Director Jonathan Levine Discusses the Difficulties of Making Cancer Comedy 50/50
09.12.11 by Ryan
Director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) knew he would have it tough convincing audiences there was humor to find in cancer with the upcoming dramedy 50/50, which stars Joseph Gordon Levitt as 27-year-old Adam who is suddenly diagnosed with cancer and Seth Rogen as his best friend. At first, Levine turned down the movie, but then one of his family members was diagnosed as well. Levine told The Playlist that the experience "made the script resonate that much more for me — I went through those experiences where you know things are just so ridiculous and so intense that you have to laugh and I went through those experience where things are so ridiculous sometimes that you have to cry." Levine soon accepted the movie.
More hurdles were to follow. First was in casting, with James McAvoy, initially cast in Gordon-Levitt's role, but, after his wife went into early labor, McAvoy dropped out just as the movie was about to start. Gordon-Levitt accepted with "about a week to ten days to prep."
We were definitely freaking out, but, honestly, there was something in the chemistry that we all had, we had too good of a thing going here for it to fall apart, and we just kind of put our heads down and did our jobs. And thank god they sent [Gordon-Levitt] the material... I know we would have been heartbroken if Joe had not been able to make it.
Once Gordon-Levitt was on set, his first day also required him to shave his head.
As I said, Joe pretty much had ten days, we barely know the guy, and he had to shave his f***ing head at the end of the first day. And it was his first scene with Seth as well.
Fortunately, Levine said that the chemistry between Rogen and Gordon-Levitt was "effortless" which helped Levine keep the realistic tone he wanted for the movie. Rogen had already gone through a similar experience with his friend and 50/50 screenwriter Will Reiser, which only added to the realistic approach. "The script really set the tone as well," said Levine. "Because it’s just this amazing story, this amazing personal story that really got the details of life right."
Levine also had to find a new title, knowing that the original title, I'm With Cancer, wasn't going to work. "I never imagined it being the title of the movie," Levine admitted. Eventually, he obviously settled on 50/50.
We thought that 50/50 was kind of fresh and cool and it wouldn’t turn people off. And so that’s what we ended up with… That was always a very interesting thing to me, you know you have a 50/50 chance of living, it’s like that’s what your life is, it’s the odds, I thought that as very interesting.
50/50 opens September 30th and co-stars Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Angelica Houston, and Phillip Baker Hall.