In Knocked Up, the already classic Judd Apatow comedy opening tomorrow, Martin Starr has sort of the exact opposite role of Gerry Bednob’s Mooj in The 40-Year Old Virgin: where Mooj would show up to say something hilarious at intervals throughout the film, Starr shows up to have hilarious things said about him. He’s engaged in a one man beard growing competition, and his friends’ attempts to find the right description for his hairier and hairier face supplies terrific jokes throughout. Starr’s a killer straight man, something that’s been evident since Freaks and Geeks, where he played the uber-dorky and sort of un-self aware Bill Haverchuck. Starr could steal a scene with an almost blank look on that show, and as a tremendously burnt stoner he gets the same opportunities in Knocked Up.
I previously interviewed Knocked Up’s director, Judd Apatow, here. I reviewed the movie here, and Jeremy added his review this week. I’m pretty much putting my reputation on the line with this one – if you go to see Knocked Up and don’t like it, send me an email. I will reply with a picture of a terribly diseased vagina, as that will be what I think of you. No pressure here
With this film, which came first – the character having a beard or you having a beard?
I had a beard when we all got together for rehearsals, and Judd and everyone were just talking about facial hair in general. The first time it came up was in rehearsals. Evan, one of the writers, when he was younger he had a beard competition and it turned into that… but I was the only one competing obviously. I had five beards I had to wear in the movie.
How much of the beard was fake?
It was real for some of it, but then came a point where in one month of the shooting I couldn’t have a beard that long. So unless we shot it backwards and kept trimming my beard back the whole time we had to shave my face completely clean and they put fake beards on me.
It’s interesting that the beard came up in rehearsals, because it’s a running gag throughout the movie. Do a lot of things pop up so late in the game?
Pretty much. The movie turned out a lot better than… I think Judd and Seth and everyone anticipated it being us, and in our hands, so the script was as intense as the movie became. It wasn’t like that in-depth with our characters; we just figured out what we wanted to do. We improv’ed a lot, even in rehearsals, and we figured out where our characters were going and that translated on the screen as opposed to a script driving everything.
You and Seth lived together at one point in real life. How much of the stuff that’s in this movie between you as roommates is real?
He didn’t include when I almost burned down the house, but it was pretty consistent. We certainly ran amuck back then. We were maybe 18, I think, so it definitely had a… feel similar to this. Although we were working, so we had to be a little bit more responsible than is shown in the movie.
How did you almost burn down the house?
It was an apartment we were staying in and it had three bedrooms; on the bottom floor was the kitchen area. I left the oven on and completely forgot and I think I had a few beers; I turned the oven on to make a pizza and passed out on my bed. The next day it was really, really warm in the whole place and Seth got really mad at me. He claimed I almost burned it down, but I refute it to this day. I don’t think something like that could have burned down the house.
You guys have known each other and been working with Judd for a long time now – ever since Freaks and Geeks. What’s the relationship like with Judd? Is he a big brother figure? Is he the Peter Pan of this group of Lost Boys?
Sort of like that. He’s a mentor of sorts. He kind of helps everyone – he’s been through everything we’re going through in our own lives: writing, moving into different areas creatively. He definitely helps if you ever have any questions or anything; he’s 100% there, and it’s amazing to have someone there who has been through all this and can tell you his advice and what he’s been through. He’s had so many experiences and been around so much longer than I have.
You’ve done a lot of work with Judd and these guys, but you also work outside the group. Do you ever feel spoiled when you go to do a TV show or a movie and there isn’t that improv, there isn’t that level of input?
It’s definitely more fun in an environment like that, but it just works better for different people in different ways. Judd loves to work like that, so he finds people that can thrive in that environment. It’s funny because some people really don’t like to work that way, which I find interesting. But I find it’s the best way to work, having the creativity and the input and finding the flow. Even having input on the day – it’s so much better having a fluctuating and growing idea as opposed to something set in stone.
When you’re working on a show like Freaks and Geeks and it gets taken down in its prime, does that make you more wary about television?
Absolutely. It makes me more wary of the whole business. Years after that I realized that’s just how things are run. It’s taken me a while to cope with that and find my own voice in this business. It’s amazing that it’s such a unique place to be creative and have a voice, but it’s also squelched by a lot of people. You’re fought by a lot of people, I’ve found, until you get to where Judd is now, once you prove yourself of being able to make a comedy that earns millions of millions of dollars for an executive, then all the other executives are swooning. It’s definitely playing a different game at that level. I’m fortunate to be around him and see how it goes.
A lot of the guys in the group end up getting a star turn. Do you have a star turn coming up in an Apatow produced or directed movie?
I don’t know yet. I’m working on my own ideas, and I don’t know where they’ll end up, but we’ll see how things pan out.
What kind of stuff are you writing?
Definitely comedies. I don’t know if I’m as eager to star in something. I like being there and supporting; it’s definitely a whole other ball game being the lead.
That’s interesting because so many actors are interested in nothing but leading roles. What is that makes you more interested in supporting?
I think you can be just as interesting and just as powerful as a secondary character, being there just to move the story along and to support. I think it can be just as important as everything else. Without all the great actors in Knocked Up it wouldn’t be the movie it is.
These films have such a great ensemble cast, but are you guys competing for screen time?
I wouldn’t say we’re competing for time. We’re just so lucky to get to work with all of our friends. There’s always stuff you wish was in it, but for the purpose of the movie. It’s so fucking good the way it is, but there’s always stuff you’ll miss. Still, the movie is so good the way it’s been edited, and seeing the original three hour cut and seeing what got cut out of that to get the final cut, it’s definitely amazing. Judd did a lot of experiments to see what would work and what he could keep in. And Seth is just so fucking good in it. It’s a pleasure to be there and be a part of him growing.
Are you surprised that Seth makes such a great leading man?
Not at all. He’s awesome. He’s a great actor, and this is an amazing feature he gets to show to the world. I’m excited to have been there and been a part of it.
Any idea what’s next, besides the writing?
I don’t know. I worked on Wild Card, and I worked on a few things just popping in. We’ll see. There’s a movie called American Storags that I think is going to be really, really good once it gets off the ground and I’m really excited for it, but it seems like they’re asking us to jump through hoops right now for it to go forward.
Does it have a director?
Yeah, Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brian wrote it and Andrew Cohen is set to direct right now. But they don’t have a history… We made a short, which Paramount Vantage saw and liked and bought the script and now it’s slow going to get it greenlit. But it’s an amazing script, and I don’t know how anyone could have been at the table read and not enjoyed it, but I think it’s the first movie they’ve made on their own, so they’re skeptical. They don’t want a flop right off the bat.