Judd Apatow Talks The King of Staten Island
Growing up on Long Island Judd Apatow (The 40-Year -Old Virgin) had dreams of becoming a comedian and even did a stand-up routine at a local comedy club during his senior year of high school. After graduation, he went to the University of Southern California to study screenwriting. Five years later he found himself as a working writer in Hollywood and in 2005 he wrote and directed his first feature film. In the last 15 years, he has written, directed, and produced a string of successful television shows and films.
His latest movie, The King of Staten Island, was supposed to premiere at South By Southwest in March and then at the Tribeca Film Festival in April but both were canceled due to Covid-19. As with so many films during this quarantine, Universal Pictures has decided to release it this week through video on demand. Starring Pete Davidson (Saturday Night Live), the movie is a semi-autobiographical look at Pete's upbringing after his father's death on 9/11/01.
Apatow and Davidson have been friends since 2014's Trainwreck when Davidson had a small role in the film. " Pete and I had been working on a project but it wasn't the right fit" Apatow confessed. However, when Davidson and his friend, Dave Sirus (Saturday Night Live) brought the script for The King of Staten Island to Apatow, he knew he wanted to work on it. After helping to revise the script, Apatow realized he needed to direct the movie as well. He explained, "I knew this was going to be difficult for Pete and I was nervous because I didn't want to put him through a painful experience". He did feel making the movie was cathartic for Davidson though. "Pete was able to look at his experience from all viewpoints and we talked about scenes weeks in advance". Apatow just wanted to know how he could help Davidson through the film.
Apatow purposely cast actors in smaller roles with whom Davidson was familiar. For example, casting Bel Powley (The Morning Show) as Pete's on-again/off-again girlfriend was a good choice. " Not only is she ridiculously talented but she and Pete are good friends and care so much about each other in real life". Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) as Pete's mother, Margie, Bill Burr (Breaking Bad), as Margie's firefighter boyfriend, Ray, and Steve Buscemi as Papa, A firefighter who quietly looks out for Davidson's character, Scott, were all conscious choices by Apatow. "Buscemi is a dream and so funny and Tomei is the best, Everyone raised their game on set because of her." He stated.
As Apatow reflected on his body of work to date, he said, "I was speaking with Mindy Kaling (The Office) recently and she pointed out that the characters in my stories tend to be stuck and they need something to knock them out of their rut. I never thought of it that way before." Apatow also elaborated that he tends to gravitate towards spiritual elements and that he is obsessed with self-help which was also a reason he wanted to make this film. "I hope this film is helpful [to people]in some way".
Apatow also wanted to emphasize first responders and firefighters in particular. "They are just everyday people willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for strangers," he explained. While telling a fictional version of Davidson's story he also "needed to acknowledge these people".
Since Apatow is known for comedies, he felt he needed to change his process of directing for this movie. "We did a table read five months before, then rehearsed in California and then again when we got to New York". He elaborated that this process allowed the cast to feel comfortable so they could improvise which he feels gives "always better moments and adds levels and layers to the script that he never would have thought of himself"."
Even though The King of Staten Island is more serious than some of his previous projects, Apatow knew there were still comedic moments that fit. "You don't know the balance of the comedy with the drama until you're making the movie, until your editing in post-production really." That balance is a fine line with a movie like this one but luckily, in the experienced hands of Judd Apatow, he blends the comedic and dramatic elements extremely well to create a heartwarming real-life story with some well-placed laughs thrown in.