Judd Apatow’s films—The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People—feature emotionally immature men forced to grow up after confronting sex, responsibility, and death. Of all Apatow’s movies, This is 40 may be his most personal; it stars his wife, Leslie Mann, their two daughters, and one of his long-time heroes, Albert Brooks. Apatow thinks of each movie he makes as a letter, telling him something he needs to know about how better to live life.
Alec Baldwin: I’m Alec Baldwin and you’re listening to Here’s The Thing from WNYC radio. Judd Apatow’s films include "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," and "Funny People," all of which feature emotionally immature men forced to grow up after confronting respectively sex, responsibility, and death. While his films are not autobiographical, they all attempt to answer the same question, one that Apatow himself grapples with: ' Can you become a grown up and still enjoy your life?'
Of all Apatow’s movies, his most recent, "This is 40," which opened the weekend before Christmas may be his most personal. It stars his wife, Leslie Mann and his children, Maude and Iris, who play her kids in the movie. It’s here where Apatow’s complicated and nuanced comedic point of view collides with marriage, work, and family.
Male 1: 'This sounds horrible, but do you ever wonder what it would be like if you and your wife were separated by something bigger, like death, like her death?'
Male 2: 'I have given it a fair amount of thought.'
Male 1: 'Not any painful way, but just like a gentle floating off.'
Male 2: 'It’s gotta be peaceful. I mean this is the mother of your children.'
Male 1: 'And then the new wife would be great.'
Male 2: 'God, I can’t wait to meet my second wife. I hope she likes me better than this one.'
Alec Baldwin: Judd Apatow began studying the art of making people laugh as a kid, when he would rush home from school to watch TV from 3:30 until after midnight; "All in the Family," "Rhoda," "Mary Tyler Moore," "Taxi." On the weekend he’d transcribe the bits he heard on "Saturday Night Live."
Jerry Seinfeld: 'You’re listening to Club Comedy WKWZ in Syosset with Judd Apatow. This is Jerry Seinfeld for Judd.'
Alec Baldwin: In high school Apatow had a radio show in which he interviewed comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, and John Candy so he could learn as much as he could about their craft.
Judd Apatow: 'I’d like to talk about your type of comedy that you do. How do you describe it? It’s sort of –'
Jerry Seinfeld: 'It’s funny.'
Judd Apatow: '– observational with like a twist on it. It’s – some people just tell a joke, like an observation, and that’s it, but you add a whole new dimension on it.'
Jerry Seinfeld: 'Yeah. Well, it’s one thing to see something and I think the next step is to do something with it. Like I’m doing this routine now about this guy that was on That’s Incredible last year and caught a bullet between his teeth. It’s like, you see a thing like that and you go, ‘What the hell is that?’ A guy catches a bullet between his teeth, and now I don’t know what’s funny about that, but I think to myself, ‘There is something funny about that,’ and that’s what I like to do. Other comedians do different kinds of things, but that’s what I want to do.'
Alec Baldwin: Now 45, Apatow was arguably at the top of his game and seems to have his hand in nearly every comedic success of the last 7 years. He was a producer of "Anchorman," "Superbad," "Bridesmaids," and is currently an executive producer of the hit HBO show, "Girls." But even after the commercial and critical success he achieved, Judd Apatow still craves reassurance.
Judd Apatow: I need constant approval of my writing as I’m doing it. So I will show people the first scene, the first ten pages –
Alec Baldwin: What people?
Judd Apatow: Anybody. I will show anybody.
Alec Baldwin: The FedEx man.
Judd Apatow: I literally will send it to friends. Jake Kasdan, who directed and produced on "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" is one of the first people I show things to, but I’ll show it to the studio, ‘cause I don’t like that moment when you have a finished script and you go, ‘I wonder if they’ll like it.’ So if I send them thousands of pages over the course of two years they’re so confused that there’s not a moment of truth.
Alec Baldwin: Trying to bury them.
Judd Apatow: Exactly, and when it really gets down to it Lena Dunham and I were working on "Girls" with Jenni Konner, who runs "Girls," so that was happening parallel to me making "This is 40." So we would literally spend two hours breaking "Girls" stories and then two hours –
Alec Baldwin: Talking about your film.
Judd Apatow: – talking about "This is 40." And then near the end I’ll get the courage up to send it to like Eric Roth and James L. Brooks and Cameron Crowe.
Alec Baldwin: Now Brooks is a big influence to you?
Judd Apatow: Yeah. He’s probably the biggest influence. I think his whole approach to stories is just imprinted in my mind from my childhood watching "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Taxi." That’s how I feel like stories work, normal people with every day normal problems trying to get along, trying to make their jobs and their – the love in their life work, and his work always ends with some beautiful grace note which is always hopeful, yet realistic. And I remember them from when I was a kid how there was a "Taxi" episode where Louie Depalma was dating a blind woman and he was so in love and then she was having an operation to get her sight back and he thought, ‘She’s gonna dump me if’ –
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. When she can see.
Judd Apatow: – ‘she can see,’ and then of course she loves him and thinks he’s beautiful and as he walks out of the room he throws something in the garbage and he says, ‘I guess I gotta get a real ring.’ And I used to love how he would pull that off. So he’s very helpful, and in the middle of "This is 40," I e-mailed James brooks and I said, ‘Remind me what the movie is about again. I forgot.’
Alec Baldwin: In the writing phase?
Judd Apatow: No. While we were shooting.
Alec Baldwin: In the shooting phase?
Judd Apatow: And he sent me a long e-mail saying, ‘This is what your movie’s about.’
Alec Baldwin: So you kind of – I’ll let you say this – but it sounds to me like you swim in kind of a pool or a stream with a lot of people who make films and you’re open to their suggestions and you’re open to their ideas. If you talk to a multitude of people for their ideas, which ones do you – I mean, in the end you decide, in the end you choose?
Judd Apatow: I’ve always had faith in my ability to make that call. So I don’t mind a lot of feedback. It doesn’t confuse me if everyone says something different. I come from television and rooms of people arguing about story and my formative years were spent at "The Larry Sanders Show" where you were a great guest and I – one of the great early moments of my career was I wrote a bunch of those scenes in the episode you were in and I –
Alec Baldwin: Sure. I just saw it on TV the other day I was home. My favorite line which was when Shandling goes to the wings of the stage when I’m on the set and I’m not quoting it properly, but Rip says, ‘What’s the matter?’ He says, ‘I can’t help it. I keep seeing him having sex with my wife,’ and he says, ‘and she’s on top.’ And Rip says, ‘The lazy bastard.’
Judd Apatow: That’s right. That is – I wrote that joke.
Judd Apatow: I know I wrote that joke ‘cause I was so proud of that joke.
Alec Baldwin: I love that.
Judd Apatow: And I remember when you came in to the first day of shooting and to do the quick rehearsal and Garry was giving you shit from the second you walked in the door. He’s like, ‘Alec, you need a lozenge? You need a lozenge?’ And you said, ‘All right. That’s how it’s gonna be, Garry? That’s how it’s gonna be?’ And it’s one of the great episodes. So I think that’s –
Alec Baldwin: That was not your first job though?
Judd Apatow: My first job, I used to write jokes for comedians. I wrote jokes for Rosanne’s nightclub act for a long time.
Alec Baldwin: And why didn’t you become one? Why did you – or did you do standup periodically?
Judd Apatow: I did it for seven years. It’s all I wanted to do, but I very quickly realized I was better at creating sketches or dramatic situations to get my point across and as I straightened my knowledge just I wasn’t interesting the way my roommate Adam Sandler was or Jim Carrey. Just as a fan I knew, ‘Oh, I’m not these guys.’
Alec Baldwin: You really felt that way?
Judd Apatow: Oh, yeah. ‘Cause I –
Alec Baldwin: And were you in LA at the time?
Judd Apatow: I was in LA. I lived in North Hollywood with Sandler and –
Alec Baldwin: How long did you live with Sandler?
Judd Apatow: It was under two years and it was the most fun time ever. Every time we see each other we’re like, ‘That was the best.’ We were just so into doing standup and back then Sandler wasn’t famous. So he was really silly all the time and very obnoxious and trying to make strangers laugh. He really engaged the world for his own amusement.
Alec Baldwin: He had less to protect than he does now.
Judd Apatow: Yeah. He just loved asking – pulling people over to ask for directions in the car and doing something crazy to them. It sounds ridiculous, but he was the guy that would fart in the elevator and go, ‘Judd, come on.’
Alec Baldwin: ‘Judd.’ Yeah.
Judd Apatow: ‘We’re in an elevator,’ and that disappears when you get famous.
Alec Baldwin: Now you brought this up earlier. Well, you brought this up and I can’t say I’m glad you did, but in your movie he’s [Paul Rudd] in bed with your wife.
Judd Apatow: Yes. Yes.
Alec Baldwin: He’s in bed with his wife and to torment her he just rips off a series of well-placed – like he’s turning over cards in a game. He rips a couple of farts there, but that’s not how you live, right?
Judd Apatow: Well, that’s a complicated scene and what’s funny about that scene is they’re having a very serious conversation about their finances, which are not good, and they’re watching security camera footage trying to figure out who’s stealing from them and they see Megan Fox fooling around with someone at work. And then Leslie says, ‘At least she’s getting some,’ and his reaction after a few moments of feeling attacked is to just fart. It’s like a monkey. It’s kind of like saying, ‘Screw you,’ and Rudd did it as an improv.
Alec Baldwin: It was a statement.
Judd Apatow: It wasn’t in the script. Yeah. It wasn’t in the script and Leslie knows, ‘Okay. If anything happens off page I need to go with it,’ and she’s furious, and you see it in her eyes and she’s really genuinely disgusted and you get kind of a real sense of what marriage is like off of just a stupid –
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. Marriage is you watch security footage to see if Megan Fox is stealing money from your company and she’s banging her boyfriend on the desk and you get – your wife gets horny. You feel threatened by this, you fart on her.
Judd Apatow: Exactly. That’s how complex marriage is.
Alec Baldwin: "This is 40." Now the other question I have apropos of the movie was, so I’m thinking Rudd, it’s either the highest honor or he’s the goat because you’re lying in bed with your wife who’s made a lot of great films and funny films and you say – what’s your nickname for your wife? May I ask? Do you call her Les? Is it Les, Leslie?
Judd Apatow: Well, the funny thing is I always call her Lezlie and then she’s like, ‘Judd, my name’s Leslie. It’s not Lezlie.’
Alec Baldwin: Lesley. Lezlie.
Judd Apatow: I literally say her name wrong.
Alec Baldwin: I’m from Syosset. It’s Lezlie. Yeah. Leslie is when I’m in Cambridge now. So you’re there with her and you say to her – I’m just envisioning this scene where you look at her and you say, ‘Baby, who’s the guy that you like most wanna have sex with?’ It was like, ‘And just be honest with me. We’ve been together a while. We have two kids. It’s me. I’m making a film.’ And she says, ‘God, Paul Rudd,’ and either you cross his name off the list and go, ‘He’s never doing my film,’ or is it like you put him in or do you say to her, ‘Baby, who’s the guy that you view as like a brother? Like if you had sex scenes with him, this wouldn’t mean any – it’d be like fooling around with your brother.’ ‘Paul Rudd.’
Judd Apatow: That’s right.
Alec Baldwin: And you go, ‘Hire him.’
Judd Apatow: Yeah. She’s disgusted and that makes it okay to watch them fool around. I’m always disgusted when she fools around with anyone. I remember when we shot "The Cable Guy" she kissed Matthew Broderick and then when they parted I saw in the dailies there was like a spit string that connected them for like a foot and –
Alec Baldwin: Like a "Lady and the Tramp" moment almost.
Judd Apatow: Exactly. And so yes, I’m glad that – unless they’re lying about being disgusted by each other, ‘cause I may be the fool.
Alec Baldwin: They are lying to you. They are lying to you.
Judd Apatow: Oh, man. That’s terrible, ‘cause I know –
Alec Baldwin: ‘Cause I’ve heard that before. I’ve had – my ex-wife has got – Russell Crowe has got his tongue into her spinal fluid and she’s like, ‘No. No. It was just nothing. It’s nothing.’
Judd Apatow: Well, the day I had back surgery for a herniated disk back in the year 2000 Leslie couldn’t be there –
Alec Baldwin: Leslie.
Judd Apatow: Leslie. Sorry [laughs].
Alec Baldwin: Continue.
Judd Apatow: Leslie couldn’t be there because she was –
Alec Baldwin: Mrs. Apatow we’ll call her.
Judd Apatow: – she was shooting a scene where she was making love with Jeff Goldblum and you just know he’s all handsy in between takes -
Alec Baldwin: You know he’s just, he’s "The Fly." He’s just pushing buttons in a woman that you didn’t even know were there.
Judd Apatow: Exactly.
Alec Baldwin: What does the director, Judd Apatow, do when Leslie Mann passes?
Judd Apatow: When you know people so intimately you –
Alec Baldwin: You knew she was in?
Judd Apatow: I asked her before I write the script. I’ll say, ‘Are you comfortable doing a fictionalized version of how we feel about this time in our lives?’ And I’ll start telling her some of the story and then she starts pitching me Debbie’s point of view and scenes. A lot of the scenes in the movie are Leslie standing up for her character so it’s balanced. It’s not like I write a script and hand it to her. It is a collaboration over –
Alec Baldwin: Does she help you with – get a good woman’s perspective?
Judd Apatow: Oh, yeah. ‘Cause I have no woman’s perspective at all. This is 15 years of marriage and her explaining what I do wrong put into a movie. In "Knocked Up" there’s a line she has which we took from our life which was, ‘Just because you don’t yell, doesn’t mean you’re not mean,’ and that’s the kind of insight I would never have.
Alec Baldwin: My daughter, she goes, ‘Mommy yells at me ten times more than when you do, but when you do it it’s different,’ she says. That was my favorite.
Judd Apatow: Exactly. Yes. And also the whole idea of how I can be detached and shut down and not wanna connect with anybody and how it’s an emotional abandonment to people when you do that too much, but some people – like for me, I get just overwhelmed and I gotta numb out for a while.
Alec Baldwin: You gotta have a little Walden time.
Judd Apatow: Exactly, and sometimes it’s in the bathroom with an iPad and you have to read [The] Huffington Post.
Alec Baldwin: So those scenes when she’s coming to the bathroom and Rudd is sitting there with the – that’s you?
Judd Apatow: It is.
Alec Baldwin: Your bathroom is a sanctuary.
Judd Apatow: But she would never, ever knock on the door or open the door, but when I walk out she’ll say, ‘What were you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m going to the bathroom.’ She’s like, ‘You were tweeting,’ and I’ll say, ‘I wasn’t tweeting.’ She’s like, ‘I can see your feed.’
Alec Baldwin: ‘I was going to the bathroom and I was tweeting about it.’
Judd Apatow: Exactly.
Alec Baldwin: I go, ‘Doesn’t everyone?’
Judd Apatow: I’m marketing our movie from the toilet, but so it’s very fictionalized in the story, but the emotional things that we’re arguing about make their way into the movie.
Alec Baldwin: Now when you start a film like this and you’ve had tremendous success in the last couple of years and in movies, which is tough. Movies, in my mind, is the toughest of them all. And so you step up and you do this movie and is there a fear when you begin? Do you think to yourself, ‘Oh, God. This is the one that I’m – all the wheels are gonna fall off’? What’s your disposition when you start shooting?
Judd Apatow: I have both sides. I want to succeed ‘cause I just wanna be allowed to continue making movies. I also have a rebellious streak which is – I do have some sense of what makes a very commercial movie and I’m working partially against that. Like as the attention span of the audience gets shorter, I wanna make longer movies to say there’s something wrong with you that you can’t sit for 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Alec Baldwin: Did you deliberately do that with this film?
Judd Apatow: I deliberately do it with all of them because I feel like this is the only time we’re gonna get with these people, why do you need to rush to get home. And I like movies like "Jerry McGuire" and "Terms of Endearment" and movies that were over two hours. It takes an extra 20 minutes to explore more dimensions of people.
Alec Baldwin: And no one says anything? You’re not there with the – the studios not – ‘cause those guys, that’s pretty much the first thing out of their mouths is, ‘Judd, can we – we need 100 minutes, babe.’
Judd Apatow: Yeah, the funny thing is they’re all – I think, maybe "Knocked Up" was 2:10, so I’ve set this pace, this very slow pace. It’s funny ‘cause "The Hobbit" and all these – "Les Mis" – they’re all 2:45. They’re all like a half hour past me and I feel like, you know, my characters – someone said to me, ‘You’re basically saying these people are worth your time.’ And sometimes I watch the movie ‘cause I have to watch it hundreds of times. I think, ‘Wow. This is long. I’m really putting people through it,’ but there is a part of me that feels like, ‘Good. Experience this. This is life and it’s funny and it’s difficult and I need the time to do the full ride of that.’ So on day one, I’m both trying to figure out like marketing wise and concept wise a way to make it sell while thinking I’m sneaking some John Cassavete, Robert Altman aspect into a mainstream comedy.
Alec Baldwin: When you do a film like this as "Knocked Up" begets this film, does this film – does right away do you start thinking of other ideas whether you do them or not? Do you – like one of my favorite moments in the film is when it’s toward the end of the film and they’re at the party and the guy – the life coach is hitting on Megan.
Judd Apatow: Jason Segel. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Jason Segel is saying – what’s his character’s name? Justin?
Judd Apatow: Jason.
Alec Baldwin: Jason. He’s saying to her, you know, ‘Yes, I will, Jason,’ whatever the line is. He demands that she repeat and repeat. I thought, “Now that would be a funny character in a movie, this life coach who’s just banging everybody.”
Judd Apatow: Oh, absolutely. I think that about most of the characters, I – especially coming from TV. I love that there was "Rhoda" after "Mary Tyler Moore" or "Frasier" after "Cheers." So any time a character works I could watch it. I could watch either of the leads of "Superbad" go off on their own, Michael Cera’s character or Jonah Hill’s or the cops. Once it exists I’m more depressed that we’re not doing more stories and that’s just my whole thing. I don’t like to let go. So if someone said, ‘They’re gonna make a movie about what happened to Albert Brooks’ character from "Broadcast News,"’ I’d be the happiest man in the world.
Alec Baldwin: Had you known Brooks, had you been acquainted with him and had worked with him before you did this movie with him?
Judd Apatow: I met him in the early ‘90s when I was working at "The Larry Sanders Show." I had dinner with him a couple times with Garry and I was just in awe to be around him because his "Saturday Night Live" movies were a really big influence on everything we did at "The Ben Stiller Show" and obviously "Defending Your Life" and "Modern Romance" and "Real Life" was the –
Alec Baldwin: "Lost in America."
Judd Apatow: Yeah. It’s the template for certain type of –
Alec Baldwin: You could never say ‘nest’ and ‘egg’ in the same sentence again.
Judd Apatow: Although my daughter watched "Lost in America" for the first time the other day. She’s 15 and at the end she said to me, ‘What’s a nest egg?’ She goes – she’s like ‘I literally thought the money was in an egg.’
I was so excited to meet Albert that afterwards I went home and I wrote down every joke he said at dinner. Like I still have like the –
Alec Baldwin: The journal.
Judd Apatow: – journal entry where he’s making jokes about the Menendez case. ‘You don’t kill your parents and buy a Rolex. You don’t do that.’ So I wrote the part just for him hoping it could be good enough. I never wanna ask anyone that I look up to to be in my movie if I don’t think it could be as good as their movies. You know, I don’t want to be their crappy movie, and so that’s why I tend to work with young people ‘cause they have no –
Alec Baldwin: They don’t know better.
Judd Apatow: They don’t – I won’t be their worst movie.
Alec Baldwin: Their standards aren’t set in stone yet. No. With Brooks, when you work with people like that who are veteran, if you will, are very experienced and have had tremendous success, what’s that experience like for you as a director? Meaning do they come in and they just start riffing and are they rewriting and improvising and you just let it go? Or do you sit there and do you find a way, a politic way to say to them, ‘I’d rather confine ourselves to this, what’s on the page,’ not specifically with him, but with any of them that come in? How precious are you about what you’ve written?
Judd Apatow: Well, I’m never precious about anything other than my intention. So I know what I’m trying to accomplish with the character, but I’m very open to it morphing based on the interaction with the – with all of the actors. So with Albert obviously I’m terrified ‘cause I’m working with someone who’s clearly more talented than me. So I’m trying to figure out how to manage my idea for the story and tap him for everything that he’s worth. So I want him writing and thinking and pitching me.
I mean, I spent a year in a room trying to think of an original character that he hadn’t done before but that would still use his great comic sensibilities and then I brought him into a rehearsal and we did the scene as written, we did ideas that I had and then I just let him play and improvise and pitch me things. And obviously at the end of the day if you were to write down which of those lines are Albert’s, it becomes the majority which is the intention to give him a space where he’s comfortable enough to email me at night a better line, which he would do. The night before any scene I’d get a little email from Albert, ‘What if he said, dah, dah, dah’ and it’s always better than my joke. And as long as –
Alec Baldwin: And you’re comfortable that way?
Judd Apatow: Oh, I’m thrilled.
Alec Baldwin: ‘Cause I’m coming off of an experience, the television show I did, there was a very strident, very unbending rule that we had to shoot everything as written and there was no – you couldn’t change a word or we could do alternate takes and change things, but we had to shoot everything as written with no exceptions pretty much.
Judd Apatow: Well, I definitely start that way when we shoot. I like to do all the improv and playing primarily in the rehearsal and then when we get to the set I’ll shoot my polished version of the scene and I will get it verbatim and I make sure to get it. Then I’ll start telling them things that we all thought of during rehearsals that I didn’t put in, but that I still liked.
Alec Baldwin: How long do you rehearse?
Judd Apatow: I’ll do like a week early, like four months out from shooting and then another week like a month out and a couple of table reads in the middle. So it’s like a TV show a few times, but then I’ll let them play on the day, but it’s different in movies ‘cause you’re just shooting a third as many pages as you are with a television show. So when we did "The Larry Sanders Show" they would rehearse and let everyone goof a little bit, but on the day there was no time to goof off. If I was directing "Freaks and Geeks" I might let Jason Segel really go if I was the director, but if I wasn’t the director I would have to say, ‘You gotta get the script. I don’t have time to wonder what’s gonna happen if I’m not there.’
Alec Baldwin: How many pages would you shoot a day would you say? What was the shooting schedule? How many days on "This is 40?"
Judd Apatow: I think it was 58 and we wind up shooting 4 or 5 pages a day, but at "Larry Sanders," we shot 17 pages a day.
Alec Baldwin: [Music playing] this is Alec Baldwin and you’re listening to Here’s The Thing. Coming up more with screenwriter and movie director Judd Apatow. Here’s Tthe Thing is supported by the venture card from Capital One. What’s in your wallet?
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This is Alec Baldwin. "Forty-Year-Old Virgin" was Judd Apatow’s first major box office success. It was also the first film Apatow directed, a transition from writing that was fairly seamless.
Judd Apatow: I was producing on "Anchorman" and I hadn’t directed a film before, but I knew that Steve Carell was one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen. He was crushing so hard every day on the set that all the actors were baffled at how funny he was and he wasn’t someone that was in line to be the lead of a movie. He was just one of the great, hilarious supporting actor people and I always like – I like those guys to be the lead. I always want – I wanna see –
Alec Baldwin: Dustin Hoffman.
Judd Apatow: Yeah. Well, beyond that I wanna see George Wendt. I like seeing – I like it ‘cause that’s who I feel like. I feel like the side guy and I always wanna follow them home and so I said to Steve, ‘Do you have any ideas for movies, ‘cause you definitely could carry a movie,’ and he said ‘There was a sketch in Second City we did once that we never quite finished, which was about a poker game where they’re all telling sex stories and it’s clear that one guy has never had sex and everything he says makes no sense and he’s saying, ‘Yeah. You know like when you touch a girl’s breast it feels like a bag of sand and you go down her pants and there’s all that baby powder.
And he said, ‘So I’d love to play a 40-year-old virgin and just ‘cause I’m such a nerd and so insecure and ashamed of everything in life, I just immediately understood what he meant and that you could do something very sweet and riotously funny. So we wrote it together.
Alec Baldwin: Now so when you direct the film, how was the technical challenge for you or how has the technical aspects of it for you grown? ‘Cause it is filmmaking and are you like – do Mr. and Mrs. Apatow sit in the screening room at night and watch "Citizen Kane" and ‘There is a man.’
Judd Apatow: ‘Look at the rack focus.’
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. Do you watch scenes from films and say, ‘That’s what I want. There it is. Freeze that right there, Leslie.’
Judd Apatow: ‘Look at how he panned over that moment.’ That’s not me at all because I came from being a stand-up comedian and it was all dialogue. It wasn’t visuals. So I never tuned into that and I have no brain for the technology. So I can’t remember the lenses and what they do and –
Alec Baldwin: Even now?
Judd Apatow: Even now.
Alec Baldwin: What do you do?
Judd Apatow: I hire people who are really good like –
Alec Baldwin: You just surrender all that to other people?
Judd Apatow: Well, it’s not in total surrender ‘cause I will show them what I like and they can turn it into technology. So Phedon Papamichael who did "The Descendants" and "Sideways" shot a lot of movies. I love how they look. So I know, ‘Okay. This look will be correct,’ and then we watch movies. And I always am trying to model my work after movies like "The Last Detail," the Hal Ashby movie or "Coming Home." I like movies that feel almost like a documentary, at least for my personal directing. I want you to forget I exist and I’m trying to make it as voyeuristic as I can make it. In some ways it’s like Larry Sanders. I like that look for comedy for what I do.
Alec Baldwin: Before I came here this morning, I was sitting with my wife and she was watching Netflix ‘cause she’s – my wife is – she’s a little younger than I am, shall we say – there’s a whole library of films that she’s heard of and not seen or hasn’t even heard of. So she’s watching "The Graduate" and that’s a young Nichols. That’s an early Nichols. He’s doing the story telling with the camera and he’s telling the joke with the camera even and I just was wondering if that’s something that each film do you make do you commit more deeply to understanding how to do that or –
Judd Apatow: Well, I have a sense of if what I’m trying to do is coming across and visually I’m a little bit more of an I know it when I see it. It just feels like I need to be tight here. It feels like I need to be wide, and I’m making a lot of unconscious choices about space and tension, but I’m not sitting there story boarding it just in the moment. I kind of have a sense of this is how far away I should be from Leslie if she’s yelling at Paul.
And "The Graduate" is kind of a great example. I did a Q and A with Mike Nichols at the Museum of Modern Art recently and we were showing clips of our movies and talking about movies and then he shows that sequence where he plays the two Simon and Garfunkel songs and it’s just the greatest sequence of any movies in this genre and it is fun to try to do that, but man, no one ever did it better than him telling a story through pictures and music.
Alec Baldwin: Do you – in your film-going and your film-viewing what do you like to watch? What’s entertainment for you? Is there a TV show? I’m not talking about the ones you produce. What’s one you really admire that’s out there this season?
Judd Apatow: Well, I’m a big documentary person so I love "Searching for Sugar Man."
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. I did a screening of that on Long Island last summer. We had them come. Rodriguez came and sang.
Judd Apatow: Oh, wow.
Alec Baldwin: It was weird. It was freaky.
Judd Apatow: That – so I love beautiful documentaries. I had never seen the HBO movie that Mike Nichols did of "Angels in America," which was –
Alec Baldwin: Pacino.
Judd Apatow: – unbelievable. And I love "Mad Men." I can’t get enough of "Mad Men." I like drama that’s funny. "The Departed," those things that are – they’re all so funny.
Alec Baldwin: That can be.
Jud Apatow: Like "Goodfellas" and "King of Comedy." I’m always attracted to – for me "The Sopranos" does that better than anyone ever, ever did it.
Alec Baldwin: I was addicted to "The Sopranos."
Judd Apatow: It’s – it is a dark comedy to me when I watch it and this year I’m just catching up with everything that’s coming out. I haven’t done my "Lincoln" run, and I especially like John Riggi directed episodes of "30 Rock."
Alec Baldwin: You do?
Judd Apatow: We worked together at "The Larry Sanders Show" and I’ll watch the show and I’ll notice, ‘This is a really specifically amazingly funny episode.’
Alec Baldwin: I’m gonna miss Riggi.
Judd Apatow: And I’ll go, ‘Oh,’ you can tell. It’s like watching the Timothy Van Patten directed episodes of "The Sopranos." There are certain people on television you know their episodes are gonna be really great.
Alec Baldwin: Well, you love episodes, you love shows where even the smallest details and the most inane little things stay with you. Like I was addicted to "The Sopranos" probably from the third season on. There was a scene where Steven Van Zandt is walking outside and they’re talking about some grave mafia business, him and Jimmy, and they make a decision or Jimmy Gandolfini says he’s made up his mind to do some horrible thing. And they’re walking and they’re very grim and Steve said [laughs] – I’ll never forget – he just is walking with him for like a beat and he just turns to him and goes, ‘It’s the right thing to do, T.’ He just says the phrase, ‘It’s the right thing to do, T.’ He goes, ‘It’s the right thing to do, T.’ And probably the next year and a half I said that phase no matter what. Like it just gets in your life and in your blood and those people and the tone, the tone most of all.
Now I would imagine you still have, as some directors I know, probably the ones who have less success than you’ve had at the box office with your films as a director, they still write even when they’re not directing. Are you in a world now where you only wanna write and direct or are you still writing for hire? Are you doing both or are you purely gonna write and direct only now?
Judd Apatow: Yeah. I’m not doing any writing outside of things I might direct. I have decided to co-write a few projects with some friends who have great ideas that I’m trying to help them get there faster and I know I potentially could direct it. For the most part I’m just writing, but the way that I’m writing with other people is by being a producer on "Girls." So I’ll –
Alec Baldwin: We’re gonna interview Lena.
Judd Apatow: Yeah. She’s spectacular and really fun to collaborate with. So to be just part of the staff on that show, helping her figure out what story she wants to tell and just looking for holes in the ship, just anything that could go wrong I’m trying to anticipate and help her with. That’s very fun and gratifying and then I try to write one episode a season with her, which I learn a lot from being with someone who’s so courageous in her writing. She’s not worried if you like her. It’s pretty amazing to be around someone who is so in their moment and has so much they wanna express. I find it kind of reinvigorates my own writing and my own tapping into my thoughts.
Alec Baldwin: So do – is there an actor out there whether they’re a well-known comic performer, like Carrey and Sandler and those kinds of people who are at the top of that game, is there someone out there who you think about you’d like to work with that you haven’t worked with?
Judd Apatow: Well, I’m such a fan of so many people that if anything that becomes frustrating to me, ‘cause I think, ‘Wow. It’s taken me forever to make four movies. There’s only a couple of parts and how many things am I gonna write?’ And so usually the idea arrives and then you realize, ‘Oh, this has a good part for John Lithgow. This makes sense that he would do this,’ and it starts there, ‘cause I really – I love so many people that I – that would drive me crazy, the prospect of that dance.
Alec Baldwin: So this leads perfectly to exactly you’re probably the only person I’ve encountered based on what you just said your sprawling appreciation of all these people is – and I mean this genuinely – someone has to remake "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World." Someone has to get together, the cavalcade of stars.
Judd Apatow: I actually have thought about that, not that it would be that movie, but I have thought, ‘Can I think of a reason for all these people to exist’ –
Alec Baldwin: Get 20 of the biggest names.
Judd Apatow: Yeah. What space would they all be in? And I’ve taken in my head as far as thinking, ‘Could we make a movie for charity?’
Alec Baldwin: I kept – I wanted to do a remake of "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World," give everybody some points so if it’s gonna make a lot of money they – if we make money, they make money, but up front they collapse their fees because we’re gonna do a big piece for charity.
Judd Apatow: The only idea –
Alec Baldwin: Can we make a movie for charity?
Judd Apatow: Because that’s the only way you could do it. You couldn’t even begin to figure out the backend deals to make it possible.
Alec Baldwin: So the movie you should make is about the making of a movie for charity.
Judd Apatow: Exactly.
Alec Baldwin: Make a movie about the movie and make it for charity.
Judd Apatow: Yeah. It also you know - we have so many friends that we appreciate each other’s work, but we’re not like kids anymore and you do feel the window closing of, ‘When is there gonna be an opportunity for five or six of these guys to do something together?’
Alec Baldwin: Tell me about it.
Judd Apatow: And so they’re –
Alec Baldwin: I’m 54. How old are you now?
Judd Apatow: Forty-five.
Alec Baldwin: I’m 54. It’s like forget it.
Judd Apatow: So I – and that’s why I made "This is 40." I have these like age issues. So I try to think ahead of my friends. My friends are all 45, 50. Okay. What is the movie we would make in our 50’s? And I’ll, five years ahead begin to –
Alec Baldwin: Start fleshing it out.
Judd Apatow: – start planning.
Alec Baldwin: Your kids are in your movie. You put your own children in the movie.
Judd Apatow: That is true. Yes.
Alec Baldwin: And what effect does that have? Do your kids now – do they – they close their bedroom door and they’re like, ‘Don’t come in here without a script? Don’t talk to me.’
Judd Apatow: Well, there is a little of, ‘Daddy, why won’t you let me work for anybody else?’ and because I didn’t put them in the movie to start a career. I just wanted this idea to work and I wanted to capture a real family and have people on the screen that look like they love each other. There’s true intimacy on the screen that you cannot get –
Alec Baldwin: Both those children are your children?
Judd Apatow: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: So your elder daughter is how old?
Judd Apatow: Fifteen.
Alec Baldwin: Right. So she’s at that age where everybody – she just wants to throw a bomb on everyone. My daughter’s 17. It’s a very tough age, but your younger daughter, she’s like the sunshine coming out. The kid’s incredible. Do they wanna make movies?
Judd Apatow: Well, Iris, my ten-year-old she literally will say, ‘I don’t wanna be an actress.’ So she’s kind of cool. I think she probably wants to write and then Maude is doing a lot of things. She’s – she interviewed One Direction for Teen Vogue and her acting is so good here that I am concerned that we’ll get the call out of the blue from James Cameron to ask her to ride a magical dragon for seven months and then I have to say, ‘Maude, no. You actually’ –
Alec Baldwin: In Australia.
Judd Apatow: – yeah – ‘You have to finish school,’ and then she’ll hate me for the rest of her life. ‘I could have been in "Avatar 2" and you ruined it.’
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. ‘You said you wanted me to wait till I’m in This is 50. You’re an asshole.’
Judd Apatow: Exactly. So it’s a miscalculation based on my own greediness to capture how great they are for my movie with no forethought of how it will affect their lives, but they did really enjoy making the movie and they fought so much in the movie and in life that since the movie they’ve gotten along great. It’s almost like by playing out the drama of the ridiculousness of their sibling rivalry –
Alec Baldwin: Seeing themselves on screen.
Judd Apatow: – they had to think through like, ‘Why are we fighting? What is it about?’ And on some unconscious level they’ve gone easier on each other since we shot.
Alec Baldwin: It’s so funny because that’s the old actors tenet that gets passed on to you that every role you play perhaps embedded in that role is an opportunity for you to say good-bye to some part of yourself you don’t like.
Judd Apatow: I think that’s true. I look at every movie as a letter to myself telling me something that I need to know about how to live my life, that I’m only on some level making these movies to say, ‘Judd, pay attention. Judd, live in the moment,’ ‘cause I am a detached writer who needs to be brought into the moment and allotted –
Alec Baldwin: What did Leslie think when she saw the movie when it was finally done? What was her comment to you?
Judd Apatow: In the beginning she worried if it didn’t end happy enough and then while we were editing and now she really loves it. I kind of like that it has that question mark at the end which is it’s hard work. It’s gonna be hard work, but they love each other and it’s definitely worth it. I think that sometimes she worries that it could go slightly darker by like four percent than it needs to, where I like that question mark of, ‘We’re all struggling, but it’s okay. That’s what life is,’ and still people say I’m resolving it too much. So you can never walk that line. Some people want it so dark and some people are so pissed it’s not all jokes. So I’m always in the middle.
Alec Baldwin: Writer, director, Judd Apatow. He says he still wonders what’s left to say that he hasn’t said. Don’t worry, Judd. Turning 50 will give you more than enough for a sequel. This is Alec Baldwin. You’re listening to Here’s The Thing from WNYC Radio.