Moriarty Meets THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN! Steve Carell! Judd Apatow! Paul Rudd! And More!!
Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
The movie basically sells itself.
I mean, by now you know if you think Steve Carell is funny. I certainly do. Watching him emerge on THE DAILY SHOW was fascinating. As his confidence grew, he seemed fearless about making an ass of himself, and he indulged his surreal sense of silliness with abandon. When he provided some of the biggest laughs in the otherwise too-mellow BRUCE ALMIGHTY, it didn’t surprise me. When he walked away with whole scenes in ANCHORMAN, I wasn’t shocked. I’m not even that amazed that he manages to do admirable work on the American version of THE OFFICE, a show that otherwise shouldn’t even exist. It’s obvious that Steve Carell is a very, very funny and inventive performer, and that audiences really like him.
So say you’re in a theater and you see the poster. Chances are you’ll know right away if you’re going to see this film or not:
”Steve Carell Is THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN.”
Does that simple description make you smile? Oh, sure, the whole “you’re a virgin and you live in your mom’s basement” insult is one of the hoariest geek clichÃ©s in the world by now, so there’s got to be something more than just that one-note joke to the movie...
That was the main question on my mind as I drove south on La Cienega about a week ago. It was ungodly early (for me, anyway), just before 8:00 in the morning. I had directions to a soundstage, but I didn’t remember any soundstages in the general vicinity. When I arrived, I realized that’s because it wasn’t, strictly speaking, a soundstage. Instead, I found the crew occupying what used to be a Staples office supply store that’s been converted so that several of the film’s major sets could be built inside.
Pretty much as soon as I arrived, the onset publicist led me inside and onto the set where they were set up for the day, which was very near the end of the production schedule. At first, I assumed they had rented out a Circuit City and redressed it as the same type of store. The Smart Tech set looked like pretty much any generic mall electronics store, with the walls of TVs and the demo room and the display racks. Extras in place as the customers did such a good job of acting natural as they browsed that they were all but invisible, even between takes.
I was led over to Video Village, a relatively modest affair on this particular film. So many of the sets I’ve visited lately have been these giant enormously complicated shoots, like THE FOUNTAIN or TEAM AMERICA, where you have walls of video monitors and you’re dealing with multiple units working at once and complicated effects rigging. It was almost refreshing to see Jack N. Green at work, moving fast between set-ups with a small crew. Green’s the cinematographer on the film, a sort of legend around town. He worked his way up, starting as a camera operator on ROOSTER COGBURN and a whole run of Clint Eastwood vehicles from EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE to TIGHTROPE. It was Clint who gave him his break, promoting him to director of photography on HEARTBREAK RIDGE. He shot BIRD, one of Clint’s most atmospheric films, as well as eleven more Eastwood pictures, including UNFORGIVEN, which earned him an Oscar nomination. He’s got a rep for being lightning fast and a joy to work with. He shoots a lot of small character driven films, but also shoots big FX films like TWISTER and this year’s SERENITY. He’s even directed a couple of films himself, like the vastly underrated TRAVELLER with Mark Wahlberg and Bill Paxton from 1997. Having him behind the camera on a film like this allows the director to work fast and loose, a must when you’re doing lots of improvisation.
And just who is the director? Judd Apatow, recently named by rabble-rouser Sharon Waxman as the lynchpin of a secretive comedy Illuminatus made up of guys like Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell. You want an impressive laundry list of comedy credits? Apatow’s got ‘em. Any guy who starts his career as a writer/producer/director on something as mind-bogglingly great as THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW gets a blank check for the rest of his career as far as I’m concerned.
He’s stayed busy, though, and he’s been associated with some very funny stuff over the last decade. THE BEN STILLER SHOW, THE CABLE GUY, FREAKS & GEEKS and UNDECLARED, and, of course, ANCHORMAN. On this particular film, he’s serving triple-duty. He’s the director, and he co-wrote the script with Steve Carell. He’s also producing the film with Shauna Robertson. This is the third film of hers in a row that I’ve visited during shooting, and by now, it’s easy to just drop right back into conversation with her. Petite and adorable, she’s on a roll, producing MEET THE PARENTS, ELF, and ANCHORMAN since 2000. Sure, being the producer of a string of megahit comedies starring some of the hottest names in film comedy right now is cool, but it can hardly compare to her one credit as an actress on the IMDb, an appearance in HIGH SCHOOL HIGH as “Little Slut.” Memories to treasure, I’m sure. Shauna strikes me as a great audience, someone who recognizes comic talent and who knows how to encourage it. She seems to spend her day gently goading everyone onset, pushing them to be even funnier than they already are.
As I arrived, they were just finishing up a couple of takes of a Steadicam shot of Carell walking into work and briefly speaking with a pretty female customer. It was just the tail end of a scene, impossible to really judge. The first cast member besides Carell that I saw was Seth Rogen, who played Ken Miller on FREAKS & GEEKS. If you watched that show, then you know what an amazingly funny guy Rogen is. He’s annoyingly young, only 23, and he’s a co-producer on this film in addition to playing CAL, the stock guy at Smart Tech who spends most of his work day with Andy, Carell’s character. He was thinner than when I last saw him at the ANCHORMAN premiere, and he’s got some fairly intense sideburns action going on.
Paul Rudd was also lurking around the edges of the set, waiting for the next scene. By now, I’ve decided that Rudd is a distressingly funny person. I would be afraid of him if I had to act with him, because I’d be nervous about laughing. Watching him work on the ANCHORMAN set, I was impressed by how nimble he is with improvisation. He plays well off everyone’s riffs, and he seems to have elevated cursing to an art form. He knows how to punctuate with profanity as well as anyone I’ve ever heard do it, especially when he’s unleashed like he is on this film.
Apatow told me that they knew up front that this would be an R-rated comedy, something Apatow firmly believes in. He mentioned CADDYSHACK and STRIPES as inspirations, but I’d point out that THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW would have been an R if it had been rated. That show could be blisteringly dirty at times. Apatow says he really wants to strike a balance, since so much of the script for this film seems sweet, but there are stretches both absurd and profane. Makes sense, considering the subject matter. Trying to tame this film down to a PG-13 would be next to impossible.
After a few quick runs through the Steadicam scene, Apatow called “Check the gate!” and Green’s camera crew hustled to get the next set-up ready. This gave me time for my first chat with Carell. We met once before at the ANCHORMAN premiere, but everyone was fairly well lit up that night, so this was our first chance to actually talk about anything. I asked him about the origin of the script.
”As we were finishing up on ANCHORMAN, Judd and I both knew we wanted to work together on something. We tossed some ideas around. I’ve never really written anything before, so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.” Universal must have liked what they read, because this thing moved fast. It’s always amazing to me when you see something go from rough idea to actual release in less than a year. Carell seems as surprised by the sort of happy confluence of events as anyone. We also spoke a bit about the American version of THE OFFICE, which had only aired one time at that point. I asked him if he was intimidated stepping into a role that had been played so brilliantly by Ricky Gervais. “Well, when they asked me to come in and audition, I hadn’t seen the original, so it didn’t seem like that big a deal.” He laughed. “And then I saw their show and panicked and though to myself, What the hell am I doing?” We talked about the rabid cult the English series inspired, myself included, and I mentioned how interesting it was that Carell seemed to play his character as more overtly callous than Gervais did. “We talked a lot about that,” he said. “Ricky has this amazing pathos that he plays right up front from the very beginning of the series. We didn’t feel like you could do that in an American series. If you do 22 episodes in a year, you need someplace you can build to.”
We talked about the importance of picking the right collaborators on projects. He had high praise for Greg Daniels, who is the producer of the American version of the show. “I wouldn’t do it if he wasn’t attached. He’s so great,” he said. I asked him about GET SMART, which he said is still being scripted right now, and he said he wants to make sure he doesn’t get stuck playing roles that other people played first. “I’m doing GET SMART, and I’m also playing Uncle Arthur in BEWITCHED. It’s not easy following Paul Lynde or Don Adams. They really owned those roles as much as Gervais owned THE OFFICE.”
By this point, they were ready to shoot the next scene, which takes place early in the film. Three of the characters are planning a poker game. Cal (the stock guy played by Rogen), David (the salesman played by Rudd) and Jay (another salesman played by Romany Malco) all know that they need to invite someone else to play, but they’re not sure who. They discuss inviting Andy, who works about twenty feet from where they’re having their conversation, totally oblivious to what they’re talking about. As written, the scene’s pretty slight, but what I learned while watching them shoot is that nothing will make it into this movie as written.
The first time through, they kept it simple:
DAVID: What about Andy?
DAVID: Come on. We need five guys.
CAL: No. Anybody but Andy. He’s so boring.
JAY: We need someone. If we don’t play cards, I have to go to a birthday party with my girlfriend, and that ain’t happening.
CAL: You don’t know what he’s like. I spend ten hours a day locked in that little box with him.
JAY: We don’t have any options.
CAL: Okay, but I’m warning you... you’re about to learn a lot about extension cords.
Apatow shot the scene from behind the guys, facing Carell. That one take was enough for him, and he told them to set up a reverse angle, looking directly at the three guys. As that shot was being set up, he showed me clips from the rest of the film, including several takes of certain scenes. One of the running jokes in the film is that the same thing is always playing on the store’s various monitors, a Michael McDonald live DVD. If you’ve ever worked in a video store, you know how maddening the in-store demos can be. I remember a solid month of HOME ALONE when it came out on laserdisc, playing on endless loop, and the near-madness that inspired. In one of the scenes Apatow showed me, Paul Rudd stands in front of a bank of monitors, rocking out absurdly hard. The store’s manager, Paula, played by Jane Lynch (instantly recognizable to fans of A MIGHTY WIND and BEST IN SHOW) walks up, annoyed:
PAULA: Dave, what are you doing?
DAVID: Oh, man, I’m just listening to the most incredible song. This is amazing. I’ve never heard anything so great. Oh, wait... yes, I have... every single fucking day for two years.
PAULA: What’s your point, Dave?
DAVID: My point is that I can’t listen to this again. Please... put something else on.
PAULA: Like what?
DAVID: I don’t care. Anything. Put on DUNSTON CHECKS IN or BEAUTICIAN & THE BEAST, for fuck’s sake. Because I’ll be honest... ya mo gonna put a bullet in someone if I have to hear this again.
Nice jab at Jon Poll, one of the producers of THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, who produced both of those other films Rudd mentioned. In other versions of the scene, Rudd changed it up, the one constant being his energy. Some takes were filthier than others, but every one of them was funny. Seems to me that the hardest job as a director on a film like this would be deciding what to use and what to cut.
Case in point, once the reverse angle was ready to go, Rudd, Rogen, and Malco started to run the scene again, but this time, Apatow encouraged them to try totally different versions of the lines each time. During one take, Rogen went off on a particular rant:
DAVID: What about Andy?
DAVID: Why not? What’s wrong with him?
CAL: He’s boring, and, well, I’m pretty sure he’s a serial killer.
Rudd looked surprised, but rolled with it.
DAVID: Why do you think that?
CAL: Think about it. He’s polite, neatly groomed, and he keeps to himself. That guy’s got lampshades made of people. I’m sure of it.
DAVID: I don’t care, man. I just want to play some cards.
CAL: Okay, but if your feet end up in a jug in his fridge, don’t blame me.
Apatow seemed delighted the further they went off script, and he encouraged Rogen to “explore the serial killer thing” in the next half-dozen takes, and all three guys seemed determined to up the stakes. By the time they were done, everyone was breaking up between takes. Apatow then instructed Rudd to start talking about Mooj, one of the other salesmen at the store. Rudd took particular pleasure in saying the name “Mooj” and talking about what a miserable poker player he was. Will any of these digressions make it into the final film? No idea, but again, Apatow had an embarrassment of riches to choose from.
Walking around the rest of the stage, I got to see the set for Andy’s apartment, which should strike a chord with many of the readers of this site. He’s got an outstanding collection of action figures, video games, and STAR TREK reference books.
In the script, Andy’s not written as a loser. He seems genuinely happy with his life, even if he is pretty much devoid of any intimate contact with anyone. It’s only when he accepts that invitation to play poker that he ends up inadvertently revealing to his co-workers that he is a virgin. There are some flashbacks to his stunted sexual history, a series of near-misses and embarrassing encounters. The older he got, the more awkward it became for him to try and lose his virginity until Andy just decided he could do without. He ends up becoming a project for all the guys at the store. They’re determined to get him laid. Speed dating, singles bars, and porn are all part of the plan, but eventually, two real candidates to do the honors emerge. There’s Beth, played by the mega-cute Elizabeth Banks (SPIDER-MAN, SEABISCUIT), who works at a bookstore near the Smart Tech, and who’s intrigued by Andy, who tries out all the tricks he’s being taught by his friends in an effort to win her over.
And then there’s Trish, played by Catherine Keener. If there was any bummer on the day I visited the set, it’s was the fact that Keener had already wrapped her work on the film, so I didn’t get to see her. Everyone said the same things about her, commenting how she really grounded the film and made it feel real. Carell seemed quite taken by her performance, and talked at length about how smart and intuitive she is, and how much he enjoyed playing off of her. Trish is a divorced woman with three kids who runs her own business, one of those storefronts where they sell stuff on eBay for you. Andy doesn’t try any tricks with her, and their relationship unfolds in eccentric fits and starts. Andy really likes her and her kids. One of the funniest scenes Apatow showed me takes place when Marla, Trish’s sixteen-year-old daughter, wants to go to Planned Parenthood to get some birth control. Andy volunteers to take her, since he’s got questions of his own. They end up in a group session with other teens and parents, including Dave Koechner. Nancy Walls, Carell’s real-life wife, plays the Planned Parenthood counselor. There are some great exchanges during the scene, but Koechner was the one that put me away with one moment of his:
KOECHNER: So here’s a cute story. I come home the other day and find this one with his girlfriend in my marital bed, doing things that are illegal in Alabama. Things I can’t even get my wife to do.
WALLS: And what’s your question, sir?
KOECHNER: ... how can I get her to do them?
As Andy and Trish grow closer, he starts to feel all his old familiar panic again, and he’s not sure he can go through with it. He sees Beth as an easier alternative with no real emotional investment, but he’s not sure that’s what he wants, either. At the same time, all the other guys at the store start to realize that they might not be any more well-adjusted than Andy, and all of their own sexual baggage starts to cause them each different types of stress.
Ultimately, it seems like this wants to be a film about the emphasis on sexual identity in our culture, but it doesn’t intellectualize it. This is a comedy, first and foremost. It should be a great test of Carell’s charisma as a leading man, and I’m curious to see what Apatow makes of all the bits and pieces I saw. The film will be in theaters by the end of the summer, and I look forward to seeing it then. My thanks to Apatow, the always-charming Shauna Robertson, Carell, and everyone else who was so welcoming during my brief stay onset.
Now I’m going to go put together this week’s DVD SHELF column (a huge one this time around), and I also want to write about a recent trip I took to Lightstorm to look at the new 3D digital process they premiered at Showest this year, and then I’ll write up my London trip. I’ve got some great coverage of the set of TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE for you, and I also snuck a peek at one of the most anticipated films on the horizon of fandom right now. What I saw left me hungry for more, and I’ll tell you all about it next week. Until then...
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April 15, 2005, 4:41 a.m. CST
by Bernie Bernbaum
Carell...genius. Always has been, always will be. As much as it makes me cringe seeing him on "The Office" remake, a remake of a show that is easily one of the greatest shows ever, his Daily Show years and film work speak for themselves. Simple as that.
April 15, 2005, 5:59 a.m. CST
by Uncle Stan
April 15, 2005, 7:07 a.m. CST
Christ it's getting old. It's a decent show in it's own right, with the promise to develop into something more. If you've got venom to spare, please direct it at All ABC Sitcoms (George Lopez, According to Jim, etc ... though leave 8 Simple Rules out of it since I like to picture those two sisters getting it on). In any event, we all get it - the UK version was classic. Stop wasting time typing it.
April 15, 2005, 8:21 a.m. CST
M, got to see Watchmen. He must have. Anyway, it's moot, especially if it gets kicked to death by tight producers.
April 15, 2005, 11:19 a.m. CST
April 15, 2005, 12:28 p.m. CST
The whole "The US Office sucks" thing is really ridiculous. I adore the British version. It is hands-down my favorite sitcom of the past decade. And because it was ended after two series probably the funniest sitcom start to end of all time. But the US version is actually one of the funnier sitcoms on TV right now. I admire that after the pilot they have really made an effort to not rely solely on the stories of the original for material. This week's episode was actually very funny with a lot of new creative moments. Anyone who complains about them referencing american culture like Survivor is an ass. It is now an American sitcom - hence the jokes related to American culture. I would have been more offended if they had tried to make the same references to British culture that the original did. Yes it's not the Gervais version - we know. It seems that the reason people actually hate it is because it gives them a shot at acting culturally superior and letting everyone know that they have actually seen the British version. Get over it. People who haven't seen it don't really care.
April 15, 2005, 1:24 p.m. CST
He almost looks gaunt in comparison to himself 18 months ago.
April 15, 2005, 1:26 p.m. CST
April 15, 2005, 5:05 p.m. CST
by Cash Bailey
Couldn't help thinking about that when I read that tagline.
April 15, 2005, 7:35 p.m. CST
I agree completely with the points that Sidius brought up. I am enjoying the US Office substantially. At the moment, Arrested Development and The Office are the only comediesI am watching, and once Curb returns, I'll watch that. I really don't see all the animosity, this show has had some wonderful moments already, such as Carell's Chris Rock impression, "I didn't want to throw Iraqi's in the mix, thought it might get a bit explosive...no pun intended", "What's that disease when your teeth melt and drip down the back of your throat", and "Elizabeth Taylor called, she wants her age and divorces back". Let this show grow, and you'll all be pleasantly surprised. If there was no UK Office, there would be no complaining.
April 16, 2005, 4:24 a.m. CST
I'd laugh at that.
April 16, 2005, 5:12 a.m. CST
I'm in the UK loved The Office from the first time the first episode was shown (most people here only saw it when it was later repeated... and these same people then sneer at 'yanks' not recognising the original), and I have to say that the US Office is not bad at all. It's good. Not sublime. The original is sublime. But the US Office is better than most sitcoms. I think the best way to enjoy it without comparing it too much (and getting all anxious about the comparison) is to see it as a different cast performing a play. If you see the greatest cast in the world perform Hamlet at the theatre, it shouldn't prevent you from appreciating another group of actors, or even a student theatre group, performing the same play. You don't have to compare - you can enjoy both for what they bring to it.
April 16, 2005, 10:59 a.m. CST
Because the trend is for studios to chop out the funny stuff to get a PG-13. Then they'll release an "unrated" dvd 6 months later, which Blockbuster won't carry.
April 16, 2005, 3:33 p.m. CST
This was filming a week ago and it's theater-bound by the end of the summer? I don't know the ins and outs of Hollywood or small shoots (natch), but am I the only one who that seems awfully soon to? It does sound like a movie with potential though.
April 17, 2005, 1:54 p.m. CST
I have to disagree about the U.S. Office BASHING. I haven't seen it, I live far far away and they're not airing it here yet. But I don't despise the U.S. show. I despise the fact that someone felt the NEED to remake the original series, which were absolutely PERFECT and already in what it is its FINAL DEFINITIVE form. This isn't theatre, which was MADE to survive multiple interpretations by different actors, directors, etc. The original series is not a concept, nor a script floating around for people to grab it and give it a try. It was a SHOW, already completed with acting, directing, editing and whatever. Although comparing it to Shakespeare is something I can understand, compare it to THEATRE as a permanent work in progress doesn't make any sense to me. Bottom line: STOP REMAKING STUFF. Just because you didn't think of a great show like The Office before does not give you the right to make it your own...
April 17, 2005, 3:28 p.m. CST
Yeah, sadly it's a habit in America. I don't know whether or not it's an ego thing or simply because the easiest way to think of a good new show is to remake an old one, but they're almost never as good as the original. Same holds true with the US "Office," although it's okay. The actors are all great at least.
April 20, 2005, 6:40 p.m. CST
and that includes Arrested Development. "Basketball" will become a classic
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