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Name a successful comedy star who has debuted during the past 20 years, and chances are Judd Apatow has helped launch them to fame. From early days with Garry Shandling and Ben Stiller to the young future megastars of Freaks and Geeks (Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and James Franco) and over to the titans of Anchorman (Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Steve Carell) and beyond, the writer-producer-director has proven to have the eyes and instincts to know who and what will make America laugh.
Now, Apatow has another prized pupil, as he has guided 25-year-old Lena Dunham from a surprise indie hit to her wildly anticipated new HBO show, Girls. He serves as executive producer on the comedy, about four post-grad women trying to find their places in both New York City and the world, and spoke with The Hollywood Reporter at the show’s premiere Wednesday, discussing the series and a number of other matters, including his unique Twitter presence.
The Hollywood Reporter: What did you see in Tiny Furniture that made you want to call Lena?
Apatow: It was so vulnerable, and clearly it was autobiographical, which I always enjoy. She has this amazingly unique comedic voice, and it was a visually beautiful movie even though it was low budget. She just had so many skills. But I connected to the heart of it; I always love underdog stories, and it felt like an underdog story.
THR: She did a web series awhile back, did the film, now has a TV show at 25 years old. When you came up, you worked your way up as a TV writer. Do you think it’s different now, trying to make it in the industry?
Apatow: It’s different in the sense that you can afford to make things. I could make a movie right now in my phone, put it on the internet, and if it was good, someone might notice. And when I was young, it was hard to get film — and even if you made a good film, how would you get anyone to look at it?
THR: For the first long stretch in your career, you did a lot of shows and films that were told from a male’s perspective. Now, with Bridesmaids and Girls, you’re working on projects about women. Was that a conscious change?
Apatow: I got bored of penises. I said, ‘Enough of that.’ No, I just like immaturity; I like to show people struggle and try to figure out who they are. I’m a guy, so it leaned guy for a while. But one of the projects I’m most proud of is Freaks and Geeks, which is about a woman in high school struggling to figure out which group she wants to belong to. So for me, it goes back and forth.
THR: It was announced last week that you will be revisiting Anchorman. What was the genesis in finally getting that greenlighted?
Apatow: I don’t know! They just called one day, and they just said, ‘It’s on!’ So I’m not sure. It’s something we always wanted to do at some point, so I guess it just timed out for Will [Ferrell] and Adam [McKay], it’s their baby, so I was thrilled that they decided to do it.
THR: Was it scripted awhile ago, then?
Apatow: No, no, they’re writing it right now.
THR: You have This is 40 coming out as well. When you produce something versus direct it, what’s the difference in involvement for you?
Apatow: I just look for troubles. So they tell me the story and I give whatever advice I can give, and then I read the script and give them some notes. Sometimes I’m deeply involved, sometimes people nail it and there’s not that much for me to do. It changes from project to project.
THR: What about on Girls?
Apatow: Well, she’s just such a great writer and director. A lot of our discussion is just about how to structure the show so it can last many years. How do you tell a story in a half an hour versus two hours. And I also felt like because it’s HBO, it would be important that the show be really funny in addition to being very truthful, and to figure out what the balance of that was.
THR: There were a lot of new shows already this year about young women, like 2 Broke Girls, but this one feels a bit different. Do you see it in a different light at all?
Apatow: It’s just because it’s a single-camera show and we’re on HBO and it’s uncensored. There are limitations when you’re doing a sitcom, in terms of language and how long you have to tell a story. But we’re big fans of all of those shows. My friend Jake Kasdan, who produced Freaks and Geeks, is one of the producers on New Girl, and we’re all obsessed.
THR: One more thing. I follow you on Twitter. You tweet a lot of photos that are very, very close-up shots of your face [for example, this one]. Please, I need to know why.
Apatow: You know, I just enjoy taking a picture of myself and then having hundreds of people insult it, and then I go to bed. There’s something soothing about it.
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