Filmmaker Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin) explores relationships again with the dramedy This is 40 starring his real-life wife Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, and the Apatow-Mann kids, Maude and Iris. This is 40 is sort of a sequel to Knocked Up, but transfers the focus of the story from Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl's characters (who do not show up in this comedy) to the characters played by Rudd and Mann. Married with kids, money problems, and relationship issues, Rudd and Mann's characters are on the verge of turning 40 and not in the least bit happy about it.
Joining their co-stars Albert Brooks and Megan Fox for a press conference in LA in support of the Universal Pictures release, Apatow, Rudd and Mann talked about basing much of the humor and drama on real-life events and finding a way to keep in character when Melissa McCarthy was on set and working her comedy magic.
Leslie Mann, Judd Apatow, Albert Brooks, Paul Rudd and Megan Fox This Is 40 Press Conference
For those over 40, what was the toughest thing personally about turning 40 and how did you overcome it?
Judd Apatow: "I overcame it by making two movies with the number 40 in the title. I claim that I haven’t had a nervous breakdown from turning 40. That was more 30, but the evidence of the two movies seemed to prove I’m full of it."
Leslie Mann: "I think he’s lying. What have I done? 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 saying we want to leave them and run away. And then, other days, other lunches, we’re fine and love our husbands and happy with our lives. I’m not sure. I don’t know."
Albert Brooks: "Well 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 40, because I would watch them die and I’d always feel younger. So you make friends with older people and you always feel young no matter what. On my 40th birthday, I was in hospice with a 92-year-old buddy...That’s a lie."
Paul Rudd: "Tuesdays with Albert. I remember as a kid my dad always told me that getting older beats the alternative, although now my father actually is the alternative. I don’t know how or what he would say."
Megan Fox: "I married a husband who is 13 years older so I’ll always be a trophy wife for him."
Judd, how much did you know from a woman’s perspective about turning 40? Is that where you came in, Leslie? Did you bounce ideas off each other?
Judd Apatow: "You know, we talk about the movie for years together and that’s where a lot of the scene ideas come 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 Pete, but not about me. So I’ll say, 'Don’t you think we should have a scene where we can really point out how controlling Debbie is?' And then, she’ll say, 'Well but maybe there should be a moment where Pete admits he knows he’s a dick.' And then, we go back and forth like that subtly talking to each other for a long time. And then, at the end, it mutates into this other thing which is a weird combo of me and Paul’s worst traits into one monster husband that Debbie has to deal with."
Leslie Mann: "Are you waiting for me to speak? I agree. That’s how it works. Did I have anything to add to that? Yeah. It’s like what I would fantasize about saying to Judd, like Debbie can say these things to Pete, but Leslie can’t really say these things to Judd. So it’s fun to be able to. Also, it’s fun yelling at the mother, at Melissa McCarthy. I wouldn’t ever do that but that’s what I fantasize about doing. You know I would love to do that, so it’s fun to have this character to live through."
Megan, were you nervous about fitting into this family or did it just come naturally?
Megan Fox: "Was I nervous about coming to set with a close knit group of people? No, because from the first audition that I went in for, it was Judd, Leslie and Paul. I went in with my sides and we did that once, I think, and then Judd was like, 'Okay, so Paul, you come into the store and you guys have an awkward conversation.' And so then we had to do all of this improv which I’m not familiar with at all. So I was so scared shitless then that I got over it after that point. Except there’s that one day on set where we did the scene in the car after the club, and that was one of those days – I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of these days – where I memorized the wrong scene so I didn’t know my dialogue and I was so scared that I didn’t know it that I started doing all these crazy things in the scene which I think maybe worked."
Judd, were the references to Lost an inside joke or inside rivalry between you and JJ Abrams?
Judd Apatow: "No. Our daughter watched Lost in about six weeks and was crying a lot and very emotional. We thought are we bad parents for allowing this, but we’re too lazy to keep up with her to know what the next episode is, like if it’s inappropriate, so we just let it happen. And we realized there was some bad parenting happening. It was out of control. And I thought I really don’t know what to do here, but it probably makes for a good couple of jokes in the movie. That’s what I usually do when I should make a strong parenting decision. I kind of let it play out to see if a joke results from it. It’s probably not a good idea. But JJ read the script and came to previews and I made sure to show everybody the footage and how we were doing it to make sure that he was happy. But he is a geek who has ruined our lives."
Albert, were you and John Lithgow doing much improvising in your scenes?
Albert Brooks: "I think in rehearsal we got a chance to add and improvise a bit. That’s sort of the way it works. The idea that you get there and at the actual moment you’re making it up is sort of a fallacy. You get a script and then you have time to throw that to the wind and see what comes back, and then you can set things you really like. So it’s that period. A lot of the things were set in the rehearsal period."
Judd Apatow: "Well the best line – I watched the dailies recently – that Albert came up with on the fly, which is the fun part of loosening it up at the end after getting it scripted and then starting to play... We knew we wanted Albert’s character to be excited by how much money John makes. And so I was watching the dailies and the wording is my favorite wording of a joke in the movie, which is, 'So every time I don’t see a hunchback, you make money.' As it loosens up, the wording starts changing."
Was Lithgow compatible with your comic sensibilities or looking for more of the dramatic opportunities?
Albert Brooks: "No, no, no. He played the guy he was supposed to play, which was a stick in the mud. I think when it was really funny what he really wanted to do was laugh, but once you get settled into your character, that’s how you react. And that guy would never be friends with Larry. They’d never be friends so it was more like he had to act as if I was an annoyance, but he always wanted to laugh. But he doesn’t, because he’s in the union."
How difficult is it to keep a straight face and not to break character while shooting this? What was the hardest scene that you had to keep shooting for the cast?
Leslie Mann: "Melissa McCarthy was the hardest one."
Paul Rudd: "Yeah, that was."
Leslie Mann: "That was impossible. That was the weirdest thing. I’ve never experienced that. Maybe like one time I crack up and then I can hold it together from then on. But with her, it was hours. We could not keep a straight face and finally we just gave up. Judd said that he was using more than one camera so we could just laugh because we couldn’t keep a straight face and the crew were all laughing. I mean, it was ridiculous. She’s just the funniest person."
Was it her own stuff or were you throwing the jokes at her?
Judd Apatow: "It was a couple of rehearsals. Our executive producer Paula Pell is from Saturday Night Live and she’s been there for 16 years. She’s one of the funniest people ever. She had a couple of really funny ones. 'You look like the bank commercial couple' was hers. So it was a combination. But what happens in scenes like that is we know the scenes should be four minutes, but by the end of it the script is about eight minutes. We can kind of tell how we could compress it but we’re not sure yet, so we just let it be a big scene. Melissa is maybe one of the best improvisers there. I’ve never seen anything like that, other than Chris Farley. If he looked you in the eye, like if you had to do anything with him, you would bust up. There’s just a madness for certain people that you can’t. It’s hard to look into. You just stare at their foreheads."
Megan, are you enjoying motherhood and have you gotten any mothering advice from anyone on set like Leslie?
Megan Fox: "Well I wasn’t a mother yet when I was on set but I love it. It’s my favorite thing that I’ve done so far, so I’m happy with it."
Did you pick up parenting tips watching them with their kids?
Megan Fox: "Their kids are so well adjusted. I mean, you’re so self-deprecating about how you raise them, but they’re the best kids and they both have really awesome personalities, especially Iris. She’s just a hysterical little girl. I think she’s super funny. And then, Maude’s a genius. They’re just good kids which is rare for kids that were raised in this industry, for sure. So they did a good job whatever you’ve been doing."
Paul, you’re working very prolifically. Have you had moments like your character where you’re really struggling with your career?
Paul Rudd: "Oh, sure. Everything’s a struggle. Everything’s relative too, so I still feel like I’m struggling in many aspects. I’m not worried about paying my rent next month if that’s what you’re asking, but in about two months...we’ll see."
What are some of the worst jobs you’ve had?
Paul Rudd: "One of the worst was I glazed hams, which I did for about half a year. It doesn’t get worse. I was trying to get money to go to acting school, I was in college and I got a job, this was in Kansas City before I moved to go to this theater school."
Judd Apatow: "What do you get paid an hour to do that?"
Paul Rudd: "You get paid in ham. I got paid about $4 or $5 an hour. I got paid a little bit more than the minimum wage. It was an all day affair. I’d unload a truck at about five in the morning. Oh, this is a boring process. The hame was wrapped in cryovac. I’d undo it, I’d have to cut it, put it on a metal spit. There was a propane torch that hung down from the ceiling and I had wrist guards to protect myself and I would go back and forth between heating the ham and then using a sugar sifter."
Albert Brooks: "God, you mean those pigs aren’t raised glazed?"
Paul Rudd: "They’re not raised. There’s another step involved."
Albert Brooks: "I didn’t know that."
Paul Rudd: "Yeah, there’s human involvement. That was one of the worst. I’ve had several bad jobs."
Is there anything Judd's ever asked you to do that you said no to?
Paul Rudd: "Somebody asked me that and I’m sure there has been."
Leslie Mann: "You wouldn’t take off your shirt on the toilet."
Judd Apatow: "Oh that’s right. The poster, when he’s on the toilet in the poster, we asked him he would do it also without his shirt. That’s the only time you’ve ever drawn the line."
Paul Rudd: "Here’s the thing. I’m not excited about any of it. I thought it would be funny, but it’s embarrassing and horrifying, but in the context of the movie and I think what we’re all trying to go for is some kind of reality and also if it’s funny, there’s certainly no room for vanity. So I was laughing as I was doing it, as I was dying on the inside."
Megan Fox: "What were you wearing in that scene?"
Paul Rudd: "I think you can see. Was I wearing like a little sock?"
Judd Apatow: "A little coverup. There was a band-aid there."
Leslie Mann: "A little nude undies."
Megan Fox: "Was it like a full panty or was it like a thong? It was like a thong?"
Paul Rudd: "Whatever it was, it was horrifying, and if you’re asking that means you’ve completely blacked it out."
Leslie Mann: "I think I did."
Paul Rudd: "I’m sure you did. I did. I think the only way you can prepare for something like that, for both of us, would be like a bottle of gin."
Leslie, is there anything you say you can’t do or are you always game?
Leslie Mann: "I’m pretty much game for anything."
Judd Apatow: "She pushes for the ones...the ones you think I made her do, she thought of, usually. If you were trying to get across the mystery disappearing in a relationship and people getting totally open in a way that after many years gets disgusting and not sexy, there was just one day where we’re like we kind of need two examples. So one was, 'Will you look at this?' and the other was being on the iPad in the bathroom."
Leslie Mann: "And the farting."
Judd Apatow: "That was a Paul improvisation. He started acting after the ham thing and he learned you’ve just got to be open."
Paul Rudd: "I also remember how hard, like with that whole hemorrhoid thing, sitting in that room as we were improvising stuff beforehand when you guys were writing about how funny that..."
Albert Brooks: "By the way, also you don’t want to discover a horrible thing during a scene, like a nurse comes over and says, 'We need to talk to you.' That’s not the place to discover that you’re terminal. 'It was a funny scene but come here. Come to the monitor.'"
Paul Rudd: "We actually found something. With the Hi-def, you can see all sorts of things. 'Why are they gathering around video village?'"
Albert Brooks: T"he good news is we found it and we need to go to Cedars. I ask for scenes like that because it kills two birds with one stone. Why should I get a colonoscopy if I can have one in the movie?"
Paul Rudd: "What was that thing Michael Caine says? 'Every time I need a haircut, I just take a movie.'"
Paul, can you relate to Pete’s frustration with life being married with kids?
Paul Rudd: "Oh yeah, yeah. Obviously the situations are different but there are certain aspects of marriage, parenthood, all of that stuff that seem relatable. We’ve just spent years talking about all this stuff and we’ve gotten together, my wife and Leslie and Judd. We’ve had many dinners, we’ve talked about and we did this going back to Knocked Up too, so there are aspects to the character that are very, very much so part of me."
Thinking about turning 40, how do you look back on the earlier films that stood the test of time, like Clueless which kids may be watching today for the first time?
Megan Fox: "Oh my God, you were in Clueless, that’s crazy."
Paul Rudd: "Megan was two. It’s nice to be in anything that anybody sees or likes and if it’s something that has lasted, Clueless, people do still mention it to me. So it’s great. I’m proud and happy that I was in it still."
Judd Apatow: "My kids watch Clueless but they’re very thrown by you as the heartthrob in Clueless."
Paul Rudd: "I would imagine so. Me too."
Judd Apatow: "It’s like your dad being the heartthrob so they’re as disgusted as if it was me. They’re like, 'Paul? What? Oh, I’m confused.'"
Paul Rudd: "They watched it the first time and thought I was Dan Hedaya."
Albert is one of the most famous players of anchormen of all time. Might there be a cameo?
Albert Brooks: "Oh, let’s not negotiate here."
Judd Apatow: "Everything goes so fast around the internet and stuff that by the time it comes out, it doesn’t come out for a year. Paul will be naked for a fair amount of it."
Paul Rudd: "That’s news to me."
Judd Apatow: "I wish I could give it away though because it would be fun to just tell you the funny scenes. Paul has like the funniest scene ever in movie history in it. Actually, he truly has a scene that is so funny."
Paul Rudd: "That remains to be seen."
Judd Apatow: "Unless you screw it up."
Paul Rudd: "That’s what I mean."
Judd Apatow: "It puts a lot of pressure, puts a lot of pressure."
How do you feel watching yourselves in the gritty realism of this film?
Leslie Mann: "I like that. I like that tone in a movie. The more uncomfortable the better, the more truthful the better. I love, love, one of my favorite movies of all time is Broadcast News and him sitting there sweating while he’s trying to read the news is the greatest thing ever. It’s so heartbreaking. Are you wincing?"
Albert Brooks: "No, no, no."
Leslie Mann: "But it’s so uncomfortable to watch yet it’s so funny. It’s just the perfect combination of everything and that’s my dream, to see something like that is fun. To act and to watch."
What makes you feel uncomfortable?
Leslie Mann: "The only thing that made me feel uncomfortable in this movie is that scene with Iris where I’m laying in bed with her because it felt a little too invasive. I don’t know why because I can do anything else but that for some reason felt a little like it was crossing some boundary, just because everyone was sitting there watching me with my little girl doing what I do with my little girl. I didn’t like that, but anything else goes. I’m fine with anything else."
And watching yourself?
Paul Rudd: "Well, shooting it I don’t feel too uncomfortable because of that thing that I was saying which is if the character’s the part and it’s like I think differently when it’s all done. It’s like, 'Oh wow, that was a little much maybe.' But I think I lay somewhere in the middle. I don’t have that thing where it’s like, 'Oh, I can’t watch myself,' and I think I can be critical in good ways, but I don’t do it all that often once the thing is done. I’ve seen this. I’m excited to see it again because I’ve really only seen it one time, so you just kind of see it all as a film. It’s always surreal, I think, though the first couple times."
* * * * *
This is 40 hits theaters on December 21, 2012.