Judd Apatow: interview
He wrote and directed ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ and ‘Knocked Up’. He co-scripted ‘Pineapple Express’. He produced ‘Anchorman’ and ‘Superbad’. Now Judd Apatow talks to Tom Huddleston on the release of his latest, ‘Funny People’
Judd Apatow is the most successful writer-producer-director in American comedy, one of the most trusted names in Hollywood. After the ‘40-Year-Old Virgin’ and ‘Knocked Up’, he’s now turning a little bit serious with ‘Funny People’, an intimate look at the lives, loves and neuroses of a pair of comics, played by long-time Apatow associates Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen.
How does it feel to be the reigning king of Hollywood comedy?
‘I’m glad I’m getting a chance to make the films I want to make. I’ve had a good time throughout my career, mainly because I’ve been allowed to keep working. That’s all that matters. The better I do, the more freedom I get. When people trust you, you can do better work and take more chances.’
You started out in the early ’90s with ‘The Ben Stiller Show’. Do you think the fact that you made a lot of contacts early on is one of the reasons for your success?
‘When I started out it was the end of the stand-up craze in America. There were an enormous number of stand-up TV shows, and the number of clubs had ballooned out of control. But there was a lot of talent and I met a lot of people who went on to be very successful.
‘It was a very vital time. When I lived with Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider lived across the street and at night I used to write sketches for Jim Carrey. He’d come to my house and pay me out of his own pocket. So it was a really fun time. It’s rare to meet people who are talented, hilarious and nice to be around. When I met Seth Rogen, I thought, “This guy is a big comedy star, and he doesn’t even know it yet.” It’s like when they find the kid in Tibet who doesn’t know he’s the new Dalai Lama.’
‘Ben Stiller’ was cancelled; your TV shows ‘Freaks and Geeks’ and ‘Undeclared’ were cancelled. Did you ever feel cursed?
‘I didn’t think I was cursed, but I thought maybe my sensibility wasn’t commercial and never would be. But then I came on as a producer for “Anchorman”, and when that worked, the door squeaked open just enough for me to make “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”. That convinced the studios you could hire people who aren’t famous to star in mainstream comedies, which was always my intention.’
Were ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ and ‘Knocked Up’ reacting against the laziness of comedy writing in Hollywood?
‘I was just doing what I learned on “The Larry Sanders Show”, which is write about what you care about and be as truthful as you can. I try to make sure that whatever I do, even if it’s a really silly comedy, the people making it are obsessed with it. And it’s opened the door for a lot of people who would not otherwise be allowed to make movies.
'I always hated it when people said that the stars of TV and movies should be handsome, popular guys. The history of comedy is full of guys like Buster Keaton and Jerry Lewis. Who wants to watch a handsome guy who’s smart? There’s nothing funny in that.’
Katherine Heigl said some harsh things about the attitude towards women in ‘Knocked Up’. Did those criticisms hit home?
‘I think she probably did ten hours of interviews for Vanity Fair, and one sentence was pulled out of context. And I think some people misinterpret showing immature behaviour in a movie. “Knocked Up” was supposed to be sexist in the first half: it’s about a guy who doesn’t understand women. To me it couldn’t be more obvious. But I don’t think about it when I’m writing because I know where my heart is, I know what my intentions are, and if you do anything interesting at all there are people who will misinterpret it.’
Was ‘Funny People’ an attempt to get even more personal?
‘I tried to make a film that contained everything that was important to me. Adam was one of my closest friends, Seth and Jonah [Hill] and a lot of people I’ve been working with are in the movie. There’s footage of Adam and Leslie [Mann, Apatow’s wife] from early in their careers. I just thought: This is something I want to make a film about, and this is the moment where I’ll be allowed to do it. I think the audience hungers for movies by directors who care deeply about the subject matter, whether it’s dramatic and personal or the dumbest thing ever. No one has cared more about a movie than Adam Mackay and Will Ferrell cared about “Anchorman”. It doesn’t have to be a movie that explores mortality through the eyes of comics.’
What does the future hold?
‘I’m producing a movie with Russell Brand and Jonah Hill called “Get Him to the Greek”. We’ve been working with Russell for the last few years, we’ve had a great time with him. He’s a real gentleman, as odd as that may sound. It’s been a blast.’
Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston
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