OSCARS Q&A: Judd Apatow & Leslie Mann

Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor.

The first scene in Judd Apatow’s dramatic comedy about marriage, This Is 40, is the only love scene. Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are having birthday sex in the shower, but what Debbie doesn’t know is that Pete has popped a Viagra. Thrusting is soon followed by tumult.

First seen in Knocked Up, Pete and Debbie functioned in that film as “the ghosts of Christmas future” for the two main characters, played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. But This Is 40 doesn’t pick up where Knocked Up left off, it starts afresh.

Let us assume the Viagra shower episode hasn’t happened in the real-life marriage of Apatow and Mann. But both the writer/director, edging into more mature terrain, and his actress wife, truly starring in a major Hollywood film for the first time, are aware that they’ve made something that feels, anyway, like an autobiographical film. In the time before making This Is 40, Apatow went back and watched, among others, Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage, “which had more humor in it than one would expect,” he says.

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AwardsLine: Early in the movie, Pete and Debbie go away for a romantic weekend to get away from domestic and work stresses and reconnect as a couple. I think they have sex but they mostly do platonic things, like get stoned and order off the room-service menu. I’m curious what each of you thinks that says about marriage and long-term relationships.
Judd Apatow: Well, I intended it to look like they had sex. If Paul Rudd had agreed to show me his behind, maybe that would have been clearer. The intention of it is to show that everybody has too many things they’re juggling. Between their marriages, work, all the kid stuff, it is very stressful and time-consuming, in addition to their extended families and health issues. Sometimes you need to get away for a few weeks just to figure out who you are again.
Leslie Mann: But originally we had (Pete) taking Viagra.
Apatow: There was a funny shot where she sees him try to sneak the Viagra, and she just gives a look like, “Oh, God.”

Related: OSCARS: Handicapping The Screenwriters

AWARDSLINE: There’s another scene where Debbie catches Pete in the bathroom at home, playing Scrabble on his iPad, and says to him, “Why are you always trying to escape?” That seemed like a crucial line in the film.
Apatow: I’m a big fan of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. They talk about how men like to go to their caves, and women are always trying to get men out of their caves. That’s always my excuse for my escape. And it probably is just that I’m exhausted, and it’s fun to read the Huffington Post for 12 minutes on the toilet. Leslie will track how long I’ve been in the bathroom based on my Tweets. She’ll say, “I know you’re not going to the bathroom, you’re Tweeting.” She never opens the door. I think the second I hit the toilet, she signs on to Twitter to see if I’m really doing what I’m saying I’m doing. But I think everybody does that. There’s no guy who’s seen this movie that doesn’t say that they escape into the bathroom. I just think it’s a natural thing. Do you think women don’t do that, honey? They don’t feel the bathroom is a place to escape?
Mann: Um.
Apatow: To catch a breath?
Mann: I don’t think so.
Apatow: Where do you catch your breath?
Mann: We don’t. We’re women. We’re stronger than you are.

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AwardsLine: Judd, The New Yorker once described your process for scriptwriting as involving a mostly male “Bucket Brigade of actors, writers, and directors” punching up each other’s scripts. Did that happen here?
Apatow: Not really on this one. Some movies are more of a joke fest, so it’s helpful to have a lot of input. Some movies survive just based on how funny each individual joke is, but because this is a more intimate movie, it really started with this idea and a year of Leslie and I talking about it and what our feelings were at this time of our lives. So I would tell Leslie some of the story I was thinking about, and then she would comment on that and pitch me ideas for scenes based on what she was going through. That’s how I outline. I just list hundreds of scene ideas, and then slowly the actual plot starts revealing itself.

AwardsLine: Did you workshop the script or show it around?
Apatow: The first person to read it is Leslie because we talk a lot about it. Leslie doesn’t like reading the early, really crappy drafts, so I tell her how it’s going and talk through the scenes with her. Then when I feel like it’s pretty decent, I give her the script. I’m also well aware that if she doesn’t like it, we’re not making the movie. So that’s actually the only scary read for me. Then I’ll get her notes and do a pass, and I do give it to a ton of people, which makes Leslie very nervous. I’m always just sending the script to people, and a lot of friends who are the writers I most admire read it. James Brooks read it, and Eric Roth, and Jake Kasdan, and Adam McKay. I send it around and say, “Am I crazy? Does this make sense at all, what we’re trying to do here?” And they’re very, very supportive and insightful and helpful.

AwardsLine: How long did it take to get from first draft to a shooting draft?
Apatow: Very short. I only finished the script because we were about to start shooting. So I drafted the script in December of 2010, and we shot in the summer of 2011. But we started doing rehearsals and table reads about five weeks after I finished the rough, vomit pass. Very early Leslie and Paul’ll come in, and we all talk and play and see how we feel and what’s missing.

Related: OSCARS Q&A: Tony Kushner

AwardsLine: Since this film is somewhat close to your personal lives and is such a family affair, did it feel different when you started shooting?
Mann: I feel like Judd always protects me from anything that would stress me out in that way, so it’s only about being creative, which is stressful enough. But he kind of shields me from all of the little things, the business things. He creates a really safe place for us to be just creative. So I didn’t think about, “Oh, wow, this is however much money the budget was.” (To Apatow) How much was the budget? See, I don’t even know. So I didn’t worry about that. I think he may have been worrying about that but didn’t say anything about it. He’s just really snotty and having stress allergies.

AwardsLine: Did you feel as though you were crossing a line, putting your own family life on film?
Mann: I don’t see it that way. I know that there are certain things that are kind of pulled directly from our lives. Like, we don’t have wifi in the house.

AwardsLine: Really?
Mann: We have it in my bedroom, but don’t write that because (our daughter) Maude doesn’t know. But most of it, emotionally, I feel like it’s true, and what a woman goes through and what a man goes through at that stage of life feels really honest. But I think that’s pretty universal. So I didn’t feel like I was exposing this really personal thing about myself. I just felt like I’m playing a character and this is different from my life, but the same emotionally, you know? Does that make sense?

AwardsLine: You mentioned your daughter Maude. Both your kids act in your movies. Did that feel risky this time, to expose them to more scrutiny? I guess in this era of social media that isn’t the big deal it once was.
Mann: It’s weird because they haven’t been able to see the movies. I mean, Maude just recently saw some of Knocked Up, right?
Apatow: She fell asleep at the halfway point, which was very insulting to us.
Mann: Their friends don’t see the movies, and they just go to school every day, so they don’t really know what they’ve done. It kind of doesn’t affect them in their lives at all. But now that Maude is almost 15, it’s probably a little bit different.

AwardsLine: And she has a big part in the film.
Mann: And she’s really good in it. And I think that can’t hurt her. I don’t know, we’re very protective of them, and we’re just going to do our best. I hope that it doesn’t hurt them in some way.
Apatow: We think of it more like a singer-songwriter. You write about what you care about, and you share that with people. And hopefully that makes it OK because you are doing it with a positive intention. When people do that in their music and in movies, I always really appreciate it. I think it is what we liked about Annie Hall. We all knew that they dated. We didn’t think it was like that exactly, but we knew that something had inspired it.

  1. Thanks for my laugh for the day. I mean, seriously — when did you ever expect to see the words Judd Apatow, Leslie Mann and Oscar in the same sentence???? You’re kidding, right? Apatow and Mann are the Neil Simon and Marsha Mason of their generation. He writes. She acts. And they go down in flames together. Each of his movies get progressively worse and she would never be starring in a major Hollywood movie if she wasn’t married to the writer/director.

    1. Slow motion shot of two people jumping into a pool, so hopelessly out of touch, yet lecturing the world.

      1. that doesn’t change the validity of the comment…. wholly accurate.

        popped on my screener of This Is 40 the other night — i thought it was one of the worst movies I had seen in a long time…..

      2. And I would never have to suffer through a headline that reads Oscar Q&A with JA and LM if it wasn’t for the internet….

    2. Like him or not, Apatow gets movies made, which creates jobs and puts food on the table for a lot of people during some very difficult economic times. He deserves some credit for that, don’t you think?

      1. No because he’s taking jobs away from people with much better more original and more commercial scripts who would also employ a large crew. Apatow has gone crazy with power he is now the emperor with new clothes and nobody is willing to tell him he’s standing there totally naked. Judd’s ego is out of control now because he has so many enablers who continue to tell him he’s so wonderful and so brilliant. He’s neither. He was once a talented comedy writer but he lost his mojo long ago.

        This is 40 is the height of self-indulgence and it’s embarrassing to watch. He wants to be the voice of his generation but he’s just the voice of wealthy liberals who live in Brentwood or the Palisades. That’s all he is and there is a very small demo for this movie. People who live like Judd. Let’s see how much money this loses for Universal.

    1. wait by the phone. Screeners & Henry will call you. they’re going to watch a screener, and share a beer. they’ll invite you. go. you can watch, but you can’t touch.

    1. no. don’t bother elucidating article comments, (almost) never.

      do you like beer? care for a screener? then wait by the phone.

  2. No one considers Leslie Mann a movie star, people consider her Judd’s wife. Sensing the end of the Judd machine in terms of how much freedom he has making movies and how much money the guy makes – I feel better every day. Too bad his ego got so big that instead of making movies about other people – for audiences, he stared believing audiences care about his own personal stories, his wife and his kids. What a mess.

    We only liked your funny movies guys, no one cares about you.

    1. your phone will ring in precisely 5’37” from the nanosecond you read the first letter of this post. the moment you pick up the phone, start telling your life story. keep talking ’till you reach yesterday’s how-I-bought-a-coffee-in-the-morning-and-paid-in-cash moment. then hang up the phone and wait for the Sundance premiere of the indie flick “Marge Matters No Matter What”. Rated “R”.

  3. Wow, such hate. I beg to differ, I liked this movie a lot (other than their ridiculously over-the-top house. I mean, come on…). And I can’t believe Leslie Mann doesn’t work more, I think she’s terrific, especially in this movie.

    1. both of them? at the same time?

      you’ll have your chance. go by the window. a limo is already waiting for you. dress casual. bring something orange.

  4. Big fan of Apatow’s. Didn’t care for ’40’ but every at-bat can’t be a home run.

    Onwards and upwards.

  5. Pass. Why pay for a movie you already saw. He uses the same exact actors who all act the same only the words are a little different. Save your money for gas in your car or a donut.

  6. Brilliant unintentional comedy when it moves from this answer…

    AwardsLine: How long did it take to get from first draft to a shooting draft?
    Apatow: Very short. I only finished the script because we were about to start shooting. So I drafted the script in December of 2010, and we shot in the summer of 2011. But we started doing rehearsals and table reads about five weeks after I finished the rough, vomit pass. Very early Leslie and Paul’ll come in, and we all talk and play and see how we feel and what’s missing.

    to this link…

    Related: OSCARS Q&A: Tony Kushner

  7. mark your calendar, for the sequel — twelve years from now. “this is 50”. it’ll be good. with ninja oompa-loompas. and nicolas cage.

  8. The insane egos of Judd and Leslie have blinded them to their extreme narcissism. This is 40 is the ultimate home video. We can look forward to them doing This is 50 and This is 60 and This is 70 they will continue to chronicle their elitist insular lives for their own enjoyment.

    Apatow has no self awareness he has lost touch with reality. Funny People was awful and this is worse. His movies are way too long and this slice of life about turning 40 is only reflective of Judd and his wealthy neighbors. He is the 1% and if the 99% don’t have all those luxuries to hell with them. It’s stunning that they think this movie is going to connect with a mainstream audience.

  9. As Python said: “And now a story of the working class made by rich Hollywood stars.” THIS IS FORTY MINUTES TOO LONG. This and JACK REACHER underscore out of touch, crazed egotism.

  10. Domestic Total as of Dec. 26, 2012: $20,784,250
    Distributor: Universal Release Date: December 21, 2012
    Genre: Comedy Runtime: 2 hrs. 13 min.
    MPAA Rating: R Production Budget: $35 million

    And their P&A budget had to be at least $50m.

    Funny People:
    Domestic: $51,855,045 72.4%
    + Foreign: $19,730,190 27.6%
    = Worldwide: $71,585,235

    Production Budget: $75 million

    How many more flops will he get money to do? His career is over if any real numbers people look at his numbers.

    Besides, This Is 40 is just DREK. IMHO, Mann is an awful actress & Apatow is out of ideas.


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