Seth Rogen is well aware of the fact that he looks like seemingly one-quarter of the white men in Los Angeles between the ages of 25 and 50. The 6pm bed head. The weeks-past-the-last-trim beard. The could-be-anyone glasses. The ironic T-shirts straining to contain an unapologetic dad bod. It’s a relatable everydude persona that has won him nearly 100 film and television roles, small and large, over the past two decades.
In his breakout 2007 comedy, Knocked Up, Rogen played the directionless stoner who somehow got the girl, and neither could understand why. In Steve Jobs, from 2015, he fully inhabited the role of Steve Wozniak, the amiable Apple cofounder who seemed all too content to cede the magazine covers, the billions and, basically, history itself to his swashbuckling partner in the black turtleneck.
Rogen, who is 38 and also a screenwriter, director and producer, long ago transcended the beta-male image to become a Hollywood power player. But “ordinary” still serves as a form of camouflage out on the streets.
I drink my coffee as I smoke my joint, and I continue smoking weed until I go to sleep. I often will wake up in the middle of the night and have a few hits of a joint if I'm not sleeping well
“Before the pandemic, I would wander around LA aimlessly without anyone taking pictures of me for months and months and months on end,” Rogen says. Even fans who recognise him on the streets, he jokes, “think I’m just some guy who looks like me”.
He doesn’t leave his home in Los Angeles much, but the other day he ventured out to an ATM. “Wearing a mask and everything, and someone recognised me,” he says. “It was shocking to me. It just hasn’t happened to me in so long. And if the person who did that is reading this, I’d like to apologise for my reaction. I maybe physically ran away from them.”
Belying his widely cloned laid-back mien, Rogen has kept busy during the pandemic, even as large swaths of film and television production went into a deep freeze, along with so much else in the world.
As his millions of Instagram followers are well aware, he got seriously into ceramics, posting endless photos of colourfully whimsical vases, soap dispensers and ashtrays. He fashioned them in the garage studio of the home he shares with his wife, Lauren Miller Rogen, a 38-year-old actor and director, and their Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Zelda.
He also spent quarantine finishing his first book, Yearbook, which Penguin Random House will publish in May. It’s a fragmented memoir made up of comical essays recalling his early stand-up gigs as a teenager, adventures at Jewish summer camp in his native Canada and “way more stories about doing drugs than my mother would like”, per the cover flap.
A smoke hound of Willie Nelson proportions, Rogen has also succeeded in bringing Houseplant, the Canadian cannabis company he started in 2019 with his longtime film partner, Evan Goldberg, to the United States. It will soon sell Rogen’s first commercial foray into ceramics: a sumptuously packaged ashtray and bud vase set priced at $85, or about €70 – designed by him, but made in China – that unites his twin passions, jays and clays.
Like so many others, he worked remotely, taking calls about film projects 9 to 5. Other than that, it’s been lots of streaming (The Office, The Larry Sanders Show), lots of pot and lots of tweeting.
Rogen began to trend on Twitter when he squared off in a much-publicized flame war with the Republican US senator Ted Cruz that went on for days following Inauguration Day, suggesting that Cruz was fit for admiration only “if you’re a white supremacist fascist who doesn’t find it offensive when someone calls your wife ugly”, along with various obscenities.
When Cruz later tweeted that Rogen behaved online like “a Marxist with Tourette’s”, Rogen responded that he did have “a very mild case” of the syndrome, but he certainly did not back down. Twenty years ago it would have been hard to tell off a famous stranger in this manner, Rogen says – “but now, thank God, I can do it. People are always, like, ‘You’re like that on Twitter, but if you met him face to face you wouldn’t do that.’ And that is very not true.”
Rogen joked on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in April that he has been “self-isolating since 2009”. Goldberg, a friend since elementary school in Vancouver, who speaks with him daily, agrees that Rogen was “the polar opposite of going crazy”.
“As a celebrity who doesn’t like to go out and drink and stuff like that, he’s probably one of the best situated to deal with this. He loves being in his house,” Goldberg says. “He loves pursuing his hobbies; he loves watching TV on his couch with his wife and his dog. And that’s it. That’s what he loves. I know he secretly loves being stuck.”
One of the things about films is that they occupy no mass or physical space. And I think what is so nice about making things like ashtrays is they are incredibly tangible, and they are useful
With the offices of Point Grey Pictures, their production company, closed, Rogen and Goldberg still had plenty to talk about. They are writing a script for the director Luca Guadagnino about Scotty Bowers, a onetime gas-station attendant who arranged sexual liaisons for the stars in the silver-screen era.
They are also helping produce Pam and Tommy, a Hulu miniseries about the rocker Tommy Lee and the Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, who did for the celebrity sex tape what Fred and Ginger did for the foxtrot when an electrician (played by Rogen) lifted their notorious home movie.
The partners prefer Zoom. “We hung out on his balcony one time,” Goldberg says, “and it was, like, ‘Eh, I’d rather see your face on a screen than sit 15ft apart from each other.’”
This is not to say Rogen’s isolation is complete. Occasionally he has invited friends over to his garage studio to throw clay. Robert Lugo, an artist who describes himself as a “ghetto potter and activist” on his website, worked with him on learning how to throw larger pieces.
“Honestly, I was surprised at how much I got from it,” Rogen says of ceramics. “It’s meditative. It forces you to be very present.”
Pulling the first of many deep hits off a large conical joint, Rogen explains that his wife, who has worked with clay since high school, signed him up for classes a couple of years ago, and he quickly got hooked. While others took up baking during quarantine, Rogen hunched over one of three pottery wheels in his studio, which has two kilns.
Lately he’s been mixing his own glazes and experimenting with textures to achieve, he says, “a sort of Ken Price-ish effect”.
The influence of Price, an influential sculptor and ceramist from California who died in 2012, hovers over a lot of Rogen’s recent work – the bulbous shapes, nubby textures and playful explosions of colour. (To the initiated, that is. Philistines might describe them not unkindly as equal parts Flintstones and Jetsons.)
Rogen keeps some pieces to decorate his home, alongside furnishings by mid-century designers like Hans Wegner. Others he trades to fellow ceramists or gives to friends. He has no plans for a gallery show but says he is learning to feel comfortable among the Artforum crowd. “I think I always thought of the art and design world as a very fancy-pants place, and I felt like I had no place in it.”
That started to change when he helped design and furnish the glassy mansion for This Is the End, the 2013 farce he wrote, directed and starred in, with Goldberg, in which the apocalypse is an uninvited guest at a party thrown by James Franco playing himself, featuring seemingly half the young actors in Hollywood. “I was like, ‘Oh, I have to have a place in it now,’” Rogen says of the design world, “because I have to do it for the movie.’”
And ceramics have stimulated his creativity in a new, satisfyingly material way.
“One of the things about films is that they occupy no mass or physical space,” Rogen says. “They are very intangible. And I think what is so nice about making things like ashtrays is they are incredibly tangible, and they are useful. I love films, and films are very useful to me, but they are not useful in the sense that I interact with them dozens of times throughout my day, in a casual sense, as I’m just smoking weed.”
The Houseplant ashtray is a textured earth-tone cup that, aside from the bed for the joint on the lip, could double as serving vessel for green tea at a Santa Barbara wellness retreat.
“There are probably millions of people who smoke weed all day who are ashing in a mug and shouldn’t be,” Rogen says.
Ashtrays have been out of fashion since warnings about tobacco began to sink in. So Rogen scours eBay and Etsy for vintage pieces. He owns a few of the modernist bronze hedgehog ashtrays by the Viennese designer Walter Bosse, as well as a ceramic bear-claw ashtray on an iron stand by the designers Georges Jouve and Mathieu Matégot.
“But those celebrated the wrong type of smoking, unfortunately,” Rogen says. He thinks that cannabis is quickly losing its stigma among high-achieving professionals and that they might prefer fashionable accessories to grungy head-shop paraphernalia.
“I don’t even drink, and I have a martini shaker,” he says. “I have wineglasses and Champagne glasses. If you like music, you have fancy record players. If our headphones get beautiful packaging and beautiful design, why shouldn’t weed-related products?”
Among celebrities, Rogen is running neck and neck with Snoop Dogg and Woody Harrelson as an ambassador of cannabis use. “I wake up in the morning, I make a cup of coffee, and I roll a joint,” Rogen says. “I drink my coffee as I smoke my joint, and I continue smoking weed until I go to sleep. I often will wake up in the middle of the night and have a few hits of a joint if I’m not sleeping well.”
Houseplant customers can choose from three new strains for the United States market (two sativas, Diablo Wind and Pancake Ice; and one indica, Pink Moon). Along with the ashtray set, the company will sell a Bauhaus-inflected aluminium-block lighter set and an LP box with music for each strain.
We will always do whatever we can to remind people that currently there are people in jail in America for weed, and there are people whose lives are being ruined by weed
But does the world really need another star-powered cannabis brand? In recent months Jay-Z introduced a line of cannabis called Monogram, and Ice Cube one called Fryday Kush.
Kathy Ireland, the model and entrepreneur, rolled out a line of CBD wellness products, as did Travis Barker, the Blink-182 drummer and boyfriend of Kourtney Kardashian. Martha Stewart introduced a line of CBD gummies flavoured with Meyer lemon and kumquat.
What can this one actor possibly add?
Integrity and a commitment to social justice, says Rogen, who, as a supporter of pro-legalisation organisations such as the Marijuana Policy Project, says he intends to do “everything in my power to shine a light on, and to lend a voice to, America’s racist policies in regards to weed”.
“We will not shy away from very uncomfortable conversations,” he says, “and always will do whatever we can to remind people that currently there are people in jail in America for weed, and there are people whose lives are being ruined by weed.”
And he has no trouble being a spokesmodel.
Rogen won High Times magazine’s Stoner of the Year award in 2007. Snoop Dogg has marvelled at his trademark “cross joint” (one joint threaded through another as a crossbar), which Rogen made famous in his 2008 pot comedy, Pineapple Express.
With every bong hit he inches further up the Mount Olympus of cannabis, into the thin – and presumably pungent – air where the spirits of Jerry Garcia and Bob Marley mingle.
I'm honoured to be associated with weed, honestly. Sometimes people expect me to try to wiggle out from under being a very famous stoner. But I'm as proud of it as anything
In the minds of some fans, Seth Rogen is weed, and weed is Seth Rogen. And he is totally fine with that.
“I’m honoured to be associated with weed, honestly,” Rogen said. “Sometimes people expect me to try to wiggle out from under being a very famous stoner, or someone who, in some ways, is more famous for being someone who smokes weed than anything else that they have done. But truthfully, that is a worthy thing to me. I’m as proud of it as anything.”
His debut as a cannabis entrepreneur comes at an opportune time in the US. More and more states are legalising pot. Voters in Montana, Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Mississippi all approved cannabis ballot measures in November.
Even so, debate about long-term health consequences rages on, as it has for a half-century. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 10 cannabis users will become addicted. The figure is 1 in 6 for people who start before 18.
Rogen is one of those. His love affair with pot, he says, began in a ravine near Point Grey Secondary School in weed-liberal Vancouver when he was 12 or 13 years old and his friend Saul produced a foot-long bong from the kangaroo pouch of his hoodie.
“I was very fascinated by it the first time we did it, and got really high, and wanted to do it again,” Rogen says. “Every Friday after school we would go to the ravine and smoke weed.”
In general, there is no amount of weed that I can smoke that will make the average person be able to discern that I have or have not smoked weed
His use got heavier as he rose to prominence in Hollywood.
Rogen and Goldberg were high as a Mars probe when they made Pineapple Express. And “we could just see how cathartic it was for people”, he says. “They finally saw a weed movie that had the same amount of thought put into it that nonweed movies were getting. The subtext was, stoned people made this. And they convinced someone to give them $25 million to make it. And it’s a good movie.”
Rogen is open about the fact that he has been stoned for pretty much every scene in every movie he has ever made. (Even Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong has said that he never got high while working.)
It’s never been an issue. “In general,” Rogen says, “there is no amount of weed that I can smoke that will make the average person be able to discern that I have or have not smoked weed.”
Those who consider cannabis a harmful and addictive drug may wonder if he is willing to live by the words widely, and probably falsely, attributed to Charles Bukowski: “Find what you love and let it kill you.”
Rogen, who says he has researched the health questions to his own satisfaction, does not see it that way.
“The world is not a comfortable place for me, and many other people, at times,” he says. Cannabis provides that comfort. It provides “functionality,” he adds. “I can’t define it beyond that.”
“It is no different to me than wearing shoes or glasses or anything else that I am doing to acknowledge that I am just not fully cut out for the world and need some help,” he says. “Could I walk around in bare feet all day? Maybe. But why?” – New York Times