The busiest man in show business extrapolates on bullies, male frontal nudity, and his next directorial effort with Adam Sandler
Taking a break from his directorial duties, entertainment's busiest worker bee, Judd "The Smartest Person in Hollywood" Apatow, has stepped into the producer's seat to bring us this month's new comedy Drillbit Taylor. Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen wrote the film from a forty-page script treatment by Edmond Dantes (a pseudonym for the legendary John Hughes). Owen Wilson stars as the title character, a wayward bodyguard that is hired by a couple of middle school friends to protect them from the local bully. Keeping much of the Hughes spirit alive, the film is a hilarious ode to such school bully classics as My Bodyguard and Three O'Clock High.
We recently caught up with Judd to chat with him about his latest project, as well as get the scoop on his third future directorial endeavor with Adam Sandler, and what he has cooking on the male nudity front. Here is our conversation:
I know you've probably been asked this a million times, but taking the plotline of Drillbit Taylor into account, I want to know where my Chris Makepeace cameo is?
Judd Apatow: Well, we have an Adam Baldwin cameo. We made sure to get him in there. He's got a quick scene. We showed some respect.
Thank God. Cause you know, My Bodyguard is one of my favorite high school movies of all time.
Judd Apatow: Oh, me too. Me too. We refer to it often throughout the duration of the film.
This movie was definitely in the right hands, then. I want to know how you came to be in possession of this John Hughes script?
Judd Apatow: I got a call from a friend of mine over at Paramount. He told me that he had this treatment that John Hughes was never able to finish a script on. Hughes had agreed to let Paramount develop it. I was busy working on something at the time, so I asked Seth Rogen to take a look at it. He's the guy that wrote Superbad. He decided to work on it with his friend Kris Brown. They both worked on the show Undeclared. Kris was also one of the main writers on Beavis and Butt-Head. We didn't interact with Mr. Hughes at all. That said, we still went about trying to make a movie that was in the tradition of the great John Hughes movies.
Do you consider this your definitive ode to John Hughes? Or do you feel that all of your films have been somehow inspired by his work?
Judd Apatow: When I was in high school and junior high school, that is when a lot of the seminal John Hughes films were made. He is obviously a giant influence on me. I don't think I have ever enjoyed a movie more than I enjoyed Sixteen Candles when it came out. In my mind, I always considered myself an Anthony Michael Hall type of guy. A lot of my later work is about the same type of outcast that John Hughes often wrote about.
How much of his stuff is left in the actual script? Were there any lines lifted from his previous work?
Judd Apatow: The script came completely from Seth and Kris. It is their script. They took the main, cool idea of this group of kids that are getting bullied. And they hire the wrong guy to protect them. There is nothing in the script that came directly from John Hughes with the exception of this amazing idea. And it is similar to some of the movies of his that we loved, like Uncle Buck. Where a guy that doesn't seem very helpful ultimately comes through for you.
Oh, no doubt. I wasn't even thinking about Uncle Buck in terms of this film. What sort of experience did you have with the school bully? And did any of that past experience wind up in the film?
Judd Apatow: I didn't have too many experiences with bullies. The one or two close calls I had were terrifying enough that I spent the rest of my life trying to avoid those situations. People that get involved in comedy usually became funny to keep from getting the crap beat out of them at some point. If you can amuse the bully, they tend not to attack you. It is a cliche that happens to be true. Seth Rogen had all sorts of stories about people chasing after him in Vancouver while he was growing up. But then Kris Brown on the other hand, he admitted that he was a little bit of a bully as a kid. So we had both sides of the equation on this writing team.
I thought people in Canada were too nice to turn into the school bully?
Judd Apatow: Apparently they're not.
Who are some of your favorite on-screen bullies, and did you pull anything from them and reflect that back into this film?
Judd Apatow: Matt Dillon. His first couple of film roles were as a bully. I loved him in My Bodyguard. He was really charismatic and handsome, and terrifying all in one. I also love the bully in Three O'Clock High. The Phil Joanou movie. My buddy Paul Feig was an actor in that film. He was the creator of Freaks and Geeks. I remember when I first met Paul, he told me he was in Three O'Clock High, which had just came out. This was the most exciting thing that I had ever heard. That he played one of the kids in Three O'Clock High. But other than that, I don't know. I'm not sure. I think Alex Frost, who plays the bully in this, and he is in this new movie Stop Loss, is a great actor. He is both scary and funny. We also have Josh Peck from the Drake & Josh show on Nickelodeon. He plays the other school bully, and he is a pretty funny kid. He does some interesting, demented stuff in this movie.
Which one was in the film Elephant?
Judd Apatow: That is a really good question, because I haven't seen Elephant.
I'm pretty sure it was Alex Frost that played the bully in Elephant. Which took a look at some of the school shootings that are so rampant in America. With that sort of behavior being so prevalent in this day and age, was it ever a struggle or challenge to make light of the bully situation in America?
Judd Apatow: You know what? I don't think he is in the film Elephant (note: IMDB indicates that he is in fact the bully in the film Elephant). I think he is in a different film about a bully. Or maybe it is Josh that gets killed in a film about a bully. It is a very good movie, and he plays the mean bully. And these kids kill him. It is a lot different than our movie. (Laughs)
I was at the Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story junket, and I thought you were making a joke when you said that you were going to try and get a penis in every single film that you make. But then the other night I saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall...
Judd Apatow: And you realized that I am not kidding!
Nope. You certainly weren't kidding. What can we expect as far as full frontal nudity in Drillbit Taylor?
Judd Apatow: Lets just say that there are other parts of the body that have not been highlighted on screen before. You might think that I am running out of body parts, but the truth is, I am not.
That is kind of a scary notion, because I can't imagine what you have left to show us.
Judd Apatow: Exactly, buddy. By the end of the film you will say, "You certainly surprised me. I wasn't expecting to see that." There is definitely more to come. I think it is funny that anybody is embarrassed by anything having to do with the naked human body. It just really makes me laugh. These are such conservative times. That Janet Jackson showing her nipple made people flip out is crazy to me. Like anybody would be emotionally crippled by the sight of a nipple. When we make these movies, if it is appropriate, it really makes me laugh to go far in that direction. It is my personal flipping of the bird to that type of fear and shame. We shouldn't be afraid of the human form.
How do you feel about creating a new generation of class clown that will show off his business for the easy laugh?
Judd Apatow: Well, I want to make this clear...I don't think I am starting it. I think that is a great tradition. That didn't start with me. That may have started back in ancient Greece.
Maybe, but when I was back in school in the late 80s, some guys might have pulled a moon, but they never flashed their dicks in class. I think that is going to be more prevalent once these class jokers see your films, and they see the kind of laughs an on-screen penis can get.
Judd Apatow: But I can't think that they are doing this yet. Maybe they are. I'm not quite sure what the class clowns are up to.
I think you might start a trend here, seeing as how Jason Segel's penis got some huge laughs the other night in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Which is a very funny movie by the way. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Judd Apatow: Yeah, we are very excited that Jason did such a great job.
I know your next film is with Adam Sandler. Have you convinced him to show his penis on screen yet?
Judd Apatow: I'm not going to give that away. You will have to see the movie. You will have to watch all of the movies this summer, Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and at the end you can write a report for school called "The Parts of the Body I Learned About".
Maybe you should put a clip reel together.
Judd Apatow: That will be my Oscar montage. When I am seventy, and I get an Oscar for my humanitarian work, my on-screen montage will be a clip reel featuring all of the different parts of the human body that I wasn't afraid to show.
How did you go about casting this film? Especially Nate Hartley, because he does look an awfully lot like you.
Judd Apatow: Director Steve Brill and I had the same philosophy. You look for kids, then you rewrite the characters based on whom you find. We didn't look for kids that fit any aspects of the script. We said, "Let's find three kids that have chemistry together, and then we will send Kris and Seth off to tailor the movie to them." So, Nate is really funny and adorable. Dave Dorfman is the great ultimate nerd. He was the kid in that movie The Ring. Then Troy Gentile was this little comedy wunderkind that grew up on Sandler and Wilson, and I don't think he knows there were comedies before 1990. It is really funny to watch a kid that is influenced by the latest generation. He had a lot of funny moves, and he was just a very charismatic kid.
You have always had this ability to pull in the most interesting looking and just down right hilarious kids. Is it a long and arduous process finding these kids?
Judd Apatow: We have a lot of different kids read for a lot of different parts. Then we start mixing and matching, trying to find out who is funny with each other. And we try to find kids that can improvise with each other. We also like to find kids that don't get a long. You will find two boys, and they are funny because they are sort of hostile towards each other. That is funny. So, it's not just about kids getting along. When there is a group of seven kids, you always have the leader. Then there is the kid that is a people pleaser. Then there might be the one kid that is kind of annoying that you can't get rid of. We tried to match to what a real trio of these guys would be.
Did you have any instances like that on this set, where you found that two of the kids weren't getting along?
Judd Apatow: You'll find that on any set. There are tons of extras. And there are tons of actors. So the set becomes like a little Lord of the Flies situation. It is like a real high school when you shoot the movie. Because they are all still going to school. There are kids that hate each other. And there are kids that aren't getting along great. Even though you are there filming a movie, you can't stop the cliques or the normal politics of the high school. That is part of making a kids' movie.
From what I understand, you sent these kids off to Stunt Bootcamp. Is that true?
Judd Apatow: Stunt Bootcamp? I don't know, maybe they did go. I wasn't part of that. I do know that there was a lot of running around and fighting. They had to get the kids ready to be very physical.
As a producer, how hands on were you with this film? Were you on the set a lot?
Judd Apatow: My goal was to do as little as possible. As a producer, I focused on the script, the cast, and hiring the crew. If I have done a good job with all of that, and I am happy with the choices I have made, then once we start shooting, there isn't a ton for me to do but look for problems. I don't sit on the set everyday looking over the director's shoulder. But I will pick certain scenes that I can be helpful with in pitching some jokes, or making sure we are getting what we want. For the most part, I try to stay out of it. Then I jump back in during postproduction.
I want to go back to John Hughes for a moment. While searching the internet, I couldn't find much information as to why he was using the name Edmond Dantes.
Judd Apatow: I don't know. That seems to be his pseudonym. I think in situations like this, he always takes a pseudonym. This was the first I had ever heard of it. We just knew that this was his script. We didn't ever think about the fact that he would be getting a credit. Or that he wouldn't be getting a credit on the movie. They told us that he always takes the Edmond Dantes credit when it is a film where he is not directly on board. It started with him on board, and then he left. He told us that we could do whatever we wanted. He was cool with it. That's what it was.
And you have never met John Hughes?
Judd Apatow: No, no...He wasn't involved with us at all other than passing this off and being really cool with us doing what ever we wanted to do.
Has he been in hiding, or something?
Judd Apatow: No. I think he just has his own work that he is doing. I don't even know if he was happy that we, specifically, were doing it. There weren't any discussions like that. We were just told that John Hughes was cool with us going off and making it our own. Then that was it. I think he has the Dantes credit on Home Alone.
I know he took that credit on the Beethoven movies.
Judd Apatow: Yeah, he takes that credit on those particular movies. It was a real honor to have any kind of connection with him. We are gigantic fans.
Even the trailer seems to have that John Hughes vibe to it.
Judd Apatow: We really thought about it. We wanted to honor his name and do a movie that was in the tradition of his great movies. That was the bar. "Can we fit in with the other John Hughes movies that we love so much?" We defiantly tried to figure out what John Hughes did with his cinematography. And we wanted to keep within that tradition. But I wasn't there during the shooting, so I think our director Steve Brill would speak better to that. I am looking at IMDB right now. Mr. Hughes does have the Edmond Dantes credit on every single Beethoven movie. And he has the credit on Maid In Manhattan. So, I guess we are not alone with the Edmond Dantes credit. (Laughs)
Before I get kicked off of here, I want to ask you about this new film that they just announced the other day. Can you tell me anything about your third directorial effort?
Judd Apatow: I am not really talking about the details of that yet. Because I literally finished my vomit pass just two days ago. That is what I call my first draft. It's were I just have to get to the end, and I don't stop until I get there. Even if I don't think it is going well. As you know, it stars Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, and Leslie Mann. It is a comedy drama in the tradition of my other movies. Tradition? I hate saying that. With each movie, I am trying to be less broad and go deeper. That's while trying to stay equally as entertaining. That is something that I am going to try and do here.
Okay, last question. Is the backdrop on the Superbad poster actually a close-up of sperm? I need you to verify this for me.
Judd Apatow: You know what? That is not true. That is not true at all. (Laughs) I have never heard that before. I can't imagine that would be true. The background is just a texture so that it is not stark white. I will tell you this, it is not true, but I wish it were.
Okay. I have heard other people say that it is a real blown-up picture of sperm that they are standing in front of.
Judd Apatow: I've never, ever heard that. I would assume the people that made it would tell me. I wouldn't be against it. I have seen that poster close-up a million times. It is more like a marble texture. It is not mini-sperms. It is not that hard to check. You have to get the poster. That's a good game for people to play. You get the poster and see if you can spot a little sperm count on there.
I actually do have the poster. I was just looking at it. And I thought, "Well, that could be sperm."
Judd Apatow: The poster for Knocked Up overseas was all sperms headed towards the girl. So, I am not against sperm on the poster. But I don't think sperm made it on that particular one.
Drillbit Taylor opens Friday, March 21st, 2008.