Last year’s Jennifer Westfeldt comedy “Friends with Kids” showed a comedic pitch from actress Megan Fox only hinted at, if at all, in her previous films, and so “This is 40” proves a natural progression for the actress toward increasingly familiar waters. Naturally with the territory though, this meant her improv skills had to be put on full display. “From the first audition that I went through -- it was Judd, Leslie, and Paul -- and I went in with my sides, and we did that once,” Fox said. “Then, Judd said, ‘Okay, so Paul, you come into the store [where Fox’s character Desi works] and you have an awkward conversation’ that I was not prepared for at all. So I was scared shitless then, but I got over it from that point.” She also recalled one scene, where her character Desi drives Debbie home from a nightclub at 3am, that she faced pure terror regarding the script instead. “It was one of those days -- I don't know if you've had one of these -- where I memorized the wrong scene, so I didn't know my dialogue at all. I was so scared, and I did all these crazy things in the scene which I think maybe worked.”
Luckily, Fox’s scene in the finished film also marks one of the most memorable, so it’s a testament to her performance that she was able to pull it off, but Brooks -- coming in for his first work experience under Apatow -- was quick to demystify the director’s vaunted “carefree” approach. “I think that we in rehearsal got a chance to add and improvise a bit. It's sort of the way it works; you know the idea that you get there, and in the actual moment you're making it up is sort of a fallacy, but you know, you get a script and then you have time to throw that to the wind and see what comes back.” Apatow then added, “Albert would actually email me jokes the night before that topped many of my jokes, so I was happy about that.”
Stuffed to the gills with fascinating narrative histories, humor pieces, and exclusive interviews surrounding the world of comedy, the January 2013 issue of Vanity Fair finds Apatow stepping in as guest editor, and calling on just about every contact to chip in. But as intensive as it was to actually make, the genesis of it was much more subdued. “I brought bits of ['This Is 40'] around New York to try to get people interested in writing about it, and I knew that a friend of mine had done something like that for another magazine. So I just tossed it out there, not thinking that they would let me do it.," he said. "And then they really let me do it. It was a crazy amount of work for something like half a year. I think it was one of those things where I could’ve done very little, and they wouldn’t have minded, but then I got really anal and drove everyone crazy over there.”
“But it was fun, it was great to talk to Albert [Brooks] for that Q&A, it’s fun to read Q&As when people kind of know each other well cause they go a little deeper and work with Paul, Megan, and Leslie on the cover, and I got to get them to do a interview with [Mike ] Nichols and [Elaine] May, who haven't done an interview together in 50 years. So that was very exciting," Apatow continued. "I got to take a picture with Steve Martin, which is a career highlight. And Mark Seliger, the photographer, is brilliant too, so if I came up with a funny idea for a photograph, just how he would realize it was pretty remarkable. People seem to like it too. I heard the 'Freaks and Geeks' article got more page views than any other article in the history of Vanity Fair’s website.”
Apatow has observed that “This Is 40” draws one-third of the material from his real life, with the other sections derived from Rudd’s own experience and comedic flourishes, but alternately, Mann was also revealed as a main proponent of the more awkward moments. “The more uncomfortable, the better. The more truthful, the better,” Mann said, when asked of her preferred mode of acting. “One of my favorite movies is 'Broadcast News,' and the scene where [Brooks’ character] is trying to read the news and sweating, it’s the greatest thing ever. It’s so uncomfortable to watch, yet so funny. It’s just like the perfect combination of everything, and that’s just my dream to act in something like that.”
One of the main scenes to highlight such a mixture occurs in the trailer, as Rudd takes to examining his body’s bottom half doubled up with an iPhone and mirror. Apatow also cited Mann as contributing to that scene, saying, “We did sit and try to think of examples of the mystery disappearing in a relationship, and people being totally open after that many years getting disgusting and not sexy. And one day we thought, ‘We need two examples’ and one of them was [the mirror scene] and the other one was being [Pete’s] iPad in the bathroom."
Half-jokingly, Rudd grumbled, “Here's the thing, I'm not excited about any of it. I thought it would be funny,” but then gave an honest answer when asked of his fear approaching the personal role. “Of course it’s terrifying, but in the context of the movie and what I think we're all trying to go for is some kind of reality, and if it’s funny, there’s certainly no room for vanity.”
Finally, speaking of Rudd’s vanity, while news on the actor’s return commitment in “Anchorman: The Legend Continues” was kept tightly under wraps during the panel, Apatow did reveal Rudd had, in his words, ”a scene [in the film] that is the funniest in movie history.” A bold claim, but with Apatow’s comment that the Adam McKay-directed project still lies over a year away before release, that promises a long enough wait before Rudd’s showcase moment is finally revealed. For the meantime though, his performance in Apatow’s latest, as well as roles in “End of the World” and David Wain’s “They Came Together,” should prove substitute enough.
“This Is 40” opens in theatres on December 21st.