By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Yes, and he’s just remarkably funny. It was kind of a problem, actually, because he’s playing the straight man — and yet no one can be as funny as him. Jonah countered that by having this great vulnerability. He’s a good actor. This was clear in the contrasts from casting. Everyone else who read for the part made it creepy and disgusting. They sexualized it too much, and Jonah played it like a deeply frightened person, probably more so than Seth would have when he was going to play the character. And that frightened vulnerability was right.
It’s like an R-rated afternoon special or something — and I’m wondering if that afternoon-special part was always there. I understand the script was originally written many years ago, and I assume it’s gone through changes since then. It seems to have the very distinct stamp of Judd Apatow’s hand, where, as you mentioned before, some fairly raunchy comedy is meant to deliver this emotional payload.
There was definitely a version of the script that didn’t have as much sincerity to the friendship. Developing that was something Judd suggested. That was before I got involved. Then, when I came on, we took some of those ideas further. Judd always says that Superbad is like a really dirty episode of Freaks and Geeks. Which it really is.
Superbadseems to hew closest to Apatow’s own movies. Within the constellation of Apatow Productions, there’s the broader side withTalladega Nights, or the upcomingWalk Hard, which is a parody in the vein ofAirplane!Those are at the top of their comedy subgenres, but they’re very different from, say,The 40-Year-Old Virgin, orKnocked Up, and nowSuperbad, all of which ultimately are about relationships. And convincingly so, I think.
And that’s a place where Judd and I overlap. I have a pet peeve about managing cinematic emotion. Usually it tips over to sentimentality. Judd manages to navigate that line, and I tried to as well with Superbad. The comedy keeps the emotional part of the story in check, but you don’t undercut the heart of the story with too much gratuitous and grotesque comedy either.
And yet, the nearest cinematic cousin I keep thinking of isAmerican Graffiti. You’d thinkDazed and Confusedwould seem closer, but it doesn’t really have the same strong nucleus of characters in which the audience becomes fully invested.
I watched American Graffiti again before doing Superbad, and it’s really good. The movie holds up. The story and atmosphere are great. The photography is also really interesting.
It was Haskell Wexler, right?
Haskell Wexler designed the look of it — he came up with the strategy for lighting and shooting — and two of his disciples did the photography. I once met Ron Howard, and he told me that on the set of American Graffiti, George Lucas told the cameras to never stop shooting, even if the actors walked in front of lights.
There’s an emphasis on improvisation with Judd Apatow’s productions too, right? OnKnocked Up, they constantly ran the camera and threw out different lines, recasting the scenes many times. Did you do that onSuperbad?
We did, but not as much. Judd would say that Knocked Up was written during the making as much as it was written beforehand, but the script of Superbad was tighter. The scenes never changed all that much, but again, I did have this improvisation in mind. A lot of what’s in the movie wasn’t in the script. The actors would do things, and we’d realize we had to keep it. But the interest in improv isn’t just trying to accumulate as many jokes as possible. It also changes the atmosphere. Like with American Grafitti, where George Lucas gave the actors room. I thought about that, and it seemed like a good idea — to not hem them in, or keep them stuck on marks. There’s a real life to American Graffiti, so I tried to think about how to come up with that same effect — when actors don’t know what anyone is going to do, and they have to be on their toes. Sometimes that gets you really messy stuff. And sometimes you get authentic moments and feeling.
Superbadhas this ’70s soul soundtrack. When did you come up with the idea of laying this very confident music over the story of two very diffident adolescents?
Well, people always ask, why is this movie called Superbad? And there is no answer, really. Seth and Evan took the title from the James Brown song. It has nothing to do with anything. If anything, the title kind of evokes those moments when, as an adolescent, you feel cool for a split second. You know — when the world’s come together just right, when you seem to have done just the right thing. And I got that idea in my head, and I just kept picturing funk over it. The joke of nerds listening to rap has been done. No other contemporary music seemed to make sense. I listen to Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Would that work in Superbad? No. And we don’t want the soundtrack from She’s All That. So: funk. We got together Bootsy Collins and the other guys from James Brown’s band. They were the JBs. It was a little indulgent, but a lot of fun. The only problem was getting the rights to “Panama,” because Van Halen didn’t want to give it to us at first.
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