“Superbad” is the tale of three goofy teen guys who scheme to buy booze and get girls, making dirty jokes all the while. For Judd Apatow, the writer-director behind “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” it was love at first read.
But for years, he couldn’t get the movie made. He got the script (by “Knocked Up” star Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) in 2000, before he had any real success. His 1999 TV series “Freaks and Geeks” was canceled by NBC before the first season was up, and his follow-up, “Undeclared,” met a similar fate on Fox.
Then came a string of hits. Apatow produced the 2004 Will Ferrell comedy, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” “Virgin” was a 2005 sleeper success (featuring Rogen as a lovable instigator), followed by the Apatow-produced 2006 film, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”
That’s when “Superbad” (in theaters Aug. 17) finally got the green light, and Apatow and Rogen — who have worked together for nearly a decade — became Hollywood darlings. The two took a break from a recent visit to Comic-Con to talk with The Associated Press about their past and future.
AP: How did you two meet?
Rogen: We met, I guess, at my audition for “Freaks and Geeks” in Vancouver. I guess it was in like 1999.
Rogen: 1998, yeah. They were at the audition that I first went to, and they laughed. ... It was the only audition I’d ever been on but I felt like it went really well.
Apatow: Waiting in line at that audition was Seth’s long struggle.
AP: What made Seth stand out?
Apatow: He seemed very angry for a young man.
Rogen: I was!
Apatow: He seemed mad and smart ... and as I got to know Seth better, I saw all of the levels underneath. I always thought that Seth was a fun, caustic, bombastic, sweet, underdog-type of person that I would root for the way you used to root for Bill Murray or John Candy in “Stripes.” Seth had something that very few people you encounter have: he had a writer’s mind and he had his own comic point of view.
AP: What made you two want to continue working together?
Rogen: I became much more aware of just what I was doing as the show went on and near the end, I think Judd became more aware that I wanted to write.
Apatow: Whenever I would have a problem with a scene, I knew that if Seth improvised it with the other actor, we could figure it out. There was a scene (in “Undeclared”) where his girlfriend tells him she was born with ambiguous genitals, and the doctor had to choose what sex she would be ... Seeing Seth improvise with her made me see how he thought, and when that episode was completed ... we watched and said, “Oh, I think Seth’s a movie star. This is exactly the kind of guy we want to watch in movies.” So that’s where I first realized that I wanted to tell more stories with Seth, but then the show was canceled instantly.
Rogen: I think that’s what made it get canceled.
AP: Who’s funnier between you two?
Rogen: The results of the funny-off haven’t come in yet.
Apatow: But we do have a competition to see who can be funnier on the talk shows between my wife (Leslie Mann), Seth, (“Superbad” star) Jonah (Hill) and myself. Paul Rudd might be in that competition, too.
Rogen: (“Superbad” star) Michael Cera had a good showing the other day.
Apatow: We try to see, at the end of all of this ...
Rogen: Who will come out on top.
AP: Seth, you wrote “Superbad” while in high school. How much did it change on the way to the big screen?
Rogen: The general idea of guys trying to get alcohol for girls has always been the same ... but there was never really an emotional story to it. It wasn’t until I was writing for “Undeclared” that that concept really even occurred to me. But Judd really taught everyone to write from just a very simple emotional standpoint, and we kind of had to rewrite it backwards almost. ... That’s what I think makes it not just a funny movie but hopefully like an actual good movie. If they made it 10 years ago, it would just be a lot of (penis) jokes.
Apatow: Now it’s a lot of (penis) jokes with heart. You get (penis) and heart.
Rogen: We added a body part.
AP: You have a slew of films coming out: “Pineapple Express,” “Walk Hard,” “Drillbit Taylor.” What inspires you?
Apatow: I’m out of inspiration right now. I’m starting to think, “Oh no, this is the moment where I’ll start repeating myself.” ... The hard part about getting so much attention is that people start dissecting what you do. They notice the connections between all the different projects and it makes you feel like you have one move and you need to take a chance to kind of throw people off the scent a little bit. So I’m trying to figure out, after this run of movies, what would be new territory, because we’ve told a lot stories of underdog, immature guys trying to figure out how to grow up. ... I don’t know where I’ll get the inspiration. I keep thinking that if I stop thinking about it, something will strike me.
Rogen: I hope so. I’ve stopped thinking about it. I’ve done the first step.