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judd apatow on marriage, middle age and “this is 40”

I loved the movie, This Is 40, and was thrilled to be invited to the press junket to interview director Judd Apatow and stars Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd. In the movie, Debbie and Pete – the couple you may remember fondly from Knocked Up – are celebrating their fortieth birthdays and are each experiencing their own midlife crisis.

Although the movie is spit-Diet-Coke-out-of-your-mouth funny, it really hits home in its depiction of long-term marriage. What makes it even more realistic is that Apatow is married to Mann, and their two young daughters – who are fantastic – star in the movie as, well, the two young daughters.

Judd Apatow is known for his crude comedies but, in real life, he is thoughtful, warm and articulate. It’s no wonder Entertainment Weekly once named him the Smartest Person in Hollywood.

My fellow bloggers and I gathered around the table for a great conversation with Apatow. Here’s what we talked about, and I bet you can figure out at least one of the questions that was mine!

Judd Apatow

Why did you decide to write this “sort-of sequel” to Knocked Up? 

When I started, I didn’t really know what form it was going to take, so I just started making notes, and writing lists of moments. I put them on cards and lay them out on a giant table, and then, slowly a story began to reveal itself. I knew I wanted to talk about their birthdays and the meltdown they’re having. They start doubting their marriage and doubting each other, and things just keep getting worse. I wanted it to be a meltdown movie that would end with them re-bonding. It’s also about not wanting to take responsibility for what’s actually happening so it becomes easier to blame your spouse than to think about what you’re been through in your life and what you’re bringing to the party. That was also a big theme in the movie.

This movie made me feel better about a lot of things about my own relationship with my husband – and also about my obsession about Sprinkles Cupcakes.  

Oh, yes.

So, the Sprinkles obsession is really true?

I like Sprinkles, but I also enjoy Crumbs. I don’t want the Crumbs people to feel bad. The funny thing is when we shot those scenes where Paul’s tempted to eat cupcakes even though he has high cholesterol, the set was just littered with cupcakes. We’re shooting the scene where Leslie’s mad at Paul and screaming at him, “Stop eating cupcakes!” and I’m literally hiding behind the monitors eating cupcakes, and we’re having the exact same conversation.

You talk about writing as a form of self-exploration. What did you learn about yourself or your marriage that you didn’t know when you starting writing? 

It was helpful for me to deeply think through Leslie’s point of view because it’s so easy to just think, “I’m right. She’s annoying.” One thing she pointed out to me a long time ago was that being shut down feels like a terrible rejection. A guy might just want to zone out and go on the computer or read the paper, and he thinks, “I’m not doing anything. Why would you be mad at me? I’m just sitting here.” But that act is hostile.

In Knocked Up, there’s a scene where she says, “Just because you don’t yell doesn’t mean you’re not mean.” I came from a divorced household, so I loved going in my room, shutting the door, and watching The Merv Griffin Show. That’s what my whole childhood was – shutting the door. So, that’s my instinct. Leslie and I have to work through both my instinct to shut the door and her instinct to talk it through maybe past the point we need to talk it through.

How do you and Leslie work in “alone time” together? 

Leslie and I have focused so much on our kids that it has been a detriment to our personal lives in a lot of ways. We both come from families where our parents got divorced, so we try to really be there for our kids all the time. There’s a lot of focus on all four of us going to eat dinner together, not “me and mom are going out to maintain our relationship separate from you.” That’s what I wanted to write about. Going away alone together – even for a night or two – makes a big difference. If you take away 40 percent of your problems for a weekend, your whole body chemistry changes.

How does it feel to make a movie about your family starring your family?

There are very few movies just about people, that don’t have gigantic action elements or superheroes. The world of the small human drama comedy is tiny. We don’t get many of them. So, if I don’t write it, it’s a long shot that it will just suddenly appear. I was happy to be able to tailor something to what I observe about Leslie. And that’s what I like about doing the movie and doing it with the kids — because it’s a real family, I can show details that most people would never get into a movie. You can tell they love each other and are angry with each other, and it just feels more like real life than if I had hired some stranger kid to be in it. Leslie’s so funny and has been the person that has inspired me to be as truthful as I am in the work. She doesn’t really consider herself a comedian, so it’s more like I live with a serious actress, and I’m being influenced by her interest and honesty, and then I can keep my comedy going.

Do you worry about what your daughters will think when they see the movie?

No, we talk about everything. That’s our philosophy in the house. Somewhere, we just gave up on the idea that they weren’t going to see the things that we were worried about them seeing. If I could develop a relationship where they will tell me and talk to me about it, that’s more important than making sure they don’t see American Horror Story.

Why did you decide to include Debbie and Pete’s fathers in the film?

People live for a really long time now, and at some point the relationship flips and kids have to take care of their parents. I tried to think of the most stressful possible situations and get really funny people to play them. And also to show that if you have a parent who’s really overbearing and engulfing, you want to hide in the bathroom. And if you have a parent that kind of disappeared, you’re constantly wanting more, and that affects how Debbie and Pete treat each other.

What message about marriage do you want to send with this movie? 

It’s about what it takes to be committed to somebody for your entire life. You have bumps along the way, and at moments you even doubt the entire enterprise. It’s about what it takes to hang in there and learn from your mistakes and have a deep commitment for somebody.  When I was a kid and my parents got divorced, I always thought, “Why didn’t they try harder?” I’m sure on some deep, psychological level, I’m trying to show people with the worst relationships not giving up.  Maybe it’s a terrible message to send to people, and they all should be divorced at this point, but I like when people try. I also think it’s interesting that your spouse always points out what’s wrong with you. You could look at that as a positive thing or as a nightmare. I think Oprah told us this many times – it’s about what you do with that information.

Will there be a This is 50? 60? 

I would do it in a second if something interesting happened because I look at it more like this was an episode of a TV show and we have two episodes so far and I’d like to do 20 more. I don’t know if we’ll ultimately do it. It really will just depend on what happens in life and if it seems amusing. I could not make it because we’re just so happy that nothing happens, and I could not make it because it’s so depressing that I don’t want to write about it. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.

Special thanks to Melinda Kim Photography for the great junket photos!

Read Lois’ interview with Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd here, and “40 Things This is 40 Gets Right About Middle Age” here.

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