Apatow: It must be my personal issue. I’m sure people say, “Why is Martin Scorsese still making movies about mobsters?” Whether you know it or not, you’re making the same movie your entire life. And as I get older, sadly, that does seem to be true.
Sims: Terms of Endearment is another great example—all of the characters in that movie are stuck and trying to figure themselves out, and there’s so much human comedy and drama that can come out of that. Those movies just used to get made a lot more.
Apatow: When I was making Funny People, I was reading a lot of interviews with John Cassavetes. And he used to say, “Love is the only subject.” And I think that is true—obstacles to love, and people trying to find love. Generally, there’s always something getting in the way, and that’s what a lot of our favorite movies are about.
Sims: It’s been five years since you made a theatrical feature; you’ve been working on documentaries and TV and other stuff. The whole time, were you thinking, I’ve got to make a big movie again; I just have to figure out what? Or were you just enjoying being in a less commercial space?
Apatow: I think both. There’s part of my mind that’s thinking, Don’t make a movie unless you’re insanely passionate about the subject matter. My kids are at a certain age where I want to be around them a lot while they’re here; I’m not desperate to get out of the house or travel. But then, the other side of my brain says to me once in a while, Judd, you should make another movie, because if you don’t, people will forget that you do. So I had to wake up that side of my brain a little bit.
Sims: Pete strikes me as someone who is unafraid to go anywhere with his comedy. Was part of the process trying to figure out where the line would be, how intense the jokes could be?
Apatow: I don’t think we knew while shooting exactly where the line was, how much comedy or how much drama there could be. So for a lot of scenes, we would shoot very dramatic versions and also generate a lot of comedic material, and that tone was often found in the editing room. I’m a big believer in covering your ass, and having the ability to modulate in post. But Pete is a very grounded, realistic actor—he has no need to show off or demand that he gets a big laugh anywhere.
Sims: Your movies often have a similar structure, with a looser first half, and a second half focused on someone building themselves up again. Here, a lot of that rebuilding happens in the firehouse, which is where Pete’s character reckons with himself and meets the people who worked with his father. Was that always how you envisioned it?
Apatow: I thought it would be about a guy having a manic episode and crashing. He has to see how other people behave in real life and be re-parented by that.
Sims: What have you been doing in lockdown?