Knocked Up is currently filming in Brentwood, CA, a high end neighborhood you may remember from the O.J. Simpson murders. Judd Apatow reunites much of the 40-Year-Old Virgin team for a conception comedy. Seth Rogen plays a guy who gets a one night stand (Katherine Heigl) pregnant, so the try to make a relationship work to become parents. Apatow graciously allowed me to poke around on his set, and pester him and his cast for a few answers about what it’s taking to get Seth Knocked Up.
“What happened was after Virgin, Seth and I were talking about writing something for him,” said Apatow. “All of his ideas were giant science fiction movies. They were very high concept. And I said, ‘Seth, you don’t need a big concept to be funny. In Virgin you’re funny just standing there, talking. You just need a situation that’s funny because you’re in it as opposed to somebody else, like you get a girl pregnant and that’s just funny because it’s you.’ And that’s how the ideas started.”
Being upgraded from funny sidekick to male lead in his own vehicle hardly phased Rogen. “I’m not the star of every scene, so it’s not like walking through being the center of the attention,” Rogen said. “For a lot of the movie, I’m one of five people in a room and Judd’s kids are going to get more laughs than I will in a million years, so I just try and approach it scene by scene, and try not to approach it as I’m the star of anything. It’s an ensemble really; there’s a lot of people in the movie, and if were just me, it’d be really boring.”
Another 40-Year-Old Virgin scene stealer, Paul Rudd plays a married father who becomes an ally. That doesn’t stop Rogen and Rudd from using each scene to insult each other.
“We’ve just started insulting each other in different ways, but there was some gay slams,” Rudd said. “Seth and I, when we do stuff together will get to a really dark place really fast and every once in a while one of the other guys will say something so dark that even the crew flinches. There’s no way that’s making the movie. That’s not even going to make the DVD.”
Since Apatow likes to let his actors improvise, sticking with a familiar group helps improve the banter. “The people from Virgin worked together very well,” said Apatow. “There’s a shorthand there and everyone understand the process. And then for the new people who join us like Katy, they easily fall into what we’re doing because everybody is so in sync. So in that sense it’s been fun. We’re just trying to take advantage of the real relationships people have. So when Seth has four friends in the movie, they are actually played by his four best friends in real life. And when they start talking it just feels very genuine and funny, in the way that they’re funny if you hangout with them.”
Best known for work on the dramatic TV series Grey’s Anatomy, Katherine Heigl was excited to go to work on a comedy. “I'm a huge 40-Year-Old Virgin fan,” she said. “I'd seen it like three times, in theaters. I didn't even wait for the DVD. I was just going back with my friends and my family and then my friends again. So when I got the call to audition for the part, I was just really nervous and really excited to meet these people who made one of my favorite movies. And I loved the script immediately. I thought it was super funny, and again it was just my kind of humor. I'm a big Tommy Boy fan and I like really funny movies. So these guys, we sit around all day just thinking of funny things to say and joking around. We kind of just sit out on the lawn in the sun and hang out between takes. It has a very family vibe here. Everybody kind of knows one another and has worked with each other before and they've been really wonderfully accepting of me and bringing me into the fold and it's just been really fun. They're great.”
With Rogen and Rudd going off on Steely Dan and Danny Pintauro, sometimes Apatow has to get them back on track. “He’ll never reprimand you for saying anything,” said Rogen. “What he’ll say is ‘Don’t say that again.’ He’ll never be like ‘I can’t believe you said that!’”
This day’s shooting involved the boys insulting each other for making up with their significant others, after a boy power night had each one promising to break it off. Gay jokes ensued but since most of them involved effeminate celebrities who can’t be mentioned for legal reasons.
“We’ll also go on a run for a long time and then we’ll do another take, and he’ll say ‘Go back to this thing and build on that, focus on that,’” said Rudd. “What was also weird about that was when the camera flips around to the other person, you really can’t incorporate too much new improvisation because what happens is the other guy wouldn’t have any reaction so just for time sake. It’s like ‘This was a good run, this was a good run, this was a good run.’ We do three takes and they’ll kind of rate it.”
This works for the characters, because they are all based on the actors’ personalities anyway. “It’s based on all of us,” Apatow said. “Everybody puts their distinctive stamp on these situations. I basically try to make all these movies with the thought that they’re about trying hard not to be an asshole. Any journey towards learning how to be a good person is funny to me, and what it takes to get there. I look at the movie as a story that talks about how hard it is to be married and to have children, but also how great it is and that it’s a constant education in being an adult and doing the right thing. So there’s a lot of my thoughts about those issues. And then I would talk to Paul for a long time about his life, and I know Seth really well so it’s fun to tap him for all that.”
Only Heigl had to learn a new trade for her character. She plays an entertainment journalist. “I went to the MTV Movie Awards as a journalist for E! and it was really bizarre, because I was actually interviewing Jessica Alba and Owen Wilson and Steve Carell, who had all agreed to do it for the fun of the film and I was kind of standing behind the ropes with everybody else trying to get elbow room, like 'Hey, get out of my shot.' You know. It was really fun.”
For the first time in his career, Apatow is following a hit. Even Virgin came out after two of his TV series were cancelled in one season, though he had produced the hit Anchorman earlier and was on the rise. “It felt nice because so many of our projects have been critical favorites and financial failures and in the last few years, a lot of the projects that we’ve been working on have been successful in the way we always thought they might be if we were given a chance to do them the way we thought they should be done,” Apatow said. “Now there’s a lot of things happening and these are the things we’ve always wanted to do that we could never convince anybody to do. So the great part of 40-Year-Old Virgin doing well is people suddenly believe you can execute. And if they’re always close to letting you make a movie, but usually don’t, now they do.”
Knocked Up is scheduled for Summer 2007.