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The Evolution of Mann

Comedy was never part of her master plan, but Leslie Mann has found a home there, in more ways than one. The ''This is 40'' star talks about her career's fortuitous turn, and the oddly movie-friendly bathroom habits of her husband, Judd Apatow.

This is 40 for Leslie Mann: mornings spent working hard to stay slim and youthful in a Brentwood, Calif., spin class; the rest of the day wrangling a curly-haired cherub, an irascible teenager, and a screwball husband who sends emails from the commode. That husband, of course, is writer-director-producer Judd Apatow.

And that husband's latest comedy is This Is 40 (rated R, out Dec. 21), about a privileged, aging-phobic boutique owner (played by Mann) with a pair of overindulged daughters (played by the couple's daughters, Maude, 14, and Iris, 10) and a music-producer husband (Paul Rudd) who's secretly going broke and who can snag some alone time only by hiding in the loo with his iPad. So surely Mann was Apatow's chief inspiration for the movie? This Is 40 is basically a home movie, right?

''I'm glad it feels like that, but it's not, really,'' says Mann, dressed comfortably in jeans, a sweater, and a puffy vest while imbibing inside a Santa Monica penthouse lounge with breathtaking coastal views that make her want to stay all day. ''It's hard to explain. These are our characters from Knocked Up. But it's not really a sequel.'' She then catches herself. ''It is a little bit about us. We talk about the issues we may have, and then we let these characters play out the extreme version of us. Oh, I don't know. I'll have a sip of wine and think about that.''

In This Is 40, Mann's character, Debbie, is the sun around which some very strange planets revolve, including an overenthusiastic trainer (Jason Segel) and a crafty, man-eating boutique employee (Megan Fox). Debbie wrestles with turning 40. She feels unappreciated by her husband, and with good reason — the guy casually exposes his derriere so she can tell him whether his anus looks weird. (Debbie's response: ''Can we just keep a small shred of mystery in our relationship, please?'') ''I love that it's not rosy like when you go and watch married couples in most movies,'' says Mann, who's quick to add that Apatow would never ask her for something as embarrassing as a butt exam. ''You usually leave feeling like something's really wrong with your marriage because they seem like the perfect couple.''

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