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Screenwriter: 'The Interview' Is A Case Of Accidental Irony


If you saw a new movie on Christmas Day, according to box office stats, it was probably "Unbroken" or maybe "Into The Woods." If you talked about a movie, it was likely "The Interview," the comedy about a fictional plot to kill the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. North Korea issued a statement this weekend which condemned President Obama for supporting the release of the film. One of the people responsible for this international incident is Dan Sterling. He wrote the screenplay, and he says he is still feeling the backlash.

DAN STERLING: I was not prepared for this. I was just saying to somebody that I've helped elevate Seth Rogan's buttocks to a symbol of freedom and resolve in the face of tyranny and repression. And that is a complete accident. And as a comedy writer, I only wish I was talented enough to have deliberately cooked up something so ironic and absurd.

WERTHEIMER: You were hired to write this movie in part because you've written for "South Park" and for "The Daily Show," which are both topical programs, edgy programs, a kind of blend of comedy and political satire. I gather that they thought you would bring your political satire chops to this effort. Did you write "The Interview" as a political film?

STERLING: Well, not exactly. I mean, this is a Seth Rogan movie. And, you know, there is a responsibility when you are writing a Seth Rogan movie to his audience. And they aren't primarily expecting a political film. They aren't expecting Paddy Chayefsky. So in the moments where I was writing jokes about miniature missiles being stuffed up his butt, the highfalutin way to put it is I was honoring a covenant between Seth and his fans that if they're going to come out to see a movie that has geopolitical themes, they're still going to get their ass jokes.

WERTHEIMER: It ought to still have some of the regular stuff the like. Let me ask you about the ending of the film where your two newsmen shoot Kim Jong-Un out of the sky. It was a brutal sort of assassination. It was a - and we rarely see real people killed in fictional films.


WERTHEIMER: Did you hesitate about that? I mean, did you guys have meetings and discuss it?

STERLING: It's true that you don't often see real figures, I suppose, being killed in comedies like this. But, you know, the idea with this movie was to really humiliate - I mean, or that was one of the aims anyway - was to strip him bear and humiliate him. And certainly, part of a Hollywood movie equation is that the monster, the villain gets his comeuppance. But again, it is not what we - the film does not recommend this as a solution to real global problems.

WERTHEIMER: This weekend, North Korea officially condemned President Obama for this movie giving him credit for releasing it. The president of the United States has been dragged into your movie controversy. I mean, that must be another completely amazing development for you.

STERLING: I have to say that was really a surprise. I mean, listen, this is very - a big deal for me personally, this movie. As a screenwriter, it's the first movie that I've written that's been made. And - so that's a big deal in my own life separate from all of the headlines. And then to see the president talking about it is sort of mind blowing, to see him on TV saying that he thinks it ought to be released - that's fairly irresistible for a screenwriter.

WERTHEIMER: Now taking it in another direction because of this movie, an act of corporate sabotage has caused enormous damage to a major Hollywood studio. I mean, have you heard the words you'll never work in this town again recently?

STERLING: Nobody has said that to me. However, I have taken that quite hard. The people at Sony have been incredibly supportive of me and good to me and have changed my whole career. It's been very hard to see all of the stress and catastrophe over there. The thought that something that I - you know, participated in caused all this damage and suffering - that has really not been fun for me.

WERTHEIMER: So where do you go from here do you think?

STERLING: I think the next movie I write will just have to be about a scrappy little league team or something.


STERLING: I mean, not really. I just - the other big concern for me is the question of what viability a political satire has in Hollywood. And I don't know. Nobody has called me to say, can you write another one like this for me this week. That said, I actually am working on another movie that has political themes, but nobody that you know will be killed in it. Somebody may or may not die, but it's not going to be a living person.

WERTHEIMER: Dan Sterling. He wrote the script for "The Interview." Thank you very much for speaking to us today.

STERLING: Thanks. Thanks so much. It was great to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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