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Leslie Mann likes her comedies dark, as with ‘The Comedian’

"It was terrifying to be around all those guys who I've grown up watching my whole life and worshiping them and then sitting in a room with them," Leslie Mann says of her "The Comedian" co-stars.
“It was terrifying to be around all those guys who I’ve grown up watching my whole life and worshiping them and then sitting in a room with them,” Leslie Mann says of her “The Comedian” co-stars.
(Michael Nagle for The Times)

Comedy is something of an accident for Leslie Mann. Over the past 25 years, she’s covered her resume largely with comedies (including several directed by her husband, Judd Apatow) and is now appearing in a movie nestled within the comedy world, “The Comedian.” But for Mann, funny business actually is more therapy than laughs — and she’s OK if she never ends up starring in her own film. While in New York recently, Mann shared tea and chatted with The Envelope.

You’re no small potatoes, but there’s a certain titanic quality to some of your co-stars in “The Comedian” — Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone. How do you avoid being intimidated?

I’m still intimidated. It was terrifying to be around all those guys who I’ve grown up watching my whole life and worshiping them and then sitting in a room with them. I don’t think I ever got super-relaxed.

So it must have been quite interesting to have a romantic scene with De Niro.

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It was like 4 in the morning, and we were all exhausted. We were in this position so they could light it, and we would lean our foreheads against each other, closing our eyes and resting. That’s what went on behind the scenes!

The movie’s about the comedy world, but it’s dark. Is that a tone you prefer to, say, slapstick?

Always. My favorite movie is “Harold and Maude.” I used to watch it as a kid because this was in the days of VCRs and it was the only movie we had. It was my comfort movie. I don’t know if I’ve ever done a slapstick comedy; I never think of things when I read them as comedies. I always read things like they’re dramas.

Did you set out to be a comedic actress?

No. I remember going on auditions and taking myself very seriously and people would be chuckling or laughing. It really threw me, and I was like, “What are they laughing at?” I think there’s something off about me.

I remember going on auditions and taking myself very seriously and people would be chuckling or laughing. And I was like, ‘What are they laughing at?’

Leslie Mann

What do you get out of acting, beyond, say, a large paycheck?

No large paychecks — I wound up paying money to do this movie.

Really?

Well, no. At the end of the day, probably. But I was happy, and that was fine with me. When I haven’t worked in a little while I get this need to be creative and express something. If I don’t have that I start to lose my mind. And I get to work out all kinds of issues of mine — connecting things in my life and putting them into this character, and by the end of it I feel a little lighter. It’s cathartic.

What’s your ideal role?

Before “This is 40” and “Knocked Up” I really wanted to talk about what it was like to be a mother and what goes on in a marriage. Right now my daughter is going away to [college], and I have that feeling that my life is changing. Soon I’m sure I’ll be hit with the urge to say something about it, but right now I’m in the middle of living it. We’ll see if it’s something I create myself or if the theme is in someone else’s script. Or I’ll play a serial killer.

When do you get to topline a movie?

That’s something I shy away from. I’ve been given opportunities, but they were things I didn’t feel were exactly right for me at the time. I’m happy with the way things have been, and I love all the people I’ve worked with. I don’t need to be the main person just for the sake of being the main person. It’s not important to me. I’m usually No. 2.

What makes you happy these days?

I feel really good lately. My kids are great, I’m getting along with my husband, and we’re all healthy. Then I’m here and I get to hang out with Robert De Niro and Patti LuPone and Taylor [Hackford] and Danny DeVito and it’s a dream, it really is. Believe me, I’m not always in that place. What’s not to be happy about?

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