Judd Apatow's involvement as an executive producer on "Girls" started with an email.
After watching the 2010 indie film "Tiny Furniture," Apatow sent writer-director-star Lena Dunham a note expressing his excitement: "I said, 'Hey, if you ever want to kick anything around, let me know,'" Apatow recalled to HuffPost. As it turns out, she did.
What they kicked around was "Girls," a new HBO series (premieres Sunday, April 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET) that stars Dunham as a single girl navigating love and work in New York with her friends. The show -- which has already been on the receiving end of high praise from The New Yorker, The New York Times and New York magazine -- feels like the beginning of something special, which Apatow realized during production.
"There's a few times in my career where there's been something good [on the page], but when they do it, it's way better," Judd Apatow said after the South by Southwest debut of "Girls" in March. "'Anchorman' was like that. It was funny, but when they did it, it was like, 'Oh my God, that's amazing.' And this has been like that."
Apatow spoke to HuffPost last week about working on "Girls," how his 14-year-old daughter, Maude, keeps up such a fantastic Twitter account, and what fans can expect from the "Anchorman" sequel.
What was it about "Tiny Furniture" that really spoke to you?
I felt like it was the kind of style I'm always dancing around. It's very personal. It's intimate. It's vulnerable and hilarious. I like movies where I feel like someone is telling me something that's important to them, sharing their lives in some respect. So, I emailed her after I saw it and said, "Hey, if you ever want to kick anything around, let me know." It turned out she was about to start working on a pilot with HBO, and my friend Jenni Konner -- who worked on "Undeclared" with me -- was the executive producer. They asked me if I wanted to jump on board. I did. I had no plans to work in television again, but the only good experience I ever had in television was with HBO when I was a writer with "The Larry Sanders Show." So, I knew it was possible to have fun while making television.
What did you learn from working on "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" that you carried over to "Girls"?
Well, not to work with network television. That was the main lesson. What I do isn't a great match for network television. I like to do things that are more uncensored, so I think that's why the movies had a better chance of surviving than our TV work. There's also an independent spirt to the TV that we did that didn't have seem to have a place on network television. We always dreamed that someone would pick up "Freaks and Geeks" and let us make more for HBO. That would have been the best case scenario, because then we could really show what "Freaks and Geeks" do. This is a situation where we get to have that experience. We can show everything, both in drama and comedy, and go all the way. It's not like a sitcom where someone talks about their bad date or bad sexual experience; we can show every detail.
"Two and a Half Men" co-creator Lee Aronsohn said that TV has reached "labia saturation." Are you surprised people still feel that way in 2012?
I think he was just kidding. I feel bad because when you're being funny in a room, you don't mean most of what you say. Every once in a while someone prints it like they think that's your definitive statement, when he's just cracking up the people in front of him. I've met him a bunch of times and he's a great guy. I'm sure it's all blown out of proportion. It's taken me many years to realize you have to be careful about what I say and tweet. We live in a world where one tweet can end your career. [Laughs.]
Even if Lee was kidding, there are some people who might think that, especially since it seems like female-led comedies have really begun to flourish. Why do you think it has taken so long for that to happen?
It was always surprising that Hollywood wasn't more aggressive about making movies for a female audience, comedies especially. My wife, Leslie [Mann], always said that women were so underserved when it came to comedy, and if there was a good one, everybody would go. When "Sex and the City 2" opened up, it was so gigantic. You felt that people were so starved for a movie that was made for them. It's as if the town assumes that you make these giant action movies and women will all be dragged to them. Not that a large amount of women don't like those movies, but a lot of times, there isn't a real equivalent. That turned out to be correct, and the same is true of television. It just proves that the effort should be made to make movies and TV for men and women. I don't think there's too much of it. The fact that there's four TV series based around women doesn't seem like an avalanche of material. There's hundreds of channels -- it doesn't seem like much!
"Girls" feels like a leap for Lena, especially as a director. What kind of advice did you give her, if any, about the process?
We talked a lot about the fact that we wanted to go at the comedy a little harder; that when you only have a half-hour to tell a story as opposed to two hours, the pace is different. Jody Lee Lipes, the cinematographer, is the same person who did "Tiny Furniture." He's a brilliant young DP -- he also did "Martha Marcy May Marlene." This time they had a budget and they had time. She made that movie for 45 grand and it looks incredible; it looks like a multi-million dollar movie. They did it really fast with a crew of seven people. There was more ability for her to do things how you would do them if you didn't have 10 minutes to get the whole scene.
At South By Southwest, you joked that the buck stopped with Lena. Was it difficult to give that much power to a 25-year-old who had never worked in television?
It's easy to play a support role when you're so clearly working with someone who has a very clear vision and is so talented. I don't want to take her off her game or distract her with a zillion thoughts. I'm trying to figure out what she wants to do and I'm very careful about trying to help her make it happen. We have this great relationship because I'm very honest with her. If I don't think something is working, she's very open to hearing about it. I'm always there to riff on things and try to solve creative problems. But it is her show, and she knows that every decision is ultimately hers. As a result of that, she's very open to the debate. A lot of times, people give you notes and they're gonna fight you until you do them. As a result, you don't listen in the same way because you're scared the whole time. "Are they really going to make me make that change? I totally disagree with that." That's been really positive. There hasn't been anything she's done where I thought, "Oh, man, she should have listened to me." She's been really smart. And the shows get better and better. The season gets so strong and the finale is wonderful. That's what I'm most proud of: The show keeps getting stronger.
Judging from the initial reactions to "Girls," Lena's created something that is very universal to young women. You have two young daughters. Are you petrified that this is the kind of stuff they're going to have to go through in their 20s?
I watched the first three with my older daughter, but I muted and fast-forwarded past sections she wasn't ready for. It isn't for young kids.
No, obviously not.
It's a very adult show. It's about the mistakes you make along the way to happiness. These are the disasters you go through before you find the right person to settle down with and the right job that you like. It's the lost years.
Do you think it's important to show that struggle to young women -- that they don't have to be these perfect TV or movie girlfriend-types?
Yeah, because everyone is struggling to figure it all out. When you see a TV show or movie that you relate to, it just lets you know that everyone is having a similar struggle. We're not glorifying bad behavior. We're saying, "Look at what people do when they don't know who they are yet." When you're in your 20s, you want to experiment. You feel like now's the time for me to do everything and try everything and figure everything out, because when you hit your 30s, you have to be a little bit more responsible. When I was in my 20s, I always felt like, "I've got these 10 years to go a little nuts." To this day, I think, "I didn't go nuts."
Isn't that disappointing?
I didn't have that much interest in it! I thought I was supposed to, but I just didn't do it. When you're not with the right person, the sex usually is bad and awkward and hilarious. That's a lot of what the show is: Here's what it's like sleeping with the wrong guy. When I was young. I washed dishes and I was a bus boy at El Torito. That's what you do when you haven't figured out how to get accepted in the job you think you deserve to have. That's part of the fun of the show.
You mentioned Maude, your older daughter, before. I think her Twitter feed is just about the best thing ever, but are you ever like, "She shouldn't be doing this"?
Every day. We debate every day whether or not it's healthy or unhealthy for her to have 40,000 Twitter followers at 14. But I think it's a way for her to find her voice. People have responded in such a big way to her observations and her sense of humor, that it's ultimately been a very positive thing for her. Today, she's visiting the set of "Gossip Girl" and writing an article about it for Hello Giggles. I'm trying to teach her that in order to survive in the world, you have to do things and make things and interact with people. So, you know, if anyone's weird [on Twitter], we certainly block them out ... quickly. But overall, it's positive. It's just when they do it for too many hours a day, you need to remind them they need an attention span to complete things.
Before I let you go, what can you say about "Anchorman 2"?
I am one of the producers on it with Will [Ferrell] and Adam [McKay]. We're talking about shooting that next year, and Will and Adam are off writing. We always knew we wanted to do a sequel, and the great thing about "Anchorman" is that you could do a sequel when they're any age.
The expectations for the sequel are already incredibly high. Do you worry about sullying the original?
I've never been somebody who thinks that you should worry about the second one ruining the reputation of the first one. I still like "Caddyshack." I don't mind that "Caddyshack 2" wasn't as good as "Caddyshack 1." It doesn't ruin "Caddyshack" for me. But I'm glad they made "Godfather 2" and "Back to the Future Part II" and "Part III." So, I always say go for it. All of these actors and writers on "Anchorman" have such an incredible chemistry, it would be a waste for them not to work together again. I'm glad they are trying. Nobody in the world is funnier than Will and Adam, so I'm excited to see what they write.
"Girls" premieres Sunday, April 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.
Check out photos from the New York premiere of "Girls."