The 40 Year-Old Virgin

Total Film|May 2020

The 40 Year-Old Virgin
Fifteen years ago, Judd Apatow directed his first feature, leaping from a career in standup and TV to become the cinematic king of comedy. Total Film gets together with the writer/ director to reflect upon his cherry-popping moment…
SIMON BLAND

When we started testing the movie it got gigantic laughs – I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten more laughs than those first test screenings for The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” admits director Judd Apatow, recalling the 2005 release of his game-changing feature debut. “It really was an opportunity to showcase all these people we thought deserved big comedy careers.” You don’t need us to tell you just how on-point Apatow’s radar is for finding funny people. After cutting his teeth on cult series Freaks And Geeks in 1999 – a project that introduced him to future collaborators Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel – he quickly set his sights on the big screen. All he needed was an idea and a comedian exciting enough to help him make the jump.

“I’d been trying to get several different movies greenlit in the years prior to The 40-Year-Old Virgin without success,” Apatow tells us between editing stints on his Pete Davidson-fronted next film, The King Of Staten Island. “I met Steve Carell when I produced Anchorman and he was just as funny as a human being could be. I asked him if he had any ideas where he would be the lead and I don’t think he had thought about that at all. I don’t believe he thought that was on the cards for him.”

Apatow’s star-making eye for comedy talent drew him towards Carell, then a relatively unknown funnyman who had stolen shows at Chicago’s Second City Theatre – a breeding ground for future comedy giants – and delivered memorable turns in a handful of cult films. “I thought, ‘I would love to see any movie starring this man.’ A few days later he told me about a couple of characters and one was the 40-year-old virgin.”

Based on a sketch workshopped during his Second City years, Carell’s irresistible creation quickly struck a chord. “I related to it – too much,” laughs the director. “We both realised the best version would be a very credible character; we wanted people to believe he existed.” As their does-what-it-says-on-the-tin title indicates, Apatow and Carell’s story followed Andy, a strait-laced singleton stuck in a state of arrested development thanks to a rather extended dry patch. When his secret is outed, Andy’s co-workers make it their mission to push their pal out of his comfort zone and scratch this long-overdue itch. “It came together very easily and we enjoyed every second of it,” remembers Apatow. “It was the least painful birthing process of any script I’ve worked on.”

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May 2020