HOLLYWOOD — When Judd Apatow asks you to be in his new movie, you don’t say no.
The red-hot writer/director/producer is establishing himself as this generation’s Mel Brooks, hitting audiences with instant classics “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” in rapid succession.
When it came time to cast an entertainment reporter for his flick “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” his team called MTV’s Liz Hernandez to see if she were available.
To sum up her response, let’s simply quote Ricky Bobby: “Thank you, baby Jesus!”
“This is nerve-racking,” she laughed, walking onto the set and checking in with director Nicholas Stoller. “But if this movie takes off and I get an award for my performance as an MTV News reporter, I probably want to star next as Liz Hernandez in an Adam Sandler film. Or maybe in ’A Few Good Reporters’ — you can’t handle the truth! Or maybe a ’Jaws’ remake. That’d be cool, if I was swimming with my MTV mic and I got eaten.”
Before Ms. Laurence Olivier got too ahead of herself, Hernandez had to worry about the night’s big scene, which will open the movie when it hits theaters next summer. Arriving at the world-famous Egyptian Theater, TV superstar Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell of “Heroes” and “Veronica Mars”) was greeted by fainting fans, screaming paparazzi, a throng of publicists and Liz’s TV crew. Five feet and more than half a world away, her civilian boyfriend Peter (Jason Segel of “Knocked Up” and “How I Met Your Mother”) held her purse and tried not to get bowled over.
“I have a pretty big line for my first scene of my first movie,” said Hernandez, clad in a black party dress and blue suede shoes. “As soon as Kristen gets out of [her limo], I say, ’Sarah Marshall, MTV, how does it feel to be here tonight?’ ”
“I’m thinking we might call this ’Liz Hernandez Presents: Forgetting Sarah
“Your names will probably be the top two once the credits start rolling when the movie’s over,” Hernandez said to Bell and Segel. “I’m wondering about my name — how many people down do you think it will be?”
“Well, I’m uncredited in this,” joked Bell, glammed up in a red dress. “And you’re doing so good that it’s blowing me away. I can barely concentrate.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re slated to go right after ’No animals were harmed during the making of this film,’ ” Segel teased. “But seriously, it must be hard playing you.”
In between all the ribbing, the three were actually able to complete some takes (in accordance with the Apatow ethic, cameras never stopped rolling and improv ensured that no two attempts were alike). Hernandez also got to learn a few details about the flick’s plot.
“The movie is about a guy whose beautiful TV girlfriend, played perfectly by Kristen Bell, dumps him,” Segel said of the flick, which co-stars Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Mila Kunis and Paul Rudd. “So he’s heartbroken, and he goes to Hawaii to clear his head. As he’s checking into the hotel, there she is with her new boyfriend.”
“Tonight is the beginning of the movie, a montage of events that they’ve been to,” Bell explained. “Sarah is quote-unquote ’working,’ and Peter is holding her purse. She’s a little bit affected and is acting the actress part.”
“Judd, the most loyal man alive, took me to a Lakers game and asked if I had any ideas for movies,” recalled Segel, who first worked with Apatow at age 19 on the much-beloved TV series “Freaks and Geeks.” “I told him about this idea, and he said, ’All right, go write it.’ So I went to Hawaii and wrote it, and a year later we’re here. It’s crazy time.”
“What’s the most genius thing that he’s written for you in the script?” Hernandez asked Bell.
“Well, the fact that [my character] is on a show called ’Crime Show: Scene of the Crime’ is pretty badass,” the actress laughed.
“All of these movies are different,” Segel said of Apatow’s projects. “The only thing Judd demands is that they be based on some sort of emotional reality, because he doesn’t think funny comes out of wackiness. I think that’s what they have in common, that they come from the heart.”
Nevertheless, Segel promised that “Marshall” will boast its own outrageous scenes to rival the “Virgin” waxing or the “Knocked Up” Cirque du Soleil trip.
“There’s a scene where I wrestle a boar,” Segel said, “which was pretty serious, because these boars are gigantic! But you could tell instantly that it was intimidated because I’m a big human being.”
“It was frightened. But it was a potbellied pig, first of all,” Bell teased. “There’s a big difference.”
“It was a boar!” Segel responded. “It had tusks!”
Even if Hernandez does end up getting credited somewhere behind the boar/pig, she is still making her movie debut. After several takes of emphasizing various words in her line (“Sarah Marshall, MTV, how does it feel to be here tonight?” versus “Sarah Marshall, MTV, how does it feel to be here tonight?”), our wannabe Hilary Swank was ready to roll one last time.
“Action!” called Stoller, cuing the chaos of fictional fans, paparazzi and movie stars.
After the scene, the stars thanked Liz, saying that she portrayed Liz Hernandez brilliantly. “I’ve got to be honest, you bring a lot of energy, a lot of charm and a lot of charisma,” the affable Bell said. “And your role is huge. I mean, it’s the basis for this whole story. It lights the match.”
“Did you ever see ’The Usual Suspects’?” Segel asked Hernandez.
“Yes, I have,” she replied.
“You know how at the end, there’s that kind of realization that it all comes back to these little clues?” Segel explained. “Well, your close-up is going to play an integral part to that scene.”
“You,” Bell added, “are our Keyser Soze.”
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