In Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, Amy (Amy Schumer) and Kim (Brie Larson) grew up with their father (Colin Quinn) telling them not to believe in monogamy, and turning Amy into something of a commitment-phobic career woman. After having spent so much time living her life without apologies, even when she probably should apologize, Amy suddenly has to face her fears when she meets a good guy (Bill Hader), who just happens to be the subject of the latest article that she’s writing for work.
At the film’s press day, Judd Apatow spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview, in which he talked about how he ended up making a movie with Amy Schumer, the process of developing the script, why he likes to allow the actors he works with to change anything, at any time, walking the fine line of likeability with this character, just how awesome Tilda Swinton (who plays Amy’s boss) is, and the fun cameos in the film. He also talked about why he thinks modern film comedies are so good right now, and how happy he is with Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday (for which he’s a producer) because we all need more Pee-Wee Herman in our lives.
Collider: How did you end up connected with Amy Schumer? Did you just see her comedy and want to work with her?
JUDD APATOW: I just heard her on the radio. I didn’t know her stand-up. I maybe had seen it once, if that, but I’m not even sure. So, I heard her on Howard Stern, and she was telling stories about her relationships and about her dad, who has MS, and how difficult that can be, but she did it in a really funny, dark, heart-warming way. I just had this instinct that it was a movie and that she’s a great storyteller, so I called her up. We worked on one script for a little while and decided that it was more of a second or third movie for someone. And then, I said, “Where are you right now, with your relationships? Are they working? Are they not working? What goes wrong? What do you think the obstacles are?” We had a really deep conversation about it, and then she started outlining Trainwreck.
Were you good at calling her out, if she sent you something to read and you felt it didn’t wring true?
APATOW: Oh, sure! It’s years of notes. She wrote an outline, and then we talked. She wrote another one, and then we talked. She wrote a draft, and then we talked. That lasted for a really long time. But, she’s a great writer and she’s fearless. She’s completely willing to reveal herself and go deep. She never says, “I don’t want to do that. That would be embarrassing.” She’s doing what I’m trying to do, which is just to search for truth in the story, and she’s insanely funny. If you can get to the truth of a story, you know it’s going to be funny because she loves writing comedy.
How long did the development process last?
APATOW: Well, we started the process before her show started. In the middle of that process, she said, “Oh, by the way, I’m gonna do a sketch show.” It’s probably coming up on two and a half or three years.
You tend to do a lot of variations of jokes and switch things up, when you’re shooting a movie. Was it the same thing with this?
APATOW: We knew what we liked about every scene and where we thought it would be helpful to get extra material on the set, so it really wasn’t any different. When we were shooting a scene between Amy and Bill, where they first meet each other, we were aware that there were certain spots that could be expanded and more playful. I think that looseness allows people to really connect. When people are just trying to play every beat you’ve written perfectly, you’ve tied their hands and they can’t find the magic between each other that is slightly off the script. Anytime you tell people, “You’re allowed to change anything, anytime you want,” sometimes they don’t, but it changes how they perform because they’re listening differently.
So much of this movie walks a fine line, and even sometimes stumbles over that line, when it comes to your main character. Were there ever times you were worried about that?
APATOW: Oh, sure! We knew that we wanted Amy to be so messed up that she was on the line of unlikeable, and that it was about her trying to figure out if she could get healthier and have a normal relationship. So, we push it really hard. She sleeps with a lot of people. I think it’s very rare, in a romantic comedy, that the lead character sleeps with a lot of people. When you meet her, she has a boyfriend. And then, you realize that she’s cheating on that boyfriend. The audience tells you what they think is too much. And Amy and I would have conversations about how many people she should sleep with and what’s too far. There was a big montage of all these different people that she’s slept with. It was an enormous amount with tons of little jokes. At some point, we said, “You know what? I think they get it. We don’t have to hit this, this hard.” We just wanted it to be the way life actually is. This is how you fight with your sister. These are the things that are bubbling to the surface that sometimes explode out of nowhere and ruin your relationship with somebody. It’s tricky to figure out how to be a comedy, and be very dramatic and real, at the same time. What I enjoy the most is finding that line. My favorite movies do that well, whether it’s Broadcast News or Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Diner. When you can do both, it makes for a great movie.
You gave Tilda Swinton the freedom to find her look for this character, but was the dialogue very scripted, or did she have a lot of freedom there, too?
APATOW: We modeled it after certain people we were aware of in the magazine business, and certain attitudes. But on the day, we played an enormous amount. When they’re kicking around ideas for magazine articles, all of which are heinous, like “The Six Ugliest Celebrity Kids Under Six,” we probably said 40 of them to get five. There were so many. There were tons and tons of them. One was an article on the Jesus abs, so your abs could be as good as Jesus’. Tilda really wanted to make a comedy and have fun, and be a part of that process, so it was great. She’s such a great actress that it helped all of the other actors get excited about those scenes. And she’s the nicest person, ever. You totally get why everyone wants to be around her and work with her. She couldn’t be a better actress, she couldn’t be more creative, and she’s just really fun to be with, all day.
You have some great cameos in the film, and you give everyone the chance to really act and have some fun moments. Was that important to you?
APATOW: Yeah. Everyone had a lot to do. It’s always fun when you really share the wealth, and even smaller parts are really funny and rich. Everybody came through, in a big way. Who knew Amar’e Stoudemire was such a comedian. He was really funny.
Did you make the cameos bigger, once you realized how good some of them were with comedic timing?
APATOW: We just watched people on talk shows to see what their vibe was. Amar’e was so funny on Letterman, and we thought, “We can help him figure out how to do this.” But, he was so great that he didn’t really need any help. And LeBron James is a great actor. LeBron really knows what he’s doing. It’s a big part, and he understood the joke. We talked to him about it and said, “In a way, it’s a bizarre-o LeBron.” We wrote it before we met him, so it’s not how he actually communicates. It was just this idea of, “What if LeBron was Bonnie Hunt in Jerry Maguire, or Bruno Kirby in When Harry Met Sally.” The supportive friend part happened to be played by the greatest basketball player in the world.
As a fan of movies yourself, how do you feel about modern film comedies, compared to the ones that you grew up with and loved?
APATOW: I think they’re way better now. When you go back and watch those movies, there are some classics, but there are way more great movies in the last 10 years than there were in the ‘70s or ‘80s, in terms of comedies. Yes, there were some of the best of all time in that period, like Blazing Saddles or Animal House, but people are making really good movies right now. Every year, there are three or four fantastic comedies. I don’t know. I’m proud of what everyone is doing. When I look around at what Seth [Rogen] is doing and what Will Ferrell is doing and what [Paul] Feig is doing, I feel like everyone is doing really good work and wants to do great work.
How do you feel about how things are going with the Pee-Wee Herman movie, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday?
APATOW: The Pee-Wee Herman movie came out really well. They’re editing right now. I feel like one of the great pleasures of my working life is that I was able to help Paul Reubens make another movie, which we all desperately need. He did a great job. He’s really happy. And John Lee, the director, did a beautiful job. I can’t wait for people to see it. I was watching it and I was laughing so hard. I just thought, “I’ve always loved this, and now there’s more of it.”
Trainwreck is now in theaters.