Q&A with Judd Apatow

The 'Bridesmaids' producer talks about the pic's gender-neutral success and more

“Bridesmaids” producer Judd Apatow is in post-production on his next directing project, “This Is 40,” and has two producing projects queued for 2012. But he took a break to talk with Variety’s Christy Grosz about the gender-neutral success of “Bridesmaids” and why awards-bait weepers are no harder to make than comedies.

Grosz: Why do you think it is so difficult for comedies to get recognition during awards season?

Apatow: I definitely think there is some sort of bias there. Most people think a really intense devastating sad movie about a tragic subject is more difficult to make than “Blazing Saddles.” And the truth is, it’s just as hard to make “Blazing Saddles.” My days would be much shorter if I didn’t have to add jokes. I also don’t think comedy editors tend to get any respect. People always think a super-fast action movie is more difficult to execute as opposed to the rhythm of comedy and language and action comedy setpieces. I feel bad for the editors.

CG: What do you think the success of “Bridesmaids” will do for female-driven comedies?

JA: It’s made it pretty clear that there’s a gigantic market for movies like “Bridesmaids” and movies that star women or are intended for a female audience. People assume that men will drag women into every hardcore action movie out there and that occasionally a woman will drag a guy to a romantic comedy. There’s an enormous amount of stereotypes which aren’t true in our industry. If you make a strong movie, which appeals to a female audience, then people will want to go see it. Most (follow-up) movies aren’t good, so the only way that this trend will continue is if somebody makes another great movie. I’m sure it will happen, but it won’t happen just because they’re trying to make a movie with women or for women. Usually what happens with a trend like this (is) the next few aren’t very good. And then people say, “Was that a fluke?” It wasn’t a fluke. People just like good movies.

CG: Do you ever set out to appeal to a specific kind of audience with a specific kind of comedy?

JA: I thought Kristen (Wiig) and Annie (Mumolo) and Paul (Feig) would make a great movie and that a lot of people would want to go. I didn’t think it would be men and women. I thought that we would market it to women and the word would get to men that they would like it just as much as women. Basically what happened was “Bridesmaids” works for everybody. I never think about who the crowd is, I just try to figure out the best way to tell the story. We don’t give it a ton of thought beyond trying to do what we think works and is funny.

CG: And actors shouldn’t necessarily have to take on a drama-laden role just to get awards attention.

JA: In terms of the actors, what Kristen Wiig did is as difficult as any movie without laughs, so I’m glad the movie is getting some recognition. And I didn’t know who Melissa McCarthy was until she came in to read for that part, and I was blown away — she was even better on film when we started shooting. That character connects with people because she is an oddball but she is very confident. I never thought about it that much, but I have decided there should be a comedy category for most award shows, not just the Academy Awards. Comedies rarely get nominated anyway. It’s not like it will affect the best picture category, and it hasn’t hurt anybody that there is an animated category at the Oscars. As long as they are changing all the rules, that’s the good one to change. It would make for a show that is a lot more fun, and you would be able to see a lot more people you would want to see on a show like that.

CG: How much improv do you leave room for within the scripts that you write and direct?

JA: To me the entire project is about improvisation. I’m trying to be loose in the writing and leave a lot of space for something interesting to happen when we rehearse, then I do more rewrites. On the set, we shoot the scene and we are open to any suggestion and any idea that can better it at the time. Some days we stick close to the script, and some days we forget to even look at what was written in the first place. It changes, but I feel like when people are spontaneous, their acting is more interesting. People pay attention differently, and they react differently. It is fun to see things evolve naturally, and every once in a while something cool and magical happens. Or that’s just rationalization, and I am too lazy to actually figure everything out until the day we shoot.

CG: You’ve said “This Is 40” isn’t necessarily a spinoff, but you’re definitely revisiting characters from “Knocked Up.” What is it exactly?

JA: Because I come from television, I always want to do a lot of episodes about characters that I have in these stories. I just fall in love with certain characters, and I want to know what else they’re up to. Sometimes I’ll try to come up with new characters, and I’ll realize I already have characters that would fit into this story better than anything new I can come up with.