There remain few cinematic pleasures in life greater than watching Michael Cera, the picture of innocent awkwardness, say dirty things. And Superbad was an onslaught of raunchiness from both him and Jonah Hill, the artfulness lying in the ease of their rapid-fire delivery.
"I think we tried to put more emotions and stories and kind of just general frustrations that you had in high school" into the characters, Hill told E!. "At least I did. My character's a lot angrier than I was in high school." Cera noted of his buddy, "He gets spat on, like he has a reason to be extremely bitter about school."
Hill concluded, "I think the important part was all the vulgar stuff that I say."
Casino may have had 300-plus F-bombs, but "we had 187 F's," Cera said, while "Scarface had 182."
"In half the time, F's per minute," Hill interjected. "More F's per capita."
Though Cera and Hill were certainly convincing as longtime best friends, they had never met before they were cast in Superbad.
"We were forced to become friends before the movie started," Hill quipped. "Literally, it was a forced friendship."
"It's true," Cera noted, "it was like a blind date." Continued Hill, "It was. We had to go to dinner together and hang out and I was nervous...I tried on a lot of different dresses."
Added Cera, "I was gonna say, I didnt know what to wear. I didn't know how casual you were going." "How much perfume to wear," Hill said, "the right shade of mascara. I just went with, 'Hey, I'm gonna go with the cool-casual look,' and I think it worked."
And look, by the end they were finishing each other's sentences.
Superbad casting director Allison Jones—an Emmy winner for Freaks and Geeks and Veep (twice)—facilitated the first meeting between Hill and Judd Apatow. The filmmaker promptly gave Hill his big break as a strange dude drawn to a pair of disco platforms in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which led to bigger and better things in the Apatow cinematic universe.
"Allison doesn't just find us actors," Apatow, a producer on Superbad, told the New Yorker in 2015. "She finds us people we want to work with the rest of our lives."
Still, writer-producer Seth Rogen remembered to GQ in 2020 that, as funny as they knew Hill to be from Knocked Up, they originally thought that at 23 he was too old for Superbad. But after Hill made a quick video of himself reading lines "and it was just so funny," Rogen said, "we were like, 'Oh, we were wrong, he could totally do this very well.'"
Rogen recalled to The Ringer in 2017 that it was Jay Baruchel who randomly suggested—"We were in f--king Las Vegas, New Mexico, sitting in a hotel room, smoking weed"—that he put Cera in his movie.
And at the audition, Apatow said, "no one was as funny as Cera."
After putting up casting fliers at some Los Angeles high schools, Jones picked Christopher Mintz-Plasse's camera phone head shot out of a lineup and told director Greg Mottola she'd found his McLovin, 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor, comparing him to the bespectacled Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird.
"You could tell he was a kid who probably had seen the inside of a locker," Jones told the New Yorker.
Superbad being semi-autobiographical makes it even better, and Rogen said that he and Goldberg "always hoped" they'd find actors who could bring their sepia-and-profanity-tinted memories to life.
"When we wrote it, almost every character was based on a real person," Rogen told E!. "There is a real Fogell, and when he was around 13 or 14 he acted exactly like the character in the movie. We really had a hard time casting it. We thought it was unactable. That's how hard it was. We started thinking, We wrote a character that no one in the world can perform properly, and we were literally just gonna change it. We were like, 'We have to completely rewrite it.' And then this young man came in and stole our hearts, and really just did it, and instantly we were just like, 'Thank God we found him!' He's such a little treat."
Superbad marked Mintz-Plasse's acting debut. His co-stars later mused that perhaps the 17-year-old's complete lack of experience was the reason why he was so unfazed by whatever Hill threw at him—much like Fogell, who takes movie-Seth's constant ridicule in stride.
"Jonah could not blow him over at all," Cera told The Ringer, "and that really frustrated Jonah. When [Chris] left, I remember Jonah being shaken up."
Mintz-Plasse was "so combative," Hill remembered. "I was really annoyed because this guy wouldn't let me say anything."
Or as Rogen recalled, "Jonah f--king hated him. He was all over Jonah's lines, completely disrespectful of the process, probably due to a lack of experience. I remember he walked out of the room and Jonah was like, 'Not that guy.' And we were just like, 'Oh my god, you don't understand how much more that makes us want him.'"
After a handful of TV parts, Emma Stone made her big-screen debut playing Seth's still-nice-hot-girl crush Jules. At last, something she could...watch with her parents?
"I took my mom and my dad to see it on two different occasions," Stone, then 18, informed E! News in 2007. "But it's a little bit different 'cause Jules is kind of the straight character—and that was one of my stipulations of taking the role. Because I did an episode of Medium where I was, like, naked [she played an abuse victim] and I did that episode of Lucky Louie on HBO where I was cussing up a storm.
"My dad's always been like, 'God, when are you gonna do a role where we can tell your grandparents you're gonna be on TV and it wont be like you're saying the F-word a million times.' And I was like, 'Superbad!' It's terrible with the cussing and all the filthy language, but I'm not bad in it. I don't do anything too bad."
Bonding on set as the only main female characters in the movie, Stone and Martha MacIsaac, who played Evan's crush Becca, became fast friends. In fact, while doing press for the film Stone said that MacIsaac was about to move to L.A. and would be staying with her for awhile.
But the future Oscar winner also told E! that she was actually in her element on the Superbad set. "I'm kind of a guys' girl," she explained, so "I wasn't branching too far from my normal comfort zone. I'm not going and getting mani/pedi combos with my girls every weekend or anything so...I'd rather hang out and listen to music with a bunch of guys."
It turns out that Seth and Evan's respective crushes like them back—and shooting any type of intimate scene was new for both Hill and Cera.
It was strange at first, Cera admitted to E!, "but you have to get past it because it was like an all-day thing. And once everyone got used to seeing my chest it was OK. I think it was more uncomfortable for the surround crew, like the sound guy who had to be, like, staring at my body."
Incidentally, he and MacIsaac also downed a bunch of orange-flavored vodka while shooting Evan and Becca's alcohol-fueled encounter, Cera told The Ringer. "We were pretty drunk for that," he recalled. "At eight in the morning we were like, 'Let's do this.' It's not totally recommended, but I really do think that scene is better for that."
"We actually had a police consultant who we fired the first day of shooting because he kept telling us what we were doing was wrong," Rogen told E! of his brief tutorial for his supporting turn as Officer Michaels alongside Bill Hader as the similarly unfit Officer Slater. "We were like, 'We don't care if its accurate. As soon as reality fringes on what we think is funny, that's when we start caring."
However, Rogen recalled, "We went on a ride-along, and the attitudes of the cops were shockingly similar to the ones we played. There was no civic pride at all. We asked the guy, 'Why are you a cop?' He was like, 'I get to tackle guys.' I'm like, 'That's it?'"
Hader, who had previously hit it off with Rogen on the set of You, Me and Dupree, told The Ringer in 2017 that after Superbad came out cops would come up to him to share examples of their own Slater-and-Michaels-reminiscent behavior.
"We've been working on this movie for, like, 12 years now," Rogen told E!. "I spent half my life writing this movie, and its just a dirty comedy, so that's really not saying much. It's not like we went and made Gandhi."
Still, he called it "amazing" that it got made in the first place.
He credited Apatow with helping him and co-writer and co-executive-producer Evan Goldberg get their screenplay into fighting shape. "It was always a funny movie but Judd talked a lot about starting to write stories from an emotional standpoint and using your own experiences and being honest," Rogen explained. "That's when we started thinking, Maybe we can make Superbad an actual good movie and not just a funny movie. He really taught us how to write character-based movies, not just dick-joke-based movies."
Apatow was happy to give credit where it was due, too, telling The Ringer in 2017, "Seth and Evan had an incredibly unique way of writing dialogue in the way high school people spoke, and that's what was magical about the script. I knew they were doing something no one had done before. And in the first draft I saw, it had the penis drawings, it had the period blood sequence — a lot of the big set pieces never changed." (Movie-Seth getting a girl's menstrual blood on him happened to a friend of Rogen and Goldberg's at a school dance.)
Truth be told, Rogen told E!, "Jonah is a lot like me in high school, and Michael is not like Evan—I think we were both like Jonah. We're really quite similar...That was actually one of the hardest things in rewriting the movie over the years. The Seth and Evan characters were very similar for a long time, 'cause we're similar. But we really had to think, we have to make this guy another guy. We can't both be Seth. We need a new guy to be Evan."
Superbad was based on Rogen and Goldberg's experiences growing up in Vancouver, but it takes place in Clark County (Las Vegas-area), Nevada, and was shot in and around Los Angeles. El Segundo High School—a decades-old campus that can also be seen in 1955's Blackboard Jungle, 1983's WarGames, 2002's The Hot Chick and the 90210 reboot—stood in for Clark Secondary School.
The various convenience stores and other nondescript spots where the guys congregate are largely in Culver City, Glendale and the San Fernando Valley, but the exterior location of the big party was a house in the celebrity-packed Brentwood neighborhood.
Rogen and Goldberg may have spent years writing Superbad, but they weren't precious about the actors sticking to the script.
Hill was "constantly" improvising, Stone told E!. "I could not keep a straight face. There were quite a few moments that have been cut out and I think—you know, I'm maybe taking the blame on myself that I laughed in the middle of every take. I tried to learn as time went on, but it got harder for some reason because it got funnier and funnier as we sunk into it."
In fact, Hill improvised the affectionate "boop, boop, boop" that Seth bounced off of a legitimately surprised Evan's nose when the bestest buds are bromantically admitting how much they love each other.
Slater busting out Van Halen's "Panama" while doing donuts in the squad car was also Hader's in-the-moment creation. "Then Judd got mad at me," the Barry star told The Ringer, mimicking Apatow telling him, "'Do you know how much "Panama" costs?!'"
As it turned out, the rights to use "Panama" alone "cost nearly as much as all of the songs in Adventureland," director Mottola told The New York Times in 2009, referring to his smaller-budgeted follow-up to Superbad.
They did way more target practice than was necessary to prepare for the scene in which Fogell/McLovin fires a gun with the idiotic approval of Officers Slater and Michaels.
"It was blanks [in the movie] but it was definitely a real gun," Mintz-Plasse recalled. "We got to go to a gun range and shoot pistols and machine guns and tommy-guns."
In a stream of Twitter consciousness on the occasion of the film's 10th anniversary in 2017, Rogen revealed that cast of Jersey Shore confirmed that they got the term "DTF" (down to f--k) from Superbad. And they have Hill's canny read on teen culture to thank for that.
"I didn't come up with it — these kids I knew were taggers and their crew was called DTF, 'Down to F-k,'" Hill told The Ringer in 2017. "I just said it in a scene and they left it in." And the taggers in question "were hyped it was in the movie."