Seth Rogan, Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann

Interview with Leslie Mann, Judd Apatow, and Seth Rogan, (pictured above with Apatow Children). This first appeared in the Sunday Independent on August 19, 200

One of the questions posed by Judd Apatow’s hilarious new comedy, Knocked Up, is ‘what would you do if this guy (picture of a sheepish looking Seth Rogan) got you pregnant?’

Even before the character reveals himself to be a sporadically employed pot-head the implication is that no woman in her right mind would relish the thought of carrying a baby that might look like a miniature Seth Rogan. My first thought when I saw this was, ‘if Seth Rogan got me pregnant I’d rejoice and begin picking out furniture for the nursery.’ I mean, come on, isn’t there something quite sexy about the ready smile, the twinkly eyes, the tousled Jew-fro? And wouldn’t he be a lot more fun around the house than, say, Brad Pitt? Nobody I spoke to could see it. The word ‘doughy’ was thrown around and one person pointed out he was ‘a bit old.’

‘Oh God, I get that a lot’, a 25-year-old Seth laughs when I meet him. ‘I’ve played Matt Dillon’s friend in a movie. I mean, he’s like 45 years old or something. And he’s done some hard drugs. Definitely I’m aware that I have freakish disease that makes me look decades older than I am.’

‘In his defence’, pipes up his Knocked Up co-star, Leslie Mann, who is slouched beside him in a large armchair, ‘I met him when he was 16 and he looked exactly the same then as he does now. I bet he still looks like this when he’s 40.’

Seth and Leslie met through Leslie’s husband, Judd Apatow, who plucked Seth from the Canadian stand-up circuit when he was still in his teens. ‘I started at 13 in a lesbian bar in Vancouver’, Seth tells me. ‘My mom would drive me and stay there while I performed. And I just talked about the stuff I was going through: high school, trying to get girls, my grandparents, that kind of thing. A good Bar Mitzvah joke is a good Bar Mitzvah joke regardless of your age and sexual orientation.’

Apatow, who had himself come up through the trenches of stand-up comedy (writing for, amongst others Roseanne Barr and Adam Sandler) before becoming an award winning comedy writer for TV, quickly realised that the kid had ‘something special.’ ‘He would come up with off-the-cuff observations that other writers would have to sit around grinding their teeth for weeks to come up with’ Apatow later tells me. ‘He was so young that he was a bit humiliating that he was better than us at that stuff but that’s how it went.’

At the time he met Apatow Rogan’s stand up act was ‘fairly clean’, he tells me, but he was ‘channelling my filthiness’ into a movie he had begun writing when he was 13. The resulting efforts would eventually become Superbad, the only known Hollywood movie to have been largely written by a barely pubescent boy. ‘I mean, there are a lot of toilet jokes,’ he tells me. ‘If it had been left up to my version it would be only toilet jokes. Judd brought in those other things like characterisation and emotion. I’d like to think I’ve gotten more sophisticated with my sense of humour,’ he tells me. ‘But that said Superbad does have a ten minute dick drawing sequence in it,’ he adds with his distinctive Yogi Bear-ish chuckle.

Knocked Up also features a fair amount of what Americans call ‘R-rated humour’. There are some sex scenes (‘I was just trying to not sweat on her’, Seth laughs) and some jokes that push the envelope a bit for a mainstream Hollywood comedy. I ask if Leslie had any hesitation in allowing her children to act in it. ‘No, I mean, they haven’t seen it’, she tells me, bristling slightly. ‘I think they’ve seen the trailers but they haven’t even seen the scenes that they are in themselves and they won’t until they are much older. My daughter ad-libbed really well in the movie and we were surprised she was so funny. She doesn’t really know what she did.’

It would be difficult to sit next to the quip machine that is Rogan and manage not to appear a little stiff by comparison but still, Mann does sound slightly clipped at times. When I ask if her character in Knocked Up – an unhappy, aging wife – isn’t just a teeny big naggy and whether her own sympathies were with the male characters, she gives me a glacial smile. ‘That’s just you seeing it through a young boy’s eyes’, she tells me. ‘I don’t really care so much whether she’s sympathetic or not. It’s hard for you to watch because you’re probably not married but watch it 15 years from now and I can guarantee you that …’ she pauses, catches herself being condescending and finishes ‘…that you’ll feel exactly the same way.’

She met Apatow on the set of the Jim Carrey vehicle, The Cable Guy, playing a role, which she had beaten off 500 other actresses to play. She’s studiously vague about how much of their marriage is mirrored in a comedy about relationship difficulties and husbands wanting to hang out with their male friends, written by her husband. ‘Um, I guess when playing a role everyone has to draw on their lives to an extent’ (‘…except for Anthony Hopkins’, Seth quips),‘but everything’s taken to an extreme in the movie’, she muses. Apatow is more definite when I put the same question to him later, describing the film as ‘almost like a documentary’.
‘I mean, the thing is, my wife knows my job is fun. So when I have to go and do a movie she doesn’t buy that I’m ‘at work’. To her that’s like saying I’m going to a soccer game or whatever. There’s like zero ‘Judd was at work at the mill and now I’m going to get him his paper and leave him alone.’ Sometimes you just really want two hours to yourself to think.’

Like his current protégé Apatow is hilarious company. He got his first big break writing for Roseanne at the height of her powers, during what he calls her ‘national anthem phase.’ (The period in which she caterwauled the American National Anthem to loud boos in a football stadium). ‘I’d sit around all day writing housewife jokes. I interviewed her to get to know her better so that I could write jokes that would sound right coming out of her mouth. She was very easy but she told me some very scary stories and secrets about her life, which I felt scared even knowing. I remember one time we were on the road and Jesse Jackson wanted to meet her and Tom (Arnold) wouldn’t let her go. He told her he was afraid that Jesse Jackson would fall in love with her. And she was like, ‘That’s RIDICULOUS. Jesse Jackson is NOT going to fall in love with me.’ And Tom began shouting, ‘WHY NOT? I FELL IN LOVE WITH YOU, YOU’RE LOVEABLE!’ And they began a big argument over that’, Judd leans back in his chair, hooting at the memory.

Most Hollywood actors and writers profess total ignorance of anything written about them (until they swoop in with libel suits that is) but Judd is charmingly upfront about his self-obsession. ‘Google alerts – what a dangerous invention’, he laughs. ‘They can tell you, like, 10 times a day whether something has been written about you. I try to only read the good bits. If it begins ‘Judd Apatow hasn’t a clue what…’ then I go to the next page. Whereas if it begins ‘Judd Apatow is hilarious because…’ I bookmark it.’

A discreet knock on the door tells me that my audience with the Apatow family and adopted family is nearly over. They’re planning on attending a screening of Knocked Up that night, a daunting experience for any cast. I can still hear Seth still chortling in another room and someone else is waiting for a dollop of self-deprecation from his comedy mentor. On the way out I pass him laughing in a hallway with one of the crew and it occurs to me: if you shaved off the beard and trimmed the ‘fro he could easily pass for a cute 25 year old. Anyone should be proud to carry his baby, the sex symbol naysayers be damned.

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~ by Donal Lynch on January 8, 2008.

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