Seth Rogen has scripted and starred in any number of movies that have pulled inspiration from his life, but he says An American Pickle, the HBO Max time-travel farce adapted from a short story by Simon Rich, is perhaps the story he relates to most.
The film stars Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum, a ditchdigger living in a fictional Eastern European country circa 1919. After escaping to New York City in pursuit of the American dream, a factory mishap lands Herschel in a vat of pickles, where he remains perfectly preserved in brine for 100 years, coming to in modern day and coming face-to-face with his great grandson, the millennial Brooklynite and freelance app developer, Ben (also Rogen).
"My grandmother was born in Eastern Europe and was literally born on a caravan fleeing the pogroms from Poland, who are like the Cossacks [in the movie]. Just people trying to kill the Jews," he tells ET's Keltie Knight. "My grandfather was quite a bit like Hershel. He was a very tough man -- he was a plumber, he was in the Navy, he played professional football in Canada -- and he could not be more different than me. But at the same time, I'm very much cut from the same cloth as him."
In playing both Greenbaums, Rogen not only had to act opposite himself but, as Rogen is wont to do, improvise with himself. The challenge was made that much more difficult when he decided he would not wear a fake beard at any point throughout filming. ("Just 'cause I think they look bad," he reasons. "I thought it would be distracting.")
"I had to improvise as one character and leave the pauses I thought I would fill in seven weeks later as the other," Rogen explains. He shot the entire movie playing Hershel, then shaved his beard and filmed the movie again as Ben. "I'm excited to see how people say I play the same role in every movie when I literally play two different ones in the same one, but I'm sure they will," he laughs with that signature Seth Rogen laugh.
An American Pickle arrives for at home viewing amid the pandemic, which has seen Rogen doing his own fair share of binge watching. (He's watching I May Destroy You and Insecure and, "I watched every single Harry Potter movie, because I'd never seen them. I get what everyone was so excited about.") As far as quarantine hobbies go, he is also getting quite good at making ceramics.
"My desk is covered in them. This is a vase I made. This is an ash tray I made," he rattles off, holding up his various creations for the camera. His wife, Lauren Miller, had tried her hand at ceramics in high school and suggested it might be something they'd enjoy doing as a couple.
"I'm an idiot, so for no reason I often resist things that turn out to be very fun," he said. "Like, for some reason I refused to see the play Wicked for, like, years and Lauren really wanted to see it, and then I saw it and I was like, 'Oh, it's great. I don't get what I was making such a big deal about.' It was a similar thing with ceramics. She kept suggesting it and I kept saying no, thinking I wouldn't like it. And then because I'm dumb, I went and did like it and I have been pretty into it."
Facing an uncertain future -- as the U.S. continues to struggle through its response to coronavirus -- Rogen has his clay and wheel in those intermit moments of solace. He understands, however, if you'd prefer to take a page from An American Pickle. "We should brine ourselves," he laughs. "It's worth a try. I take no responsibility for what happens, but if you wanna try it, I'm not going to stop you."