ComingSoon.net caught up with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up director Judd Apatow on the Los Angeles set of Superbad, which he produced:
CS: Why not direct “Superbad”?
Apatow: [I was] still working on “Knocked Up”… and I’ve wanted to make a movie with [director] Greg Mottola for a very long time. He directed some episodes of “Undeclared” and I loved his film “The Daytrippers” – it seemed like the perfect combination. Because we wanted this movie to be aggressively funny and dirty and foul-mouthed, but it’s also at its core supposed to be a sweet movie about two guys who are panicking because high school has ended and they’re not going to go to the same college. And I thought that Greg could really deepen the story and take it more seriously while still allowing it to be hopefully incredibly funny.
CS: This film focuses on under-age drinking, two teenagers trying to get laid, etc. What was it about this script that clicked with you?
Apatow: I read it for the first time about seven years ago. They wrote it when they were in high school, maybe even in junior high school. It definitely had that passion in it from the get go. Seth [Rogen] has always been a proponent that a movie about high school kids in which they really spoke the way high school kids speak would be something that people wanted to see. And in fact “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” was influenced by that idea. Seth always thought, “Let people talk the way they speak. Let them be dirty and people will like it if that’s how they really communicate.” So I always connected to this idea of two nerdy guys who make up for their insecurities by being very cocky and talking filth and saying disgusting things about women and their lives, but really they’re just nerds who are scared to be intimate with other people. So in a way it’s like an episode of “Freaks and Geeks” to me if there were no NBC censors.
CS: Were you worried at all because this is an R-rating that the studio was going to step in and tell you to take it down a notch?
Apatow: No because we were never willing to change the script. We’ve talked to different studios over the years about it and we were never going to soften it. It would never work if you soften it. So Sony read it and they got it and have been giant fans of it, and have seen the footage and the dailies and are happy with what it is. So we feel really supported to make this version of the movie. And movies like this are often successful. It’s actually within the world of reasons why movies like “American Pie” do well. High school kids always appreciate seeing their world reflected honestly or at least not censored.
CS: How does the title “Superbad” come into play in the film?
Apatow: I think it’s just meant to be funny because they’re so obviously not. They’re so uncool it’s funny to have a really cool title.
CS: Can you talk about the cast?
Apatow: Well, I’ve obviously been on the Jonah [Hill] train for a while. We saw him for the first time when he auditioned for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” And he was only supposed to have one line, but on the day we shot it we had a lot of extra time for some reason so we thought, “Oh, it’ll be funny to force him to improvise with Catherine Keener for a couple of hours.” So just to make him uncomfortable we made him improvise with her for a long time, and none of it was ever in the movie. And then at the very last test preview, we chucked in a minute of Jonah giving Catherine Keener a hard time and it got such big laughs that we left it in. And then he plays one of Seth’s best friends in “Knocked Up” and did an amazing job. So one day we were on the set of “Knocked Up” and we were saying, “Oh, man. We just can’t find anybody to play this character. And nobody plays the character of Seth better than Seth, but Seth’s too old.” We were getting really frustrated. And we thought, “Are we going to have to settle on someone who isn’t as good.” And I just turned and I saw Jonah there. And I had never considered Jonah because I wanted the people who played these parts to look much younger. I thought, “Maybe we should even hire 15-year-olds to play 17 and 18, and that would be the joke.” But on that day, I turned and saw Jonah and said, “Jonah. You just got cast in ‘Superbad.’ Go in my trailer. Take a scene. Read it in front of a camera and I’m going to go get you approved.” And then he did and I watched it and thought, “Yes, my instinct was correct.” And that’s how he got the part. And we had known for a while that we wanted Michael Cera. He read and he was so funny, but no one was as good as Michael and it was clear that no one could keep up with him.
CS: How did you manage to juggle “Superbad” and “Knocked Up”?
Apatow: It hasn’t been hard to juggle because we’ve worked on the script for so many years that the script is in really good shape. But we’ve done table reads a few times and the last table read went so well that it made me think, “Well, we have a good script. We have the right cast. We have a great director. Unless something goes terribly wrong, there’s actually not much for me to do until we get into post and editing. So I pop by here and there, and it’s always going well and then I go home. It’s not looking good because of me.
CS: You’ve made a name for yourself with these outrageous comedies. Do you have any interest in making other kinds of films?
Apatow: I don’t know. I think you change your mind about what you want to do all the time. I wrote a kids movie once one of those CGI movies eight years ago. And I thought it was really good, but nobody liked it. So I turned away from that genre. But no, I think every movie is its own thing. We’re shooting a movie right now that Seth [Rogen] wrote with Kris Brown who was a writer on “Undeclared” called “Drillbit Taylor.” It’s about three kids who are getting bullied at school so they try to hire a bodyguard. And they hire this guy, Drillbit Taylor, who they think is an Army Ranger, Black Ops type of guy when in fact he’s just a homeless guy from Santa Monica. And that’s a family friendly movie. It’s more along the “School of Rock” tone. It’s Owen Wilson and that’s been fun to work on. So everything isn’t filth; some of it is only minimally filthy.
CS: How about reuniting with Will Ferrell?
Apatow: Yeah, I’m working with Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. They are writing a movie for Will and John C. Reilly called “Step Brothers,” which we’re hoping to shoot in July or August. So that’ll be the next Will Ferrell/Adam McKay collaboration. I don’t know how they’re describing it, but it’s basically about Will and John becoming stepbrothers later in life. I think everyone noticed that John and Will had a special chemistry [in “Talladega Nights”] and so Will and Adam and John came up with this idea together. So that’ll be fun. And there are no cars, so I don’t have to worry about cars. That’ll make things easier. I think they said, “Let’s do something again but without dangerous scary cars.”
CS: So no rest for you then?
Apatow: It’s not that I don’t want to rest, but as my wife always reminds me there’s probably a very small window where anybody wants to see what I want to do. Because the window might be right now and it could end in three months. There’s plenty of writers from “The Munsters” who thought it would never end. So we’re striking while the iron’s hot because it could end at any minute.