Judd Apatow is the writer/director of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the upcoming summer comedy “Knocked Up,” and producer/writer of the acclaimed television series “Freaks and Geeks.” The following is the latest in a series of guest columns by Apatow for MTV News.
Lately I have been paying a lot of attention to movie musicals because myself and Jake Kasdan recently wrote a film called “Walk Hard” that is kind of a goof on music biopics. It is based on movies like “Ray,” “Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Selena.” To prepare to write it we watched a ton of those films — and we realized they are all the same movie. So we decided to create our own music-industry giant, Dewey Cox, and tell the world his story. Let’s just say he goes to rehab a lot. He has a very addictive personality.
The next assignment is to write all of the hits that spanned his 40-year career. That is a hard assignment, because now we need songs that are both funny and good enough to kind of sound like they could be hits. We enlisted a bunch of songwriters to help with this process; it is going on as we speak. Right now someone is sitting in a room working on a Dewey Cox guitar part.
Dewey will be played by John C. Reilly, who I worked with previously on “Talladega Nights.” He has an amazing voice, sort of Roy Orbison-like, which makes the songs funny. The fact that this incredible voice comes out of John is shocking and thus humorous.
What are my favorite musicals? “Hair,” starring Treat Williams — who also has an amazing voice — and a guy who joined the band Chicago soon after making the film [Donnie Dacus]. Also John Savage, who is awesome as usual. Milos Forman directed it. I don’t know if people consider this a good movie or not, but I love it. I sing it. My family gets annoyed as I sing it. So I stop singing it.
I also love “Harold and Maude” which is filled with songs by Cat Stevens. I guess it isn’t a musical — it is more of a black comedy — but I believe the director Hal Ashby saw it as a bit of an operetto. Is that a word? [Editor’s note: Nope. An operetta is a romantic-comic opera that includes songs and dancing, but that’s not ’Harold and Maude’ either.] It is a really funny movie and it makes you cry: My favorite kind of movie.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” had a big effect on me. I sang it at a talent show in a negligee at summer camp. There was a period when I did wear women’s clothes a little too often for a child entering puberty.
The movie I just made, “Knocked Up,” has a score written by singer/songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Joe Henry. We went about it in an odd way. They wrote a bunch of songs with lyrics, then we took the melodies of those songs and made them recurring themes [without lyrics] in the film. Two of those songs play over the final credits. And now we have a soundtrack album coming out which will contain all of those songs with their lyrics. Playing on many of those tunes is the great guitarist/songwriter Richard Thompson, who scored the film “Grizzly Man.”
Loudon is someone I have been inspired by for a long time. He is a folk musician whose songs are both funny and biting, and also deeply personal and emotional. I saw him on David Letterman’s old morning talk show in 1980. He sang a song called “Unrequited to the Nth Degree,” which is basically about trying to make your ex-girlfriend feel bad about your impending suicide. It is really funny, and really dark. In a way all of my work is going for the same honesty and humor that he puts into his music.
The one thing I have learned from trying to make a film about musical icons is that it is really hard to create music, so maybe it is wrong to make fun of them.
What the hell — we’re gonna do it anyway.
Visit Movies on MTV.com for more from Hollywood, including news, reviews, interviews and more.
Want trailers? Visit the Trailer Park for the newest, scariest and funniest coming attractions anywhere.