For Seth Rogen, one role in his latest project wasn’t enough.
The comedy star plays both humor and pathos as an immigrant preserved for 100 years in a barrel of pickle brine — really — plus his great-grandson in “An American Pickle,” which becomes HBO Max’s first original movie when it starts streaming Thursday. The elder (like, way elder) man awakens in the present day to find everyone he knew is gone, so he seeks out his one remaining relative, who literally lives in a completely different world.
Adapted by Simon Rich from his series “Sell Out” published in The New Yorker, “An American Pickle” makes Rogen (also a producer of the film) his own co-star in many of its scenes, and he allows that challenge was considerable. “We were trying to make a movie that was highly technical but seemed effortless,” the friendly talent said, “and that if you didn’t know the same actor was playing the two roles, there would be nothing (unusual) about it. We went to extreme lengths to make sure the movie seemed seamless in that way.”
Rogen insisted on having a real beard as the 100-years-old-plus Herschel, though descendant Ben is clean-shaven. “I just don’t think they look good,” he said of fake beards. “You can always kind of tell, in how the actors are restricted in their facial movements. That decision made it even more complicated, since we essentially had to shoot the movie twice … once with me as one character, then as the other.”
Directed by Brandon Trost, the chief cinematographer on several of Rogen’s earlier films, “An American Pickle” originally was planned as a theatrical release. Rogen — whose controversial 2014 comedy “The Interview” largely bypassed a run in theaters to go straight to On Demand — says he’s more than satisfied Sony Pictures struck a deal with HBO Max (and Warner Max, its movie imprint) for the picture.
“To his credit, Tom (Sony Pictures chairman Rothman) was very supportive of us finding a home that could better serve the film,” said Rogen. “He was one of the creators of Fox Searchlight, so he knew more than anyone that Sony’s infrastructure was not the type that this movie needed. It needed a more boutique approach.”
Rogen’s acting career began with the much-lauded series “Freaks and Geeks,” and he’s often kept television or a form of it in his plans, as he’s also been proving lately as an executive producer of Amazon’s “The Boys” and Hulu’s “Future Man.” However, he admitted, “I have a much better understanding of a film structure than the seasons of a television show. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that.”