The last time director Jonathan Levine made a movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, it was “50/50,” a dramedy about cancer. “The Night Before” is more lighthearted — sort of. It follows three friends (the other played by Anthony Mackie) doing their annual tradition of having a sloppy night in NYC on Christmas Eve. But this time the characters played by Rogen and Mackie feel they’re too old and settled down to ever do it again, leaving Gordon-Levitt as the last hold-out. It’s that anxiety that made Levine — who also made “The Wackness” and “Warm Bodies” — comfortable doing his first full-on comedy.
This is your second film with Seth Rogen, after “50/50.” How did you two first meet?
On “50/50,” there was another filmmaker who dropped out a couple months before. I was one of five people up for the gig. For whatever reason they liked me. I think it was because I made “The Wackness” and they thought I would smoke weed with them. [Laughs] But it was also because I spoke relatively intelligently about the material.
I’ve read you two have helped each other out on projects — that he helped look at “Warm Bodies” and you looked at “This is the End.”
Yeah, but it wasn’t in any specific way. Seth and Evan continuously have people come in and look at their stuff. If I’m looking at “This is the End,” I’m one of 50 people who are looking at it. On “Warm Bodies” I definitely used that. The first time was on “50/50,” where we thought we needed to have smart people look at it and tell us what’s good and what’s bad. Seth was one o those people. It’s a culture of rigorous note-giving and improving the work.
You’ve done dramas or romances that were funny before, but you’ve never really made a full-on comedy.
It was a change of pace. And it certainly wouldn’t have worked for me if at its heart there wasn’t an undercurrent of drama. Having it fundamentally revolve around issues of friendship and getting older, that me more comfortable executing the comedy. I loved doing something whose primary goal was to make people laugh. You feel like you’re throwing a party and your only goal is to make everyone has as much fun as possible.
Your sets sound very loose. You’re not like Sam Peckinpah, drunkenly screaming at people.
No one screams at anybody. Well, I probably screamed on occasion. But generally everyone can bring their friend, everyone can brings their mom, everyone’s welcome. When there’s a very serious scene, of course it’s not like that. It’s very subdued. But if you were to see it it would look like we’re having fun.