UPDATED: “We want to thank Amy Pascal for having the balls to make this movie,” said Seth Rogen Thursday night at the subdued world premiere of The Interview, the Sony Pictures comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The film is the one most closely associated with the company’s hack attack, so consider it a small victory that in a week of extreme tumult for Sony, the December 25 comedy played well as storm clouds gathered ominously outside.
There were obvious signs of beefed-up security tonight: A dozen uniformed LAPD officers stood watch outside downtown’s Ace Hotel theater, and seven private security guards stood shoulder to shoulder at the box office. The very controlled atmosphere outside the venue featured only a small photographers’ corral, and a restricted-access red carpet and pre-screening reception was held inside (no big studio after party tonight). And it went off without a hitch.
There had been speculation about if the film’s stars Rogen and James Franco, who have been doing plenty of PR legwork for the film, would be allowed to speak with the media on the red carpet. A report surfaced Wednesday that access to talent would be limited, and indeed print and broadcast interviews were limited. But both stars were there and seemed accessible, as were co-stars Diana Bang and Charles Chun and Sony brass including Amy Pascal. There were the celebratory hugs and congratulations typical of a studio movie premiere, but also a subdued atmosphere — likely because everyone was talking about The Hack. That’s not surprising considering what so many Sony staffers are going through.
Like others present, screenwriter Dan Sterling tempered his premiere night excitement with the sobering reality of what the studio’s employee ranks have suffered in the hack attack. A veteran TV writer and producer with stints on South Park, King of the Hill, The Office, and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart under his belt, Sterling makes his feature debut with The Interview, which he co-wrote with Rogen and Goldberg.
“There were many different endings written,” he said of the film, which like most studio films has undergone tweaks in the process of development and completion but, unlike most studio films, deals in the fictionalized takedown of a real life political leader. The project was first conceived in 2011, the year Kim Jong Un succeeded his father as North Korea’s Supreme Leader. Sony gave it the go-ahead the following spring. The film’s treatment of certain Kim Jong Un scenes were toned down at the behest of Sony execs, according to reports this summer and internal emails from Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai recently leaked by Sony’s hackers. The final cut that screened tonight includes a brief, non-gory slow-motion shot of a pivotal moment of violence involving Kim’s mug.
Anesha Bailey, making her feature film debut in the pic, said she no idea the film would generate this much controversy. “Every film offends someone,” she told Deadline. “It’s not something we thought would offend everybody!” She said the fact that Sony is going ahead with its premiere “shows how solid the studio is. They stand behind who they put on the screen. It shows love. That’s what I think.” Asked later by the gaggle of reporters if her private information had been hacked, Bailey said, no, then added, “Not that I know of.” Asked if she had been threatened, she firmly replied, “No.”
The screening was set to start at 7:30 PM but was running late, hardly uncommon for a premiere. During the intro Rogen and his co-director Evan Goldberg kept things upbeat and thanked the audience for coming before thanking Pascal for greenlighting the film.
Back to the hacking story: Where has the MPAA been? Asked if her trade group is doing anything to combat the attack on one of its members, MPAA spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said: “We have no comment at this time. We’re not involved.”
No one knows yet for sure who is behind the cyberattack that has crippled and embarrassed the studio, but speculation has focused on agents of North Korea. An awkwardly worded threat by those claiming to be responsible didn’t specifically mention The Interview, but it warned Sony to “Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break the regional peace and cause the War!”