much fun to pass up. I said, 'Please, let me do it' and I warned them that I’m not as good as Edgar Wright, but it will be something else, something different." Aside from the initial difficulties born from nervousness, there was also the terrible weather that tempered spirits a bit. "For some reason we went to New Mexico, which has terrible weather. It hails in July." Simon saw his hail and raised him lightning death, adding, "New Mexico has one of the highest incidents of lightening death in the States, so..." Though when all is said and done, everyone was quite taken with the locale. "Having said that we fell in love with that place. We were completely enchanted by Santa Fe and New Mexico and it’s a very spiritual place and we kind of ended up being slightly dream captured."
2. This Is A Biopic Of Seth Rogen
"Bill Hader plays a kind of straight laced, FBI federal agent, he’s kind of like Gollum. He sees Paul as like the ring, his way to glory and he gets more unhinged and crazy as it goes along and kind of becomes a full-on villain, a bit psychotic. No, Bill’s not like that at all, but you know they’re all playing variations of themselves to some extent. I’d say Simon and Nick obviously they’re not nearly as naïve as these guys but they play very sweet characters in this film and that’s very close to who they are. And Paul is very much like Seth Rogen. He’s foul mouthed and sarcastic and smokes pot. Actually, this is a biopic about Seth Rogen," joked Mottola.
3. People Of Younger Generations Have No Idea That Aliens Could Possibly Be Nice
The group seems to think that, statistically speaking, there must be other intelligent life forms somewhere. As for how they're generally portrayed in the medium -- bloodthirsty savages or pranksters that pick on farmers -- Pegg thinks Rogen's Paul is the only hospitable one in years. "Paul is probably the only one who would pass you a joint rather than shoot you in the head." Now it's unclear whether it's the excessive joint smoking or naivety to anything older than their generation, but teenagers seem to be surprised with Paul's general demeanor. "It was interesting when we test screened the film and people under a certain age who had never seen 'E.T.' didn’t know that aliens are sometimes nice. That was a revelation. I thought okay, great, let’s keep ripping off movies that are too old for the younger generation," Mottola joked. Or did he?
4. Occurrences In The Movie -- Including The Awkward Redneck Encounter -- Happened To Simon And Nick
Originally the duo tried to come up with ideas in the safety of their flat, but inspiration was low. Therefore, they decided to actually make the trip themselves -- and some of the moments made it into the script. "A lot of what we experienced on the road in terms of some of the people we met, you know the adventures that we had went straight into the script," mentioned Pegg. "We had a bird hit the window, we ran into some scary, sort of hunter types in the Little A'Le'Inn." Frost continued, "We were the only people in the Little A'Le'Inn before they arrived, and we were being quite boisterous like we owned the place, and then these two guys walked in who looked very serious men, with kind of hunting suits on and we got quite quiet... and I said (whisper) come on, let’s just go." While they channeled this fear into two antagonists in the story, they also got a little payback, as more than once in the story they manage to destroy the rednecks' beautiful SUV.
5. Despite The Armada Of Comedic Talent There Was A Lot Less Improvisation Than You Would Think
Even though the quick-riffs would tell you other wise, Wiig explains that much of quips were scripted. "We stuck to the script for the most part in the earlier takes, but after that they let us play and they were open to us improvising. A lot of times we would pitch ideas, and Nick and Simon were always there so if they had other ideas or wanted us to say other things or have a different attitude, they would kind of let us play. But weather was so crazy for the outdoor scenes that we just had to get moving."
6. Nick Sometimes Forgets That Paul Isn't Real
"You know I forget Seth was in the film because I just see Paul now, I don’t see…I genuinely forget that Seth is in the movie, he did such an amazing job with his character. I was coming back from the premiere in London and I was sitting in the car thinking about everybody and thinking how amazing it as that we’d finally got there and had our premiere and I was thinking who did I miss tonight? Someone wasn’t there I really wanted to see and speak to. Oh it was Paul. He never existed. "
7. If There's A God, He's Got To Have A Sense Of Humor
Those who've seen the film are talking about its firm stance in atheism, either wondering why it was included so heavily or cheering that their "team" was finally represented in a film. In reality, the topic's inclusion makes complete sense, and something that almost every single other alien movie has swiftly ignored. "If an alien came down to earth we would have to question what we believe about the universe, even simply because you know Paul has creation stories as well," Pegg stated, to which Frost added, "We had to think about this and not be flippant about it. As writers, if you start to censor yourself about certain things, well, where does that stop?" It goes without saying that religion -- a person's entire belief system -- is an extremely touchy subject, but not above being riffed on. "Everything’s got to be on the table comedically. As long as you’re in a position to talk about it, like you’ve experienced it, it should be joked about. If there is a god and he did create us, he should have a sense of humor so it’s an insult to him to not use it."
8. Sigourney Weaver Had One Chance To Say Her Famous 'Aliens' Line
"Paul" is chock full of hilarious references and in-jokes, weaved perfectly into the story and delivered so well that those unfamiliar with the origin are likely to still be amused. Even Mottola drew from his influences to shape the movie, though not just "E.T." "I watched 'Sugarland Express' and 'Duel' because we were shooting on a not unlimited budget, and we had to do it fast. I wanted to feel like a real road movie of a certain time and place that morphs into more of a Hollywood film, so I stole shots liberally from those films." In the casting of Sigourney Weaver as the main antagonist/final boss, Pegg and Frost couldn't help but throw in her popular threat from James Cameron's "Aliens." Much to their fanboy delight, Weaver casually dropped some behind-the-scenes gold and mentioned that she might have done the line differently if she got her way. "Sigourney starts telling a story of how James Cameron had only given her one take at that moment, and she was like I could have done it differently. We were like what?! It’s the most iconic delivery of a line in cinema history!" As for how many takes it took Blythe Danner, that's one that shall remain a secret.
9. "Paul" Is Easy Rider With Aliens
There's no question that "Paul" is part road-movie, but it can be argued that most sci-fi have components of road-trips. "I guess it is a journey into the future itself. The very nature of science fiction is about pioneering into a time that we don’t yet know, or a technology that we don’t yet know and in that respect it has the momentum of a journey. It’s sort of about unchartered territory and that’s what the road trip’s all about. In that respect it’s a metaphor for travel I guess, a metaphor for forward movement, forward momentum," said Pegg, who declares this a bit more insightful than what they were going for. "For us it was just about we wanted to make "Easy Rider" and put an alien in it. The agreement was to make Greg’s first film "The Daytrippers" but instead of Liev Schreiber have ET."
10. "***SPOILER----- --------- Suggested His Cameo***SPOILER*** (Stop Reading Here If You Don't Want To Know!)
Shooting "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" allowed Nick and Simon the opportunity to show off their upcoming Spielberg-influenced movie to the man himself. The premise -- that Paul gave the director ideas for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." -- amused him so much that he began riffing on the idea, and even suggested that he make a cameo appearance in the film. Floored, the two held him to it and had him record an audio track that appears in the movie briefly. Frost and Pegg are terrified to show him the movie, seeing as it's based directly off of his work, but Mottola is still getting over having to direct the famous filmmaker. "When he was in the studio, I forgot to say action! I was so nervous, I was so scared," he admitted with a chuckle. "Steven was at the mic going, 'Can I start?' It's like, uh, is anyone directing this?"
"Paul" opens wide this Friday.