The Motion/Captured Interview: Leslie Mann discusses ‘Funny People’

07.30.09 8 years ago

It’s funny how low profile the hilarious and beautiful Leslie Mann has always been when I’ve visited the sets of the various Judd Apatow productions over the last few years.  My theory is that she’s threatened by my rugged masculinity, or maybe it’s just that she’s incredibly busy leading a professional life that’s just as rich as the one her husband is leading. Whatever the case, it surprised me to realize that I had never really interviewed her, and when she was offered up on the “Funny People” press day, I was pleased to finally have the chance.

Unfortunately, the restraining order and a terrible chest cold kept me at home, meaning we did the interview over the phone instead of in person, and so the conversation is reproduced here for you, starting just after her publicist handed her the phone:

Leslie:  Hello?

Drew:  Hi, Leslie. How are you?

Great.  How are you?

Well, I apologize if I cough my way through this interview, so…

Are you sick?

I am.

What’s the matter with you?

I don’t know.  Some sort of a chest flu thing.

I don’t want to get sick.  I don’t want you to get me sick.

Well, I promise on the phone, I won’t.

(laughs) So what’s going on?

[more after the jump]

Well, I saw the film, I think, the last night Judd was testing it, so I’m pretty sure I saw the final cut according to him.

I think you did, yeah.

And I really liked it.  I thought it was… it’s very different than I think a lot of people will expect.

Yeah.  Uh-huh.

I think a lot of that comes from the fact that these characters are so… no rough edges have been sanded off of them.

Don’t you love that?

I do and it’s interesting to see adults actually behave like complicated adults in a big summer movie.

Thank you for saying that.  I’m so glad you said that.  I was talking to somebody yesterday and it was actually… I don’t know if you want me to tell you this, we only have 10 minutes, but I’ll do it really quick.  He was saying… he said he liked the movie but someone he really respected didn’t like the movie because she didn’t like the characters and the choices they made.  And I thought… it really irritated me, because I thought how could you be… like what do you want this woman to do?  Stay home and knit, you know?  Like why is that okay for her husband to be out away all the time cheating on her?  Why do you hate the woman for, you know, making the same mistakes that he made?  And what a boring movie that would be, too, to watch somebody just like sit home and do nothing about… it’s much more interesting to watch somebody make mistakes, and it’s much more human and much more realistic because I think that people… that’s what people do.  Desperate people do desperate things, you know?

But I think there’s 2 types of film viewers.  There are people who go to the theatre expressly to be sort of just entertained and they can disconnect and they don’t want to see anybody challenge them at all in a movie.  And I think the sympathies audiences walk into this film with, particularly for Adam, are going to force them to deal with some behavior that they’re maybe not prepared for because I think we’re so used to seeing Adam play a certain kind of person.


And he’s… George is kind of a shit.


And sort of an unrepentant shit.  There’s nothing about him that says oh, I know this is terrible behavior and I’m going to fix it. Other people think this is terrible so how do I disguise it, and it’s…

Yeah, that’s true.  Yeah.

I love that the film is about the fact that when you’re involved in this kind of creative endeavor, so often you can get wrapped up in a bubble that protects you from everything… all real experience in the world.


And I’ve certainly met those people.  I’ve certainly dealt with many of those people.  Has there been any… in you guys screening the film, have you run into anybody yet who’s been upset because they feel like maybe you’re pointing a finger at them?

Um, you…

Not specifically asking you for a name, but does anybody respond to this film like, “That hits a little too close.  I’m not…I can’t enjoy watching that.”

No.  No, because it’s not really about any one person. It’s… no, nobody’s done that.

With the work that you guys have done over the last few years, I really feel like you’ve… it’s changed the way people think of you as an actor now.  I think “Knocked Up” was a huge turning point.


And it was simply that “Knocked Up” allowed you to show a lot of different… “Knocked Up” is a complex… again, it’s a complicated character who could easily have been the stock sister-in-law you hate.


But Judd never let that happen.  Like there’s the fine balance he writes where people can do things or say things that aren’t necessarily attractive or comforting but you still end up liking them as people.  And a lot of that, I think, is you guys as performers, what you bring to it.


When you’re approaching a character like this that does have the rough edges, how do you go about grounding it in a way that isn’t going to tip it into unsympathetic or isn’t going to make it… how do you bring the complexity to it and make sure that you’re playing the various colors of it?

Well, I don’t ever think of making… that never comes into my mind whether or not a character is sympathetic.


Because I don’t… the only thing that I want to do is make it really honest.  And it’s not like in “Knocked Up”, it’s not like that character would be so crazy and angry all the time, but that is one side of things.  And to portray that in a real way is what’s interesting to me.  Making her likeable is not on my list of things to do because I just think it’s much more fun and interesting to see people behave in a real way, instead of people who are perfect.  Perfect people are the scariest people to me.


And it’s so boring, and so boring to play as an actress, too, like you said.  It could have so easily been the sister part that you hate.  And a lot of people do hate my character in “Knocked Up,” but I don’t care at all.  I think it’s awesome.  I think if they hate me, then I’ve done my job.  Because you know what?  That’s not always… sometimes people behave that way, and that’s just the truth of it, and oh wow, if you don’t like it, you know?

What I really liked about that marriage is the fact that even though those two fight more than anybody ever, there’s still underneath it some sense that they understand that this is their cycle, this is how things work, and they’re both comfortable with it.

Yeah, exactly.  And a lot of people behave that way.  More people than you know.  But, yeah, it’s just much more fun, and I have this bullshit meter, and I have a hard time watching movies that are big lies and like those movies where people are perfect and make you feel bad as a human being when you watch them because you think how come I’m not as perfect as these people in the movies?  You know, I just can’t stand watching that stuff.  It just makes me feel bad about myself.  And I would much prefer to watch something where people behave like human beings, but who are flawed and have, you know, problems just like everyone else in the world.  And that’s just the type of movie that I like, you know?  Other people have different opinions.

Now let me ask… this is the 2nd film that you guys have done where you’ve used the kids…


… and again, they’re both great in this one.


I am especially impressed by your oldest daughter.


I thought her work in this movie is… it’s not just Judd cast his kids because they’re great and photogenic and they can sort of play in a scene; she really does some nice and subtle work in the film.


And how is that, as a parent?  What’s your… because you kind of have two roles that you’re then playing on the set, because obviously you’re acting in a scene with them, and as a performer you’re looking for certain things and as a parent you also have, I’m sure, certain protective urges on a set.

I wouldn’t want them to work in a movie with anyone else. The only reason why I agreed to let them do it this way is because they’ve known all of these people like Seth and Jason Segal and Martin Starr and all the crew… they’ve known them since they were babies.  And we’re there to protect them.  I wouldn’t want them to do it with anyone else. And also they’re so young, their friends can’t see the movies. They can’t see the movies, so they kind of don’t even know what they’ve done.  They come in and hang out, do it for like an hour and they leave and it’s totally off their radar.  They don’t even think about it.  They don’t really ask questions about it.  It was kind of fun for Maude because she was creating a little bit of a character this time.  She wanted braces and she wanted to be a little darker.  And so she actually did think about it a little bit more this time, but I think that it’s just not a part of their world and I like that.  I don’t want them to be child actors.  I’ve seen too many of the E! True Hollywood, you know, child actor shows, where they’re all on drugs and I don’t want my kids to be child actors, so this is probably it… the last time I’m going to let Judd manipulate me into using our kids.

Well, it’s interesting because having been around… I think I’ve been on almost every set now since “40 Year Old”, and watching this group of actors and behind the scenes people all work together repeatedly, I get a real strong sense of artistic family.


It’s a very unusual environment, and in a way looking back at this run of films with “Funny People” kind of being the tail end of what feels like a section of Judd’s career, it’s really kind of a scrapbook of this time and place of a whole group of you guys, and with “Funny People,” the themes in it almost sum up, I think, a lot of the ideas of how Judd got to this place and sort of how these relationships can either nurture or destroy depending on how you take care of them.


Really, you guys are the opposite of “Funny People” in terms of this group because I’ve never really seen the kind of generosity I see on these sets.


Or the same kind of spirit of, you know, we’re all doing this thing together and not one of us is the reason necessarily to be here.  Like even on the films where somebody’s “the” star, like Carrel in “40 Year Old Virgin”.

Right.  It’s a very supportive environment.

Publicist:  Drew, I’m so sorry to do this, but we have got to go.)


Thank you.

Well, listen, I loved it and take care, and we’ll talk to you guys soon.

Thank you so much.

* * * *

I was hoping to speak to Judd as well, but unfortunately, Comic-Con and Toronto kind of ballsed up the schedule, so it never quite came together.  Maybe I can schedule a post-mortem with him after the film hits, since I’m always interested how a director feels AFTER the release, much more than how they feel before the film comes out.  This one’s hitting people in all sorts of different ways, and I think the responses should be interesting in the weeks ahead.

I’ll have my review up for the film in just a few, and it opens everywhere this Friday, July 31st.

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