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Knocked Up - Judd Apatow interview

Judd Apatow

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JUDD Apatow about directing Knocked Up, coping with his newfound adulation and how far is too far when it comes to gross out comedy.

He also talks about working with his children on the film, how he goes about juggling the triple demands of writing, directing and producing and working with his former flat-mate, Adam Sandler, on a forthcoming project…

Q. How are you handling the sudden groundswell of attention your name is generating?
Judd Apatow: Well, usually I’m not the person doing the promoting, so this has been kind of a strange experience – especially since it’s shifted to be a little bit about me, which wasn’t the case with The 40-Year-Old Virgin at all. There was one article on earth about me and a week later that was it! This has become a little more Judd focused than I’d anticipated. So on one level it’s fun to get some attention, and on another level it’s strange and the beginning of my creative paralysis! It will end me [laughs].

Q. Does it take some adjustment? Or is it nice to be praised so highly at the moment?
Judd Apatow: I don’t know because it hasn’t ended yet. I finished the movie in February and I’ve been doing press during the shoot and in post-production. Now it’s August and I’ve been talking about myself for that long. It kind of makes you realise how uninteresting you are. I’ve got about eight good stories from about 40 years [laughs] and I don’t have that much variation in answers because that’s really all there is to say. It makes you realise that you just haven’t done that much. But I still get a kick out of it. That said, the only part I actually really enjoy is watching the movie with people and having the emotional experience of it with them. Everything else is just talking about something abstract.

Q. How hard is it to make something look as effortlessly easy as comedies like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin?
Judd Apatow: It’s really hard work. In my head I usually have an emotional idea of what the movie is. I understand the beats and I work really hard to get the script correct through writing about myself, doing table readings, rehearsing and improvising. Then when we’re shooting in a way I’m making about 100 different versions of the movie at the same time. I’m getting options. I understand how they might work if I use them, so I have to make sure each one has a way into the movie. It might be a scene with Seth [Rogen] looking confused or Seth screaming, but I have to in my head track all their performances so I know how to get to each performance and not have it be choppy. But because I’ve edited a lot in my life I have an inate sense of what I need to make things work. So, it’s not difficult, more draining because there are so many variations. I always direct from an approach of, if I didn’t like this, why wouldn’t I like it? What would I have wished I’d done? And then I try to shoot that also. So, basically I shoot it, I assume it failed and then I get something else. The end result is that I haven’t had to do reshoots on anything. I tend to do them while I’m shooting.

Q. With that much footage, is it easy to edit down?
Judd Apatow: It’s hard because I shoot over a million feet of film, which is a lot of stuff and you have to remind yourself that it’s not going to feel like a movie for a long time. I show a small group of friends and writers a cut that’s two hours and 45 minutes knowing that I’m going to have to cut it down. I just ask them what they find interesting about it, or the problems they encountered. They always give me the answers.

When we showed this one Chris Rock came and Jay Roach and John Poll, who was a producer on The 40-Year-Old Virgin and who edited the Meet The Parents movies and Austin Powers. They always have very strong advice. But the whole process of screening it is finding out what people respond to and if it doesn’t work, then just trying to put other material in and flipping it in and out – that applies to both the jokes and the emotional stuff. Sometimes I’ll put in something Seth says in the middle of an argument that I think is hysterical and then realise I’ve lost every woman in the audience because it’s so mean that he really cannot get back from it.

There’s a really funny scene at the end of the movie where Seth’s character has bought all these baby books and he makes a big show that he’s going to read them. But a little later, Katherine [Heigl]‘s character realises that he didn’t ever read any of them, and a little while after that she sees that he did read the baby books and knows a lot – but there was a little bit when he’s talking to the doctor in the hospital where he admits that he only read 10 pages and forgot most of it [laughs]. Women got really offended that he lied about it and that was too much for them. So, you never know…

Q. One of the great things about Knocked Up is that while you know it’s going to go sentimental, you never shy away from the rude stuff – even during the birth sequence, there’s the crowning scene to maintain the laughs…
Judd Apatow: Well, a movie like this is somewhat predictable. I think what’s fun about it is that you assume they’re going to have the baby at the end, it’d be strange if I didn’t do that, and I guess you know they’re going to be together. In a way, it allows you to enjoy the movie because you just want to know how they get there, which is almost the definition of a romantic comedy – overcoming the obstacles along the way.

But I wanted to show the head coming out because I thought you never see that. It’s always the same shot of the woman’s knees and her face. So, I wanted to show that it’s really painful and it bonds people because it’s such a horrific experience; if you go through it with someone it’s like going to war together. You have a war buddy for life!

Q. How far is too far? Is there anything that you wouldn’t do in the name of comedy?
Judd Apatow: I think that anything is OK if you’re heart is in the right place. And people can tell if you’re doing something shocking just to shock, or if you have something to say and it’s thoughtful in some way. For the crowning scene, for instance, I was just trying to get to the truth of birth, so I thought I’d see how graphic I could make it and get away with it. And it seems to be OK for people because the jokes are good. It kind of wakes people up at the end of a long movie. You’re so shocked, it wakes you up for the final 10 minutes because of the adrenaline rush of what you’ve just seen.

Q. Paul Rudd said he drew from a lot of personal experience when deciding what to put into his character and on-screen relationship with his wife. Do you don the same?
Judd Apatow: Yeah, I write an outline based on real moments from my relationship and then I call everyone… I’ll call Paul, for instance, and ask: “When your wife really hates you, what does she hate about you? What is the thing that secretly drives her crazy that she can’t fix?” And he said: “She hates that I play fantasy league baseball all the time. I’m always jumping on a computer whenever she turns her back to check on a score.” So, I thought that was funny and put that in the movie.

He also said that he didn’t read the baby books because he thought it would then make it real. I thought that was strange because I’m the opposite, I always read the baby books. I was really nervous and wanted to know everything. It becomes a composite of real things and fake things. Our doctor didn’t show up the day we had the delivery, so I thought I could make a joke out of it – even though it was a nightmare at the time! Leslie likes me to be in the room whenever she has a gynaecological exam but it’s so uncomfortable, so I thought that would be funny to use in the film as well.

Q. Did you have to think hard about putting your own children in Knocked Up?
Judd Apatow: It was hard to get Leslie to agree to do it because she didn’t want our kids to turn into child actors. But it was a little bit more like a documentary. In the beginning I’d just put them in a scene and they wouldn’t have any lines. Slowly, while the cameras were rolling I’d just pull them in and say: “Maude, ask Seth who he is!” And so in words of her own selection, she’d go: “Who are you?” And Seth would reply, to which she’d ask: “What are you doing here?” It’s almost like she didn’t know she was acting. She was just being herself.

My three-year-old, on the other hand, is just funny and adorable – she’ll repeat anything you ask her to say. Slowly, Maude, who was eight at the time, got good at it and I could give her lines. But I made a point of never putting it on paper, I’d explain it to her. I’d say: “Just tell them where you think babies come from and make it crazy.” And she just made it all up; she’s just freakishly funny.

Q. In career terms, you seem to have an awful lot of projects coming up. How do you go about deciding which you’re going to write, which you’re going to direct and which you’re going to simply produce?
Judd Apatow: A lot of it is timing. When I write and direct a movie it takes me so long to recover and one of those ways is just sitting on someone else’s set watching them get stressed. I sit around and eat fruit! Usually, I try to write a movie while producing a movie because if the movie has been prepped well, there’s not much to do during the shoot if you have a great director and the script is good. So, during Talladega Nights I wrote Knocked Up and now we’re about to start the next Will Ferrell/Adam McKay movie called Stepbrothers, which stars Will and John C Riley. I just sort of disappear into my trailer once scenes are rolling for the day and try to get some writing done. But it’s very invigorating to be on the set, it makes you think of other ideas. It’s like whenever I watch a rock concert I think of other ideas.

On some other films, I just realise that other people could do them better than me. Superbad comes out in three weeks and it’s directed by Greg Mottola, who did The Daytrippers. He’s just a brilliant director and I knew that he would understand the emotions of that movie because it’s about two kids at High School who realise they’ve never had girlfriends. But they’re going to different colleges and they’re in a panic, especially when these pretty girls ask them to bring liquor. The entire movie is about liquor, it seems, but really it’s about the fact that they’re afraid of not being together anymore, and their separation anxiety. But it’s hysterical and filthy and I thought Greg would be better at it than me. It kind of makes it easier for me to hire someone who’s more talented than me [laughs]. The more talented the director, the less I need to do!

Q. Looking ahead, you’re working with Adam Sandler soon….
Judd Apatow: Yeah, I wrote this movie [You Don’t Mess With The Zohan] a little while back with Adam and Robert Smigel, who’s actually one of the greatest comedy writers of all-time. It’s about a Mossad agent who is tired of the violence, so goes to America to follow his dream of being a hairdresser. But he gets pulled back into the action… So, it’s sort of a superhero movie.

Q. You were flatmates with Adam at one point, weren’t you? Is it good to finally be working with him?
Judd Apatow: I lived with Adam in the early ’90s. You know how you dream of being friends with someone like Bill Murray? Like: “Aah, he’d be the best guy to live with for a while!” Well, living with Adam really was exactly what you’d hope it would be. He wasn’t famous and he was incredibly charismatic and hilarious. We always talk on the phone now and go: “Wasn’t that the best two years of our lives? We had so much fun.” Now we both have children but we’ve remained friends for a very long time. I’m so proud of him and what he’s accomplished in his life, and he’s been very supportive of me. But this is exciting because it’s the first movie that I wrote with him that’s being produced.

Read our review of Knocked Up

Read our interview with Leslie Mann