The old but true cliché is that behind every great man, there’s a great woman, and those words may not be truer than for the multi-talented Judd Apatow, who wrote and directed two of the funniest movies of the last decade and produced a bunch of others. ComingSoon.net still hasn’t had a chance to do the comprehensive interview with the filmmaker we’ve hoped to do, but when given the chance to talk to his wife, actress Leslie Mann, it was just too cool an opportunity to pass up.
After getting tons of laughs as Steve Carell’s too-drunk-to-drive date in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Mann took on a bigger role in Judd’s follow-up Knocked Up, playing Katherine Heigl’s sister who’s going through some marital problems with her husband Pete, played by Paul Rudd. For this one, comedy’s power couple introduced the world to their talented daughters, who stole many scenes from Rudd and Seth Rogen. As we learned, Mann’s also a really fun interview and we probably learned more about Judd’s process for making movies than if we talked to Judd himself!
ComingSoon.net: When you first read the script for “Knocked Up,” what did you think? There’s obviously a lot more family stuff in there.
Leslie Mann: I was a part of it, and we discussed a lot of it together beforehand in meetings with Paul and Seth, so nothing came as a surprise.
CS: Was having your kids act in it part of those discussions?
Mann: No, it wasn’t. I didn’t think it was a good idea, because I’d seen a lot of those E! True Hollywood Stories
CS: … and things always start to go wrong when the parents put their kids into movies?
Mann: Yeah, right… and so I didn’t think it was a good idea. What happened was Judd would ask me if they could be in the movie when I was distracted or busy, so I didn’t have the chance to really think about it, and if I said, “No”, he would try and talk me into it and go “We’ll talk about it later.” That kept happening and then a week before we started shooting, he said, “Yeah, we don’t have anybody else, so is it cool if we just use the kids?” (laughs) So he kind of manipulated me into agreeing to do it, but it turned out to be a great experience for all of us. The kids have been around a lot of these sets, and they’ve known all of these guys. All of the people in the movie and a lot of the crew members have known them since they were babies, so everyone was just really comfortable, and they ended up doing a great job. But they are not allowed to see the movie.
CS: Did Judd do a special edit for them with just their scenes?
Mann: No, they see nothing. They get nothing and like it.
CS: Did Judd use the old “I’ll put you in my movie if your mother says it’s okay” psychology on them?
Mann: There kind of is a little bit of that. He told Maude that he was thinking of putting her in the movie. She really wanted to do it and she knew I didn’t want to let her, so she was begging and pleading.
CS: The kids have some great scenes, like when Maude tells them where she thinks babies come from. Was that improvised?
Mann: She was sitting at this table and she had two cameras on her and about 40 crew members watching her. I remember watching her, and it was a very proud moment for me, because I thought, “Wow! She’s just so confident and funny.” She improvised that. Judd just said, “Talk about where babies come from,” and she did it like five different ways. She changed it up, and each time was equally as funny. She’s a great little improviser.
CS: And she hasn’t asked for any writing credit or WGA negotiations yet?
Mann: (laughs) You know what she else she did? She came up with the idea in “40-Year-Old Virgin” where my character is drinking and driving, she said, “When the drunk lady is driving, she should fall asleep at the wheel… and then fart.” So we did the falling asleep at the wheel, and then she watched it and she said, “Why didn’t you have her fart?” She was really mad that she didn’t get her button in.
CS: So you let her see that movie?
Mann: She did see it, yeah. I guess that’s okay, I don’t know. She knows it’s acting. (laughs)
CS: I saw some of the outtakes for “Knocked Up” and Iris didn’t seem to be as into the idea of being in the movie.
Mann: Yeah, well she was only three at the time, so she didn’t really care for it that much. Maude I think was more interested in doing it.
CS: Family dinners must be a lot of fun over there.
Mann: Dinner at our house? Um it’s a lot of screaming kids and being bossed around by kids, that’s what our dinners are like.
CS: A lot of the humor in your character in this and “40-Year-Old Virgin” comes from you getting mad and yelling a lot. Is it hard to put your foot down at home if Judd thinks that’s funny?
Mann: Oh, ’cause he’ll just laugh at me if I do that?
CS: Well, he does seem to play that up in the two movies and your characters are very funny whenever they yell at people.
Mann: Yeah, why is that? Next time, I want to play somebody who’s really sweet and lovable. I have a lot of people saying, “Oh, your character is not very likable” and I get kind of hurt by that, because I feel like some parts of her aren’t very likable but that’s human. Everybody’s like that, right? Everybody has that side.
CS: But that’s you acting and playing a character. That’s not the real you.
Mann: Yeah, but I love my characters, so it still hurts my feelings. (laughs)
CS: Do you get a lot of calls for other acting roles?
Mann: Yeah, I have actually a lot, but it’s hard. I have two kids, so that’s my main priority, so it has to be something that’s really great. When I first had my daughter, I thought, “Oh, what am I going to do now? How am I going to go to a Jerry Bruckheimer set and bring my kids?” That would just be so weird, so this is kind of like a perfect situation for me, because I get to bring my kids and everybody knows each other, and everybody else brings their kids, so it’s kind of scary to think about going on somebody else’s set, but I’ll figure it out.
CS: Isn’t it strange to have everyone bringing their kids to the set of an R-rated movie?
Mann: Yeah, well nobody’s allowed to swear or smoke in front of the kids.
CS: All the kids have to put their “earmuffs” on when the actors do their lines?
CS: You know, like Judd has to yell, “Earmuffs! Roll! Action!”
Mann: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, right. (laughs) Well, they weren’t in any scenes where anybody was swearing. We kept it clean while they were around.
CS: I noticed that you didn’t have any deleted scenes on the DVD. Was that because Judd knows what’s good for him and keeps everything you do in the movie?
Mann: (laughs) Uh, no, I don’t think so. I think there were deleted scenes. I just don’t think he put them on DVD. I can’t remember.
CS: What about having Paul Rudd replacing Judd as your husband? Was that also decided fairly early on?
Mann: Uh huh, that was. Judd always wanted Paul Rudd. I love working with Paul, he’s great.
CS: Some might assume that Pete is playing Judd but also that maybe parts of Ben are taken from Judd’s own persona? Do you see parts of those characters in Judd?
Mann: No, not at all. Judd is the complete opposite of the character Ben, and the complete opposite of Paul’s character. Judd is always doing everything he can to be home as much as possible and we actually like each other.
CS: Really? See, I think people see the movie and the fact that he has his whole family in it and immediately assume he’s taking parts from your own lives.
Mann: No, no, there’s situations like at the end of the movie like when the doctor goes out of town for the Bar Mitzvah in San Francisco and they end up with the doctor who is mean. That happened to us. Then like the scene where we’re fighting about the sex offenders in the neighborhood. We had that fight a couple of weeks before we started shooting. I kicked him out of the car on the way to the gynecologist’s office ’cause we had a big fight.
CS: So there is stuff that pops up from your own lives in the movies?
Mann: Yeah, but we behave differently I guess, so the situations are in there, but it’s much different.
CS: How are all of you adjusting to the success that Judd’s been having now after the cancellation of his TV shows? Does it seem like he’s somehow justified that people are finally getting his humor?
Mann: It’s the most fun ever. It’s like a dream come true. Judd has a hard time living in the moment, and is always bracing himself for bad events in the future, I guess, but we are just so excited that people like the movies, and kind of can’t believe it. It’s just so exciting, because its been a long time for both of us, but especially with Judd. He’s had a lot of, like you said, cancelled TV shows. He never looked at it in a negative way though, and it never felt like a failure. It always felt like it was a good thing, a great experience. I guess they were equally exciting though they were failed TV shows, but it’s fun to have a lot of people come up to you and say how much they love the movies and how it affected them. That’s a great thing.
CS: Also the talent he’s found over the years and the fact that he’s gotten them onto movies and found things for them to do. Any idea where that ability to find talent comes from?
Mann: It’s like having an ear for music, I think. He sees things that I think other people don’t, like Will Ferrell. When they tried to get “Anchorman” made, a lot of people turned them down, because they weren’t sure if Will could carry a movie, and the same with Seth. That was a big risk for a lot of people to take, and the list goes on, but I dunno. I think just has a good eye for that.
CS: And Jonah Hill, too.
Mann: And Jonah.
CS: I was watching some of his extras on the DVD and just some of the things he comes up with, not sure how much is improvised, but it’s amazing that Judd has found people who can do that.
Mann: And also Judd started out as a stand-up comic, so he has that skill. He does a lot of rewriting as we’re rolling, so a lot of the stuff… I don’t know if you can hear Judd screaming out lines in the background, but a lot of that is Judd rewriting as we’re rolling. He’ll yell out lines for Jonah or everyone to say. He’s too lazy to rewrite before we start shooting, so he just says it while we’re rolling, so we go through a lot of film.
CS: Did you have a lot of experience doing improv before working with Judd?
Mann: I actually did do a couple of things. I don’t know why I fell into that, but I did an independent movie called “Perfume”that isn’t good at allbut that was all improvised, and the movie “Timecode” was improvised. But as you can see from that movie, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense because it is a lot of actors just you can give them some freedom, but I think you have to have the person like Judd. He has the idea for the scene, and what he needs to accomplish within that scene, and then he kind of loosens it up and allows people to explore within that scene. Like the idea of it has to remain the same in order for it to ultimately make any sense as a movie, but you can kind of change words around. It’s not like freedom to improvise whatever you want, ’cause then the movie wouldn’t make any sense. I think that’s where being a stand-up comic comes into play. I think that really serves him and being a writer for so long. He’s just really good at punching stuff up in the moment, which is really fun for actors, too, ’cause you can’t relax into it. That becomes very boring sometimes, when you have to say the same thing over and over. This is fun, the way that Judd does it, because everybody has to stay on their toes. The energy is right there.
CS: Do you have anything else coming up that you’ll be appearing in?
Mann: I have a movie coming out called “Drillbit Taylor” with Owen Wilson, and I think that comes out in March. It’s about three boys that are being bullied in school and they go and hire a bodyguard to protect them, and it turns out he’s a homeless person. I’m a schoolteacher who works at the school that the boys go to, and Owen and I fall in love. It’s great fun.
CS: Do you expect the writers’ strike to affect your lives at all?
Mann: Everybody is talking about it and everybody’s trying to get their movies going before the strike, but who knows if that’s going to happen.
CS: With Judd producing all these other movies, does he have time to sit down and write his own stuff?
Mann: He has a lot of personal family stuff going on right now, so he’s just dealing with that and he’s not really writing right now. I don’t know when that urge will hit him. (laughs)
CS: You always make sure to be there in order to get a good part though, right?
Mann: Do I? Oh, I dunno…
CS: Or did you get it out of your system with “Knocked Up” by bringing your whole family on board?
Mann: No, I think the group of people that Judd has been working with… Someone I spoke to earlier said that Tommy Lee Jones says “The first take, the actors bring their A-Game, the second take is if they miss anything, and the third take is the director just being an a$$hole.” I think that’s kind of old school in a way, and also an attitude that none us have, and I think Judd just likes working with people who love it just as much as he does and who wants to be there. We’re all just having the best time ever and we’re all willing to do anything it takes to make it as good as we can, so I think that’s why he ends up working with the same people, because we all have the same kind of attitude, and we want to be there.
CS: Cool. So obviously, Judd won’t be working with Tommy Lee Jones any time soon…
Mann: (laughs) I don’t think that will go well.
CS: Then again, he’s Tommy Lee Jones, so I’m guessing he just reads his lines through once and it just works.
Mann: Then moves on and curses everyone out. (laughs)
Take that, Mr. Oscar-winning actor!
You can see Leslie being just as funny (mostly by yelling a lot) in Judd’s movie Knocked Up, which is now out on DVD, and you can buy the must-own Extended and Unrated 2-Disc Collector’s Edition at Amazon.com or other fine retail outlets.