Judd Apatow walked in the room and smiled devilishly as he pecked away at his smart phone.
“Wanna see a funny tweet I just made?” he asked me before dropping down on the hotel suite couch and tilting his phone towards me. The message showed a photo of the 45-year-old filmmaker standing on a chair next to “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross and a caption remarking that she was “much shorter than I expected.”
“I’m proud of my joke,” he said with a laugh. “I won’t lie to you.”
Apatow is exactly like you’d hope he’d be – personable, talkative, intelligent and funny, with just the slightest hint of awkwardness. In short, the man behind nearly every great comedy film of the last decade (“Anchorman,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Superbad,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Step Brothers,” “Pineapple Express,” “Bridesmaids”) is as relatively normal and removed from the carefully coordinated shellac of Hollywood as the goofballs you watch football with each Sunday.
The director’s latest film, “This Is 40,” is his most personal film to date, and reflects the “regular Joe” aspects of his life as a working husband and father. Leslie Mann (Judd’s real-life wife) and Paul Rudd reprise their “Knocked Up” role as sometimes-happily-married couple Debbie and Pete, while Maude and Iris Apatow (Judd’s real-life kids) reprise the roles of their daughters. In the film, Debbie’s 40th birthday helps expose the ceaseless problems in her marriage to Pete, while the couple’s quickly maturing kids only add fuel to the flames.
The movie co-stars Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow and Megan Fox, who is surprisingly funny as Debbie’s employee Desi, who allows her boss to explore the firmness of her youthful physique. “Knocked Up” characters Ben (Seth Rogen) and Alison (Katherine Heigl) do not appear.
Keep reading for my full interview with Judd Apatow, where we discuss getting old, accepting Bieber, marrying twice and making 100 episodes of everything.
David Onda: First of all, it takes a real evil genius to figure out a way to get your wife on camera groping Megan Fox.
Judd Apatow: Exactly. The whole movie was just an excuse to have my wife feel her breasts. We saw Megan Fox on “Saturday Night Live” a few years ago and she was so funny. And Leslie and I said, “I think we should work with her.” She’s hilarious, and you can tell there’s a whole interesting side to her personality that she probably doesn’t get a chance to show off.
Onda: Why was “This Is 40” a story you wanted to tell?
Apatow: There’s an old saying that sometimes you write the movie to figure out why you wrote the movie, and this felt like that. I just had an instinct to write about family. And I loved the idea of working with my family, because when you see movies about families, you usually can tell they don’t really know each other. And I thought, “Wow, this is a rare opportunity to make something that’s really personal and intimate.” When you see the characters looking at each other, you can tell they love each other. Even though they wanna kill each other, you really feel the love they have for each other. And that had never been done before. In some ways it was a reckless act, because if the movie was terrible, it’s just a world-wide humiliation for your family. So, thank god it came out well, because it could have been a disaster.
Onda: It says a lot about Paul Rudd that you chose him to be the stand-in for you in this movie family.
Apatow: In a way, his character becomes a bizarre morph of me and him. All of our worst qualities combined. But when I’m writing, I’ll call him and say, “Here’s what I’m thinking about. How are you and your wife doing these days? Are you getting along? What obstacles are you facing?” So Paul and Leslie are part of the process from the very beginning of the writing – they’re pitching ideas for moments and scenes as well.
Onda: Leslie just turned 40 – she just doesn’t seem like the kind of person that would be insecure about her age.
Apatow: I think she does have a lot of issues with aging. Most of it has to do with children. Our kids are now getting older and suddenly they need less and they don’t want to hang out with you as much, and that gives you kind of a nervous breakdown. And then you realize, “Oh, one day these kids are gonna leave and I’m gonna be stuck with Judd.” That’s not a great feeling. “I’ve gotta spend the rest of my life with him without the kids?”
Watch Judd have Maude & Iris vaccinated in ’This Is 40′ below
Onda: It’s been fun watching Maude and Iris grow up on the screen, and they’re really great in this. What surprised you most about them as actors?
Apatow: Iris is really funny. We shot this movie when she was 8. She’s 10 now. And she is riotously funny. Every day I see her figure out a new way to be insightful and hilarious. But she also has kind of a relaxed energy, where Maude is intense and emotional and a little more neurotic in her sense of humor. It was fun to see Maude be able to play really difficult scenes, emotional scenes where she has to cry and be enraged and she finds a way to do it and still hold the humor as well. It’s been interesting, because in the last year she went on Twitter and she’s about to hit 100,000 Twitter followers. And that’s not because she’s related to me and Leslie – she’s just really funny and has an original take on what it’s like to be 14 years old. At first we thought, “Is this a bad thing? Are there weirdos who are gonna be trying to talk to her on Twitter?” But it’s actually taught her how to just block people who aren’t cool and how to express herself in a positive way. She’s found her voice on Twitter.
Onda: I knew she was becoming famous when I saw her suggested as the next girlfriend for Justin Bieber.
Apatow: I know! She sent that to me.
Onda: That’s every father’s dream.
Apatow: We’ll accept him. We’ll accept him into our family. We liked him in the Justin Bieber movie, we’ve decided he’s a good man, and he’s welcome next Thanksgiving.
Onda: In one scene, Pete and Debbie discuss how they’d kill each other. Have you and Leslie ever had this discussion?
Apatow: No, that scene came from Paul Rudd. That was his idea. And whenever I tell anyone about that scene, or when people see the movie, they always say, “I think that all the time! What would life be like if my spouse wasn’t here?” No matter how much you love being married, there is a part of you that thinks, “I wonder what freedom would be like?” And so you have to let out that steam. There was a really long version of that scene… where they talked about what their second wives would be like, and how all the best marriages are second wives – like Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett. That’s second wives! It always works better the second time
Onda: Which line from your movies do college kids scream at you on the street?
Apatow: Well, to Leslie, people are always asking her if she wants some Freeench toast. That’s probably the main one that we get. They don’t really quote too much back at me. A lot of people quoted “Knocked Up” to us. Like, to Leslie, there’s a lot of people who would say, “Doorman, doorman, doorman!”
Onda: What has surprised you the most about your 40s?
Apatow: Well, I’m almost halfway through with them. I’m just always surprised that it doesn’t get that much easier to communicate. You would think that you get to a certain age and you’ve had every fight there is to have, and then at some point you never fight again. But you find a way to keep having the same fight over and over again for the rest of your life.
Onda: Can we expect a “This Is 50”?
Apatow: I would do it in a second. I love sequels. I like television. To me, there’s supposed to be 100 episodes of everything. I don’t want one episode of “Sopranos.” I want as many as they will make, over as many years as possible. There’s nothing better than how all the characters change during all of the seasons of “The Wire.” So I definitely would do it, if I came up with a good idea. Or a movie about Ben and Alison. Who knows.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.