Death threats, cancelations, and “a merciless counter-measure.” Three ingredients that would surely make for an exciting Hollywood film. It was, though, those three ingredients that were the results of one Hollywood film, a Seth Rogen/James Franco political action flick that just about caused a major international incident. Oh ya, and it’s coming back to Netflix for your enjoyment.
The Interview is the highly controversial film in question, and it stars Seth Rogen as Aaron Rapaport, the Skylark Tonight talk show producer, and James Franco (controversial in his own right) as Dave Skylark, star of Skylark Tonight. The two are together celebrating Aaron producing his 1,000th episode when another producer criticizes Skylark’s show for not being real news. Aaron talks to Dave, convincing him to make a change to the show structure.
Dave later finds out that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, so to live up to his word, he has Aaron reach out and try to set up an interview with Jong-un. Aaron travels to China to meet with Sook-yin Park, where he receives instructions and accepts the interview terms. When Seth Rogen’s Aaron returns, he is greeted by CIA agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) who has a request for the two. Assassinate Kim Jong-un. Since the two will be the closest an American can get to him, the CIA would like the pair to kill Jong-un with a transdermal strip of ricin delivered via handshake.
When they arrive, Dave actually finds himself taken with the supposed “misunderstood” dictator. They spend the day together playing basketball, partying, and riding around in Jong-un’s personal tank. To Dave, the world has gotten the man wrong.
This prompts Dave to stop Aaron from completing the task. But Dave’s infatuation with the dictator doesn’t last as Dave finally sees Jong-un for who he is. When one of Jong-un’s personal security guards dies from mistaking the ricin as gum, having a seizure, and accidentally shooting another security guard, Dave witnesses Jong-un’s venom as he threatens war on South Korea and anyone who attempts to undermine his rule.
Then Dave understands who Jong-un truly is while on a walk where he discovers that a nearby grocery store is fake. Everything was built for show, in attempts to impress for the interview. Jong-un has been lying the entire time.
Wanting to go through with the CIA request, Dave tries to get Sook-yin, who we’ve learned despises Jong-un, to help with the plan. But she and Aaron have a better plan and it involves Dave and his interview with Jong-un.
For those of you who may not be aware, The Interview never enjoyed a wide release in the U.S. Also, for those who may not be aware, the wide release was scrapped because North Korea made threats to any and all involved.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman at the time said that Sony’s release of the film would be considered an “act of war.” This spokesman also said via the BBC, “Making and releasing a movie on a plot to hurt our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated.”
The spokesman was not done with North Korea’s threats, saying, “If the US administration allows and defends the showing of the film, a merciless counter-measure will be taken.”
Dan Sterling, who wrote the script for The Interview, told Creative Screenwriting, “I couldn’t believe that the most infamous man in the world knew about my script – but most importantly, I would never want something I wrote to lead to some kind of humanitarian disaster. I would be horrified if anyone got hurt over this.”
Surely Sony, Hollywood, movie theaters, and the U.S. weren’t going to cave to this rhetoric, right? Wrong. And if you thought the controversy ended when North Korea threatened war well you are most definitely not aware of what came next.
To their credit, The Interview was going to premiere as scheduled. In fact, it did get a Hollywood premiere, but not before a group calling themselves “Guardians of Peace” hacked into the Sony studio’s computer networks, stealing, and then releasing, damaging information that included internal emails, employee records as well as several recent or unreleased Sony movies.
Not long after the hackers released more damaging information along with their demand that Sony does not release “the movie of terrorism.”
That hack had other victims, mainly then-Sony president Amy Pascal, who lost her job due to the content of some of the released internal emails. Though, if you were to ask Rogen about the hack, he doesn’t believe it was North Korea who pulled off the job, but rather an inside job.
Seth Rogen went into length during a Vulture interview where he cast doubt on any North Korea involvement. “When the trailer for The Interview came out we were called into a meeting at Sony, where they told us that North Korea had probably already hacked into their system and seen the movie and that the statements they’d put out was their response,” Rogen said to Vulture. “Then, months later, when the movie itself finally came out, all this hacking shit happened. This was months after North Korea had probably already seen the movie. Why would they wait? And they never did anything like that before and haven’t done anything like it since. So, things just never quite added up. The guy I’d hired to do my cybersecurity even told me, ‘There’s no way this was a hack. It had to be a physical act.’ The amount of stuff that was stolen would have had to have physical mass to it.”
Sony eventually canceled the release of Seth Rogen’s The Interview, a move that even caused then-U.S. President Barack Obama to speak about. He commented on how he could sympathize with Sony’s desire to keep their employees safe, but he felt caving into North Korea was a mistake. “We cannot have a society in which some dictator in some place can start imposing censorship in the United States,” Obama said via ABC News. “I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them: do not get into the pattern in which you are intimidated.”
At first, Seth Rogen thought it was a joke and he himself joked about it on Twitter when he tweeted, “People don’t usually wanna kill me for one of my movies until after they’ve paid 12 bucks for it.” The fact of the matter, though, was that the death threats were real.
“It was a horrible experience, yes. It’s bad to be blamed for almost starting a war,” Seth Rogen told host Graham Norton on Norton’s show back in 2016. “It’s not fun; it’s super weird… I had personal security, and then one day they just went away. I was like, ‘I guess I’m safe now.’ The studio provided the filmmakers with security in case someone from North Korea was gonna kill us, I guess. And then literally, one day, they were just gone… the studio just didn’t want to pay for security anymore.”
Eventually, Sony gave Seth Rogen’s The Interview a small release, around 330 movie theaters across the nation. It was also released on various streaming services where it enjoyed success in a most opportune way. A security hole allowed for streamers to download the film rather than stream it, so the film found most of its success being downloaded illegally via torrents.
Now, some five and a half years after the threat of war, Netflix is bringing The Interview back. You’ll be able to catch Seth Rogen and all the controversy on September 1, 2021.