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... 30th birthday was tougher for This Is 40 writer-director

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TORONTO -- Comedy maven Judd Apatow distinctly remembers the day he reached the milestone birthday that shapes his film This is 40, which comes out on DVD/Blu-ray on March 22.

"The day I turned 40 my wife was shooting a movie with Zac Efron, so I visited her on the set and she was dancing with him in a scene," the 45-year-old writer/producer/director, who's married to This is 40 star Leslie Mann, said in a recent telephone interview.

"So I had to watch her dance with Zac Efron all night. That may have scarred me."

Mann has a different take on the experience.

"That was fun!" the comedic actress said with a laugh in a separate telephone interview.

As it turned out, sultry dancing was also a key part of Mann's 40th birthday nearly a year ago.

"I went to Hawaii with my girlfriends and we went to a nightclub and we danced on a stripper pole, with our clothes on, but the nightclub was empty," Mann recalls on the line from Los Angeles.

"It was like a Wednesday night or something and ... we had a lot to drink. And the next day we were covered in bruises from the pole, because you have to be in really good shape to go on those poles. I mean, it takes a lot of core strength, which we don't have," she continued.

"But we had a good time, and you know, (40) has been pretty good. I seem pretty OK with it. Thirty was harder for me than 40."

Apatow feels the same way.

"I found 30 to be a trickier birthday, because I always felt like you were supposed to go nuts when you're in your 20s and I didn't. I just worked really hard as a writer and I didn't take the time to have a lot of mad fun," says the New York native, who did standup comedy before moving on to an acclaimed TV and film career.

"So when my 20s ended I thought, 'Oh my god, I missed it. I didn't do what you're supposed to do.' Then I just resigned myself to it being over."

Mann's character in This is 40, meanwhile, is not OK with leaving her 30s and lies about her age. Paul Rudd plays her husband, who is entering his 40th year with financial woes at his record label.

Apatow wrote and directed the dramedy that co-stars his and Mann's children, Maude and Iris, as the family's daughters.

The story is "a big soup of real experiences" and reflects his fascination with why people struggle to get along, he says.

"The basic idea of trying really hard to make a marriage work over the long term is interesting to me and I am fascinated by bad communication skills," says Apatow, who made his feature directorial debut with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which he also co-wrote.

"When people know how to say the right thing but they get so caught up in their own ego that they say the wrong thing. That always makes me laugh, people who get off the rails, because ultimately we want everyone to take care of us and it's hard to make it about the other person."

This is 40 is billed as "a sort-of sequel" to Apatow's hit 2007 comedy film Knocked Up, which also featured Mann, Maude and Iris.

The family also worked together on Apatow's 2009 feature Funny People, but that doesn't mean Maude and Iris are pursuing careers in show business.

"I'm hoping it blossoms naturally, but I'm not sending them out on auditions or anything," says Apatow, noting they want the two "to be normal kids with no pressure to seek employment."

"The last thing I want is for them to be stuck in Croatia with James Cameron on a seven-month shoot. I'd rather they stay home and be healthy and watch The Bachelor with dad."

Mann said working with the whole family on This is 40 was tough at times but it was also "the greatest experience ever."

"I think it's so fun to be able to do a project together as a family and to be able to sit down together at the dinner table and have creative conversations about what we're going to do at work the next day. Like, who gets to do that?" she says.

"People just don't get to do that, so I feel very lucky that we got to do that a bunch of times together. So it's a positive experience, definitely, with some bad days."

Apatow isn't sure if the whole family will do another film together.

"I am drawn to working with people that I am very close with," says Apatow, whose close-knit group of frequent collaborators has also included Rudd, Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel.

"I like meeting people and trying to figure out what stories that person would be appropriate for. So the closer I am to someone, the more I want to collaborate with them.

"I don't have any plans to do anything at this point. I'm just reading and hoping something pops into my mind at some point."

In the meantime, Apatow is busy executive producing the HBO series Girls, which recently wrapped its second season and stars Lena Dunham, who has a cameo in This is 40.

Apatow is also producing a sequel to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy although he couldn't say much about it.

"I can neither deny or confirm anything that happens on Anchorman because we're top secret. We're like Avatar 2," he said with a laugh.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 21, 2013 C16

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