Seth Rogen waltzes to a dramatic beat in new movie [Q & A]


He’s better known for big studio comedies like “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”, but Seth Rogen strays from his beaten path when he stars in the low-budget comedy-drama “Take This Waltz.”

Directed by Canadian actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley, and opening in U.S. theaters on Friday, the movie sees Rogen starring opposite Michelle Williams, who is better known for dramatic roles in films like “Blue Valentine”.

Rogen plays a cookbook author with an alcoholic sister (Sarah Silverman) who doesn’t seem to notice that his wife (Williams) has fallen for the handsome artist (Luke Kirby) that lives across the street.

Rogen, 30, talked with Reuters about working with Williams, and his upcoming directorial debut in “The End of the World”.

Reuters: “Take This Waltz” is about a woman’s marriage failing because she’s in love with someone else. Not exactly a subject matter you’re associated with. How did this project come about?

Seth Rogen: “I’m not one of those actors where filmmakers that I admire ask me to be in their movies. I meet them at parties and they’re nice to me, but they never ask me to work with them. Sarah Polley is one of the first filmmakers that I’ve really liked that asked me.”

R: There is no trace here of the man-child roles you often play in your other movies. It’s probably your most serious role to date, wouldn’t you say?

S.R.: “It’s probably closer to what I am in real life. I think I’m one of those people that when fans meet, they’re often very disappointed because I’m kind of quiet and shy. I think they expect me to have one of those hats with two beer cans strapped to my head and strippers on either side of me. So it was nice to do something where I didn’t have to be really funny all the time.”

R: How did you enjoy working with Michelle Williams?

S.R.: “She was very impressive. A lot of our scenes were emotionally demanding. The emotional turmoil that actors put themselves through at the drop of a hat is not the type of stuff I normally do.”

R: We seem to know more about Michelle Williams’ character than yours. What’s the back story you gave him?

S.R.: “I think a lot of people aggressively stay stagnant, almost like a gauntlet that’s thrown down. For Lou, the test of the relationship is ‘Can we not change.’ He thinks if it’s strong enough to not change, that means it’s strong enough to last. But that’s not realistic or how real relationships are.”

R: You’re currently making your feature directorial debut with writing partner Evan Goldberg on the comedy “The End of the World” that you also star in. How do you like directing?

S.R.: “It was a little daunting because the movie itself is technically complicated. The story is something we’ve been working on for years and years. There have been several moments where I feel like, ‘I can’t believe we pulled this off!’ But those wonderful moments have been shattered by the stress of ‘We’re not going to finish what we need to shoot in time!’”

R: In that film, everybody plays a heightened version of themselves. You’ve got a lot of your friends in there like James Franco, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel. But also people like Rihanna and Emma Watson who seem unlikely to hang with your crowd in real life.

S.R.: “It’s James Franco’s party in the movie. And the truth is, sometimes you go to a party and you can’t believe who’s there…I’ve had random famous people show up at my parties where I’m like, ‘What the heck is this person doing here?’ That’s what we wanted to tap in to.”

R: How did you nab Rihanna?

S.R.: “I read in an interview once that she was a fan of some of our movies. When we were working on this film, we thought, ‘She seems not to hate us. She could be a good person to ask.’ We got her on the phone, explained it to her and she agreed to do it. She was really funny, she improvised and did everything we asked her to do. And she seemed to have a good time.”

R: You act, write, direct, produce and are considered to be on Hollywood’s A-list. Ever feel like you’re on top of the world?

S.R.: “As a Jewish person, you generally hate yourself, but there’s moments where I feel that way.”

Reporting by Zorianna Kit, editing by Jill Serjeant and Carol Bishopric

Netanyahu to answer questions on YouTube


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will answer questions from people around the world when he appears on YouTube’s World View.

Netanyahu will be the third world leader to appear on the citizen-powered interview program with his live-streamed interview on March 23.

YouTube is partnering with Israel’s Channel 2 News for the interview with Netanyahu; Channel 2 newsreader Dana Weiss will facilitate the broadcast. The 40-minute interview will be broadcast live, in Hebrew, on Israeli television and on YouTube simultaneously. YouTube also will stream the interview in English.

The questions can be uploaded to the website by video, text or Twitter (#AskNetanyahu). The deadline to submit questions is March 21 at 8 p.m.

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have appeared on the program.

“I invite Arab viewers and Palestinian viewers to have this exchange with us because I think we have to clear the air,” Netanyahu said in a pre-recorded message. “I think people have to understand what an open, liberal, tolerant society Israel is and how much it desires peace.”

Anti-War, Anti-Israel?


ANSWER Rallies Return

With things going badly in Iraq, the anti-war movement in this country is trying to expand its political base with a series of high-profile marches scheduled for this weekend.

And once again, planners of some of the events are using rising discontent over the war to boost other items on their agenda, starting with vehement criticism of Israel.

A primary sponsor of the new burst of protest: International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), the anti-war group criticized last year for barring speakers who supported Israel and for a vehemently anti-Israel approach to the Mideast conflict.

On Saturday, the group will hold rallies in Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Michael Berg, father of the Philadelphia-area Jewish businessman beheaded by Iraqi insurgents last month, will participate in an ANSWER march from the White House to the home of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to the group’s Web site.

The latest rally by ANSWER — an offshoot of the ultra-radical World Workers Party — is putting an even greater emphasis on ending Israeli “colonialism,” and on linking the U.S. occupation of Iraq with Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Jewish leaders say it’s the same old pitch from a group variously described as Stalinist, Leninist and just plain Marxist. But the worsening situation in Iraq could provide more fertile soil for the dissemination of its anti-Israel ideas.

“Our main concern is that well-meaning progressives who oppose the situation in Iraq will be drawn into a destructive anti-Israel movement that combines anti-globalism, anti-war, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements,” said David Bernstein, regional director for the American Jewish Committee.

Bernstein said that the revival of ANSWER “means that we have to reach out even more aggressively to parts of the progressive community, from the mainline Christian groups to minority groups to labor and other centers of the progressive community.”

Bernstein said Jewish leaders need to do a better job “communicating effectively with people who are looking for a way to express their concerns about the war. The situation in Iraq is giving ANSWER a chance to reclaim its pre-war positions, and that’s worrisome.”

Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said that ANSWER “is a fringe group, far out of the mainstream of American society,” but warned about its “ability to get crowds together. Right now being against the war in Iraq is a popular message, and they are using that to reach out to a broader audience.”

Some leading Jewish anti-war activists are staying far away from the ANSWER orbit.

“We only participated in ANSWER demonstrations when there was no alternative mass mobilization,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, head of the liberal Tikkun Community. Lerner was barred from speaking at ANSWER rallies last year because he objected to the group’s growing anti-Israel, anti-Semitic focus.

But Lerner said that the argument the war is being fought for Israel resonates with Americans.

“One of the reasons we opposed this war was that we saw that the only argument for the war that stood a chance of making sense was that it would eliminate Israel’s leading military threat in the Middle East,” he said. “And we argued that going to war to protect Israel when Israel was not actually facing a realistic military threat would eventually lead to an increase in anger at Israel and hence a long-term decrease in Israeli security and an upsurge of anti-Israel feeling.”

That prediction, he said, is now “being played out on the American right-wing as they look for scapegoats rather than face their own stupidity for having supported the war in the first place.”

Faith-Based Battle Heating Up

President George W. Bush, saying the government should not “discriminate against faith-based” health and social service programs, has renewed his push for new laws and regulations opening up federal grants to religious groups.

The first White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was part pep rally for the embattled faith-based initiative, part seminar designed to help potential grantees learn the ropes of the funding process.

And the event at a Washington hotel had distinctly Christian overtones, several participants said, with a Gospel choir and “a kind of tent revival atmosphere,” according to one.

But that didn’t faze Jewish supporters of the administration’s plans, which have been held up in Congress but implemented in large measure through executive action.

“While obviously the predominant religious affiliation was Christian, there was a discernable effort on behalf of the president to be as inclusive as possible,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Washington director for American Friends of Lubavitch, who was the recipient of a presidential kiss in the receiving line.

Featured prominently at the event: a leading Jewish anti-poverty group that has not yet received any funds under the president’s faith-based plan.

The Metropolitan New York Council on Jewish Poverty was one of eight groups singled out as examples of faith-based groups in action in a video shown to the 2,000-plus delegates.

William Rapfogel, executive director of the group, said that “it was a very positive meeting, and the president got a very strong reception.”

Rapfogel said that groups opposed to the administration’s faith-based initiatives on church-state grounds “probably won’t be convinced” by Tuesday’s session, but that “this may have had an impact on some of those in the middle, who may already be inclined to give the program a chance.”

He said that groups like his that hope to get money from the faith-based plan “have to help shape it so there will not be discrimination and there will not be proselytizing.”

But Jewish church-state groups were unimpressed.

“I can’t quarrel with their ability to promote their agenda, but I believe the program is fundamentally misconceived,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Jewish Committee. “They are promoting a sweeping vision in terms of how social services should be organized and funded in this country.”

He said that while the plan ostensibly covers both faith-based and community initiatives, “there’s virtually no attention being paid to the community side of that equation. The emphasis is entirely on enabling faith-based organizations to participate.”

Budget Crisis Deepening

For Jewish leaders worried about likely cuts in health and human service programs, Capitol Hill budget experts have just one thing to say: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Although election-obsessed lawmakers are unlikely to make any drastic moves this year that could lead to a voter backlash on Nov. 2, the handwriting is on the wall for subsequent budget years as the federal deficit mounts.

Last week the Washington Post reported on a secret White House memo warning government agencies to brace for sweeping budget cuts starting in Fiscal Year 2006.

The memo warned about likely cuts in virtually every domestic area, including education and social welfare programs such as the popular Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

That just proves what House Democrats predicted early in the year, said Thomas Kahn, Democratic staff director on the House Budget Committee.

“There’s no way around it: the huge tax cuts that have already passed, along with the $2 trillion in new tax cuts the administration is proposing and record increases in defense spending, are forcing deep cuts in a wide range of critical domestic services,” he said.

But with Congress putting off most critical budget decisions this year, the scope of those cuts won’t really be apparent until after the elections.

Even homeland security is being cut — according to the memo, by $1 billion in 2006, which augers poorly for a bill pushed by a coalition of Jewish groups that would provide assistance to nonprofit groups that need to beef up security to face the terrorist threat.

Most Jewish groups continue to stay out of the debate over new tax cuts, but a number of Jewish leaders expressed dismay about the scope of likely spending cuts in the next few years.

“The decisions being made on the budget today are going to haunt us for decades to come, because they involve the very infrastructure of our social service system, and our ability to provide for those in need,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women. “Legislators can’t afford to be shortsighted; the cuts that are being made can’t be made up later, and they send a very damaging message about what this nation’s priorities are.”

Face to Face


Before he was the Buddha, or Enlightened One, Prince Siddhartha lived a luxurious life behind the walls of his family castle. But each time he ventured out, the legend goes, he discovered the lame, the halt, the dying. His squire, Chandara, convinced him to ignore such things, as the world was full of suffering. Then his wife gave birth, and Siddhartha, at 29, was struck by the inexplicable mysteries of life and death. Late one night, he kissed his sleeping wife and newborn son goodbye and wandered out of the palace with Chandara to find the answer to how one overcomes suffering.

I read this legend in the home of my friends, John and Jip, in Seattle last weekend, and it struck me why I would make a lousy Buddhist. I imagined Siddhartha’s wife as she awoke the next day and was told her husband left her and her newborn to find the meaning of human suffering. I imagined what if Siddhartha’s wife was Jewish. He did what? He wanted to find out what? Suffering? Let him stay, I’ll show him suffering….

My friend John is a school librarian. Jip — her name is pronounced Jeep, the sound of a young bird — was born and raised in a village near Chaing Mai in Thailand. She was working as a nurse in a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border when she met John, who was teaching English at the camp.

She came with him back to Seattle, where she earned her master’s in public health at the University of Washington. They married. Not long afterward, doctors diagnosed Jip with multiple sclerosis.

That was 13 years ago. Now Jip — a beautiful, bright, luminous, raven-haired and almond-eyed 42-year-old — is a quadriplegic. She has lost feeling below her chest, lost the use of her arms and legs, and she has gone almost completely blind. Her limp, recalcitrant body is confined to a medieval assortment of wheelchairs, body lifts and standing platforms.

Weekdays, home-care aides come and assist her. Nights and weekends, John tends to her. The financial toll of home-care on a middle-income couple is simply bankrupting.

The emotional toll is something I tried my best to fathom, as I watched John manipulate Jip’s spasmodic legs, lift her in and out of their car for a picnic, bring her food and drink. They disappeared behind their bedroom door for hours, as he bathed and dressed her and took her to the bathroom. This was my weekend; this is their life.

They have friends, literally. Their community of Quakers has formed a "care committee" to provide practical and spiritual support. The committee makes sure someone brings over dinner four nights each week. The committee meets on Sunday to help them strategize on medical treatment, deal with mundane errands, help make life-and-death decisions. It is bikur holim, the prescribed act of visiting the sick, taken to yet another level. "They’re there for me as much as for Jip," John told me.

John and Jip’s home has acquired many of the same books my cousin’s apartment had after he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gherig’s disease: "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying," Anne Lamott’s "Traveling Mercies," numerous volumes by the Dalai Lama and the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn, books on healing and nutrition.

If there are no atheists in foxholes, there are few dogmatists facing serious illness. In the cereal aisle of American spirituality, people can pick through great traditions to find the little parts that work for them — antioxidants, acupuncture, meditation, snippets from the kaballah, quotes from Thomas Merton. Whatever works. To be fair, though, Jip was a practicing Buddhist long before she ever walked into a Barnes and Noble.

When John disappeared with Jip into their room, I plunged through their books; I needed them all. Intellectually, I know people have been on this wheel of birth and suffering and death for thousands of years, and no one has figured it out, no one has escaped, and no one has resigned him or herself to it.

Faced with what John and Jip have to endure, I was wondering if any of those books on their shelves offered, well, The Answer. When my cousin was dying, I’d read many of these same books, but the wisdom doesn’t stick, and every anguish seems fresh and inexplicable.

I read like a fiend but stopped short when I came to that story of Siddhartha. I know little of Buddhism and apologize in advance for insulting readers who do, but it struck me that John and Jip, by staying put, by facing the suffering in their own home, were on a path as holy and transcendent as any Prince Siddhartha undertook.

If Siddhartha were Jewish, I’d like to believe he would have turned back to the castle to be with his wife and son. The Book of Isaiah speaks of a time when God will "swallow up death forever … and will wipe away tears from all faces." But that will be then, this is now.

In the face of sorrow, suffering and death, Judaism puts aside the big questions for prescribed practices: rituals, traditions, prayers. Confronting her father’s long and difficult illness, historian Deborah Lipstadt reflected once that Jewish traditions are "the exact antithesis of the tendency to separate oneself from reality." Understanding is not the aim. The key is to face it, not fear it.

John, a young and vibrant man devoted in his care to his ailing wife, was the embodiment of that. If Suffering thought it could scare off this son of the Midwest with gentle blue eyes and broad smile, it thought wrong.

As for any Big Answer I sought, the closest I came was on the flight back to Los Angeles. I was watching the movie, "American Splendor," about the middle-aged Jewish American comic book author Harvey Pekar. "Life seems so sweet and so sad," Pekar says, "and so hard to let go of in the end."

For the Kids


Matters of the Heart

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we are yet again told not to forget the needy. The Torah just can’t stop repeating this message. This time it uses the words “do not harden your heart.” Pharoah also hardened his heart. He gets so used to hardening his heart, that, at some point, it becomes the only reaction he can have.

Can you think of a time when you “hardened your heart” and refused to give in or help someone? The Torah says: Do not do this too often, for it will become a habit that might be hard to break.

Summer’s End

When summer is over, what’s next? Solve this puzzle to find the answer. Enter the correct word for each clue. The letters inside the circles will spell out a word.

Send the answer to kids@jewishjournal.com  for a chance to win a gift certificate to Baskin-Robbins.

Balance With ‘One Foot’


Has a question or statement about Israel ever caught you so off guard and tongue-tied that you wished you could just reach into your back pocket to pull out an answer? Well, now you can.

Dr. Mitchell G. Bard, author and executive director of the American-Israel Cooperative Enterprise, has written a pocket-size guide to the Middle East.

Titled "On One Foot," the resource is the brainchild of Los Angeles movie producer Tom Barad, who contacted Bard after observing the extreme anti-Israel sentiment last year on his son’s campus, UC Berkeley, and his niece’s campus, University of Colorado.

"I knew that kids were leaning on bars at parties and sitting in their dorm rooms and hearing people make claims and accuse Israel of certain misdeeds that they were completely unprepared to defend," Barad said. "I had a concept of a product they could pull out of their pocket at a moment’s notice and have three simple responses."

"On One Foot" is a more concise version of Bard’s previous book "Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict." Divided into eight sections, such as "Refugees," "Human Rights" and "Disputed Territories and Settlements," it includes various "myths" about the conflict, followed by his succinct factual and historical responses that dispute the myths.

Additionally, each section is introduced by a biblical passage — an element that Barad felt was an essential addition to the text.

"I felt it was important that at least laced into ‘On One Foot’ there would be something that would touch our tradition … a continued expression about why we’re in this struggle to begin with," Barad said. "How can you deal with your relationship to Israel if you’re completely ignoring your relationship to your religious heritage?"

The book’s title, "On One Foot," refers to the talmudic story of Hillel the Elder who is confronted by a man demanding to learn Torah. He wants the knowledge fast and demands to have it "while standing on one foot." Hillel responds, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Torah, all of it; the rest is commentary."

Bard further explains in the introduction of the book: "In our hyperspeed world, we, too, need to get some fast learning, often while we are on one foot, struggling for balance, seeking the truth."

Due to its brief nature, Bard recommends that "On One Foot" should be read as a reference guide. "It’s not necessarily the final word, but at least it is a brief word on the topic," Bard said. "I encourage everyone to do more in-depth research."

To order a copy of "On One Foot" ($10), call (310) 364-0909 or e-mail ononefoot@earthlink.net. Discounts are available for bulk orders and for organizations.

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