Judd Apatow, director-producer-writer-actor
EmptyAWARDS: 1994 & 1995 Cable Ace Award, best comedy series, "The Larry Sanders Show"; 1993 Emmy Award, outstanding individual achievement in writing in a variety or music program, "The Ben Stiller Show." CURRENT CREDITS: Co-writing and producing Sony's Dec. 21 biopic parody "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"; co-writing and producing Sony's action comedy "Pineapple Express"; produced Sony's August release "Superbad." MEMBERSHIPS: Directors Guild of America, Producers Guild of America, Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild
The Hollywood Reporter: You've got six Emmy nominations and one win, but no Oscar attention yet. Is there less consideration in the Academy for comedies than dramas?
Judd Apatow: There is a place for comedy, I think. The work that we do is very different, but because it's happier than a lot of movies, I can see how people don't always think it has as much weight. The truth is a lot of these movies are talking about very important subjects, but we like to be stealthy in our approach to how we slip those ideas in there. It was an incredible surprise, and a thrill, when 2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" was nominated for a Writers Guild Award. There was not one moment during the making of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" where we were like, "Man, we're gonna win some awards for this."
THR: How do you think your career would change if you won an Academy Award?
Apatow: One would think that as things go well, it would sap your ability to be funny because you would lose your pain or your insecurity. But for me, the better things go, the more shocked I am that none of this actually brings me that much peace. And then I get really neurotic about that, and that is the motor for me writing the next movie.
THR: What makes a movie commercial?
Apatow: (Sony's) "Superbad" proves that there's a certain style and tone of comedy movies that people like, and because that went well, they allowed us to make (Sony's) "Pineapple Express." Before then, people were afraid of these hard, R-rated comedies with really out-there subject matter, but suddenly that is a positive.
THR: Once again, with "Pineapple" you're working with Seth Rogen, James Franco and several other of your usual suspects. What draws you back to the same comedic names?
Apatow: When we were doing "Freaks and Geeks," there were a couple episodes where Seth and James had a bunch of scenes together, and I thought they had great chemistry, but we didn't focus on them as a pair that often. What's interesting about the movie is Seth is more of the traditional lead and James plays his insane pot dealer. So, we're not playing James as the handsome romantic lead. We're flipping it, and it works really well. They're a great comedy team, and we're very excited to show how funny James Franco is, because he hasn't made any comedies -- other than some of the independent films that he's made himself as a writer and a director -- and he's hilarious. Seth was having a hard time keeping up with him.
THR: Sony's "Walk Hard" is of course a parody -- what about that format appeals to you?
Apatow: It's always fun to make fun of things that you actually love. I'm a big fan of music, as is (director/co-writer/co-producer) Jake (Kasdan). Jake has a lot of friends involved in the music community, and a lot of them worked on the music for the movie. My grandfather was a record producer -- his name was Bobby Shad -- who produced records by Dinah Washington and Janis Joplin. So, it's fun to write something about this world. And I love all these movies we're goofing on. But when you watch a ton of them, you realize there's a lot of similarity between them. There's a classic rise-fall-rise structure that you see. So Jake and I sat down and watched all the movies, and started outlining our own biopic. The movie isn't a joke-for-joke parody of biopics -- it's its own biopic. There's nothing in it where you'll say, "That's exactly that scene from that movie." But the whole thing is exactly those movies. We just created our own legendary star and told his story.
THR: Based on your difficulty getting "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" off the ground, is it easier to create a successful movie than a TV series?
Apatow: I could never crack the code on how to make any of these shows successful. I'm really proud of the work we did. It seems to be holding up over time. But whatever that process is to get your show made correctly, and then figure out how to get a good time slot and enough long-term support to catch on, it was beyond me. I think it would be fun to do something on a cable channel. That was probably my mistake, because I think I do better work when I don't have the constraints of network television. That's code for "I'm funnier when it's filthy."
THR: Why do so many adults connect to the geek-teen culture and dirty humor that you focus on?
Apatow: We're trying to write movies where people talk the way our friends talk. If I was friends with more literary-minded people, I probably would make different movies. Sometimes we'll be testing a movie, and people will say, "But will a 40-year-old like it?" and I just think, "Well, I'm basically 40 years old. A 40-year-old (who) grew up on (1978's) "Animal House" and (1980's) "Caddyshack."
THR: What drives you more, fan response or professional acclaim?
Apatow: In my head I'm always 14 years old. And no matter how often I go to therapy, I always feel like that kid walking down the hall in high school, thinking someone's about to slam him into a locker. You would think I would have shaken it by now, and I'm only currently coming to the realization that it may never go away. And I guess that's a good thing.