Q: With a movie that comes from a personal place as this did
for you, where do you let go of your own very specific memories and let
it turn into a movie?
Greg Mottola: Once you cast people and they have their own specific qualities
that aren’t mine, like Jesse is playing a version of my younger
self, it was fairly easy to see it as a fictional story, except for those
moments where something would flash back to me. That was so horrifying,
so deeply embarrassing, some realization about myself that would make
me just cower. I think this is the most painful thing I’ve ever
done. I’m thin skinned, I guess, and I thought I could never write
about my youth for the longest time. It took getting to my forties before
I could even look back on it. It’s kind of cringy to me.
Q: So what made you change your mind and write about your embarrassing
GM: When I got to a certain age, I was working on a TV show, Undeclared
that Martin did an episode of -- that’s where we first met –
and I first had the idea of writing about young love and trying to do
it in a more slice of life, not slick Hollywood, way. It was about the
first messy relationship, the first girlfriend, making the decision to
face up to love is actually really complicated and requires you dealing
with your fears and accepting a person for their flaws. I wanted to write
that kind of story and one day I was telling stories on set of the show
— we were all getting drunk and I was telling stories about working
in an amusement park. We were all comparing worst job stories. And then,
I had the Eureka moment of putting them together. But, I think it was
also because I was working around young people. All these guys are so
young. Seth Rogen was probably 18 when we did Undeclared.
Q: Could you talk about the difference between the story you wanted
to tell and the traditional Hollywood studio summer comedy?
GM: Let me put it this way. When I showed a lot of people the script,
especially post Superbad, they would say they just wanted it to be more
of a comedy. They didn’t want the characters to be as flawed. People
would’ve preferred that it have a more clear relief. It’s
going to be an indie movie. It still should have more of a wish-fulfilment
ending as opposed to a ‘what’s going to happen next’
ending. I just felt like there’s a place for a slightly different
tone. I feel like I’m in kind of a strange place of really existing
between indie films and Hollywood films, because it’s a little of
both. I think that it makes it a little hard to market it and describe
I feel like it’s partially the times we live in. The Holy Grail
audience are young people and, at the end of the day, that’s who
gets courted. In a strange way, the fact that it’s about young people
is something that I didn’t realize would kind of hijack the marketing
to some extent. When people passed on the film, they’d always say,
‘We would have made it if you were willing to make it contemporary
because the fact that it’s an ’80s film means young people
are going to say it’s not my generation and old people are going
to say it’s about young people.’ I’m hoping that people
who actually lived during the ’80s will hear about it and find it
Q: Martin, how did you get to the project and were you based on
anyone in particular from Greg’s life?
Martin Starr: I always answer that question. Greg?
GM: Martin’s character was based on various people I’ve
known in my life, who I’ve always thought ‘That person’s
smarter than me, more talented than me, why are they so stuck? Why are
they not moving ahead?’ Some people I knew in film school, at art
school, people who had real intelligence, something to offer, they just
had some fatal fear of life that was holding them back. Essentially, Jesse’s
character is supposed to be surrounded by people who are stuck and limited
by their own psychology, like Ryan’s character and his parents’,
and he has to make up his mind. Do I continue to be the floundering, fearful
person I am or try and take a step in the right direction?
I have a real affection for those people. Those are people who’ve
taught me a lot over the years. Those are people who turned me on to music
and books. Martin likes to say in interviews that he gave a terrible audition
but literally everyone else who came in and read for the part, and I had
some very talented people, were even worse. [laughs] So, by attrition,
Martin got the part.
MS: I didn’t want to sound arrogant and say that I was smarter
than Greg so I let him tell that whole story.
Q: What made the part difficult to read for initially?
MS: There were a lot of words. [Laughs] I don’t know. I don’t
know if I fully got it during my audition and I think that’s what
made it difficult and that’s why I felt so bad afterwards, because
I didn’t know if I was even remotely on the path of what Greg was
looking for. But I guess it was at least on the right track because I
got cast in the movie.
Q: How much did you have to explain of the ’80s to the young
cast, so that they understood the background to the story?
MS: There was a giant Bible.
GM: There was a giant Bible. [laughs] No, there wasn’t.
MS: There was. You gave all of us all this big folder…
GM: Oh that’s true. We did have a research Bible
of the highlights.
MS: It was massive.
GM: We researched the incredibly boring…
MS: …like who was the President and what happened.
What happened in recent months before this or years before this?
GM: Yeah, we did make some poor assistant put that together.
MS: It was great. I still have it.
GM: [whispering] It’s like, ‘Who’s Margaret
Q: Do you guys each have a particular favorite movie or music
from the ’80s?
GM: I have so many and I’ve obviously crammed them into the film.
For me, a lot of it is the music that Jesse’s character and Kristen’s
character are listening to. A lot of it is the music that kept me sane
in college. I have alopecia. My hair fell out when I was in college and
I didn’t take it so well. Back then, people weren’t shaving
their head when they were young. I set the trend [laughs]. So I had my
self-pitying moments listening to The Smiths. When you’re a young
person, the solace one can get from popular music is something I just
have tremendous nostalgia for, affection for.
I still have it. I even thought of the movie as a pop love song and
I would play music while we were doing scenes. I’m nostalgic for
how one would hear music. It was different listening to college radio
in the middle of the night. I grew up on Long Island and I would listen
for Fordham University’s radio station — I could only get
it in the middle of the night — and hear bands coming out of Minneapolis
and things that wasn’t the classic rock that I heard elsewhere.
And, culturally speaking, I was also the nerd who was going to see Zelig
on the opening day. The ’80s were Full Metal Jacket and Zelig to
me as much as it was Pretty in Pink.
MS: There was a level of nostalgia for me, only because when I did Freaks
and Geeks, that was based in a similar world so a lot of the culture was
the same; Culturally and also musically. I started listening to the music
that was put into that I got into a lot of other things of that era…
GM: Mostly Angel Dust [laughs]!
MS: Yes, mostly I started in drugs of the era.
GM: The defunct drugs of the ’80s!
Q: Martin, are you surprised that Freaks and Geeks is so popular
MS: I’m not amazed. I guess it’s amazing. Sure. It was something
that I always thought I would be proud of but no one would ever know about.
And that’s not the case anymore.
Q: You started out doing a film that a lot of critics loved, Daytrippers,
and then you did Superbad. Were concerned that film might stereotype you
away from where you wanted to go?
GM: Yes. I did a low-budget indie purposely trying to build a fantasy
career, being able to do low-budget indie stuff and mainstream studio
stuff. Luckily for me, Judd Apatow became so successful he could kind
of let me make an indie film at a studio level. Superbad” was by
design kind of rough and tumble and we wanted to not be slick. But I’ve
aspired to do other kinds of movies and I made a rule to myself, I’m
going to stay away from movies with people all under the age of 21 for
a little bit just, so I’m not in the young adult section of Netflix
for the rest of my life! There was a long period of floundering that probably
informed my writing of Adventureland.
Part of it was coming to realize that I’m my own worst enemy.
I’m the person that had fantasies of being an auteur: I’d
only write and direct my own stuff. But I’m not a fast enough writer.
I find filmmaking a little more intuitively. It makes sense to me working
with actors, the collaborative process. Writing alone in a room is really,
really scary. Obviously I owe a lot to Judd but it surprised my agents
when I called them up and said, after all those scripts they’d sent
me that I passed on, that Superbad was the one I actually really wanted
to make. It’s a sincere movie. It’s not corporate teenage
product #731. Those guys started it when they were teenagers. It has a
real authentic feeling to it.
Q: You used the word ‘floundering’ for those years,
but you did some really great television…
GM: Well, before the TV, I was floundering for a while and saying, ‘I
don’t want to direct TV, I only want to make features.’ I
didn’t want to give up the dream, but then realized that it’s
stupid. I’m really turning away from great opportunities to learn
and grow and sure enough, once I said yes to it, it’s paid incredible
dividends. I’m enormously lucky to have hooked up with someone like
Judd who’s so loyal and supportive and has taught me so much. So
doing television was the best thing I could have possibly done.
Q: When you direct something like Adventureland or Superbad, is
it tough to capture that authentic tone?
GM: Yeah. I try not to over-think it to the point of putting myself today,
for instance, in Jesse’s character and really trying to let him
make it his performance but also live through the cringy moments. Okay,
maybe there’s a little bit of artistic license by casting someone
as beautiful as Kristen Stewart as the love interest. She didn’t
work in the amusement park when I was there in 1985 [laughs]! It’s
trying to let it be, using just your internal bullshit detector. I learned
a lot from the way Judd works.
I remember very distinctly on Undeclared, we’d do table reads,
there’d be really funny jokes and Judd would cut them out of the
script and he would say, ‘No, that’s stepping on the emotion
and we can’t. We have to protect what’s authentic. We’ll
try to be as funny as we can but we need to also get to the heart of that.’
You know, he’s kind of the comedy Cassavetes. He really loves actors
so much. At some point, you do cast them and let them do what they do.
Q: Can you talk about the evolution of Apatow’s
group? It seems like slowly but surely everybody has kind of found their
way to success…
GM: In Judd’s case, with the casting, he has an amazing eye for
talent and so all those people have just continued to work, because they’ve
got something. It’s an unlikely and amazing thing to me. I was just
saying in another interview, it feels like being part of a theater company.
GM: [laughs] Yeah, Apatown. Because you get to come back
and work with your friends again. It’s sort of what I imagine it
would be like to work with a theater company and say, okay, we’re
putting up The Seagul this year, start picking your parts.
Q: Why did you cast Kristen Stewart?
GM: Kristen was one of the few people I cast without auditioning, and
my only hesitation was she’s obviously younger than the character
she plays. She’s supposed to be about 19 or so in the movie. But
she’s got a quality. I personally find her very fascinating to watch.
She’s someone who makes thinking dramatic. There’s a lot going
on. And it was important to give the movie some dramatic ballast, to make
her somebody who’s in the throes of some tragedy and hasn’t
processed it yet. Hence, that makes her a scary person to fall in love
One of my favorite scenes is when she tells this awful
story about how her mother is dying and her dad’s having an affair
with the woman who is now her stepmother and she tells it in this very
matter of fact ‘here’s this screwed up thing that happened.’
She instinctively knew that someone who hasn’t processed those feelings
yet wouldn’t know how to talk about them. Other people auditioned
for that role and made that into the most melodramatic monologue I’ve
ever heard, which sort of makes sense because it’s such a sad tale
she’s telling, but Kristen knew that, no, that person’s not
at that point yet. They’re so far away from knowing how to express
those feelings that they’re cut off. And I wanted the character
to be flawed that way, because I think that we’ve all got our baggage.
We’ve all got the pain we carry around.
Q: And Ryan Reynolds
GM: Ryan, I’m very lucky he agreed to do it. He gives a very dry,
kind of quiet performance in an archetypal character of the stud-like
bad boy. But he does his own thing with it and I really like that he got
inside the guy’s psychology enough to make him feel like someone
you’d meet and not just like the villain of the movie.
Q: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are both very flamboyant in the
movie, offering the more obvious comic moments. Was it hard to find balance
in those characters in particular?
GM: Interestingly, particularly in Kristen Wiig’s case, the character
was different in the original script. Their relationship was more troubled.
They were a troubled married couple. And Kristen said, ‘You know,
I’ve just played characters sort of similar to this. I want to do
the movie, but the way it’s written, it’s kind of similar
to the last few things I’ve done and what if they actually get along
well? What if they’re a good couple?’ And it really got me
thinking. I found it amusing that the best example of a relationship in
the movie is pair of ridiculous people.
I also liked the idea of shooting them in the same frame all the time.
Kristen has an amazing timing and a great way of playing a quietly insane
person. It was always a question — is this a different movie or
not? — but I think those guys can really pitch it at a very nice
level. We meet crazy people in life and maybe I just love them so much.
But it was hard. We shot stuff that I ended up not using — again,
it’s the Apatow rule. It’ll be on the DVD, of course. I am
looking forward to doing some really dramatic stuff with those two. I
optioned a book for Bill to star in. It’s a book called The Dog
of the South, which was written by Charles Portes who wrote True Grit
(which the Coen Brothers are remaking incidentally), and it’s a
great 1970s weird road movie for Bill. It’s a very funny character,
but it’s not a comedy per se.
Q: Was it difficult to get the rights for Rock Me, Amadeus?
GM: Falco is no longer with us so we had to ask his estate and they’re
clearly very cool people with a sense of humor. That was the first song
I thought of as from that era. It’s also one of those songs that
if you were there, you remember it. It hasn’t quite been canonized
like other ’80s songs. I remember being tormented by it though!
ADVENTURELAND is available on Blu-ray & DVD August 25th!