As often as his name is invoked as the reigning king of comedy, it’s somewhat surprising to realize that Judd Apatow has only helmed three feature films (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “Funny People”), but his fingerprints are everywhere in pop culture, producing cultural touchstones like “Anchorman” (and its forthcoming sequel), “Bridesmaids” and shepherding new talent like Lena Dunham (Apatow serves as the EP of “Girls,” which he says is already gearing up for a third season after only 10 episodes have aired).
Now, three years after going a bit more dramatic with “Funny People,” Apatow has returned to two of his “Knocked Up” characters (played by Paul Rudd and Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann) in “This Is 40,” (opening December 21) for a comedy exploring a couple (and family, with Apatow’s two daughters returning to their “Knocked Up” roles) in crisis as a momentous birthday looms.
I recently spoke to Apatow about his latest work, why the awards season makes him feel gross, his daughter’s newfound social media celebrity status and how the “Anchorman” sequel is going.
MTV: Hey Judd, how are you?
Judd Apatow: Good. How’s it going?
MTV: Good. So is the film essentially locked right now or are you still fiddling with it?
Apatow: We’ve been locked since the end of May. So it’s been a bit of a slow water torture for me to wait for the movie to come out. I thought it would take all the pressure off but no, it’s actually the opposite, it only adds more pressure because it gives you more time to obsess over it every day.
MTV: “Funny People” was a movie where you began to stretch into more dramatic territory. It was less well received than your previous two films. Did its mixed reception bother you at the time and feed into this one?
Apatow: You know, I’m trying to make movies that I’m very passionate about, that are heartfelt, and with every movie there seems to be a percentage of people who really connect and some people could care less. That’s fine, that’s how I feel about movies. I think that the Internet world leans negative, because it’s not that interesting to write or read things that are super positive. Everyone wants to get attention and it’s much easier to get attention by saying something shockingly vicious than to be really eloquent about why the artist has a beautiful piece of work. Sometimes I wonder if I was 14, who knows how annoying I would be on message boards? At the time I got a little confused when I got both praise by people you really respect and other people you respect take shots at you. I’m always surprised when people aren’t urging filmmakers to go deeper and to stretch.
MTV: So what did you want to do with this one?
Apatow: I was thinking about doing a movie about a family and this time of life. I was thinking about different actors I wanted to work with and one day it just hit me: “Oh, I have this family already.” Why would I construct a new one? I like them and I’ve always felt like people responded in a big way to Paul, Leslie, and Iris and Maude [Apatow and Mann’s daughters] in “Knocked Up.” And since we were so happy with “Get Him to the Greek” being spun off of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” it seemed like that idea worked, to take characters from one movie and follow them and see what their complete world is like.
MTV: Was turning 40 particularly traumatic for you?
Apatow: No. Right now is particularly traumatic for me. Forty wasn’t too bad. Forty-four is the killer.
MTV: They don’t advertise that.
Apatow: Exactly. Everybody has their meltdown at a certain point.
MTV: How did you decide which characters from “Knocked Up” to carry over?
Apatow: I wanted it to feel like it was five years later in the same town and I asked myself, who would be around? It felt like there was a natural reason to have Jason Segel there. He is now Debbie’s personal trainer, which made me laugh and also seemed completely appropriate for his character. And then there’s Charlyne Yi. She plays an employee in Leslie’s clothes store which also seemed like a real possibility that that’s where she might have landed. I didn’t want to just hammer everybody else in. There’s time to make an actual “Knocked Up” sequel if an idea ever occurs to me, but I didn’t want this to be it.
MTV: Have you thought about continuing the story of the other characters from “Knocked Up”?
Apatow: I always want to know what happened to everybody. There’s no character in any movie that I wouldn’t love seeing another movie about. I want to know where they all are. I couldn’t convince them to make a “Superbad” sequel. I thought that was an obvious thing to do.
MTV: Who couldn’t be convinced?
Apatow: I wasn’t able to convince anybody.
MTV: Are you happy with the title of the film? What was the runner-up?
Apatow: It’s not “Knocked Up 2.” That didn’t feel appropriate. But we definitely kicked around other ideas. Should we call it “Knocked Down”?
MTV>: Was that really mentioned?
Apatow: Yeah, but never seriously.
MTV: Are you looking forward to it being released in the thick of the awards season?
Apatow: Everything about the award season is strange. There’s something truly wrong about having to campaign to win awards. That feels gross. But at the same time you want publicity for your movie, so anything that makes people aware of it seems worth doing. But what does an award really mean if a studio head directly has the power to get it for you?
MTV: Does it amuse you that Maude has become something of a Twitter celebrity?
Apatow: It amuses and terrifies us. It happened very quickly. We had the debate whether or not to allow her to use Twitter and then suddenly she had 10,000 followers then 20,000.
MTV: The genie’s out of the bottle.
Apatow: The genie is definitely out of the bottle. Hopefully it’s a way for her to discover her voice and explore who she is. There’s an aspect to it that’s creepy when you interact with a certain amount of the population that you normally wouldn’t want to but I think kids have to learn how to filter out bad voices because they’re on the Internet all day long interacting with people. So learning how to block people is a great skill. I wish I could block people in life.
MTV: Have you thought about what you might direct next?
Apatow: I’m not sure yet. I’m thinking about doing something super silly. But the next thing I’m working on is producing the sequel to “Anchorman.” I think in the next week or two I’m going to read the first draft. It’s very exciting. Everyone is really looking forward to getting together again. It’s our first official sequel.