Sony Altering Kim Jong Un Assassination Film 'The Interview' (Exclusive)

Seth Rogen The Interview - H 2014
Ed Araquel/CTMG, Inc.

Seth Rogen The Interview - H 2014

Military buttons disappear and face-melting could be cut as the Japan-owned studio preps the Seth Rogen comedy

This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Sony Pictures is pulling out all the stops to keep its Seth Rogen-James Franco North Korea-set comedy The Interview from igniting a tinderbox.

Sources say the studio is digitally altering thousands of buttons worn by characters in the film — which on Aug. 8 was pushed from October to a prime Dec. 25 release — because they depict the actual hardware worn by the North Korean military to honor the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, 31, and his late father, Kim Jong Il (showcasing military decorations would be considered blasphemous to the nuclear-armed nation).

The film, about a pair of TV journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean despot, has become a hot potato for the studio, which is owned by Japan's Sony Corp. (the country recently has taken steps to ease tensions with its enemy to the West after decades of icy relations). Sources say the studio is considering cutting a scene in which the face of Kim Jong Un (played by Randall Park) is melted off graphically in slow motion. Although studio sources insist that Sony Japan isn't exerting pressure, the move comes in the wake of provocative comments from Pyongyang that the film's concept "shows the desperation of the U.S. government and American society." (Directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg are in fact Canadians.) An unofficial spokesperson for the rogue nation took issue with the satirical depiction of the assassination of a sitting world leader and on July 17 asked President Barack Obama to halt the film's release.

It is unlikely that North Korea is just now catching wind of the film's hot-button storyline given that THR first wrote about The Interview and its plot in March 2013 (Dan Sterling wrote the screenplay). What's more likely irking Kim Jong Un — a noted film buff, like his father — is the use of the military hardware, which can be seen in the film's first trailer released in June.

A source close to Sony's decision-making says the move to alter the hardware was precipitated by "clearance issues," particularly because it involves a living person, Kim Jong Un. As for the face-melting scene, this person says the filmmakers are just trying to gauge whether it's funny. After a Pyongyang rep said Kim Jong Un likely will watch Interview, Rogen, who has otherwise stayed out of the controversy, tweeted, "I hope he likes it!!"

Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27