When I was offered the opportunity to talk to Judd Apatow on the phone I jumped at it. His TV show Freaks & Geeks (buy it here!) is one of my all-time favorite things – not just favorite TV show, but just anything at all. He followed that show – which was cancelled way too early by NBC – with Undeclared, a terrific show that was also cancelled way too early (buy that one here!).
His directorial debut was a home run, though – The 40 Year Old Virgin. The movie is hitting DVD tomorrow (unrated and theatrical cuts. Buy the unrated cut from CHUD by clicking here!), and that means publicity, which is how I got Judd on the phone in the first place. It’s also how I got star Seth Rogen on the phone earlier – read that interview right here.
By the way, we’re giving away three copies of The 40 Year Old Virgin that are signed by Steve Carell (who I did not interview). If you want to win one, click right over here and enter!
Q: I interviewed Seth the other day and he said that you had a habit of shooting a lot of footage that you knew wouldn’t make it into the movie so you could put it on the DVD. What kind of stuff are we looking at for the DVD?
Apatow: The movie itself is 17 minutes longer. Now I don’t know if anyone is clamoring for 17 more minutes, but we had a debate when we finished the movie about whether or not to add back all these scenes that we thought were really fun. You could call it an extended version and add two minutes back, but I always thought that was a rip-off. But are we ruining the movie by adding 17 minutes? Does it become unbearably long?
Seth told me, ‘My dad says no one ever gets mad because they get extra shit.’ So I went with that theory. And I figure people watching it at home could watch half of it and have a sandwich. Watch a quarter of it and have sex with their wives. They could spread it out any way they like.
And when it comes to the extra scenes, there are some scenes in the movie that we had much longer versions of that we put on the DVD. We have this thing called Line-O-Rama, where we have a big montage of all the alternate jokes that we didn’t use. That’s really fun. And then we expanded the speed dating sequence to about seven minutes, so you could see all the dates play out longer.
On the theatrical version we found these really bizarre health education videos about having sex the first time, and that’s just on the theatrical version of the DVD. And then there’s all sorts of expanded versions of things that people like. There’s this moment when Mooj mentions all of these sexual activities, and we have this really long version of it, with five times more names listed. I think it’s really fun.
To me these DVDs are like the new comedy albums. So when they tell me that I have an hour I can fill up with anything I want, I try to do something special with it.
Q: All of your DVDs have been packed with greatness. Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared had so much on them.
Apatow: I just think it’s a really fun form, and no one bothers you and tells you that you can’t do something. It’s really tricky to get a movie made and to get everyone to like it at the studio and to get it approved. But when you’re making DVD extras, no one is paying any attention whatsoever. So if you want to make it great they just leave you alone and let you do it. I find that really fun.
Q: How tough was it to get this film off the ground in the first place? It was an R-rated comedy before people knew they would work, and Steve Carell was an untested lead.
Apatow: It wasn’t hard. It was hard for the ten years before that to get a lot of the people who are hitting now to get accepted as leads in studio comedies. Now that everyone is breaking, I think people see there is a huge appetite for these types of comedies. Steve was hilarious in Bruce Almighty and Anchorman, and I think it was clear that he deserved a shot. I think the idea was the type of idea that people thought could be popular because it’s so clear – you hear it and it makes you laugh. Then it was up to us to make a good movie. The bar is very low when you make The 40 Year Old Virgin. Nobody thinks it’s going to be very good. We thought, maybe we can surprise everyone and make a well-executed version of this.
Q: Why is that Seth seems to be the guy who has followed you from Freaks & Geeks through your other projects? Now you’re writing a movie for him – what is it about Seth that keeps you coming back to him?
Apatow: When we were doing Freaks & Geeks he improvised very well, and I thought he could be a writer. When we did the Undeclared show, about college, I hired him as one of the writers. He was 18 years old and he was just amazing and hilarious. I just felt that it was so weird that he had this fully developed comedic persona and he was just a kid. For me it’s more exciting to try to crack a new person as opposed to tapping into someone already successful. I’ve always felt in my heart that Seth could be an incredibly popular comedy star. Before Virgin he hadn’t acted in four years, so there were not many people who agreed with me. I was very proud of him that he got such giant laughs in the movie, and it’s clear that people really like him. Now we’re trying to take the next step and see if we can have him play the lead in a movie, which I believe he can do.
I feel that way about a lot of the actors I’ve worked with in the past. Jason Segal, who is one of the stars on How I Met Your Mother, is someone who I always believed could be a big comedy actor. I did a pilot with him that didn’t get picked up, but I always place my bets on him. I’ve been talking to James Franco a lot lately about trying to do something with him. He’s actually a very interesting, funny person, and it would be a blast to show him off in that light. I like all those actors, I never get bored with them.
Q: Well, beyond why you keep working with Seth, what was it about him that made you want to give him a hermaphrodite girlfriend on Freaks & Geeks?
Apatow: That’s a very good question. [laughs] I was listening to Howard Stern one morning and they had a doctor talking about hermaphrodites. At the time we were writing an episode about Seth having a girlfriend and I thought, you know, we’re going to get cancelled. Let’s take some chances here!
I told the staff that we would do this episode about Seth finding out that his girlfriend was born with ambiguous genitalia, and he would have to decide whether or not he was comfortable with it, and she would say to him, ‘The doctors made a choice to make me a woman, and I think they made the right choice.’ And there was this idea that it would make him question his own sexuality, that for a moment he would wonder if he was gay.
Everyone on the staff said, ‘You just can’t do this! It’s either going to be corny or offensive.’ The writer of the episode was so upset that he didn’t go to the set the entire week because we had pushed this storyline on him. But in the end I think it was one of our best episodes, because it’s very sensitive to the subject but also very funny, and says something nice about the compassion and understanding for people’s struggle.
Q: That’s something the show always did so well. I have a Freaks & Geeks shirt that I wear out sometimes, and every single time I do someone stops me and tells me that it’s their favorite show.
Apatow: We’re really proud of the show. It’s out on DVD and I still think most people haven’t seen it. I keep telling the people at the DVD company that we should still be promoting that it’s out there. Most people haven’t bought it yet!
Q: Would you every go back to TV or have you been soured on it forever?
Apatow: I would go back to TV if I had an idea and it was strong and they would let me make ten or thirteen episodes of it without getting too involved. It’s a pretty rough daily struggle when you make a TV show because until you’re a huge hit everybody thinks that they can play with what the show is about. If you tell them they’re not allowed to change the show, they hate your guts. It’s a tricky dynamic – you need huge success to get everyone off your back. And if not you’re in a really ugly bloodbath fight everyday.
Q: Can you tell me something about Knocked Up, your next film?
Apatow: It’s a romantic comedy that stars Seth. My wife Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd are in it, and it’s an odd romantic comedy. Any romantic comedy with Seth in the lead would be odd in some way. I decided to just make another small movie after 40 Year Old Virgin, a small relationship comedy. I feel like Seth can carry it without too many fireworks.
Q: How great is Paul Rudd? He’s such a leading man in so many ways, but he’s also so good at these hilarious character parts.
Apatow: He’s just really funny and smart and easy to work with. I just had such a good time with him. We did a table read of the new movie yesterday, and he couldn’t have been funnier. It’s fun to work with the same people over and over again because you begin to understand who they are, and you can tap real things that are happening with them emotionally, and it makes for better work.