Read Part One of this interview right here
When Judd Apatow's latest film, Funny People, was announced, many critics and audiences hailed it – even before they saw it – not only as an evolution of the filmmaker's style, but a return to the kind of drama-laced comedy that flourished in the 1980s and early '90s thanks to folks like Cameron Crowe and James L. Brooks. When it was released, the film more than satisfied those expectations, offering an unflinching but frequently hilarious portrait of an A-list comedian rediscovering himself, but there seemed to be a sense that audiences knew themselves less well than they felt like they knew the film's main character, resulting in a less enthusiastic response than perhaps even they expected.
The film arrives on Blu-ray this week, offering what is indisputably the most complete and comprehensive look behind the scenes at a comedy ever produced, and offers audiences a second chance to check out Apatow's most meaningful and resonant work to date. Cinematical got a chance to catch up with the writer-director via telephone to discuss the contents of the expansive, 2-Disc Collector's Edition; in the second part of our chat, Apatow talks about precisely what made the movie so personal for him, and offers a few insights about its place in his growing body of work, and its potential influence on his future films (including a Harry Potter movie, maybe?).
Cinematical: With or without talking to you at the time of the film's release, people seemed to assume that this was a very personal film, I think because it was more serious than your previous work. Was it really personal, and if so in what way or why?
Judd Apatow: Well, I find that things can be very personal without pointing out to people what is taken directly from your life. If I do it right, it shouldn't feel like I'm just talking about personal experiences that happened to me or people in my world. So it's good that it doesn't seem – that you can't track it (laughs). But the ideas are very intimate and they relate to a lot that's happened to me over the decades, but it's all thrown into a blender to make it more amusing or dramatic. But yes, it does feel very personal, to the point of being embarrassing, but it's because it's how you feel about the world that's out there. It's kind of showing one's pleasant side and one's crazy voices; I'm just better at hiding them in a character that can act them out. You make a movie and think, ah, this is about other people, but slowly you realize it's all about you. It's also about everyone who's involved in the collaboration, but it surprises you when it's done how much is based on things that you're struggling with.
Cinematical: Given the sort of line-o-rama process by which you work when shooting scenes, how do you decide what ends up in a film or works best for it?
Apatow: Every joke is meant to illuminate something, whether it's how funny someone is or a piece of their back story or how they're feeling on that particular night. So there's literally no punchline that wasn't in there that wasn't debated for hours and hours, but how I like to shoot it is to shoot Adam or Seth doing half an hour of material, not obsessing about what I will use when we're shooting, and then decide what fits best after. But when you keep it loose and the comedians are really in character, other things happen on stage that are surprising and they do fit into what you need. People do subconsciously start living the story, so Adam one day said, "hey, tonight I'm going to improvise something on the piano," and he just sits down and sings this mad song. The audience doesn't know that he's sick, but in a way it's a strange goodbye to his audience, and it's really sad and filthy. I never could have written that in a million years, and Adam did it off the top of his head; and because it's improvised, it's sloppy and emotionally raw in a way that's very truthful. He just went there, and that's why I try to create some extra space for those moments to happen.
Cinematical: How much is there a degree of sort of self-satirization in this film, whether you're taking direct jabs at your or Adam's movies? Or, even if it's not in the movie, how much do you guys sort of rib one another about the movies you make?
Apatow: Every time you make a movie, it's a risk. It's easy to take for granted the work of comedians, but it's insanely hard to make people laugh out loud and be really happy for an hour and a half straight. And sometimes you do it with the silliest thing in the world and sometimes you do it in a more thoughtful way or emotional way, but it's hard as hell (laughs). How I looked at that aspect of the movie was that this character valued being on top more than the quality of his movies, so he tried to make decent movies, but his ego made him try to hit a home run every time out. That being said, while we were making the movie, we kept saying, "we'd make Mer-Man right now!" There's a funny version of Mer-Man, there's a funny version of Redo. And it genuinely made us laugh; even though we knew we were goofing on movies like that, we also thought, we could probably do a good one of these!
But one thing I appreciated from Adam was that he never said, "oh don't do that – people will think you're goofing on me." The truth is, I'm not goofing on Adam because Adam has a ridiculously wide range of movies he's made. He's just covered so much ground. Some are incredibly silly, some are truly experimental art films, and his level of success is so high he's just been amazing for a very long time, and I don't think George Simmons would have tried most of what Adam has tried to do. Again, there's a subtle difference there, so it's easy for people to say, "oh, you're goofing on your own movies," but I really thought what was more interesting to me was what happens when a shallow person gets sick? He doesn't want to be thoughtful, so his movies can't be thoughtful; he's not making introspective comedies. When he gets sick, he doesn't tell anybody, he doesn't know how to talk about it – he's not that kind of person. He's more like a Rodney Dangerfield kind of person; he's telling jokes and being silly.
Cinematical: What I think is one of the things he and the film communicates is that comedy is a way for someone to conceal their true feelings, and ultimately a prison that keeps them from being able to express them.
Apatow: Sometimes it's easier to hide when you're that famous. It was strange when Michael Jackson died and there were so many similarities to how we were presenting this fictionalized comedy star in our movie and what was coming out about Michael Jackson. The opening conversation about our movie is Adam having a conversation with his doctor about sleep medication. And all of these images of this rich guy alone in this giant house, never feeling satisfied with the amount of affection he's getting from the world – which is an enormous amount of affection. A lot of times people want to make you laugh not because they want to make you happy but because they want to know if you like them. Your laugh signals "you're okay" – and that's a tough way to live. I think a lot of us as we get older think, is there a healthy way to do what we're doing? We didn't start this [for our] mental health, but can we spin it at some point and be creative for normal positive reasons?
Cinematical: Having done this movie which was so much more personal and serious than your other films, do you feel inclined to continue going in that direction?
Apatow: I try to be very passionate about the movies I'm making. I can get passionate about something that's ridiculous and absurd and silly in the same way I can be passionate about something that's more intimate and thoughtful, but I just have to care about it. So I don't know; as of right now, I'm trying not to think too much about what I'll do next and see what strikes me, but every once and a while I think it would be great to do something really dumb next, really goofy, and just make people happy. Create a joy machine. But most of the time I think let's do another really dark, melancholy movie about a different subject, and then I think, you know what? Maybe I need a longer rest (laughs). So I don't know; I'll just wait until someone needs a director for the 14th Harry Potter movie and hopefully I'll be at the top of the list somewhere.
Cinematical: Do you have any idea what the next thing is going to be for you?
Apatow: I really don't. I've never had two ideas in my head. I mean, my brain is completely blank. I covered a lot of ground with these last two movies, so I may need something to happen to me in life before I can write again. But I don't know – then something hits you out of the blue and it could happen in an eighth of a second; oh, it's that! And then you're off to the races.
Cinematical: Whether they're conscious or not, do you see ongoing or repeated themes emerging in or from your growing body of work?
Apatow: I don't think about it consciously, but there are certain ideas that recur and then you start thinking to yourself, well, should I make sure that never happens in one of my movies again? For instance, I like when sad people find a way to get happy, even if it's only for a moment; should I avoid that now that I've noticed that in a bunch of my movies? That's an interesting question for me as I walk around the house. I can see the stitching on the ball now more than anybody, and then you start thinking about new terrain, but you also don't want to suddenly make a movie about Icelandic people just because no one expects you to do that. I would like always to write about things that matter to me and I understand, but I was reading this graduation speech that Larry Gelbart delivered at UCLA a few years ago and a big hunk of it was about writing about things you don't know anything about and how ultimately it will still become a personal story. I usually go against that, but I thought, well, if Mr. Gelbart says that then maybe my philosophy is wrong.
Cinematical: What was the thing that you took away from this experience that was maybe different than your other movies?
Apatow: Well, it's much more challenging to make a movie that's meant to be more than just fantasy fulfillment. It is hopefully a big, funny, enjoyable experience but it's also kind of an independent movie, you know; it's a character study, and it is a different world when you're trying to have that relationship with the audience. A lot of people got to the movies just to numb themselves out from whatever other difficult things life is presenting to them, and I'm exactly like that; when a girl broke up with me, the first thing I did was run to see What About Bob? But this is the first time for me where I tried to share a more complicated experience with people. And you get a larger array of reactions to it – some people, it completely knocks them out, other people, you can tell that they emotionally shut down from thinking about any of this, and the movie is hard for them to tolerate. And that's the point of it: it's supposed to stick with you for a while. That's all I thought about when we were ending it, and I hope people talk about this for a while. I hope it's something that stays on people's minds.