Judd Apatow Reveals His Penis Rule — '5 Seconds Yes, 20 Seconds No' — and Talks About 'Girls' Sex Scenes Banned by HBO
Apatow says HBO warned "We literally could lose our license"; he also defends President Obama's Funny or Die appearance and discusses his cult classic "Freaks and Geeks."
HBO refused to allow executive producers Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham to film controversial sex scenes that might have included a male erection onscreen, Apatow told students at Loyola Marymount University on March 12.
"There have been things on Girls where HBO has said to us, 'If we put this on TV, we literally could lose our license to broadcast,' the filmmaker said. In one particular case, "Let's just say it's something you see in adult film. Elements of sexual intercourse. The high points of sexual intercourse."
He said he understood why the sex scene was forbidden, though he did not elaborate on the particulars of the scene and when it would have been shown on Girls, now in its third season. "Cause then you're home watching HBO, you watch Hope Floats, then you see that on Girls. It's good. It's all good. And I understand that. But that's our job is to try to figure out where the line is." In his past work, he said, "We've experimented with the limits of what people can handle. We've had a male organ in movies. We found out that 20 seconds of someone naked is probably too much, and people will leave the theater if you have full frontal nudity for an extended period of time. But if you make it five seconds they'll laugh and say it was great. So basically that's the ratio of how much penis people can handle in a movie. Five seconds yes, 20 seconds no. We're always going too far and then deciding where the line is."
Apatow also shed light on his angry response to one audience member at a Girls panel Jan. 9 at a Television Critics Association gathering, when Dunham was asked why her "character is often naked at random times for no reason." Apatow shot back at the journalist: "Do you have a girlfriend? Does she like you?"
He explained it was the form of the question and not its content that bothered him. "I got really mad," he said. "People wrote about it. But it was about how the guy asked it. He was just really nasty and there was a really nasty tone in his voice. Every interview we ever do people ask about the nudity. We don't care about that. That's just a part of the show. There was just something really awful in how he was communicating with us." Asked whether criticism troubled Dunham as much as him, he said: "You know, so little it doesn't even make sense."
Apatow said fans can expect Girls to run six seasons."We've talked about doing six seasons," he said. "I guess that could change. It's not set. I think we're all committed that we'll do six." No ending has been worked out yet. "But we've talked about it. It makes you respect the ending of The Sopranos. … You think about, how do you end a series? The idea that you just stop and leave people there is so genius, it's such a great idea. It's such a great way of saying, 'It doesn't matter. This is their life and now we're just going to leave them to it.'"
Among recent things that have impressed Apatow in the comedy world, he singled out the Zach Galifianakis Funny or Die interview with President Obama while admitting he had tried to get the president to appear in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
"There was a moment when we were trying to get [Obama] to do a cameo in Anchorman 2. People kept saying, 'I think it's possible.' And I'm like, 'We're not going to get the president to be on Anchorman 2,' but then he did [Funny or Die]. But he has something he wants to say. I think if people feel like everybody is so cynical that comedy is one of the only ways you can reach people. If you just sincerely say, 'This healthcare will be good for you,' people will be like, 'Get the f--- out of here.' But if you're in a funny sketch and you slip the information in, that's more powerful, and I think that a lot of people are looking for ways to do that. The president is so funny it's crazy. I think he's so funny, he's afraid for the country to know how funny he is. If you knew how funny he was, you would be really scared."
In addition to his long-delayed Simpsons debut, Apatow says he's directing Amy Schumer's film Trainwreck, "a romantic comedy between Amy and Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live," and a film written by Paul Reubens and Paul Rust, tentatively titled Pee Wee Takes a Holiday. "We're pretty close to getting that going," said Apatow.
But fans may have to wait forever for a sequel to Apatow's canceled 1999-2000 cult show Freaks and Geeks, which launched Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. "Freaks and Geeks would probably have a really sad reunion show," said Apatow. "It would have to happen at a prison or at a hospital. We didn't think [many] those people would do very well."
Future Hollywood Masters interviews will feature Gary Ross, John Singleton and Disney Studios' Alan Horn. Previous interviewees include Alfonso Cuaron and David O. Russell.
A full transcript of Apatow's interview follows on the next page.