Lauren Miller, a pretty and petite brunette, could have been overshadowed by her husband Seth Rogen, whose booming voice and outsize personality are familiar to fans of films such as “Knocked Up,” “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express,” where the actor turned the high-school gross-out and man-child genres and stoner humor into an art form.
“Seth is certainly funny, but in life he’s not the characters everyone thinks he is,” Miller says. “He’s not ‘on’ every second. He can be quiet. He’s not this big boisterous person and doesn’t need to be the center of attention all the time.”
Miller seems perfectly capable of holding her own. She’s even appeared in several of Rogen’s films. “I had a very small part in ‘Superbad’ and a small part in ’50/50.’ After that, I told Seth, ‘I don’t want to have small parts in your movies.’ I’m a voice in ‘Sausage Party,'” says Miller, who made an exception to voice two minor characters in the 2016 animated comedy about the sexual proclivities of supermarket groceries and their search for truth.
Now Miller is returning the favor. “Like Father,” her directorial debut, bows Friday on Netflix and stars Kristen Bell as a workaholic who’s left at the altar and decides to take her honeymoon vacation trip anyway with her estranged workaholic father, played by Kelsey Grammer. “It was lovely to be Kristen’s love interest, although that might be over-promising a bit,” Rogen says. “I’d definitely act in more things Lauren directs, if she’ll have me.”
Miller had a different career in mind when she wrote a sixth-grade essay about becoming a fashion designer. She tore through the Fashion Institute of Technology, finishing in two years. “I was an extra in a movie,” she says. “I thought, ‘what if I went to film school?'” Miller did just that at Florida State University, where she met roommate and future writing partner Katie Anne Naylon. The two wrote “For A Good Time…Call” about phone sex and female friendship based on Naylon’s experiences “in the field.”
Frustrated by auditions that were going nowhere, Miller took matters into her own hands and in 2012 produced “For a Good Time,” starring alongside Ari Graynor with Rogen playing one of the callers.
For the last few years, Miller has been working on the other side of the camera. “The ‘Like Father’ script was pitched to me in a general meeting close to six years ago,” she says. “I took a year and a half, close to two years to finish it. I started sending it to female directors, and they all said, ‘Why don’t you direct it.’
“I cast Kristen and Kelsey and got Royal Caribbean on board,” Miller says. “We spent 24 days on a cruise ship. It was crazy. It was a fun adventure. We shot in New York and went to Miami and then Hurricane Irma hit. I had 70 people with me, including the production crew. Princess Anna from ‘Frozen’ [Bell] got all 70 of us into a hotel at Disney World.
“‘Like Father’ is about the relationship between Bell and Grammer’s characters,” Miller says. “That’s what’s funny. There are some very funny father-daughter moments and jokes. It’s not autobiographical. They had a great chemistry with each other.”
Miller and Rogen also seem to have great chemistry. Waxing supportive about Miller’s performance helming “Like Father,” Rogen says, “It was great being directed by Lauren. She was clear about what she wanted, encouraging, and in general, had what I’d call an ‘impressive presence’ on set.”
There are other projects in the pipeline. “Hopefully, ‘Like Father’ is just the beginning,” Miller says. “I feel lucky to be a female director these days. We’re all the rage. My movie definitely has a female perspective. It’s finding that balance. Hopefully I’ll keep telling stories.
“As characters in movies, women haven’t always been represented as three-dimensional human beings,” Miller adds. “Everyone’s talking about [#MeToo] and #TimesUp. I feel very lucky to be a woman in Hollywood at this point because there’s such an awareness to include women and women’s stories and female storytellers. It wouldn’t have been this way two years ago.”
“Neighbors,” the popular film franchise starring Rogen and Rose Byrne as a couple who unwittingly purchase a home next door to a fraternity house “had a very male perspective until I read it,” Miller says. “I said, ‘No way.’ I was a very loud voice in making sure Rose’s character was a three-dimensional person. Now, I feel like they make an effort. Judd Apatow, [the producer, writer and director responsible for starting Rogen’s career, among others,] has a very smart, very outspoken wife, Leslie Mann. To me, it seems like Leslie’s presence makes things better.”
“Lauren’s main note was to make the couple in the movie represent a relationship that was more like ours; a couple that really loved one another, were generally on the same page, and didn’t experience that much conflict between them,” Rogen says. “At the time, for a movie, this was pretty outside the box. Marriages had almost primarily been used to create conflict in a script, and the notion of putting them on the same team was oddly revolutionary.”
Miller and Rogan met 14 years ago at a birthday party. “I remember going to the party that night in order to talk to another guy,” Miller recalls. “I talked to Seth the whole night. We went on one date to get dessert and a 16-year-old hit us on the freeway. We went spinning through three lanes of traffic. Seth’s car was totaled. A few days later, he told me his butt hurt. I went away for a week and after that, we never spent a night apart.”
The two teamed up six years ago to found Hilarity for Charity (HFC), a resource for the Millennial generation to bridge the gap in understanding Alzheimer’s disease, after Miller’s mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at 55. “It was very clear that people our age wanted an organization that was speaking to them,” Miller says. “We realized we had this opportunity.”
Friends such as Amy Schumer and Paul Rudd have appeared in variety shows hosted by Rogen, who admonishes donors to “Kick Alz in the Balls.” “Sarah Silverman and Jack Black did our first show. Aziz [Ansari] was our headliner and Bruno Mars was the musical performer,” Miller says of HFC, which has raised more than $10 million while raising awareness and accelerating progress in research and support. “Comedians are really generous, nice people who want other people to laugh at them. That’s the world we’re in.”
“Ultimately, what afflicts Lauren afflicts me as well,” Rogen says. Miller adds, “We moved my parents to Los Angeles and they now live less than five minutes away from us. We’re fortunate people who can make whatever choices we want to make. Not that I don’t get dark about it sometimes. Hilarity for Charity is one reason I can find some good in this.”
Miller has learned to deal with Rogen’s fame and fans coming up to them. “Sometimes it’s annoying, but it’s also a lovely blessing,” she says. “People say, ‘You’re awesome.’ Lately people have been coming up to us for Hilarity for Charity.'” The couple is working on a project together, but Miller would only say, “We have something that we’re slowly writing together. It’s a more personal story. I don’t trust anyone as much as I trust Seth.”