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BIG READ: Cancer Dramedy 50/50 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Seth Rogen

Published September 5, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome.

Cancer dramedy 50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the twenty-something cancer patient given 50/50 odds of survival and Vancouver’s own Seth Rogen as his horndog best friend, makes its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next Monday — with wide release at the end of the month. Filmed here after the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, this small $8-million budget movie already has a reputation from advance screenings of charming people with laughs and then making them bawl like little children.

Seth Rogen developed and produced this buddy comedy, inspired by the true story of his comedy-writer friend Will Reiser’s extensive treatment after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer six years ago. In real life and fiction, the two pals dealt with it the only way they knew how — through humour. Yet Reiser’s script doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of cancer like hair loss, chemotherapy and prematurely facing one’s own mortality — both the movie poster and trailer feature a buzzed-about scene of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) shaving his head.

Set in Seattle, the film also features Bryce Dallas Howard (in town this weekend to see her husband Seth Gabel of Fringe) as the girlfriend who can’t deal with her boyfriend’s cancer; Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) as the therapist who grows into a relationship with her cancer patient; and Anjelica Huston as his worried mother. And if you’re looking for local actors, Matt Frewer and SGU: Stargate Universe alumni Julia Benson and Peter Kelamis are in some of the scenes.

I missed 50/50’s original five-week shoot in 2010 when the movie was called I’m with Cancer (later changed to Live With It and finally 50/50) but got to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt do reshoots of running scenes near Victory Square when he and Seth Rogen returned to the city for a day last November 1st.

The reshoots started that grey November day with Joseph Gordon-Levitt running along the seawall in Stanley Park near Lumberman’s Arch. In the movie you can see the North Vancouver industrial shoreline but not the mountains which define this city.

While Gordon-Levitt ran the seawall in take after take, I sat in a comfortable chair at Bean Around the World Coffees opposite the Vancouver Film School not sure when filming would start at Hastings and Cambie. I had watched crew cover the Cambie street sign with one for Highway 99 in Seattle and then a Rooibos tea later, I looked up through the cafe window to spy Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a hoodie standing with Seth Rogen on the sidewalk outside, apparently discussing the upcoming scene. No one walking by seemed to recognize them and I’m not sure I would have if I hadn’t been half expecting them. Gordon-Levitt looked uncharacteristically subdued to me but then I didn’t know that his beloved older brother had died just three weeks earlier from a suspected drug overdose.

The running scene started out on the West Hastings sidewalk outside Marc Emery’s B.C. Marijuana Party headquarters and Cannabis Culture store. Between takes Levitt had his nose to the glass looking at the hookahs and other drug paraphernalia displayed in the front window. Seth Rogen (almost unrecognizeable after losing weight for his role in the Green Hornet) appeared to be on set as a producer not an actor for this scene. He spent part of his time photographing the filming with his own camera, like many of the spectators in the area.

Crew then moved down a couple of blocks on Cambie to set up for more reshoots before it got dark: this time a scene of Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt crossing the street and entering the Leckie building. And that was a wrap for the reshoots. You can find Rogen below by the orange cone on the far left.

50/50 premieres in a Special Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12th/13th and the film is in theatres on September 30th.


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