Clearly, Judd Apatow gets us dudes and our pot-smoking, slacker pals and all our anxieties. Through movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Step Brothers, he not only helped create the “bromance” genre but with those flicks plus Superbad, Pineapple Express and Talledega Nights, he has powered many a theatrical smash.
But the funny thing about this New York City native is, he also gets women. Increasingly, many of the movies our ladies take us to are Apatovian box office gold. Think Bridesmaids ($287 million worldwide) and Trainwreck ($138 million). And don’t forget, he also exec produces the hit HBO series Girls, which begins its fifth season this Sunday at 10/9c… and the new Gillian Jacobs-fronted Netflix series Love, which he also co-wrote. (Jesus, this man keeps busy.)
So we asked him to break down the secrets of working so well with the fairer sex…
“Really, I don’t know the difference between why something is funny in Freaks and Geeks as opposed to Girls. For me, it’s still about insecurity and trying to figure out who you are, and about the lumps you take along the way. I’ve never tried to break it down by sex.”
1. Marry a strong woman.
My wife (Mann) used to say how a lot of scripts were very weak for women, so it was embedded in my head early on that the work overall wasn’t strong enough. We’d talk about how bad the scripts were and that a lot of female characters were written just to service the male parts of the story, and the female parts were really under developed. So I made an effort in my own writing to try and go deeper and make stronger choices. But I don’t know if I had any conscious thought about helping the cause, or if I have some intention to change the world. But we came to realize that people really wanted there to be great stories for women. Now there’s been some excellent work by women with great characters.
Just look at 2015. In the same month as the Sisters premiere with Tina (Fey) and Amy (Poehler), there was Joy with Jennifer Lawrence about a strong female character and which got her an Oscar nomination; and, then there was Trainwreck which Amy Schumer wrote and which I directed, and it did really well at the box office. Now Girls returns for its fifth season. But Leslie says there just should be more of them, way more of them, and I agree.
2. Find a comfort zone.
I’ve just got lucky meeting writers like Lena Dunham, Kristen Wiig, Amy Schumer and Jennie Konner [Girls]. When I really think about it, when I saw Lena’s early work, I thought, I wish she had a movie. When I saw her Tiny Furniture, I really felt she’d be great to work with. I thought her indie project was brilliant and I wanted to be helpful and felt it would be fun to do something with her, and it really has been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had. I joke about it, but we’ve never had a moment of even slight tension. OK, the only tension I’ve ever had with her, I took her to see a favorite band of mine, The Who, and she started texting in the middle of it. (Laughs) And I just lost my mind!
3. Worry less about gender and more about humor.
Really, I don’t know the difference between why something is funny in Freaks and Geeks, which I produced, as opposed to why something is funny in Girls, which is about a group of twenty-something girls. For me, it’s still about insecurity and trying to figure out who you are, and about the lumps you take along the way. But I’ve never tried to break it down by sex. Overall, when you’re writing for these shows, it’s like a rock band, it just either works or it doesn’t. It’s hard to describe why, but me and Lena and co-writer Jennie Konner just get along.
4. Respect the (money-making) power of female-centric projects.
The proof is there, they do make money. Maybe they’re harder to make. Women may want to see things more thoughtful… with less explosions. With Bridesmaids, it was pretty even the ratio of women to men, and at the end of the day that balance is pretty close. But maybe I could be wrong, that women do like explosions and violence, and I just live in a fantasyland. I just think that men and women are equally talented and funny, and so if I’m just seeking out good people to work with, it should just balance out.
5. Catch the wave of women expressing their own voices.
It’s happening, with women having more control and expressing themselves. It would be better if it was happening faster, but it’s way faster than it was five years ago. But listening and watching Lena, it’s inspiring other women to find their own voices. She’s also saying to women, you can write, you can direct. Ten years ago, there weren’t young women doing that for others to look up to, like my daughter who’s now 18 and can say, ‘Wow that’s a career I can have.’ And that’s changing Hollywood. Now there’s a whole new generation of people who are growing up on Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer [and] who are saying there should be more equality, half women, half men, it shouldn’t be ninety-five percent men.
6. Nurture young talent.
Because of the portrayal and discussion of sexuality, Girls could be seen as groundbreaking because Lena’s had the courage to portray it and other issues. As a result, most of this terrain is now wide open. This is the last but one season, and it’s a great season, really strong. They’re in Japan, a lot of things happen that are not expected, there are some good surprises that will make you happy and may also trouble you a bit.
But the show keeps getting stronger as Lena grows in herself. Just reading her drafts, she’s evolving into an incredible storyteller and filmmaker. Girls started off about being in your 20s, and what you learn and go through in that age. But if you cross over into the 30s, you’re looking at the Simpsons now, you might as well never end it. I’m sad about it, it’s been a highlight for me as co-executive producer and co-writer to receive these drafts and talk to both Lena and Jenni about them, contribute to them. It’s been a pure pleasure.
7. Ignore the haters.
Paul Feig’s making a Ghostbusters movie with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, and that sounds like the best movie ever. And the complainers might be twenty-eight nerds in their parents’ basements, but it’s not that many. Most are thrilled that they’re getting these women together. I know I am.