Judd Apatow sat down in his cluttered home office not long ago and introduced himself to Ram Dass, the spiritual teacher and author of the seminal book on meditation, Be Here Now. Apatow, the comic visionary and director of the seminal scene on male body waxing, has long been a fan of the octogenarian guru. So when someone from Ram Dass’s staff reached out to see if Judd would interview the old seeker, who lives in Hawaii, via Skype, Apatow had eagerly said yes.
Now, with Ram Dass’s Santa-at-Woodstock visage filling his computer screen, Apatow launched into a personal plug for the sage’s books, all of which he owns. “People, you need to get them,” he told those who might someday be listening on ramdass.org. “I’m still a deranged man, but they help me with that.” When he asked Ram Dass about his most famous work—”You don’t think it should be Be Here 10 Minutes from Now?”—a chuckle could be heard from 2,500 miles away. Then Apatow, who estimates he’s read 10,000 self-help books (with titles like Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and The Wisdom of Insecurity), admitted his limitations as an interviewer: “I really only want to ask you questions about me.”
Things got a bit more serious, though, when the topic shifted to storytelling, and Apatow told Ram Dass that connecting to emotion is always “where the obstacles are” in his films. At that, Ram Dass pointed to his own mostly bald head. “Here is the judge,” he said. Then he pointed to his heart. “Here is the yuck. There’s really humor here—the humor of wisdom.”
This idea resonated with Apatow. The heart-head split, after all, is central to his work. Whether co-writing an episode of HBO’s Girls with Lena Dunham or hammering out the script to his next directorial effort, This Is 40, due out just before Christmas, Apatow is usually striving to create likable, flawed characters who have good intentions but bad communication skills. Their heads, in other words, sometimes fail their hearts.
At the same time, he has spent the last decade mentoring so many actors and writers and directors with similar narrative goals that he has seemed almost a mini-studio unto himself. Since his breakout film in 2005, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow has had a hand in writing, directing, or producing eighteen movies, from Superbad to Knocked Up to Bridesmaids. More than anyone working in entertainment today, he has shaped what an entire generation finds hilarious.
“He is a brand,” says his friend Paul Feig, who created Freaks and Geeks, the short-lived but critically heralded TV show that Apatow executive-produced and helped write and direct back in the ’90s. “You go anywhere in the Midwest, you walk into any mall, you say ‘Judd Apatow,’ and most people know who you’re talking about.”
The Skype session with Ram Dass came at a time, however, when Apatow was reevaluating his place in the Hollywood superstructure—or at least how he wanted to spend his working hours. Apatow says this latest film, which is largely inspired by his relationship with his wife and chief collaborator, the actress Leslie Mann, and their kids, has been great fun to make. And yet when Ram Dass noted that people too often get stuck in the roles they play—”role of funnyman, role of teacher, role of giver”—Apatow found himself really leaning in.
“Ram Dass was talking about how people tend to take on a role and it closes you off from so much of who you are and what you could be. It blew my mind,” he told me in August, when I visited him at his three-story production office in Los Angeles. He was wearing his standard uniform that morning: a Penguin polo shirt, long khaki cargo shorts, and Nikes with ankle-high tube socks—a look that Dunham likens to “your handsome cousin who is not aware of his own power and so continues to wear shirts he was given for free at bar mitzvahs.” But though Apatow appeared exactly like he always does on the outside, he was soon to reveal that something was different within. Evidently Apatow had taken the guru to heart. As he prepared for his fourth and most personal film to hit theaters, he intimated that it might also be his last personal film. He has, he told me, a new role for himself in mind…
Read the rest of the GQ article by Amy Wallace Here.