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NEIGHBORS

Mac Meets Teddy and Nicholas
With Neighbors' Mac set, the filmmaking team began to look for the story's Teddy Sanders, the charismatic, enigmatic leader and president of Delta Psi. The writers admit that they long had one particular actor in mind. "Right from the beginning, we tried to imagine who would be the last person you'd want to see shirtless on the front lawn talking to your wife," laughs Cohen. "It was always Zac Efron."

Although Mac and Teddy are both having a difficult time coming to grips with entering the next phases in their lives, they are pit against one another and what each represents. For Teddy and his brothers, Mac is the killer of all things fun, and he might as well be one of their parents. For Mac, Teddy represents a lifestyle no longer accessible to him, and living next to them is a constant reminder to Mac that he has officially crossed over to the other side.

Rogen and Goldberg loved the idea of casting Efron as Teddy, so they reached out to the performer. A fan of Rogen's style of comedy, Efron was excited about the possibility of doing a project together. He shares: "Seth is a comic genius, so when he called me to ask about meeting, I was stoked. I usually try not to talk about potential movies-I'm superstitious that way-but I was too excited about this. I was on the phone with my mom, dad, brother and friends before I even heard the pitch."

During the performers' initial conversations, it was clear that the pairing for the playfully antagonistic story line was spot-on. "Seeing the two sitting on opposite sides of the table, it was immediately clear that the movie was going to work," says Cohen. "To have Seth and Zac at odds with each other is inherently funny."

The sentiment was shared, and Efron signed on for the project on the spot. Remembers Rogen: "Zac loved it and said 'Yes' in the room. We were super psyched."

Weaver knows that there's just something about Efron that makes him the "ultimate youthful male." The producer shares: "Zac has a positivity to him that's something all guys wish they could have. It's like the 'thing' you hear Tom Cruise has, and Zac certainly brought that to the table here."

Throughout the development process, Teddy morphed from a character who was completely unlikable to a more relatable and charming character. "As the script evolved, we realized that Teddy's motivation comes from feeling that this brotherhood that's gone on for generations is being threatened," shares Efron. "Throughout the film, there are moments when you realize that he's actually a nice guy who is motivated purely by his belief in this family he's created. Yes, he does some truly heinous and messed-up things, but he feels like he is fighting to preserve everything he believes in."

The performer was enthusiastic about the opportunity to break into a new genre and surprise audiences with a darker side. He offers: "I've never had the chance to be in an 'R'-rated comedy, and the only way I would dare to do it was with people that I trusted. These guys are hands down some of the best in comedy right now."

Rogen returns the words: "Zac is versatile, has good instincts and is funny. Some of his activities in the movie are what will truly be shocking for his fans. On the other side of that, there's probably a large group of people like me who will be introduced to him in a lovely way."

With Efron locked in, the producers and the writers began shopping the idea around to every major studio in town. Indeed, they were surprised by the responses. Recalls Rogen: "People were into the idea, and this is one of the few movies we've made where more than one person actually wanted to make it. This doesn't usually happen with us."

"Usually when Seth and I pitch ideas to studios, people look at us like we're crazy," explains Goldberg. "We have to persuade them and make the slow climb up the mountain of resistance, but this was an idea you just get and a story that has something for everybody. Whether you're a kid who thinks adults are losers, or you're an older person who thinks kids are dipshits, you've got something relatable to grab on to."

The next step was finding a director who had a firm grasp on this style of comedy. Rogen and Goldberg reached out to Nicholas Stoller, a filmmaker they'd previously shared an office space with on the critically acclaimed cult-classic series Undeclared. Having had success with comedies such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Stoller was the perfect choice to mine the right balance between crafting a big feature comedy and maintaining comedic integrity.

"Seth and I have done table reads with Nick, visited his sets and he's visited ours, but we've never done a movie together," explains Goldberg. "He has always seemed on a parallel track with us, but a bit further ahead in the game. Unlike a lot of our crazy ideas, Neighbors felt more commercial and we needed somebody who was edgy but understood how to entertain broader audiences."

Stoller recalls his first impression of Rogen, one he formed more than 10 years ago: "I remember Seth walking into the writer's room on Undeclared and all of us wondering who this 18-year-old kid was. He's insanely funny, and there's no ego involved. It's whatever is the funniest and best for the story that always wins out. I've wanted to work with him since then and thought this had a great comedic premise. Seth and Zac make no sense on screen together, and that alone equaled comedy."

The director offers the reasons why he connected with both of the male leads in the material: "Mac and Kelly are struggling with being new parents and are in denial that anything in their life has changed, and Teddy is simultaneously struggling with the idea that he's graduating. For me, graduating from college felt chaotic and terrifying, with all the pressure to have it all figured out. I remember feeling the same anxiety after getting married and having a child, when everything is thrown up into the air and you're expected to seamlessly redefine everything in your life."

Stoller knew it would be more interesting for the comedy to play around with the audience's allegiance constantly shifting between Mac & Kelly and Teddy. He says: "There are points in the movie where Mac and Kelly go too far, and the dirty deeds are not exclusive to the frat. Teddy and the brothers are incredibly warm and likable dudes, which is a testament to the fact that there are no true villains in the movie."

Efron appreciated Stoller's support in imbuing Teddy with redeeming qualities. He explains: "Although Teddy is in many ways the villain, we agreed that the best villains are unafraid of what anyone thinks and will do what it takes to protect what they stand for."

Stoller knows that audiences will be surprised by Efron's range in the film, one that showcases his previously unexplored comedic chops. "Zac is a proper leading man and a great foil for Seth," he commends. "He will surprise people with how funny he is. I think that girls have been waiting for a movie with Zac that they can drag their boyfriends to...with Seth and plenty of dick jokes."

With the director in place, the team began fine-tuning the script and researching the colorful fraternity culture, one that they didn't aim to mock, but rather explore. As self-proclaimed comedy nerds, many of the filmmakers had no personal experience with Greek life outside of classic movies. "My knowledge was mostly through movies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds and Old School," explains Rogen. "I did co-write a few episodes of Undeclared about fraternities, but my exposure was pretty limited."

When talking to their friends about their experiences with the hazing process, the writers didn't anticipate just how dark some of the stories were. "Some of the stuff that our friends told us was truly shocking," tells O'Brien. "Dark stuff that we couldn't put in the movie and some of the most horrifying things we've ever heard."

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