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Funny People - Judd Apatow interview

Judd Apatow, Funny People

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JUDD Apatow talks to us about finally getting to work with his former roommate Adam Sandler on Funny People and some of the inspirations behind his latest movie.

He also talks about working with rapper Eminem for a cameo and why he thinks people are disappearing from movies of late – and why that makes him sad…

Q. How long did it take to put the story together because I believe it was inspired by an incident at your own home [when a roof collapsed]?
Judd Apatow: It took a long time to figure out because I had a lot of different ideas in a notebook. One was about comedians, one was about people who get sick and get better and kind of have the nervous breakdown once they’ve got better… and then one day Adam Sandler said: “We should do one together!” And I thought: “Well, what fits that? What fits Adam?” And then I thought about combining those two.

Q: What inspired the central storyline of the life threatening illness and how would you cope if you had that situation?
Judd Apatow: Unfortunately as you get older, I’m 41-years-old, it’s not as uncommon a part of your life to be around friends and family who get seriously ill – some people have gotten better, some people have not. It was life changing to me to just be around it and see how different people coped. Some people would get sick and just plough forward, others would have life-changing changes of heart about how they were living their lives. That was something I thought hadn’t been explored in movies before.

It’s usually a simple arc in a movie… you get wisdom but you don’t see the struggle to deal with it. How quickly do you go back to your old neurotic ways when you get better was an idea I was thinking about. In my head I’m always getting sick. I feel like I’ve played it out every day of my life so I really hope I’d have as much courage as the people I’ve been around but I don’t know.

Q: Why did it take so long for you and Adam Sandler to work together?
Judd Apatow: When I lived with Adam we were 21, 22-years-old. He left to do Saturday Night Live. I tried to get a job on SNL as a writer. I kept handing in my sketches, I could never get them to read them. So then I created The Ben Stiller Show with Ben, I did work on Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer, and I wrote You Don’t Mess With The Zohan with Adam and Robert Smigel, so we were working together. I always wanted to do a movie like this, which was a personal movie that I could direct and that I had written. I didn’t want to be a director for hire. It really just took me a long time to learn how to direct and to feel up to the job.

Q: We know that certain scenes are based on the time you and the other man were room mates together, and quite a few that are fictionalised. So fess up, what’s fact and what’s fiction?
Judd Apatow: The weird thing about the movie is it’s all made up and it’s all true, it’s more truthful to my psyche than it is to actual events. There are details all over the place, the way people speak, the interaction … I licked the orange juice off the counter when I came home one day and the girl I had a crush on was talking to Adam. And there was a different girl that Adam did say if I didn’t make a move on her he would, but he didn’t. I beat him to the punch there. I dated her for four months and then she crushed my heart. So there are things like that throughout the movie.

The truthful aspect of it was how much I loved comedy and I couldn’t believe the comedians I worshipped would let me hang out with them, let me write for them. Most of those people were incredibly kind to me, so it took me a little time to fabricate a character that would be complicated enough for a movie because I had a really good experience with comedians who mentored me.

Q: Did you write this with a lot of the cast in mind?
Judd Apatow: I knew who everybody was except for Eric Bana. For a while I thought I could play that part bcause I thought I’m just unlikeable enough that you’d never root for Leslie [Mann] to stay with me… Then I realised the character needed to be physically imposing, so you felt like he could kill Adam, which I can’t. Our producer, Barry Mendel, produced Munich, and one day we were taking about it and he said maybe Eric Bana would do this… He’s a really hilarious guy. He hasn’t done comedy in a long time. He’s actually as funny as anybody around, but for whatever reason he’s just done more serious work.

Q. The film’s packed with some memorable cameos. But one of the best is the sequence featuring Eminem and Ray Romano. How did that come about and what was it like to film?
Judd Apatow: I was scared to talk to him because I’m a small Jewish man and I’m always going to be scared. I felt like he could hurt me because he’s got that energy. But he was really nice – very funny and willing to do anything. And then at the end of the day we got the scene and I felt so happy that it came out well. But I was still scared of him.

Q: Sometimes when your name is mentioned people say nepotism…
Judd Apatow: I love when people work together who know each other very well. Some of my favourite movies are people who are close friends or families. John Cassavetes movies with Gena Rowlands or the movies he made with Ben Gazarra and Peter Falk. I think we like a lot of those Woody Allen movies because he dated Diane Keaton, and he dated Mia Farrow, and you knew that things were coming out because they were so intimate. That’s why we like De Niro and Scosese; these very close friendships, relationships, result in real passion at work so I’m a big supporter of that.

Q: The movie seems to be a move towards seriousness even though there are a fair number of dick jokes in there…
Judd Apatow: Fellini is all dick jokes if you watch it again….

Q: Do you see yourself moving further away from broad, boy- pleasing comedy?
Judd Apatow: I’ll go back and forth between sillier movies and movies like this. This was just the tone the story demanded; each time out it will be different. I really think more about being honest and truthful about feelings and how people behave for the movies that I direct, but I also love movies like Zohan and Anchorman, just balls to the wall, how much can you make people laugh in one 90 minute period. Those movies are really fun and challenging to work on also. I’m not sure I have many more really awful personal problems to work out after this movie so we’ll see.

Q: Do you still go to see stand up? And didn’t you do a bit of your own while preparing the movie?
Judd Apatow: I hadn’t seen stand up in a long time before I wrote the movie so I started going to the clubs and doing stand up again just to remember what it was like, how terrifying it was, how needy it made me feel … It was fun to do it again but it was really fun to force Adam to do it again. He was always one of my favourite comedians. It was worth making the movie just to force Adam to write a new hour and make him do it.

Q. How did audiences take to you?
Judd Apatow: They’re not as excited to see me and I let them down quicker. They’re like: “Wait a second, he’s a director! Why’s he doing stand-up? This doesn’t work at all!” Who wants to see Scorsese do a tight 10?

Q: How do you go about securing a major deal on something that lacks action, adventure, violence and explosions?
Judd Apatow: There is that moment in your career when you realise now is the moment they would let me do something like this and maybe they won’t next year. You hear people say: “One day, when I’m in a good position I can make my passion project.” I’ve seen a lot of people get into that position and not make it. So I felt it was my responsibility to take full advantage of the moment. Movies without superheroes and action and thrills, and new forms of 3D, or based on toys, are really dying out. They’re shutting down all the indie divisions in all the major studios.

People are disappearing from movies, and normal human behaviour is disappearing from movies… You are not always fighting a creature in life. That’s part of life, it’s a pretty big part of life, but it’s not all of life. It’s similar to how television is now all game shows. They want to reach the most people and they go with whatever the lowest, simplest common denominator is. It’s harder to reach people with things that haven’t been done before… It’s almost like a simplicity of thinking, and every once in a while everything breaks down when someone does something different like Slumdog Millionaire. There’s a lot less money being invested in making those movies and it’s really bad for cinema.

Read our review of Funny People

Read our interview with Adam Sandler