CS Interview: Bill Burr on Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island
Just in time for the film’s Blu-ray and full digital release, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with comedian and star Bill Burr to discuss his role in Judd Apatow’s acclaimed dramedy The King of Staten Island as well as getting to work with co-writer/star Pete Davidson and the improvisational nature on set. Click here to rent or purchase The King of Staten island!
Burr may have had steady work in supporting roles in the Daddy’s Home franchise and as co-creator and star of Netflix’s acclaimed animated dramedy F is for Family, but when he was approached with King of Staten Island, the 52-year-old comedian jokes that his “lack of offers on other movies” and that when “Judd Apatow comes to you and says, ‘Do you want to do a movie?’ you say, ‘Yes.'” Though he’s performed in the dramatic genre before, and laughs as he says having “more lines, more stuff to memorize” was his crutch, Burr found his biggest challenge for the film came in the form of the “romantic storyline” as it was something he’s never done before on camera, especially with “an actor as good as Marisa Tomei.”
“Of all the great movies he’s had, this is one of his strongest movies, I feel, maybe I’m a little biased but I was thrilled to be a part of it,” Burr expressed. “I was very apprehensive about being able to come across believable and all that. I had this anxiety up until when we had to do it and then I was just in my head going, ‘Alright, you’re married, okay? So you’ve done this, you’ve experienced all of this.’ What’s funny is I would’ve had less anxiety about playing a heroin addict and I’ve never done heroin, so I just had to say to myself, like ‘Dude you’re married, you’ve been smitten, you’ve fallen in love, there’s nothing foreign in this story, you’ve just never done it on film, so just whatever it is, think of how it was in your life and add some rays to it,’ so that’s what I did.”
Burr found part of his anxiety was eased through building his chemistry with his Oscar-winning co-star, noting she was “super easy to work with” and likening the experience to “playing hockey with somebody and they just pass it on the tape, all you do is flick your wrist and it’s in the net.”
“It’s just like one of those things where it’s like when you play in a band and, you know, if the drummer’s great everybody can relax and have a good time, it was just one of those deals where she’s such a rock,” Burr stated. “Everything she’s in just holds that weight of reality, I don’t know how to put it, she just has it down. She gets up there, she knows what she’s doing, it was very inspiring to be around.”
Given both Burr and lead Davidson are known in the stand-up world as much as they are on-screen, it comes as no surprise that “most of the film” sees the duo, along with the rest of the cast, improvise their scenes in a fashion “way more Larry David than David Mamet” and that a lot of their chemistry came from trying out a few takes together before figuring each other’s rhythm.
“I had to see how he worked and he had to see how I worked and we figured it out pretty quickly,” Burr explained. “My first day on the movie was when I met Marisa and Pete and I had the big screaming and yelling thing. It’s just one of those things where it’s different than standup in that I don’t have to think about anybody’s rhythm because it’s just me and with acting, it’s all of a sudden all about listening. I guess in comedy it’s about listening to the crowd and they’ll sort of let you know when to speed up or slow down, you can kind of feel their vibe, and I had to learn that with acting and everything. When I got across from Pete, I had to do a couple takes to be like, ‘Oh okay.’ There’s so much improv going along that you couldn’t really be in your head, you were just reacting to what was going on, so I think that’s why some of those scenes turned out the way they did.”
Though the shoot offered plenty of moments for him to improvise and he came up with some fun moments, especially stepping back in the shoes of a blue-collar worker, Burr found one of his favorite moments of improv came from his first scene with Tomei.
“I loved the way Marisa yelled, ‘Scott,’ in that first scene we did when we had the confrontation,” Burr recalled. “There was something about the way she did it you could just see how many times this poor woman has had to deal with the behavior of her son and I could tell, the way she did it made me feel like she believed what I was saying [laughs]. It wasn’t going to be one of these new-age parents defending her son, I have to be honest with you, at least three takes I laughed when she did it, it just struck me as really funny. With the firehouse, everybody that was in that scene, Don Lombardozzi, Jimmy Tatro, Steve Buscemi, John Sorrentino, Mario, Giselle, Hank, I mean it’s a year later and I still remember everybody’s name, let’s put it that way. Everybody there just really made me laugh, it was great, the casting was great, there were four people that were actually firefighters and Steve Buscemi was a firefighter before he was an actor and I felt like myself, Dom and Jimmy all had blue-collar jobs. All blue-collar jobs, so much of it is comedy because the job is difficult, you’re giving each other shit to make the time go by as you’re all working together. I used to do like construction grunt work, I lasted a couple weeks doing that, I worked in warehousing, I did landscaping, all of those that just on hot days are just brutal jobs, unless the warehouse is air-conditioned, then it’s alright. The only way to get through it is just to give each other constant shit, so there was a lot of that. There was so much of that in the movie, I can’t remember it all, but I think there’s going to be a bunch of extras on the DVD or Blu-ray or whatever they call it now [laughs], but you’ll hopefully see all the fun that we had making this movie.”
Like many other films this year, the film saw a shift from a theatrical release to a premium VOD and digital debut due to world events and while he does note that it was “definitely a buzzkill” not to be able to hold a proper premiere for the movie, he realized that “what was going on in the world was so much bigger” than it.
“If you can remember back to when they were saying, ‘Everybody has to stay home, there’s a virus,’ you just all of a sudden felt like you were in a Tom Cruise or a Will Smith movie, but it was real, I was more concerned about my parents are older, my in-laws are older, I was concerned for people that it seemed to be affecting,” Burr expressed. “I was kind of thinking that, selfishly I really wanted to go, we were going to go to Austin for the film festival there, I just really wanted to see and hang out with all of the cast one more time, smoke some cigars or whatever we were going to do, give each other shit and have a good time.”
Theatrical release or digital proved not to matter with critics and audiences alike as it went on to receive rave reviews from both and was the most rented film across multiple platforms in its debut weekend and remained in the top five of rented titles after a month of release, and in looking at the acclaim it received, Burr found it to be a “real thrill.”
“I read a few of them, always with one eye closed because no matter how nice it was, they always seem to trash you in the end, but it seemed to be some of the nicest stuff about anything that I’ve ever been involved in,” Burr warmly stated. “We all threw away a whole summer, so at least people liked what you did. I’ve done a few where they were really good movies, but these superhero movies can just knock out a smaller movie and you just start thinking about all of the time everybody spent working on it and editing it and writing it and all that for it to not come out and have people react to it the way you want them to, it really makes you appreciate when something works the way this Judd movie did, but it’s Judd Apatow. It just seems like that’s what happen with his movies. [In old-fashioned advertising voice] ‘He’s a hit maker, see, he’s a hit maker!’”
While Burr may have been born and raised in Canton, Massachusetts, part of the area of Greater Boston, he doesn’t hold the same kind of rivalry animosity the two cities hold with each other given he “lived in New York for 10 years,” having moved out of his hometown around 1995 and even laughing as he notes that he hasn’t been back to Boston long enough that “there’s sections where I get lost in now because they’ve knocked things down and put things up I don’t even recognize.”
“They were still in the middle of The Big Dig when I left, so I still get a little lost going to Logan Airport, unless I take the Callahan Tunnel,” Burr described. “I can’t believe it, I left Boston 25 years ago come next month and I’ve spent 27 years there, 25 not there, and I’ve spent most of my time since I’ve left either in New York or Los Angeles, so it wasn’t hard. I know there’s the sports rivalry and everything, but I love the Tri-State area, I love New England, I like Philly and Pittsburgh, Buffalo, all of that stuff. Wherever I go I can just get to the vibe and have a good time, find out where the food spots are, where you can hang out, so it’s nice. You don’t fight it, because the first time I lived here in LA I was trying to do east coast shit out here because I thought people would think that was interesting, but I didn’t realize that that was like the stereotype. I would say some of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen are out here, not some of those newer, stupid ones they’re building, but just the old Hollywood ones, those Mediterranean ones, the Spanish tiles, you just can’t get that back east for whatever reason. Some of the food out here is just incredible, the burgers, the Thai food, the Mexican food, is all crazy good. Then I go back east, I go Italian, you just got to know how to eat and what to do wherever you go and you can keep that level of good time. Tell that to a New Yorker sometime, though, because everywhere they go, every city they go to the first thing they do is, ‘Look at this skyline, they don’t have as many buildings as we do,’ then they just start shitting on the place and everybody there is just not having a good time, it’s like ‘There’s a good time to be had here.’ New Yorkers are the most fascinating people where it comes to that is they have such a small town mentality.”
The King of Staten Island is Pete Davidson’s semi-autobiographical film which follows his character Scott, who has been a case of arrested development ever since his firefighter father died when he was seven. He’s now reached his mid-20s having achieved little, chasing a dream of becoming a tattoo artist that seems far out of reach. As his ambitious younger sister (Maude Apatow, HBO’s Euphoria) heads off to college, Scott is still living with his exhausted ER nurse mother (Oscar winner Marisa Tomei) and spends his days smoking weed, hanging with the guys—Oscar (Ricky Velez, Master of None), Igor (Moises Arias, Five Feet Apart) and Richie (Lou Wilson, TV’s The Guest Book)—and secretly hooking up with his childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley, Apple TV+’s The Morning Show).
But when his mother starts dating a loudmouth firefighter named Ray (Bill Burr, Netflix’s F Is for Family), it sets off a chain of events that will force Scott to grapple with his grief and take his first tentative steps toward moving forward in life. The film also stars Steve Buscemi as Papa, a veteran firefighter who takes Scott under his wing, and Pamela Adlon (FX’s Better Things) as Ray’s ex-wife, Gina.
The King of Staten Island is directed by Apatow (Trainwreck, Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) from a script by Apatow, Davidson and former SNL writer Dave Sirus. It is produced by Apatow for his Apatow Productions alongside Barry Mendel. Together, the duo shared producing credits on the Academy Award-nominated films The Big Sick and Bridesmaids, as well as This Is 40, Trainwreck and Funny People. The film’s executive producers are Pete Davidson, Michael Bederman and Judah Miller.
The King of Staten Island is now available to purchase on digital platforms and on Blu-ray and DVD!