Judd Apatow has a lot of projects in the works and ComingSoon.net took the opportunity to talk with him about his upcoming films, including: Drillbit Taylor, the Owen Wilson comedy opening this Friday, March 21; Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the R-rated comedy coming April 18 and starring Jason Segel and Kristen Bell; Pineapple Express, the Seth Rogen and James Franco action-comedy ; and Step Brothers, which reunites Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. He’s producing those films, and he is also producing Jack Black’s The Year One and he co-wrote Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. The Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin helmer will next direct an untitled comedy that reunites him with Sandler, Rogen and his real-life wife, Leslie Mann.
Apatow spoke to us about his early years in the business when he was working as a standup comedian waiting for his big break.
CS: I understand that you and Adam Sandler were roommates at one time.
Judd Apatow: That’s correct. I lived with Adam Sandler in the late ’80s. We were both working as standup comedians at the Improv in Los Angeles. We became friends and lived together until he got hired to work on “Saturday Night Live” and moved to New York.
CS: Did you think that you would ever work on a project together?
Apatow: At the time that was all we wanted to do. We would write sketches and Adam was on MTV every once in a while on a show called “Remote Control” where he would do characters. At the time, we were all trying to figure out how we were going to open a door so we could be in this business. We were always writing and scheming and trying to figure out how we were going to climb up the ladder so they would let us do standup on TV shows and make movies.
CS: When did you get your first big break and you knew that you had “made it?”
Apatow: Well, the first break in my career was when I got a job writing standup material for Tom Arnold. Then, Tom was given three HBO specials which were partially reality and partially sketches. I wrote those three specials, which were directed by Pete Segal who directed “Get Smart.” Because that went well, I was hired to write Roseanne [Barr’s] standup act with her and to co-produce her HBO special. I spent a year writing jokes with Roseanne. That was probably the biggest break of my career because suddenly I was a writer and now I was getting producer credits on some cable specials. As a result of that when Ben Stiller came up with an idea to do a sketch show I was allowed to be an executive producer on for “The Ben Stiller Show” on Fox in 1992. That was the beginning of my television writing career.
CS: I know you work with your wife Leslie Mann on some of the projects you are involved in. What is it like working with her on the set versus being together at home?
Apatow: We work very well together just because we know each other so intimately. Leslie is very courageous about her performances. She is really willing to go there and she is a blood and guts on the floor type of actress. When you add comedy into that she is a very exciting person to watch. We have a lot of fun together. I actually prefer it to real life because on the set if I’m directing her she has to listen to me. At home I’m just a castrated male like every other man. The reason I work with a lot of people over and over again is the more you know somebody, the easier it is to figure out what they can do in a movie or in a scene. That’s why it’s fun to work with Leslie or Jason Segel who was on “Freaks and Geeks” who I have known for ten years. James Franco and Seth Rogen; I have known these people for so long that it’s fun to show the nooks and crannies of their personalities that other people may not know that are there.
CS: Tell me a little bit about “Drillbit Taylor” and the cast.
Apatow: “Drillbit Taylor” is a hilarious movie that Seth Rogen wrote with Kris Brown. They both wrote for this TV show we did called “Undeclared” and Seth obviously wrote “Superbad” and also “Pineapple Express.” It’s about these kids that are being bullied and they hire a bodyguard who they think is an Army Ranger. It really turns out that he is just a homeless guy who is planning on stealing and robbing their parents’ houses. The original idea came from John Hughes who wrote a treatment of the movie but he never got around to writing it. So when Paramount said, “Hey, guys you want to write this idea that John Hughes never got around to doing?” We said “sure. We’ll take a pop at it.”
CS: Owen Wilson, who stars in “Drillbit Taylor,” is hilarious.
Apatow: He is one of my favorites of all times.
CS: How did it come about that Wilson got the part for this film?
Apatow: I worked with Owen on a movie called “The Cable Guy” in 1996. A casting director showed me some footage from “Bottle Rocket” before it came out and he was instantly one of my favorite comedy people of all time. We’ve been friends ever since. When the script was coming together I thought the perfect person to do it would be Owen. We had a blast making it. Owen is really funny with kids. He’s got this really funny attitude when he is dealing with children. He’s like your older brother who gives you a hard time.
CS: Did anything unusually funny or something out of the ordinary happen behind the scenes while working on the set?
Apatow: It was a fun movie to make because there were so many funny people in it. The villain in the movie, Danny McBride, he has another movie coming out called “The Foot Fist Way” that he and his friends made for less than 200,000 dollars. That is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. I saw that movie and thought we had to get him in this. Danny is a great improviser and a real character. It was fun to work with him. We also had Ian Roberts who was in “Talladega Nights.” My wife Leslie Mann plays this teacher and she doesn’t realize that he is homeless because he is pretending to be a teacher and she falls in love with him.
It’s really fun working with kids because they are hilarious. They get a movie and it’s a job, but it’s also their lives–like they go to school on the set every day. They get in the same fights that they would if it was a real school. So while you are making a movie you also have all of the funny kind of politics of all of the kids dealing with each other.
Troy (Gentile) who plays Ryan is hysterical. He is from a generation that grew up on Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Adam Sandler, and Vince Vaughn. It’s funny to see kids who are influenced by the people who are from my generation. He’s a young kid who already has all the moves and is very skilled and funny. He played young Jack Black in “Nacho Libre,” and in the “Tenacious D” movie.
CS: Moving on to the film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” what was it like working on that set?
Apatow: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was a movie written by Jason Segel who was one of the stars on “Knocked Up” and “Freaks and Geeks.” It’s about a guy whose girlfriend dumps him. He goes to Hawaii to get over it and she happens to be at the same resort with her new rock star boyfriend. The rock star is played by Russell Brand, who is a very famous comedian in England. His girlfriend is played by Kristen Bell from “Heroes.” He starts falling for a woman who works at the hotel played by Mila Kunis. Jason Segel really came through and wrote this hysterical script. He’s always been the kind of comedy actor that I thought is really fun to watch get beat up on. We call it a romantic disaster movie. Jonah Hill is in it and Paul Rudd and Jack McBrayer from “30 Rock” so it’s filmed with tons of really funny people. It’s a charming sweet movie.
CS: Was there one particular scene apart from the others that got you rolling with laughter?
Apatow: There are a couple of scenes of full frontal male nudity. Jason Segel is naked in a couple of scenes. When his girlfriend breaks up with him, he just gets out of the shower and he’s naked. I don’t think we’ve seen the lead in a comedy be completely naked from the front before. Jason Segel has thrown down the goblet to other comedy actors. He will get naked for his art.
CS: Tell me about another film you have in the works called “Pineapple Express?”
Apatow: “Pineapple Express” is an idea I had about ten years ago. I thought it would be funny to make a pot-action movie. Like, what if you made a stoner movie like a “Cheech and Chong” movie with action like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie? Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote the script – the same people who wrote “Superbad.” Seth stars in it with James Franco. It was directed by David Gordon Green who is a great director – way too good to do our movie. It came out great. It’s like “Superbad” with an enormous amount of violence. (Laughter) I know that’s a good formula for fun.
CS: When you get on the set with an actor what is it about them that makes you want to get to know them better?
Apatow: I like somebody that I relate to or someone that I think people would root for. That’s the most important thing; and something that makes me laugh that has some weird aspect to their personality. It’s different every single time. Segel’s comedy style is very different from Seth, but I like them both. They are fun to watch and they are both great writers.
CS: Was there an actor on the set who was hilarious while filming but tends to be serious off screen?
Apatow: James Franco was ridiculously funny when we shot that movie. I didn’t realize he is a very charming witty person; but it is still shocking how funny he is in that movie. What I think people will enjoy is that he hasn’t made a mainstream comedy, ever. You get to see this completely different side of James Franco. He was so funny it was hard for everybody else to keep up. It was refreshing and surprising. Off the set he is busy reading Herman Melville.
CS: As busy as you have been with all of those movies, you have even more irons in the fire. What’s it like working with Will Ferrell on “Step Brothers,” another project you are involved with?
Apatow: Ferrell is brilliantly funny and one of the nicest men you could ever meet. I feel like it is a privilege that I get to work with him and his partner Adam McKay, who co-writes the movies and directs. I just try to be helpful and do everything I can to support them. They have a real vision about what their comedy is and they are fun to work with because they are such gentlemen. They have such a good time. When I direct I think about their attitude because I’m a mess. I’m miserable and neurotic and trying to hide from the actors how nervous I am. They just have a great time, every day, all day. It’s healthy for me to be around them. They don’t know it but they are my therapists.
CS: Do you think your kids will get more into the comedy field and make it a career?
Apatow: Both my kids were in “Knocked Up.” They played Leslie’s kids and they are really fun to watch. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I don’t know of anyone that is more fun to watch than my own kids. I’m happy to put them in other movies just so I can be around them.