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Seth Rogen relished playing two characters in “An American Pickle.”
The funnyman stars in the new comedy as both Herschel Greenbaum — a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who wakes up 100 years after being preserved in a pickle vat — and Ben Greenbaum, his Brooklyn-based great-grandson who struggles to teach his ancestor about modern times.
“It was very complicated, but I was up for the challenge,” Rogen told the Daily News on Monday of his dual roles. “I knew what I was getting into. I’d directed things where people play two characters before, so I understood how complicated and technical it could be.
“I longed for it in some ways. Some of the movies we make are so loose that this idea of making something that was pretty regimented and had a pretty specific blueprint it had to follow was actually appealing to me.”
To make the movie, which debuts Thursday on HBO Max, Rogen and the filmmakers shot all of the scenes featuring the bearded Herschel first, with a stand-in sometimes filling in to give the actor someone to interact with.
Rogen, 38, then shaved, and they went back and shot all of Ben’s scenes.
“When I’m acting, I’m generally trying to serve the bigger picture,” Rogen explained. “That is how I approach it. I’m used to having more than one job on a movie, so it was not that weird, honestly. I very much felt like I was just serving the story as best I could as both characters.”
The film follows Herschel and his wife in 1919 as they’re driven out of the fictional country of Shlupsk by militant Cossacks and into a new life in New York City. Herschel takes a job at a pickle factory, but isn’t heard from for a century after he becomes submerged in a tank full of pickle brine in a freak accident.
Once he resurfaces at the exact same age, Herschel unites with his only living relative, Ben, a socially conscious app designer. Herschel’s wildly offensive, outdated viewpoints cause nothing but trouble for his great-grandson.
The film, which is based on a 2013 written serialization by Simon Rich that ran in the New Yorker, featured themes that Rogen was eager to dive into.
“This idea of what would our ancestors think of us? Would they be proud of us? … My grandparents saw me become someone who starred in films, and they were not that impressed by it,” Rogen said. “They were very impressed by the fact that I could afford a lot of napkins and paper towels, so it just shows how this Depression-era mentality never left them. Like, being a movie star was not an accomplishment, but never having to worry about running out of napkins really was.”
Rogen, whose other comedy credits include “Pineapple Express” and “Superbad,” said there were multiple aspects of the new movie that he related to.
“My family’s from Eastern Europe,” Rogen said. “They were driven out by people trying to kill Jewish people. The first 20 minutes of the movie probably very closely reflect some elements of my own history. Ultimately, the themes of legacy and tradition and the progressive side of our instincts versus the conservative side of our instincts, and how family plays into that, all that was just stuff that I was very interested in exploring.”
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