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The anti-sex symbol

Meet Hollywood's most unlikely leading man

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Seth Rogen is on his last interview of the day and he's still laughing.

Calling from a beachside hotel in Los Angeles, where he's holed up promoting his new movie Knocked Up, Rogen has an "I'll let you in on the joke" quality to him that makes him seem less like a movie star with several films in the pipeline and more like a long lost buddy.

It's no wonder audiences have taken to him so readily. Just three years ago, Rogen was billed as "Eager Cameraman" in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and this summer, he's starring opposite Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, a comedy that has earned mostly rave reviews.

The actor who appeared in two of the most quotable and culty TV shows of all time -- Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared -- is taking advantage of his hot streak.

In August, Sony is releasing Superbad, a comedy he co-wrote with Evan Goldberg when he was 13. A collaboration with Kristofer Brown -- the family film Drillbit Taylor with Owen Wilson -- is also awaiting release.

Rogen lent his tonsil power to two animated films (if you don't count his cameo in Shrek The Third): Horton Hears a Who and Kung Fu Panda. And he just finished Pineapple Express, a stoner action comedy he wrote and co-stars in alongside Freaks alum James Franco.

So, how is Rogen adapting to the whole leading man thing?

"It's weird," he says. "I'm doing all of these interviews alone now instead of being paired up with all of the other goofy guys in the movie. That's the real only difference. I almost never get recognized but, then again, I don't really go anywhere except my house."

Tell him that Knocked Up might turn him into a sex symbol and he laughs a long, from-the-gut bellow that's part "Beavis and Butt-head" and part Jolly Old St. Nick.

"Those are your words, not mine," says Rogen, 25. "I'm the anti-sex symbol. I'm the greatest birth control device in the history of the universe."

Rogen certainly delivers in Knocked Up. Conceived by the actor and mentor Judd Apatow as a follow-up to their 2005 hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the movie stars Rogen as a pot-smoking slacker who passes his time playing video games with his roommates and fast-forwarding DVDs to the dirty parts. During a club crawl with his pals, he meets an ambitious TV reporter (Heigl) out celebrating her recent promotion. They hook up, she gets pregnant and they decide not only to have the baby but to give coupledom a shot.

There's plenty of raunch. But somehow Apatow and Rogen manage to balance jokes about crowning, morning sickness and abortion -- or "shmashmortion" as the guys call it -- with a large dose of emotional truth.

"I think we do purposely try to walk that fine line," says Rogen. "Sweetness and filth just go hand and hand. You don't want too much sweetness and you don't want too much dirtiness.

"I always liked movies that had characters who behaved like me and my friends behaved but, at the same time, I liked movies that were emotionally resonant and had real-life issues to them. We just try to put those two different kinds of movies together."

Remember the chest-waxing episode in Virgin? Well, this time around, the buzz is likely to be all about a beyond-awkward scene in which Rogen tries to have sex with the pregnant Heigl.

"I was nervous I'd sweat on her, primarily," he says. "The only way I could get through it was that it was under the umbrella of comedy. You cut yourself a lot of slack when you know it's supposed to be funny. I don't know if I could do a sexy sex scene, like Antonio Banderas always has to do."

Did Rogen work out for weeks beforehand?

"Not at all," he says. "I took the exact opposite approach. I knew if this was going to be funny, I had to look like shit -- and I do. Beforehand, I would pierce doughnuts with ice cream bars."

Even though he's only 25, Rogen has a shocking amount of show biz experience. He's been performing since he was 11, when he began landing commercials in his native Vancouver. At 13, he netted a series of stand-up gigs. After high school, he moved to Los Angeles, where he appeared at The Improv and The Comedy Store.

He was 17 when Apatow happened upon Rogen's Freaks and Geeks audition tape and offered him the role of Ken Miller on NBC's critically acclaimed series.

"Hanging out was probably the best part of that show," recalls Rogen. "I felt like I was in college. It was relaxing, in some weird way. And making a TV show isn't relaxing. But I looked forward to going to work every day."

After Freaks and Geeks was cancelled during its first season, Apatow created FOX's Undeclared. He took Rogen along with him as both an actor and a writer. It only lasted a season, freeing Rogen up to appear in Donnie Darko and Anchorman and to write for Sacha Baron Cohen's Da Ali G Show.

With The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Rogen found himself in the middle of a $177 million worldwide hit. He plays Cal, the stockroom manager who tries to talk Steve Carell's innocent into finally getting a girlfriend.

"Steve and I had many discussions about how far we should go with the humor," says Rogen. "I was on the front lines of the battle to make it more filthy. Steve wasn't so sure. But I wanted all of the guys to just be like guys who work in a stereo store. They're crass and filthy and moronic. With Steve in the middle of all that, I thought it would be funny."

Although Rogen has settled down with his girlfriend of two years -- aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker Lauren Miller -- Knocked Up didn't foster thoughts of fatherhood.

"Holding all of those babies was freaky," says Rogen. "Those were, like, the first babies I've ever held in my life. I'm never the guy you ask to hold a baby. I'll drop him or cough bong smoke into his face.

"But, yeah, holding those kids made me realize how grossly unprepared I would be for being a dad. When kids hit 12, though, I'm OK with them. But, until then, it's like, `Get this thing out of my hands.'"

More to Rogen's liking were the Knocked Up scenes with his roommates Jay, Jonah, Jason and Martin, who were played by Rogen's real-life pals Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel and Martin Starr.

"We'd crack each other up all of the time and it didn't even necessarily ruin the take," says Rogen. "It was a surreal experience, though, to shoot scenes with your actual best friends who were playing your best friends and using their real names. That's as little as work can possibly feel like work, I have to say."

This article originally appeared on www.featurewell.com.

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