Much has been made of Judd Apatow’s uncanny eye for talent, populating his shows and films with such discoveries as Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and Jonah Hill. So, when he first saw actress Leslie Mann on the set of the 1996 film “The Cable Guy,” which he produced, he was typically assured in his appraisal. He said to a friend, “There goes the future Mrs. Apatow.”
The present Mrs. Apatow confirms the story, with a twist. “Yeah, and I don’t even remember meeting him.” She laughs, curled up on a couch in his Westside office. Mann adds that at the time she had bad taste in men, so it took awhile for him to win her over. “He stalked me for two months and then sent his sister in to tell me how hot his dating life was. It worked.”
Mann certainly has the charms -- complete with big green eyes and strawberry blond curls -- to attract any sentient producer. But she also has the comedic chops, as anyone who’s seen her work can attest. In Apatow’s big-screen directorial debut, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” she was hilarious as a drunk-driving, vomiting nightmare of a sexual opportunity for the chaste Steve Carell. In Apatow’s “Knocked Up,” she played Katherine Heigl’s brittle sister, whose marital woes were almost painfully realistic.
Now, in her husband’s third directorial effort, “Funny People,” which opens July 31, Mann has her meatiest role yet. Adam Sandler stars as a hugely successful comedian who realizes his life has huge holes in it. She plays the love of his life, the one who got away years earlier and the one he wants to get back. The path is somewhat complicated by her marriage and two children. The script is something of a departure for Apatow: Although still funny and still featuring semiregulars Rogen and Hill, it’s more of an adult story of love and regret. Is the couple making a move away from broad comedy?
“As we get a little older and raise families, we have more to say, and I think the movies and performances reflect that,” Mann says. “And there are only so many times I can vomit on someone in my career before it gets old.”
Although Apatow is growing in confidence in his moviemaking, he still invites creative input from all of his actors. The couple discussed Mann’s role extensively at home while he was working on the script. “Judd’s created this little cocoon, this safe place for us all to express ourselves and try things and experiment.”
The two have been married nearly 12 years and have two daughters: Maude, 11, and Iris, 6. After the kids were born, Mann pretty much stopped acting and stayed at home while Apatow worked. “Judd and I would always have this fight, ‘Why can’t you stay home and take care of the kids and let me go out and work?’ ” she says. “And then I couldn’t really have that fight anymore because he was making so much more money than I would ever be able to make.” Her role in “Virgin” provided a nice solution. The kids were able to hang out on the set, and the couple realized they enjoyed working together.
In surrounding himself with people he trusts and has worked with, Mann notes, “there’s a shorthand with us all.” But the clearest sign that Apatow’s less nervous on the set? “He eats fewer doughnuts.”
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Not every movie needs explosions. Check out these quirky comedies with brains.
‘Brothers Bloom’: Con men scam millionaires, but their last big score takes them across the globe and into unexpected romance and adventure. May 15.
‘Away We Go’: In this Sam Mendes comedy, a couple expecting their first child travel the country looking for the right spot to settle down. June 5.
‘Whatever Works’: Woody Allen’s dark romantic comedy has an eccentric New Yorker getting tangled up in the life of a young Southern woman. June 19.
‘Julie and Julia’: Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, above, star in the story of a woman who takes on the yearlong challenge of cooking all 524 recipes in a Julia Child cookbook. Aug. 7.
‘The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard’: A hard-charging salesman swoops in to save an ailing car dealership. Aug. 14.
‘Extract’: Jason Bateman, above with Mila Kunis, and Ben Affleck team in this story of a flower-extract plant owner whose professional and personal life is careening out of control. Sept. 4.
SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES
‘Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking [drinking/sniffing glue].’