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Q&A: Theron, Rogen on the comedy of politics, and vice versa

May 2, 2019
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This April 29, 2019 photo shows co-stars Charlize Theron, left, and Seth Rogen posing for a portrait in New York to promote their film "Long Shot." (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — The last time Seth Rogen made a movie set in the political world, it went a little rocky.

“The Interview,” which Rogen starred in, co-directed and produced, prompted the ire of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, led to one of the most damaging corporate hacks in American history and brought endless turmoil to Sony Pictures. The ordeal rose to the highest ranks of the government, including President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State John Kerry.

The rollout for “Long Shot” has gone much smoother. The reviews are excellent. No dictators have waged attacks against it. And this time, the secretary of state is fictional.

Charlize Theron plays Charlotte Field, a glamorous, workaholic secretary of state running for president. She hires Rogen’s disheveled but dedicated journalist as a speechwriter. Together, they’re a mismatch of pant suit and cargo pants. Against the odds, the film balances a deeply funny odd-couple tale with a sweetly sincere romance.

Theron and Rogen may seem like an unlikely pair. But as they showed in a recent interview that touched on the gender politics of both Hollywood and Washington, they share an easy chemistry based on candor and self-deprecation.

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AP: Is the movie’s title a reference to what it’s like to open your movie against “Avengers: Endgame”?

Rogen: Yes, exactly. (Laughs) We just like to call it what it is. “Uphill Battle” was the next option. “Crushed By Disney” was another good one. If less than 10% of the people that saw “Avengers” last weekend see our movie, we’re a massive success.

AP: In “Knocked Up,” there was some talk about the believability of your character’s relation with Katherine Heigl’s character. Did you worry people might react similarly to the gap between these characters?

Theron: Once people see it, they don’t even question it.

Rogen: It’s funny where people’s brains go. It’s incredibly eye-opening and very insulting that people like to boil it down to looks. I think it shows a real weird warped perception of reality. It is not like everyone is with someone who is 100% physically equal to them. The contrary is obviously the truth.

Theron: And also if you’re building a story just around that, you have nowhere to go with it.

Rogen: I really honestly think that there is no correlation between people’s looks and their attraction to one another. I think maybe there is a very superficial, immediate sense at times, but I think that very quickly goes away. I’ve been repelled by very attractive women, found them horrible to be around.

Theron: Me too.

AP: What have you learned about each other from spending so much time together?

Theron: A lot of stuff. I did not know that Seth did karate and that he had dreadlocks at some point. I did not know that he made two movies with Stormy Daniels.

Rogen: That’s one more than with you.

Theron: Inside I’m hurt a little bit.

Rogen: I’ve learned mostly the insane s--- Charlize has to put up with on a daily basis in comparison to me as a celebrity. The amount of appalling questions that get casually thrown her way is shocking to me. (Theron laughs.) I am amazed at the things people feel comfortable saying to her. Just when I think I’ve heard the most appalling thing someone could just ask without any consideration that it’s something you should never say to anyone, some other mother------- comes and says something 1,000 times crazier.

Theron: Thank you for noticing.

AP: The sexism that female political candidates deal with is also a significant part of the movie.

Theron: We’ve allowed our society to be comfortable with this general idea that you can ask a woman what you never ask a man, and not think twice about it. And, yeah, I feel like women in politics are under that kind of scrutiny in a way that has not changed since somebody like Geraldine Ferraro was on a ticket. We still do the same s--- that we did to her in ’84.

AP: After the Sony hack revealed unequal pay between male and female stars, Charlize fought for equal pay . Was that a conversation on this film?

Theron: We went into this 50-50 partners, right from the moment that we met each other. That was how Seth handled it, that’s how I handled it. Now that know Seth a little bit better, I don’t think we even needed a discussion about it. But I tend to be very transparent right up front. I’ve made many movies where I’ve worked just as hard, and sometimes harder, than my male counterparts and have not gotten share. So it is something that’s important to me and it is something I always bring up right in the beginning. I’ve now gotten to a place where if someone can’t respect that or see the benefit of that, I’m very lucky that I’m in the position where I don’t have to do something. A lot of women that don’t have that luxury.

AP: Your characters’ personal lives come under intense public scrutiny. Charlotte is given a “likability” test. I’m guessing that’s something you both identified with as famous people.

Theron: My publicist wrote me a text two weeks where she was like: “You’re a lovely human being but you’re a terrible client.” It was just two weeks of nonstop nonsense that people were taking out of context.

Rogen: I used to come out of press days wondering what people would take apart or focus on. The answer is none of them, ever. And then I saw Charlize and the most innocuous things get blown out of proportion. It’s a real double standard.

Theron: It sucks. I don’t know how to be a person that’s constantly censoring myself. I’m not a secretive person. I’m a private person but I’m not a secretive person. But it’s getting harder and harder because all people really care about is getting clicks on something.

AP: It’s a tricky thing to make anything funny and crowd-pleasing about today’s deeply partisan political world.

Rogen: The analogy we kept using was just putting a hand on the audience’s shoulder and being like: “We live in this world with you.” (Both laugh) Because I watch a lot of movies and it doesn’t feel like that, honestly. It feels like they just decided, “Eh, it’s too hard to acknowledge this world.” Or they didn’t want to because it’s too controversial.

Theron: I know for myself, when I hear “romantic comedy” I have an idea of what that is. I think for us, it was really important to set the bar a little higher and to make something that felt like it was incredibly romantic but also really funny. And those are really, really hard movies to make. And we did it. (Both laugh)

Rogen: As the people who did it, we think we did it.

Theron: But in a humble way.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP