For love or money
For fans of the adult comedy stylings of Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is hands-down one of the most intriguing titles of the fall. Outside this group, nervously looking in, are the media outlets who've refused to run ads mentioning the complete title and Utah's Megaplex Theatres chain, which announced earlier this week that it won't be playing Smith's latest because of its graphic sex and language.
Talking with reporters after the film's premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Smith agreed that a movie about a couple of longtime friends who decide to make some seriously needed cash by producing DIY porn is a risque move, but argues the sex is usually ridiculous, and there's a healthy heart driving everything.
"Yeah, this movie pushes the envelope a little bit," he said. "But remove the trappings of porn, and it's a traditional rom-com. I'm an unabashed rom-com fan. I just like people to say f--- in mine."
Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are roommates with the same low-paying coffeehouse job. Obviously in love to everyone but each other, they've never tried moving beyond friendship, until their utilities are turned off and sex seems like the fastest route back to hot showers.
"They're definitely a couple who don't realize they're a couple yet," Smith explained. "[Sex is] what changes every relationship, isn't it?"
The writer-director's been mulling over the story since wrapping Chasing Amy over 10 years ago. "I was always really interested in DIY porn, the people who were just like, I'm going to shoot myself having sex and throw it up on the internet. And then I wanted to meld it with [another] subject that's always been interesting to me, which is the difference between f---ing and making love."
It took shape quickly once he sat down to writing, inspired largely by seeing Rogen's supporting work in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Smith had grandiose ideas of writing the actor his first leading role, but Judd Apatow beat him to the punch - Rogen got the Zack and Miri script two weeks before Knocked Up came out.
"Thankfully, he liked the script," Smith said.
Rogen also inspired Smith's decision to cast actors with experience in porn. "He said, 'There's a practical reason for doing this. Once you have a porn actress in the movie, you never feel weird about, OK, here's where you take your clothes off, because the most outrageous thing you're going to ask her to do is tame compared to what she does on a daily basis.' And I was like, 'Wow, you're absolutely right.'"
On that front, a major coup is Traci Lords, playing veteran stripper Bubbles despite years of distancing herself from a past life as a teenage porn queen. "She read the script and was like, 'You know, I was all prepared to say no, but this is funny and it's been 20 years since I made an adult film; maybe it's time to make fun of it,'" Smith recalled. "And I was like, 'Yes, do it, and do it in this movie!'"
For her part, costar Banks felt totally comfortable with the profanity-laced, sexually charged material. "I personally swear like a sailor and talk about my vagina as much as possible, so I never for one second flinched at the language in the movie," she said.
But she also shares her director's romantic view of the story, enthusing that Zack and Miri's first physical encounter "is a really affecting scene, one of my favorite scenes in the movie." And Banks appreciates Smith's attention to both characters.
"I think every great romance has a great friendship at the base of it," Banks said. "And what's really fun about this movie, I'm so blessed, because Kevin writes women like guys. He gives them real things to say. You see Seth in his other movies and he's always hanging out with his dudes, and they're smoking pot and talking about how to get laid. And Zack and Miri sit around the apartment, smoking pot and talking about how to get laid."