'This Is 40': A family affair for Apatow, Mann and Rudd
Posted December 18, 2012
NEW YORK - Stop by the Apatow household at sunrise for a cup of coffee, and this is what you might encounter.
"Judd revs up first thing in the morning. He always gets a really snotty nose. He wakes up in the morning and starts pacing. He starts sneezing and snorting. He's a nervous wreck. That's kind of hard. He'll pace back and forth," says actress Leslie Mann, 40, who's been married to writer/director/producer Apatow, 45, since 1997.
That aspect of their relationship didn't make it to the big screen. But lots of other stuff did in the semi-autobiographical comedy This Is 40, opening Friday and starring Mann and Paul Rudd as a couple trying to get by. It's the sweet, salty sort-of sequel to Apatow's 2007 hit Knocked Up. The first starred Katherine Heigl as the pushy career woman who gets impregnated during a one-night stand with Seth Rogen, but it also featured biting supporting turns from Mann, as Heigl's bitter older sister Debbie, and Rudd as Mann's misunderstood, obtuse husband Pete. Now, they're headlining their own comedy.
"A third of the film is inspired by things that happened. A third is inspired by our friends, but mainly Paul. And a third we make up to make it funny. It's more an imagining of what could happen and how badly it could go," says Apatow, over lunch with Mann and Rudd. "I started thinking about writing about this time in life."
If Knocked Up delved into the hesitant, wary, awkward maturation of an accidental couple, then This is 40 represents what could be the next phase. Relationships, in the Apatow world-view, aren't based on grand romantic gestures or rancid, ruinous feuds. They're molded by the little things, the everyday stuff that gets under your skin, or cracks you up, or some combination thereof. Debbie and Pete bicker over his penchant for devouring cupcakes. She tries to seduce him, and he blows her off. He listens to obscure bands that she doesn't get. She flirts with a hockey player.
Mann's Debbie never backs down from a verbal brawl. Rudd's Pete hides in the bathroom.
"Emotionally, it's definitely what I go through. The scenes aren't what really happens in our life. Emotionally, it is kind of what we go through and what I think most people go through," says Mann, turning to her husband. "That's so disgusting."
Apatow is peeling the exterior off a succulent piece of chicken. "Right now I'm taking the skin off because Leslie is here. If she wasn't here, 50/50 I'd eat the skin. It's some juicy skin. There's a lot going on in the skin," says Apatow, looking at Rudd. "How do you fight with Julie? Paul thinks he can end a tense moment with a great joke."
A father of two, Rudd, 43, has been married to former publicist Julie Yaeger since 2003. Says Rudd, looking up from his salad: "I know that doesn't work. It's never a good idea. I certainly know it's not a good idea to try and make light of the situation."
Like her character, says Mann, she "will fight to my death. I would rather die than give in. Fight to the death. Until I'm so exhausted I have to go to bed."
Confirms Apatow: "Once we got into a fight and I got so stressed out that I fell asleep while Leslie was talking."
Rudd, too, has some similarities with his boyishly charming yet willfully oblivious character. "I don't take an iPad to the toilet. But I have a phone that has Words With Friends on it. I had to stop Words With Friends. There was a time when I had 13 games going on at once. It keeps me from engaging. I don't have to engage with anybody, my family."
Apatow and Mann's daughters Maude, 14, and Iris, 10, play her kids in the film. And some of what the girls experience on screen is based on their own lives, like the ban on wireless Internet access. "They tell you at school to have the computer in a family space, like the kitchen, so we do that. We have no Wi-Fi. We have a DSL line," says Mann.
Their on-screen scuffle about who gets to watch Lost is also authentic. "We try and tap into the arguments they have in real life. To Maude, she had to wait so many years to watch it, the idea that Iris would get to see it is the ultimate betrayal," says Apatow.
Mann becomes all proud mama bear when discussing her girls, especially the emotional scenes involving Maude being a typical teenager with mood swings and demands.
"It's fun having them around. They've grown up with all these people. They can enjoy themselves. It seemed like Maude discovered how to act this time. In that scene when she screams at us at the table, she knew what she wanted to do and she knew she wanted to get emotional and she was nervous about it. She figured out how to put that into her acting. It was really fun watching her do that. It was amazing. I cried," she says.
And yes, as in the film, the ban on wireless and the mandate to use the family computer totally bugs Maude, who is a clever and prolific Tweeter. "Maude sneaks into my office and uses mine. It just sends them into different corners of the house. They get around. It teaches them skills. We can't tell if it's ruining her or making her really interesting. She may never be able to do anything that's more than 140 characters. Or it's the beginning of finding her voice. No one knows. That's what's terrifying about it," says Apatow.
Equally frightening, for Mann, was the prospect of leaving her 30s behind.
"I had a nervous breakdown. Because I think something – I don't know if it's a chemical thing, but I feel like my head is going crazy. I look at myself and things look different. My skin looks different. My elbows, I have weird skin on my elbows I never had before. I have more wrinkles," she says. "I have gray hairs. It's throwing me. I'll relax into it, but I'm going to let myself go super-crazy for a few years. It's all about my girlfriends right now."
Says Apatow: "Leslie likes to talk about it, express it and go through it, I'd rather just shut down. When I turned 40, Leslie was shooting 17 Again. I went to set and Leslie is shooting a scene where she has to erotically dance with Zac Efron."
Rudd offers the most sobering, serious and thoughtful analysis of what it means to be older.
"With turning 40, life gets tricky. More things happen and more responsibilities and pressures. That first part of your life, you look at everything being ahead of you and there's an air of optimism. As a kid, as a teenager, as a young adult, everything is ahead of you. You think about what you're going to achieve with your life, what kind of person you're going to marry, what kind of kids you're going to have," he says.
"When you hit the middle part of your life – you hit a point where it's more about what I didn't get or what I didn't get that I deserved or the choice I didn't make. It's not ahead of you anymore. I'm married now. I have kids now. That's not ahead of me. While it's gratifying in so many ways, in all the ways I'd hoped, this is the thing that human beings experience, the flip side. I do think, I certainly hope, when you get into the twilight of your years…."
Mann shakes her head, a little crestfallen. "God. All the things you put off, like learning to play the piano or leaning a different language? You're like, what's the point? I'm not really gonna do that, am I? At this age, you realize, this is who I am and things probably are not going to change that much."
So would Apatow write a sequel to This Is 40, and perhaps call it the Twilight of Your Years, as an homage to Rudd?
"I can start writing it today," he says.
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