‘Super Mario Bros.’ Movie’ Star Seth Rogen on His Big Year of Animation and How ‘Lion King’ Influenced the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Process
2023 is a massive year for Seth Rogen in the medium of animation.
First up for Rogen is Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie, in which he plays Donkey Kong, the necktie-wearing gorilla who is resistant to the idea of helping Mario (Chris Pratt) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) rescue an imprisoned Luigi (Charlie Day). Oddly enough, the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong marked the first of many more appearances for Mario on-screen.
For the already lively and spirited Rogen, what you hear is what you get, as the Vancouver native opted not to put on a voice for his classic character.
“This didn’t seem like one of those roles,” Rogen tells The News84Media. “It was more about the dynamic. It’s the dynamic of this guy who hates Mario and is kind of stuck with him, and to me, that was funny. So it didn’t need some weird voice in order to be effective.”
In 2019’s The Lion King remake, Rogen voiced the warthog Pumbaa, and what made the experience so unique is that he recorded some of his scenes alongside his actual scene partners, Donald Glover (Simba) and Billy Eichner (Timon). With animation, voice actors rarely ever get to work in the same vocal booth as their co-stars, but Rogen made a point to apply this approach to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhemwhich his company, Point Gray Pictures, is producing for an August release.
“For every session, we lumped people together. So every time the four turtles recorded, they were together. Me and John Cena were Bebop and Rocksteady, and we recorded together,” Rogen shares. “So we really went out of our way and bent over backwards on Ninja Turtles to try to capture that improvisational energy that you get when a lot of people are in the same place at the same time. I actually saw how helpful it was from doing Lion King.”
Below, during a recent conversation with THRRogen, who’s also an executive producer on Amazon’s animated superhero series Invincibleexplains why he’s excited about the future of animation.
So did the Super Mario games help you pass the time during your many winters in Vancouver?
Yes, I grew up playing a lot of these games, from Commodore and Nintendo to Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64. I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, so the evolution of these games directly coincided with my desire to play them.
You started doing comedy and writing at 12 or 13, so did you dial back the video games at that point?
(Laughs.) No, I remember leaving the comedy show to go play GoldenEye with my friends in the basement of [writing/producing partner] Evan’s [Goldberg] house So I was really able to multitask, and do both stand-up comedy and waste tons of time playing video games.
I like that you didn’t put on a voice for Donkey Kong. If they made the choice to hire you, we should hear you. But did you briefly try a voice on for size just for your own curiosity?
No, not really. This didn’t seem like one of those roles. So, here and there sometimes, but it was more about the dynamic. It’s the dynamic of this guy who hates Mario and is kind of stuck with him, and to me, that was funny. So it didn’t need some weird voice in order to be effective.
A number of years ago on The Lion King, you recorded some of Pumbaa’s parts in the booth with two of your scene partners, Donald Glover and Billy Eichner. So whether it was Super Mario or something else, do you ever find yourself wanting that rare arrangement again?
Yeah, honestly, but with this, we didn’t get to do it. On Ninja Turtles, it was lovely because we were able to control the process a lot more. For every session, we lumped people together. So every time the four turtles recorded, they were together. Me and John Cena were Bebop and Rocksteady, and we recorded together. Ice Cube has a bunch of scenes with the kids, and they recorded together. So we really went out of our way and bent over backwards Ninja Turtles to try to capture that improvisational energy that you get when a lot of people are in the same place at the same time. I actually saw how helpful it was from doing Lion Kingand if that’s the tone and style you’re going for, then it’s a great thing to chase.
You already know what you’re doing with animation, but did anything about it The Super Mario Bros. Movie inform the direction you took on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem?
We were pretty deep in the process, honestly, by the time I was doing Super Mario Bros, so not really. They started to show me early footage of this at the same time that I was starting to see early footage of Turtles, and what was amazing and cool was just how different they both are and how different they look. It shows how versatile animation is and how the studios are letting these films take big visual swings more and more. And the fact that I am a part of these two movies this summer that are so different is really exciting. It speaks very highly of the direction that animated films are going, in general.
How often do little kids recognize your voice in passing from something animated?
What’s horrifying is how often little kids recognize me from the filthy R-rated movies I’ve made. (Laughs.) Because of Netflix, all bets are off with that shit. I think these kids are just watching everything now. I have eight year olds coming up to me and telling me that they’ve seen Pineapple Express, so these kids have seen it all. (Laughs.)
I remember you saying that years ago Steve Jobs was the most out-of-left field call you’d gotten to that point. Did The Fabelmans top that by a mile?
Yes, The Fabelmans was a much less expected call. (Laughs.) That was totally out of the blue, but very validating, very lovely and very rare. It’s something that I tried not to take for granted, and throughout the whole experience, I tried to really absorb and be present and learn as much as I could. It’s rare you get to work with the people who are the architects of the industry that you are a part of. Steven Spielberg kind of created the blockbuster model as we know it, and a lot of the language of movies as we understand them are because of his taste and sensibility. So to get to work with someone like that was really special.
So I gave Paul Rudd a hard time about this recently, but you guys shot a commercial called “Golden Memories” for Lay’s. How come nobody thought to recreate your famous massage story where Paul sneakily swapped places with your massage therapist? It would’ve fit the theme perfectly.
That’s a good question, and I blame Lay’s. (Laughs.) I blame Frito-Lay for that one. We would’ve gone there in a second, but we’ll save that for something else.
Your first foray into TV producing was four seasons of Preacher, and now you’re producing season four of The Boys. What have you figured out about TV producing at that time?
I’ve learned how being on a different network or service can really be the difference between a show finding an audience and not finding an audience. When Preacher was on, there was no one place you could watch every episode of Preacher. It was maddening. The current season would air on amc.com, but all the previous seasons were on Hulu. So it was one of those things where even if you wanted to watch the show, you couldn’t. And now, with Amazon, [The Boys] is just there, and it’s easy and intuitive. So Preacher got caught in a weird time between traditional broadcast and this streaming takeover in some ways, and so it’s been really interesting to see how you are served by an organized distribution model and strategy. But with us at AMC at that time, it spoke to a really tough distribution model where if you were a fan of the show, it was hard to watch it.
I’ve only got a few seconds left, but you recently did History of the World, Part II with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen among others. Those guys are childhood friends, writing and producing partners, and Ike is the performer of the two. So, given the similarities to you and Evan Goldberg, can we call them the American Seth and Evan? The Bizarro Seth and Evan?
(Laughs.) If they want it, they can have it. Definitely.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie opens in theaters on April 5th. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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