In an alternative universe without blaring headlines about leaked emails, security breaches and North Korean denunciations, one imagines that Sony Pictures would have put on a splashy premiere for its upcoming Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy “The Interview,” opening on Christmas.
As it was, the studio went for a more intimate and at times low-key affair -- and, in an irony not lost on the journalists in attendance, invited reporters but made a point of prohibiting interviews.
The event came on the heels of controversy over the film, directed by Rogen and longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg, which centers on a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea has been condemning “The Interview” since the summer, and in recent weeks Sony has been hit by a devastating cyber attack that some speculate the country orchestrated as a retaliatory act. Among other things, the attack has produced emails that reveal the inner workings of the studio and chief Amy Pascal.
Held at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the event Thursday night offered only some of the trappings of a conventional studio premiere. There was an afterparty and the usual whooping before and after the screening of the film, which played strongly.
At a reception before the screening, meanwhile, Rogen and Goldberg received backslaps and high-fives from friends, and the pair, along with Pascal, stopped to pose for a few minutes of official photos.
But the mood was unquestionably more muted than one would otherwise expect for the unveiling of an outrageous Seth Rogen comedy, and the proceedings at times had the atmosphere of a group that was celebrating while attempting not to celebrate.
At the pre-reception, there were no cheeky North Korea-themed flourishes of the kind one tends to see at a studio comedy event.
The celebrity quotient was also smaller; Zac Efron, Rogen’s “Neighbors” costar, was in attendance, as were Sarah Silverman and Michael Sheen, but there was a relatively small number of boldfaced names.
A strong security presence also sternly guided attendees around the event, and ordinary guests attempting to come within a few feet of a small red carpet set up for photographers were reprimanded. As the leaked emails proliferated earlier in the week, reporters were also told there would be no interviews on the carpet. When Rogen said hello to one reporter, his representative quickly pointed out she was a member of the media.
Pascal -- who earlier in the day issued an apology for a racially insensitive email exchange with producer Scott Rudin that became public as part of the leak -- put on a happy face and talked with well-wishers, including former 20th Century Fox studio chief Tom Rothman, a longtime friend who recently signed a deal with Sony.
Before the screening, Rogen and Goldberg, both dressed in gray suits, came on stage to thank their collaborators, friends, family and a group of USC students who had been invited. The filmmakers were offering perfunctory thank yous and seemed poised to ignore the controversy, but then Rogen offered a clear shout-out to it.
“We just want to thank Amy Pascal for having the balls to make this ... thing,” he said, to cheers.
At the reception, Rogen, whose communiques to Pascal about the film have also surfaced in the emails, appeared in good spirits (his signature laugh could occasionally be heard above the din). He and other guests mingled with costars such as Franco and Randall Park, who plays Kim Jong Un. At one point, Rogen and Park could be seen having what looked like a serious conversation, two comedic personalities unexpectedly thrust into the middle of a major news story.
Staff writers Amy Kaufman and Steven Zeitchik contributed to this report.