As the old Joni Mitchell song goes, Judd Apatow has looked at life from both sides now. Before tasting the thrill of victory — as the producer of hit comedies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights and the director of 2005’s The 40 Year-Old Virgin and this summer’s Knocked Up — he experienced the agony of defeat as the creator of such brilliant-but-cancelled TV series as The Ben Stiller Show, Freaks and Geeks, and Undeclared. Victory, it’s safe to say, is a lot more fun. With the latest film from the white-hot Apatow laugh factory, the raunchy high school comedy Superbad, opening Aug. 17, we brought together Apatow (the film’s producer), Seth Rogen (its cowriter and costar), and the film’s two leads, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, for a rollicking and very R-rated conversation about the ins and outs of comedy — the supergood, the superbad, and the superugly.
In the third of three installments (if you missed them, follow these links to part 1 and part 2), the comedians discuss the inspirational George Clooney, The Mighty Boosh, and how even babies can improvise. (And, yet again, be warned: When we say this roundtable chat is R-rated, we mean it.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The process on these movies seems very different from a show like Arrested Development, where actors stuck closely to the words.
MICHAEL CERA: Well, [Arrested Development had] very meticulously written jokes, but it wasn’t very strict. You could say whatever you want after you did the first take.
SETH ROGEN: Often, time just dictates that. You just don’t have a whole day to shoot one scene. That’s what’s nice about a movie.
JUDD APATOW: We have way too much time. Larry Sanders, they shot the show in two days, 17 pages a day. Shoot a scene in an hour, shoot another scene in an hour. There wasn’t much time to play around.
You guys do a huge amount of improvising in these movies. Is that hard for some actors to get used to?
APATOW: Most people who are funny can improvise if they relax and allow themselves to think they can. The ratio of success can be very low and it can still be very helpful to the movie. Katherine Heigl never thought she could improvise and she was fantastic at it. She left the audition thinking she didn’t get it, and we were like, ”Oh my God, that was awesome.” So it’s hard to tell.
ROGEN: I’ve never met anyone that we’ve worked with who just can’t do it. Especially the way we work. All our scenes are based in reality and conversational. I always said to Katherine Heigl, ”It’s not like I’ll be like, ‘So where should we go for dinner?’ And you’ll just be like, ‘Uh, uh…I don’t know!”’
APATOW: ”There’s no dinner in the script!” [Laughs]
ROGEN: If you can listen to the question, you can probably do it.
But to come up with something funny and also move the scene where it needs to go —
APATOW: Well, we always talk about it before it happens and we’ll throw people lines or ideas or areas. People aren’t really just hanging out there on the line.
JONAH HILL: I think a lot of it is being so scared not to do it, you just do it. If someone put you in that position and there’s cameras around and you didn’t do it, you’d feel so s—-y.
APATOW: My 9-year-old daughter did it on the first day. That’s what I’m going to say on the rest of my movies if an actor can’t improvise: ”My f—ing 3-year-old did it! She could improvise with a s— in her pants!”
HILL: What is being really funny if you can’t improvise and create your own kind of thing?
APATOW: There are people who are just interpreters. David Mamet doesn’t want you to improvise.
ROGEN: And that’s why he’s so funny. [Laughs]
Not every comedy director would be so open to improvising. I don’t know that Woody Allen loves a lot of ad-libbing on his set.
APATOW: He will let you change a line — at least that’s what they say. I don’t know if anyone has the courage to do it, but I think the invitation is there.
ROGEN: I would. It would be so funny if I worked on a Woody Allen movie and I didn’t say one thing he wrote. ”Thanks for the suggestions.”
APATOW: You’re three months away from being in a Woody Allen movie, by the way.
HILL: As you said that, I was thinking, Jew in New York, starring Seth Rogen.” I guarantee Seth will be in a Woody Allen movie. But you’ll be in one of the serious crime-thriller Woody Allen movies. You’re going to kill Scarlett Johansson.
ROGEN: Match Point 2: The Rogening.
NEXT PAGE: ”You can’t really fight over the specific syntax and language of a d— joke. You can’t be that proud of it.”