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Getting Their Act Together: THIS IS 40 Begins

After he wrapped KNOCKED UP, Judd Apatow didn't imagine that he would eventually revisit the lives of some of the most popular characters from one of his signature comedies. The writer/director/producer admits that penning his latest project was challenging as he attempted to capture one of life's biggest transitions. He explains: "I do believe in the old saying 'We write the movie to figure out why we are writing the movie.' I started out as someone who just wanted to write comedy. I never thought about comedy being an intimate, vulnerable act. Lately, I have accepted that writing is a form of self-exploration. I am trying to sort through how I feel about this life while attempting to make it amusing on some level. When I wrote FUNNY PEOPLE my mom had just died from ovarian cancer, and the purpose of life was something I was struggling with... so I got the need to write about it. I am not sure if it was a form of healing or denial, but I seemed to have no other option.

"Lately, I have thought a lot about where I am as a 44-year-old man," he continues. "I don't know if it is a mid-life crisis or a simple taking stock, but I definitely have been thinking about how it is going.You get to a certain age, and you realize that this is your life. You will not run hurdles at the Olympics or live on a mountain in Switzerland. This is my wife and my family. This is my job and the rate at which I am going bald. Then you decide how you feel about it. I am generally thrilled with my life, but at the same time Leslie and I often wonder why certain aspects of our life and relationship are not easier. This movie explores some of those questions."

When he sat down to write THIS IS 40, Apatow pondered at what place Pete and Debbie would be five years after we first met them. He updates us: "Debbie is someone who really cares about everything being done well. She loves her family. She's trying to make sure everyone has a perfect experience, a perfect childhood. She wants everything just right, but she's also driving everyone crazy by being a perfectionist." Her husband is going through the exact opposite issues. "Pete is detached. He is having problems, so he numbs himself out. He's eating a lot of cupcakes. He's not taking care of himself. He's nervous about his business falling apart, but he doesn't want to tell Debbie how bad things are. So he is quietly falling apart."

As Apatow began production, the particulars of the story were hitting home with those working on the set. He recalls: "One thing that feels good is that a lot of people on the crew said things like, 'Oh, I had this argument with my wife a few days ago,' so I'm hoping that the more specific it is, the more universal it is. When you have kids, you bring baggage from your previous relationships, family and how you were parented. It's a dance you do every day to make it in the long haul: to be compassionate to the other person and see the beauty of them even when they're having a hard time. I know that I need someone with a lot of patience, which my wife has always had."

Longtime collaborators Barry Mendel and Clayton Townsend joined their good friend to produce his next film. Mendel shares what drew him to the project: "Judd is evolving as a storyteller. The 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN was a very concept-oriented comedy, KNOCKED UP was more of a human comedy, and FUNNY PEOPLE was his first film with sequences of real drama. This is a comedy again. He's blending the elements of being true to life and making it feel like he's filming your life behind your back... but taking that to an extreme."

Mendel agrees with Apatow that the best comedy always comes from the most awkward of situations. He found that to be the case with our protagonists and takes us through his favorite moment in the screenplay. The producer describes: "Tensions arise between Pete and Debbie, and you wonder if these guys are going to make it. So one of the things they do in order to cope with how stressed they feel, is they take the classic path of blaming their parents. They decide: 'Let's invite our parents to this birthday party. Let's forgive them (which is a way of blaming them), and we'll move on with our lives.' The attempt to forgive them goes horribly wrong, and the barbecue is as chaotic a family experience as you can imagine-your worst Thanksgiving."

Townsend, who has worked with Apatow on all four of his directorial efforts (as well as on a number of films on which Apatow shared production duties), reflects upon bringing together some of the favorite players from their past movies: "It's interesting to blend the comic sensibilities of these actors into THIS IS 40. We've demanded a lot of them. It's not just 'Go be funny;' it's 'We need you to go to a dark place with your humor.' It's a testament to how well we've all worked together in the past that so many of our colleagues and friends have come together for Judd's signature movie."

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