Here's why the North Korean government didn't mind Olympus Has Fallen: It made them look capable of blowing up the White House. By contrast, The Interview dares joke that Kim Jong-un -- gasp! -- is scared to drink margaritas because his dad, Kim Jong-il, convinced him they were "gay."
Fear is fine. But humiliation means war.
In response to the Korean Central News Agency threats, Rogen tweeted, "Apparently Kim Jong Un plans on watching The Interview. I hope he likes it!!"
Does he really?
"I don't know, he probably will hate it because it literally has a goal to debase him and humiliate him," Rogen says.
But at least The Interview does so with a smile. As Randall Park plays him, Kim Jong-un
is, well, adorable. At least at first.
"It was important for me to bring a vulnerability to him," Park says. When he meets Franco's Dave Skylark, Park squeals with excitement. Park based the moment on the Vice documentary where Kim Jong-un is visibly nervous before meeting basketball player Dennis Rodman.
Kim Jong-un's classmates from his international school in Switzerland remember the future leader forever doodling pictures of Michael Jordan, "something that I probably did when I was younger," Park says.
"As an actor, I'd have some reservations about playing a living dictator," says Rogen, who later admitted to Park that he was the only actor to audition. "I'm impressed that he did it, honestly."
The reaction Park was most afraid of was that of his parents, both immigrants from South Korea. Luckily, they gave him their blessing. "They just thought it was a really funny concept -- and daring," he says.
"It's all based on real shit!" Rogen exclaims. Which is crazy for a few reasons. First, because this is the first script Rogen and Goldberg ever bothered to research. ("If North Korea was a Jeopardy! category, I would do well," Rogen insists.)
Second, because of the "facts" they've found, which sound fake but aren't. The Interview's Kim Jong-un has convinced his subjects that he talks to dolphins. An even bolder claim: Kim Jong-un doesn't have an anus. "He has no need for one," says his fictional press handler, Sook (Diana Bang).
"I've heard defectors say that, too," North Korea expert James Person of the D.C.-based Wilson Center confirms. "The cult of personality is built to such an extreme that it's something you would never think of: the leader defecating."
"As idiots, we obviously gravitated to that one," Rogen says. "We couldn't even put in a lot of the shit that is real because it almost starts to feel like we're just making shit up." Fun "facts" he and Goldberg couldn't use: that Kim Jong-un designed every building in North Korea, that he was born with a unicorn in a magical cave and that he invented the hamburger.
Third, despite all of that, the closing credits insist that The Interview is a work of fiction, in which any similarities to persons living or dead are coincidental.
"It's legally the weirdest shit ever," Rogen says. "Normally in a movie like this, they would make up a guy -- it would be Kim Song Bob."
But he and Goldberg had fought a similar battle the year before with the rapture comedy This Is the End, in which Rogen, Franco and friends played themselves fighting the demons of hell. Initially, the studio said no. They fretted it would be too confusing. But Rogen eventually won that debate and This Is the End went on to make quadruple its budget. This time, when the studio resisted, his counter-argument was prepared.
But Sony's lawyers weren't satisfied. They fretted over things Rogen and Goldberg weren't expecting. In the film's opening scene, a North Korean moppet sings that she wishes Americans would "drown in their own blood and feces." The lawyers weren't nervous about the lyrics. They were nervous that she was superimposed in front of an actual North Korean monument. Legally, movies need permission to show most monuments, Rogen says, no matter what country they're in. (Sony did not answer requests for clarification.)
They're works of art. But who would grant it?
"Some things that are not quite legal were done under the assumption that North Korea won't sue us," Rogen says. "But then other things, they just for some reason decided we have to operate under the assumption that North Korea might sue us."
Studio lawyers said The Interview could keep the name Kim Jong-un, the flirtation between
the dictator and Skylark, the anus joke, the real-life monument and even the line where the Supreme Leader leers, "Guess what I get tons of? Pussy!" But they asked Rogen to digitally erase Kim Jong-il from the buttons on the North Korean military costumes, for fear that it would be considered blasphemous.
"That's what you want to change?" Rogen guffaws. But he agreed. Apparently to North Korea, it would be no laughing matter.
"Comedy is the greatest way to attack anything like a totalitarian regime," said Ray Bradbury.