By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD— Judd Apatow celebrates the triumphs and trials of middle age in his newest comedy “This is 40,” starring real-life wife Leslie Mann and go-to funnyman Paul Rudd as a mostly happily married couple coping with grown up issues. (The movie is being promoted as the sort of sequel to 2007’s “Knocked Up,” the irreverent hit comedy starring Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in which they had supporting roles.)
This time around, Debbie and Pete (Mann and Rudd) are the stars, coping with parenthood, financial issues, quirky aging parents as well as struggling to keep the romance alive in their marriage.
Apatow, 45, drew from personal experience as well as that of his friends and colleagues to craft a clever, crass yet relatable script about growing older. He also produced and directed the comedy.
In addition to casting his wife and Rudd in the lead roles, the filmmaker tapped Jason Segel, Megan Fox, Charlene Yi, Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy and John Lithgow. Additionally, he put his two daughters, Maude and Iris, who have appeared in some of his other movies, in fairly sizable roles (playing Mann and Rudd’s kids).
Apatow recently explained the genesis for his latest comedy, joined by Mann, Brooks, Rudd and Fox, which turned into more of a game of comedy one-upmanship among these vets.
Q: What was the toughest thing about turning 40 and how did you overcome it?
Apatow: I overcame it by making two movies with the number 40 (this and “40-Year-Old Virgin”) in the title. I claim that I haven’t had a nervous breakdown from turning 40, that it was more 30, but the evidence of the two movies seem to prove that I’m full of it.
Mann: He’s lying. I think every day is different. Some days I feel fine and other days I feel like crying all day. I have lunches with my girlfriends, who just turned 40, and at some of those lunches we’re crying and screaming about our husbands and saying we want to leave them and run away. And then other days, other lunches, we’re like fine, and love our husbands and are happy with our lives. So I’m not sure.
Apatow: I’m not going to let you go out to lunch anymore.
Mann: I keep asking women who are a little bit older “When is this going to pass?” And they’re like, “It doesn’t pass. It just gets worst.”
Apatow: Wow. This is more depressing than the end of “The Mist.”
Q: Anybody else? Paul or Albert?
Brooks: I have a different secret. When I was very young I started to make friends with much, much older people. So when I was 20 my friends were 50 and I never really went through a 40 crisis because I would watch them die, and I would always feel younger. So if you make friends with older people, you always will feel young no matter what. On my 40th birthday I was in hospice with a 92-year-old buddy.
Rudd: Tuesdays with Albert. (Laughter.) I remember as a kid, my dad always told me, “Getting older beats the alternative.” Although now my father actually is the alternative. I don’t know how or what he was saying.
Brooks (to Rudd): The alternative being?
Rudd: Oh, he’s dead. Completely dead. Yeah. There you go. Think about that for a second. I just livened everything up.
Fox: I kind go along with Albert’s idea, in the sense that I married my husband (actor Brian Austin Green), who is 13 years older. So I’ll always be a trophy wife for him.
Brooks: That’s true.
Q: There’s a scene where Leslie is singing in the car? What are you guys listening to these days?
Mann: I listen to the same four songs over and over again.
Apatow: We were watching that new Jimmy Fallon—Mariah Carey music video (“All I Want for Christmas is You.”) We thought that was pretty good.
Mann: We like to listen to Elvis’ Christmas (songs).
Apatow: Destiny’s Child’s Christmas album. …
Mann: … and (Vince Guaraldi’s) “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Brooks: I listen to songs by older people.
Rudd: I’ve been listening to a lot of (Sixto Diaz) Rodriguez.
Q: Is that Christmas music?
Rudd: It is to me. There is a song where he talks about somebody getting fired two weeks before Christmas. So I guess it counts.
Fox: I like Michael Buble’s Christmas album. I know that’s cheesy, but my baby likes him too.
Q: Judd, how much did you know about a woman’s perspective of turning 40? Did you talk to Leslie about it?
Apatow: We talked about the movie for years together, and that’s where a lot of the ideas came from. It’s a little bit of a coded conversation where we’re really debating our own problems with each other. So Leslie can complain about (her movie husband) Pete but not about me. So I’ll say, “Don’t you think we should have a scene where we really point how controlling Debbie is?” And then she’ll say, “Yeah. Maybe there should a moment where Pete admits that he’s a dick.” We go back and forth like that, kind of subtly talking to each other for a long time. Then it mutates into this kind of other thing, which is a weird combo of me and Paul’s worst traits into one monster husband that Debbie has to deal with.
Q: Megan, you play Leslie’s sexy employee that Pete has a crush on. Were you nervous about coming to set with this close-knit group of performers, who have worked together before?
Fox: No, because from the first audition I went in for, it was Judd, Leslie and Paul. I went in with my sides, and we did that once, and then Judd was like, “Okay. So Paul you come into the store and you guys have an awkward conversation.” Then we had to do all of this improv, which I am not familiar with at all. So I was so scared (expletive), but then I got over it.
Q: How are you enjoying motherhood and did you get any tips from Leslie or other moms on the set?
Fox: I wasn’t a mother when I was on set, but now that I am, I love it. It’s my favorite thing I’ve done so far. I’m happy with it. That’s my final answer.
Q: How difficult is it to keep a straight face and not start laughing?
Mann: Melissa McCarthy was the hardest one to not laugh at. It was impossible. It was the weirdest thing. I had never experienced that. Paul and I could not keep a straight face. Finally, we just gave up. Judd said he was using more than one camera so we could just laugh because we couldn’t keep a straight face and the crew was all laughing. I mean it was ridiculous. She’s just the funniest person ever.
Apatow: Melissa is maybe one of the best improvisers out there. I’ve never seen anything like her other than (former “SNL” cast member) Chris Farley. There’s just a madness for certain people that is hard to look at. (You have to) just stare at their foreheads.
Q: Judd and Leslie, your daughters have big roles in this. How is it working with them in a professional capacity, and Leslie, what was it like talking to them about embarrassing things like periods on camera?
Mann: (Maude’s) really open about that, about period stuff, for some reason.
Apatow: There’s so much period talk in the house.
Mann: We’ll talk about it in detail with them. She does not care at all. It’s the weirdest thing.
Apatow: It’s not an era of kids who are shy about (discussing) it, for some reason.
Q: Her character does some cursing in this movie. Do you approve?
Mann: We don’t allow her to curse at home. I know she does at school, but it was fun for her to be able to do that at work, which I didn’t think was a great idea but Judd thinks it’s funny. But then she gets home from work and she tries to say the f-word, or whatever, and we have to shut her down.
Apatow (to Brooks): Do you let your kids curse?
Brooks: We don’t curse that much. I’m from another school of comedy.
Apatow: (My kids) use it against me now. They’re like, “Well, everybody curses in ‘Superbad.’” They’re finally using it as revenge against me. I knew it would happen one day.
Q: It’s brave to have a film called “This is 40”, because Hollywood tries to target films at 18 to 24 year olds. Do you feel like your audience is growing up along with your movies?
Apatow: We’re about to find out.
Brooks: “This is 40” is only the title at a few theaters. It’s called “This is 18” in most of the country.
Rudd: I say we call it “Zero Dark 30” (a reference to Kathryn Bigelow’s hunt for Osama bin Laden movie).
Brooks: “Zero Dark 40.” (Laughter)
Q: Paul, you’re seen in a few compromising positions in this and previous movies. Is there anything Judd has asked you to do where you’ve said “no way?”
Rudd: (Pauses, thinking) I’m sure there has been.
Mann (to Rudd): You wouldn’t take off your shirt on the toilet for the poster.
Apatow: That’s right. We asked him if he would do it without his shirt, just in his underwear, and that’s the only time he’s ever drawn the line.
Rudd: Here’s the thing: I’m not excited about any of it. I thought it would be funny, but it’s only embarrassing and horrifying. But in the context of the movie, there’s some kind of reality. There’s certainly no room for vanity. I was laughing as I was doing it and I was dying on the inside.
Q: Same question for you Leslie. Is there anything you won’t do for a laugh? Or are you pretty much game for anything?
Mann: I’m pretty much game for anything.
Apatow: The (embarrassing shots) you think I make her do she (actually) thought of.
Q: Paul, your character is married with kids. Can you relate to Pete’s frustration about his life?
Rudd: We spent years talking about all of this stuff, and we’ve gotten together—my wife, and Leslie and Judd. We’ve had many dinners. We’ve talked about it. So there are aspects to the character that are very very much a part of me.
Q: Judd, is it difficult watching your wife make out with Paul?
Apatow: No. I don’t mind it because I know Paul and Leslie don’t really like it. If I sensed that they liked it, it would make me uncomfortable. Every once in a while, I can tell Leslie likes it and that makes me sick. So then I call less takes. With Paul, I see it makes him uncomfortable. Or they’re faking it really well.
Q: What can you say about making “Anchorman 2.”
Apatow: It’s like “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s top secret.
Q: Albert, of course, was an anchorman in “Broadcast News.” So would a cameo possibly be involved in Judd’s movie?
Brooks: Well, let’s not negotiate here.
Apatow: Paul will be naked for a fair amount of it.
Rudd: That’s news to me.
Apatow: Paul has the funniest scene ever in movie history in it.
Rudd: That remains to be seen.
Apatow (to Rudd): Unless you screw it up. (Laughter)
Q: Leslie, what makes you feel uncomfortable, if you’re so cool with everything what makes you uncomfortable?
Mann: The only thing that made me feel uncomfortable in this movie is that scene with Iris where I’m lying in bed with her because it felt like a little invasive. I don’t know why because I can do anything else, but that felt like I was crossing some boundary just because everyone was sitting there watching me with my little girl doing what I do with my little girl, and I didn’t like that. But anything else goes. I’m fine with anything else.