Judging from the belly laughs at theaters, it’s one of the funniest scenes in the action-comedy “The Green Hornet”: Newly empowered as masked crusaders, party-boy media scion Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) and his trusty manservant Kato (Taiwanese pop star and action-movie heartthrob Jay Chou) head out into Los Angeles to battle the bad guys. As their Chrysler Imperial lurches into traffic, Kato drops the needle on a turntable in the backseat. And Reid begins to rap along to Coolio’s R&B tinged 1995 criminal anthem “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
With its maudlin take on urban nihilism and mellifluous hook (courtesy of the singer L.V.), the song assumes buffoonish overtones with its new context — a pump-up theme for superheroes on their work commute. “Hornet’s” distributor Columbia Pictures saw the song’s marketing potential, making it a cornerstone of one of its TV spots for the film. But to hear it from the “Green Hornet” creative team, there was plenty of debate about the use of the song and a bit of a power struggle. Director Michel Gondry wasn’t feeling the song’s ghetto sensation but writer-producer-star Rogen was a big fan.
“‘Gangsta’s Paradise,’ Michel didn’t want that — but myself and Seth really wanted it,” said producer Neal Moritz. The upshot: Rogen used his clout as a multi-hyphenate — the guy Gondry was ultimately accountable to on the movie — to shoot the scene over the director’s objections.
“I remember when we were shooting it, he was sitting there with his arms crossed and a grumpy look on his face,” Rogen said. “But there wasn’t a second when we thought we might be wrong. We were like, ‘You are going to feel so stupid when you see that this is the funniest [freaking] thing in the entire world.”
It was not the only time Gondry had his authority superceded by his star — and he didn’t have final cut on the film. “Seth was as important, if not more important than the studio,” Gondry said when I talked to him for a Calendar cover story on this career moment. “So I felt, ‘Well, it’s not really my movie.’ I accepted that. But I realized there was still tons I could infiltrate or infuse my personality through discussion all the time.” But in the end Gondry feels the scene’s inclusion was all for the best. “There are some jokes I hated when we shot them. ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ – it’s not really me at all. But when I saw it, I really liked it.”
– Chris Lee
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