Director Lauren Miller Rogen on Casting Seth Rogen as a Non-Stoner in 'Like Father' (Exclusive)

ET spoke with the writer-director about her Netflix movie starring Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer and shooting on an actual cruise.

Like Father begins with a jilted bride left at the altar and her deadbeat dad returning after decades of estrangement. Following a night of binge-drinking their feelings, Rachel (Kristen Bell) wakes up to find she's dragged her father, Harry (Kelsey Grammer), with her on her honeymoon cruise. Hijinks ensue! There's more than comedy to Lauren Miller Rogen's directorial debut, however, as Rachel and Harry begrudgingly work at coping with grief, finding forgiveness and repairing their relationship.

"I think Netflix needs to add a dramedy category," Rogen laughs. "When you see comedy and you have those actors, I think people expect something and it never was that. The script wasn't that. Netflix never wanted that. It's just not what we made. They need to add that category so people can understand what they're going to be getting." With Like Father now streaming, Rogen phoned ET to discuss the logistics of filming on an actual cruise ship and casting her husband, Seth Rogen, against type as Bell's Canadian vacation fling.

The movie has been streaming for a week now. What has the reception been like?

Rogen: Well, I got a call from Netflix last night that over 10 million accounts have watched the movie already, which is...a lot. [Laughs] So, it's exciting! And seems to be going well, I think. That was very nice news to hear last night.

Have you been surprised by the reaction from anyone, whether that's friends, family or even just somebody on the Internet?

Everyone's been really nice! You know, it's not that controversial [a movie] -- it's funny, it's warm, it's emotional. So, I feel like people have been responding really nicely, and I just realized on Instagram, I have a secret folder where people that I'm not connected to send me messages and found, like, 100 lovely things this morning, which really was nice! I keep saying, "Wow! People on Twitter are being nice!" And that's not something people say very often. It's been very lovely and wonderful and I feel very appreciative at how it's going so far.

You wrote and starred in another feature that I love, For a Good Time, Call... Had you considered directing that project? Or how did you decide this was what you wanted to debut with?

You know, we had talked about me directing that movie, but because I was going to be acting in it in my first full-length feature role, although I co-wrote it, it was like, Well... I was not positive. And then really what happened was we met Jamie Travis, who directed it, and it was like, Oh, no, he should direct this movie. So, it sort of answered that question that I was already on the fence about, just because I was so excited but also very overwhelmed at being the lead in that movie. Then Jamie came along and it was like, Oh, yeah. This is how it's meant to be.

But then when this one came along, honestly, I didn't even have the confidence, if you will, to say it at first. And we sent the script to other directors, to other women, and two of them, who I know, wrote back and were like, "Why are you sending this to me? You should direct this." Anders Bard, who's one of the producers of the movie who pitched me the original idea for the story, was like, Well, do you want to? And I was like, Yes, I do... And as soon as I said it, it was like, Yes! I want to direct this movie and I'm ready and let's do this! And he, being so wonderful and supportive, never backed down, even when there was, you know, from studios and whatnot. It was like, I'm not taking a chance on a first-timer. But thank God for Anders and the support. It all worked out, I guess.

Were there specific qualities you saw in other directors you'd worked with or that you saw in how Seth works as a director that you wanted to bring into your approach to directing this?

Oh, totally! I mean, I've been fortunate to be on some pretty incredible sets. I was an assistant to Steve Starkey, who's Robert Zemeckis' producing partner, so I was on set for Beowulf and Monster House and some really crazy movies. And then, of course, I've been on a lot of Judd Apatow sets and David Gordon Green and Sarah Polley and Michel Gondry and my husband and Kevin Smith. I'm a student of film, so I go and I sit all day and I watch and observe and I feel so fortunate that I've gotten to watch all these incredibly talented [directors]. Really, it's crazy the amount of amazing people I've gotten to spend time with and learn from. I never really, like, thought through the list until you just asked me that, but that's nuts.

What were you learning from them?

So many things are running through my head! I'll say this, every one of them, as I'm scrolling through all them in my head, they all had an ease at which they led their sets and a confidence at which they told their stories that I always admired. Like, none of the sets that I've ever been on were stressful or uncomfortable; they were all warm and welcoming and collaborative. I've never been around a diva director, you know what I mean? Directors listen. Oh, God, like, Seth and Evan [Goldberg] are such great listeners. They're so collaborative with everyone on their team and they really understand that they've hired people who are really good at their jobs and if they let them do what they're supposed to be doing, then their work is going to be even better. I've learned that in sort of watching, honestly, all of them. The confidence and the assuredness that they had in their jobs was always front and center.

Photo by Emily Aragones / Netflix

Are you a cruise person?

[Laughs.] No! I had not ever been on a cruise before. I actually wrote this whole movie from both the Internet and my mother-in-law. Because my in-laws are big cruisers, they go on probably three or four or five a year.

That's a cruise person!

Oh, no, it's crazy. They're taking our nephews on a Disney cruise the week after next, and they were on a cruise, like, two months ago, and they came on our movie! They were supposed to be in our movie and I cut them out. [Laughs] So, no, I had not been on a cruise, although I will say, it's wild. We shot this on a working cruise ship. There were 5,000 people taking vacations around us as we made this movie, which was wild. And it's a crazy thing! They really are like floating cities. Do you cruise? Have you been on a cruise before?

I am of cruise people, yes. I have been on many.

Then you know, it's wild. If my husband wasn't who he was, potentially, that would be a vacation we take, but unfortunately being among crowds is not ideal for us in a vacation setting. [Laughs] But otherwise, I mean, it was wild. It's just crazy.

How does that work, logistically, shooting on an active cruise ship? Were you blocking off the parts of the ship you were shooting on? Would you dock at night or was everyone sleeping on the ship?

Oh, no, we lived on that ship for the whole cruise! We were supposed to be for a full two weeks, but then Hurricane Irma caused us to lose a few days, so we were on there for 12 days. But no, everyone was on there for the whole time. Shooting on [the cruise] was a lot like shooting in New York City, that's the only way I can describe. We were very well scheduled, of course, and Royal Caribbean were incredible partners for us -- they did not pay us. It is not a commercial for Royal Caribbean, contrary to some of the thoughts that are out there. As much as we would have liked that, it was quite the opposite -- because we were a distraction to them, even though they were lovely. If we needed the restaurant, it was like, OK, the best hours to be at the restaurant are from 10 to 4, or whatever it is. If we needed the deck, it was like, All right, come do that at 7 a.m. when the deck is empty. As far as the other passengers go, I would describe it just like shooting in New York City, where some people are like, What are you guys doin'? And other people are like, Cool! Can I be in it?! And other people are like, Get out of my way, you're ruining my life!

When you weren't shooting, were you getting up to cruise activities? Was Kelsey Grammer entering, like, the belly flop contest?

We actually didn't have one day off shooting on the cruise ship. Because of Hurricane Irma, we were supposed to have just one day, and then we lost that day. So, I think that everyone likes to think that making a movie like this is just a vacation, but we actually did work! There wouldn't be a movie if we weren't working. Honestly, everyone asks me what it was like walking around the ship with Seth. I honestly couldn't tell you, because I was on set for 13 hours a day. At night, or whenever we would wrap, I think some of the younger, more fun crew members would maybe have some fun, but we basically made a lot of rules. We didn't have any incidents ever, but that was the reality. Perhaps had we had a day off, we would've enjoyed some of it, but because of the hurricane, we actually literally didn't have a single day off at all. Which was rough!

So much of the movie relies on Kristen and Kelsey's chemistry. Do you remember the moment that clicked and you realized, "Yes, this is going to work"?

Sitting down with them individually, it was like, Oh, they are these characters. It's going to be in-cred-ible. But then, yes, it was a week and a half or so before we started shooting and they both came in to start doing fittings and camera tests and all that stuff, and I was like, Come two hours early and we'll just sit and read through some of the scenes. It was me and Anders in my office and they were sitting on the couch and we just read through the whole script, and I was crazy! [Laughs] Like, the first emotional scene, all of us were crying. It just worked out. And then it was so funny, because we hadn't realized, like when Kelsey walked in, Kristen was like, "I'm supposed to tell you hello from Ted Danson." And it's like, Oh, my God, she's worked with half the cast of Cheers now! They just clicked. They're both such talented, experienced, trained actors that had been working for so long and they're so professional, but also lovely, emotional people when they're not acting. So, I feel like we just had a very fun, easy, calm environment the whole way through.

And did you always intend to cast Seth in a role?

No. [Laughs] And he certainly was not that role. Somewhere along the way, we started talking about him playing Owen, the groom at the beginning, just because we were toying with the idea of, What if we make that, like, a cameo role, so it seems like that person will come back, that you're expecting more from that role. So, he was going to play Owen, and then two months or so before we started shooting we were in Vancouver, where he's from, and I guess when I'm in Canada, being America, I make very loving Canadian jokes.

As one does.

I mean. And Jeff was written as a guy from the Midwest, but similar in that sort of sweet, a little nerdy, a little square [way], and so I was like, Wouldn't it be funny if Jeff actually was from Canada? And I made Canadian jokes and his response was, "I'm not going on the cruise ship." But then, over the next few days, we kept coming up with funny jokes, and he'd never played a character where he was going to be able to make those funny Canadian jokes before, so he was like, "OK, I'm in." That's how it happened. And then, honestly, the line that everyone seems to gravitating toward is "I've never smoked anything in my life."

"And I'm proud of it."

That was there long before it was Seth, and honestly, only when we were standing in the jungle in Jamaica shooting that scene, we were like, Oh, that became a joke. It wasn't even supposed to be a joke, but now it is!

When you're writing for Seth, or for this, when you cast him in a role, do you try to tee him up for material you know he will nail? Or knowing him so well, do you try to push him out of his comfort zone to get something you know he's capable that he hasn't shown elsewhere?

This, I didn't change much of it once I cast him. The role was already written. But part of the reason I liked the idea of him playing this role was it's not quite what he plays and, honestly, between us and everyone who reads this article, it's much closer to who he is in real life. He's not the guy from Knocked Up, he's certainly not the guy from Pineapple Express. He is much more sweet and, certainly, he does smoke a lot of weed, but he's incredibly hardworking. He works harder than anyone I know, [he's a] very professional, very kind, loving person who's actually much more quiet than everyone thinks he is. He was in a movie that Sarah Polley made called Take This Waltz, and to me, that character is the closest representation to who he is in real life. So, I love the idea of him playing this really sweet person, because that's who he is to me! Awww.

One downside of Netflix is that we don't get any special features or deleted scenes. Were there any jokes or sequences that you're still sad didn't make the cut?

Yes. You know, it's interesting, Netflix has them. Just because they're not sure, potentially, maybe, they will have them on their service. I'm hopeful that they will, because we do have some good ones that just weren't on point with the Rachel and Harry story, which we always had to go back to. There are some good ones sitting on the floor, including my in-laws singing at the karaoke competition.

What were they singing?

They sang "Achy Breaky Heart"! Which just tipped our music budget over the edge.

Historically, female directors, even if they have a strong debut, even if they have a movie that 10 million Netflix users have watched, don't always get the same opportunities when it comes to making their next film. I know that Like Father just came out, but are you starting to get projects sent to you? Or have you started writing a new project with an eye to directing it?

Yes and yes. It's been six years since my last movie came out, so yes, I have a backlog of projects that are ready to go. I'm starting a production company with my manager and so, hopefully, I can produce other people's work at some point -- not immediately, of course, but eventually. And Seth and I are working on [co-writing] something together, as well.

Can you tease what that's about?

Nope! [Laughs] But lots more to come. You know, when For a Good Time, Call... came out I was in a bit of a personally emotional place in my life and needed to pump the breaks and wasn't able to pour myself into work as much as I wanted to, but that's changed now and, hopefully, no stopping ahead. I will continue to forge ahead. Much more to come!


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