How Seth Rogen became the Samuel L. Jackson of The Boys cinematic universe
Showrunner Eric Kripke talks Season 2, Stormfront, and Billy Joel.
The Boys is a twisted reflection of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, turning Disney's idealized superheroes into drug-addicted perverts willing to slap their name on anything for a buck. There's even an in-universe cinematic universe, where "supes" star as fictionalized versions of themselves in a movie franchise managed by their corporate overlords at the equally corrupt Vought International.
And just like in the Marvel movies, there's one actor who connects the Vought Cinematic Universe. But instead of Samuel L. Jackson, the VCU is held together by... Seth Rogen.
"In The Boys, he is Seth Rogen who has a recurring role," showrunner Eric Kripke tells Inverse. "He's the Sam Jackson of the VCU."
Getting Seth Rogen to make the rare cameo was easy since he's a producer on The Boys, but turning the stoner comedy legend into the show's version of Agent Nick Fury is yet another brilliant example of how the Amazon series takes modern superhero cinema and reduces it to something much more lowbrow and much more realistic. The show's second season, which premieres on September 4, takes this even further, introducing a new Nazi superhero designed to reflect the allure of modern online racism.
"These days with social media, there's a lot of hateful ideology that is wrapped up in a very slick package to appeal to certain young people," Kripke says, "and we wanted to reflect that."
In an interview with Inverse, Kripke discussed how Seth Rogen became the Samuel L. Jackson of The Boys, Season 2's new character Stormfront, and Bill Joel. Believe it or not, we talked about Billy Joel a lot.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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There's a Seth Rogen cameo in the first episode of Season 2. How did that happen?
We actually had a very brief Seth cameo in Season 1 as well. Just a quick pop of him filming a movie with Black Noir. It was like channel change, we were on it for maybe less than five seconds. And so what happened was, in the beginning of the season, when Seth came up to set we actually sat him down and got a ton of footage of all the Vought cinematic universe movies he's in with the idea that like, he's sort of like the Agent Coulson of that world. He's the connecting tissue, connecting the characters and all those movies.
So it was actually old footage. We have all this footage of Seth, you know, talking about the different VCU movies he’s in, and that one happened to be one where he's talking about translucent and it made sense because it was coming right off Translucent’s death and that he would be memorializing him. So we used it. So it's just like grabbing little pieces for this little channel change world of the show.
So he's in this world and he plays a peripheral character of these movies.
Yeah, exactly, in The Boys, he is Seth Rogen who has a recurring role as Agent — I forget what his name is, Agent something, and he's the Sam Jackson of the VCU.
You mentioned Black Noire. In the original comics, there's a twist with Black Noire and Homelander that's pretty nuts. It hasn't happened yet on the show, but do you plan to incorporate that eventually?
No comment on that one. That one we're still figuring out.
There's a lot of Billy Joel references in the first few episodes of The Boys Season 2. You use a lot of his music, and Huey (Jack Quaid) keeps watching this music video to calm himself down. How did that come about?
It started as a bunch of ad-libs in Season 1 about this kind of running joke that involved how much Huey loves Billy Joel, and a lot of it came from Jack Quaid. I think there was an original line of staring up at the Led Zeppelin poster on the ceiling and we changed it to Billy Joel because he wouldn't have a Zeppelin poster. He would have a Billy Joel poster. And his last words to Robin were “Never besmirch Billy Joel.” And he would talk about how you know his favorite musicians were Billy Joel or James Taylor. It just all felt like his kind of music.
In Season 2, when we were talking about his character we had this hilarious a-ha moment where we realized how many Billy Joel songs were completely reflective of what he was going through in various episodes. And we said, well, let's make it a runner where we keep playing Billy Joel songs that match the character's emotional arc. We had to get Billy's permission because it was like a lot of Billy Joel, and to his credit, he has shown a remarkable sense of humor and seems like a great guy approved all of it.
Will we ever get a Billy Joel cameo in The Boys?
We talked about it. For a minute we seriously talked about recreating one of his videos with him. But it became just prohibitively expensive.
The Boys Season 3 was confirmed at Comic-Con, but obviously there are a lot of hurdles to filming anything right now. What's it like trying to make a show during coronavirus?
I'm not gonna lie. It's really challenging. Up to now, luckily, the phase that we're in is completely functional on Zoom. We have writers' rooms every day. We're emailing scripts and outlines to each other among the writing staff. It's not slowing us down. We are lucky at least that we're in that little space in between shooting.
We're supposed to start shooting in January, and my hope, perhaps naively, is that certain the world will break our way and make things a little easier. Plentiful and quick testing would be a game-changer. Really, the thing the industry needs more than anything is plentiful tests where you can get the results in minutes. That's what we need. Because you need to test everybody at the door every day. That's how it works.
Short of that, the options they're talking about are really challenging. We could break down the crew into smaller pods that only work one at a time, but that's tripling the amount of time it takes to do anything. I get why that works on a lower budget thing. I don't know how practical that is on the higher budget stuff. So the truth is, I don't think anyone really knows. It's a lot of trial and error. I'm glad we're not the first ones out of the foxhole. I can tell you that. I’m really interested to see what some of those first pioneers figure out, and hopefully, we can adapt what they're using.
I'm sure you've noticed the trend recently that a lot more animated shows are getting announced, and that's because it's something you can do during quarantine. Have you discussed the idea of an animated The Boys spinoff?
Again, no comment.
Stormfront is a new character in The Boys Season 2 and she's really interesting. In the comics, it's a male character, but can you talk about the other changes you made to Stormfront for the show?
From the very beginning of talking about Season 2, I really wanted to bring in Stormfront. I thought it was a way into a lot of the issues, unfortunately, that we're talking about today in terms of white nationalism and systemic racism. But we wanted to modernize it because the character in the books is just pretty much a straight-up Nazi. But these days with social media, there's a lot of hateful ideology that is wrapped up in a very slick package to appeal to certain young people, and we wanted to reflect that.
“I wanted to have a Nazi villain, and it's crazy to me that that's even up for debate.”
We wanted the audience to go through the same process that probably a lot of these young people are going through where at first the character seems really edgy and fun and a disrupter and cool. A lot of the people online espousing this kind of stuff are really good looking. So we wanted to present that she's pretty and she's smart and she's pushing Homelander back, but then the more you learn about her, the more you realize what she really stands for. It's intentionally a misdirect to throw people off the scent of who the character turns out to be. But it's a very intentional one based on what's really going on in the world and how hate is being conveyed to an audience in modern times
Does your personal background as a Jew affect the way you think about Stormfront?
Yeah, as a Jew, I am like really anti-Nazi. You know, I am against Nazis. We have a line later on in the season where it's like, “I can't believe that I have to say this, but Nazis are bad.”
I wanted to have a Nazi villain, and it's crazy to me that that's even up for debate. That's the most generic villain possible. It's the villains in Raiders of the Lost Ark! It's the villain from everything, but for some reason today it’s edgy and that drives me fucking nuts.
Is there anything coming in The Boys Season 2 that's relevant to the current Black Lives Matter movement?
We have a flashback of a black teenager driving being pulled over by a cop and being brutally assaulted. A lot of people asked me when they see that, like “How did you know?” And I was like, this is not a new issue! This is a year old, five years old, 10 years old, 100 years old. This has been going on for a long time, and we were just talking about something that has unfortunately been a part of society for a while. I guess it's a good thing that everyone's talking about it but it's not exactly new.
The Deep's story is always great. It seems like you're just trying to demean him as much as possible, and in Season 2 he ends up killing a whale by mistake. Is that a new low for the character?
It started to become this running joke that he's completely incapable of keeping sealife alive. It started with the dolphin and then there was this lobster. His ineptitude causes death to all the creatures that he purports to protect. And then a writer on my staff, Craig Rosenberg, he’s the one who wrote the dolphin through the windshield, he was like, "We can't keep doing it over and over again. So let's just go to the biggest animal we can and have him kill that animal through his stupidity."
We landed at the whale and we built it practically. It’s CG when it's swimming through the water, obviously, but once it lands on the beach, that's a real 50-foot-long, 11-foot-high puppet that had real insides that you could go shoot inside and outside. I mean, not real whale guts, we didn't murder whales, but the inside was anatomically correct to look like the inside of a whale.
That's wild. Did it smell bad?
Yeah, it smelled bad and it was hot and fake blood is really sticky and gross and it sugary so it attracts bees and flies. It's a nightmare for the actors to film it. For me, it's delightful, but for the actors, it's a real shit show.
I'm almost out of time, but I want to circle back to Billy Joel because it seems to me like you're almost insulting Billy Joel—
What! How dare you!
Well, Huey's a bit of a wuss, so he likes Billy Joel. Is that what's going on here?
How dare you? How dare you, sir.
Look, I'm a huge Billy Joel fan, I swear to God, there will be many days where my satellite radio channel will be stuck on Billy Joel. I played his greatest hits Volume One and Two over and over and over again as a kid. I genuinely love the music. I am also not a tough guy, and I really kind of relate to Huey in that way. Huey just is not a punk rock guy. Huey likes things a little more polished. But no, we're not making fun of Billy Joel, we're just telling the truth that Huey is a dashing sort of suburbanite, like me, and that a lot of times Billy Joel is on our playlist.
Fair enough. That music video is one of the strangest things I've ever seen. I watched it last night and I don't understand what's happening in it.
It's so weird. That was the one we were thinking about trying to recreate. We wanted to recreate it for the show with Huey instead of the other kid, but getting out on the bridge and everything was just too prohibitive.
The Boys Season 2 premieres September 4 on Amazon.