Finding the right actors to play opposite Seth Rogen would prove another piece of the comedy puzzle for Apatow and his fellow producer, Shauna Robertson. For the role of Ben's reluctant girlfriend, Alison, actress Katherine Heigl brought something unique - and quite necessary - to the role. Says Apatow of the number of talent that read for the part: "Other people would read, and the whole premise felt sad. Great actresses would come in, and they would say 'I'm pregnant,' and it would make you want to cry. But Katherine came in, and she and Seth would go at each other hard, and it really made me laugh."
Of her interest in the humorous part, Heigl explains: "It's not so far out there and ridiculous that it's slapstick. Seth and Judd take the experiences that we have in our relationships with our friends, family and lovers, and exaggerate it just a bit."
Rogen concurs that his co-star made the perfect, formidable opponent. "One of the problems is that I'm just like a big, loud dude. So, when you pair me up with a tiny little actress and have me scream at them, it becomes very unpleasant to watch. But with Katherine, it worked. She could yell a lot louder than even I can."
While Apatow is credited with helping to revive a classic film genre - the R rated comedy - critics and audiences agree that at the center of his raunchy hilarity is heart. That could only be accomplished with finding supporting actors who make the audience simultaneously laugh and feel moved.
A key to Apatow's casting process is bringing together talent who have fun working with one another. Surrounding Rogen with a strong group of actors was easy. "The people from Virgin worked together very well," explains the director, "so there's a shorthand there and everyone understands the process. Then for the new people who join us, like Katie, they easily fall into what we're doing because everyone is so in sync. We just try to take advantage of the real relationships we have."
Once again, Apatow wanted to cast actors who could strike a delicate balance between delivering profane comedy and profound, heartbreaking conversations. He found that in his Virgin alumni Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd.
For the role of Alison's older, protective sister Debbie, the filmmakers turned to a woman they knew quite well. Mann, Apatow's wife, had been a standout in Virgin with her portrayal of the French-toast craving, happy drunk Nicky. For her role in Knocked Up, however, Mann would play the more sober of the two sisters. She admits that working on these films is "a different type of moviemaking. It's very loose and creative. The actors have a lot to say and do in the creative process."
Mann's on-screen husband (and fellow Apatow player - from Virgin to Anchorman), Paul Rudd, agrees: "On other projects, you really have to memorize lines and rehearse scenes. I've forgotten how to do that because I've become accustomed to the way Judd shoots things."
Apatow concedes that his directing style is fluid and lively. From the table read on, each actor makes a continual contribution, bringing his or her own take to any given situation. "I liken it to writing a movie on its feet," says the director. During filming, he is known to roll the camera until he's out of film. In between, the actors shoot the scene, then perform various improvisations based on the scripted scene and are fed new lines by Apatow as the cameras roll.
More accustomed to memorizing lines from a page on her day job, Grey's Anatomy, Katherine Heigl's initiation into Apatow's particular working style came during her audition. "I had my lines and was ready to go," Heigl states. "Basically, they tossed it all aside, and we didn't even follow any of the dialogue.
"Thankfully, Seth is such an easy guy to bounce things off of," she continues. "I spent a lot of my first audition for the movie just reacting to things he said, simply because I couldn't think of anything fast enough."
The contrast between Alison and Ben's lives is nowhere more apparent than in the house he shares with four friends. A flophouse for the lost boys, it is the land that time and cleaning supplies forgot. But for the five guys who live there, it is a temple full of offerings to the gods of sex and marijuana. Adding to the humor, Ben Stone's best friends, Jonah, Jason, Jay and Martin are played by Seth Rogen's real best friends. Conveniently, the actors - Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel and Martin Starr - share first names with their characters.
Apatow insist that casting people he liked made the job easier. "I don't really have to do much, because if I just say, 'Sit around and talk and give each other a hard time,' I know they'll do what they would really do. It's a great, lazy writer / director move. And then I did something else that was really lazy - I didn't bother to change any of the guys' names, except Seth's."
Rounding out the cast are Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow's real-life children, Maude and Iris Apatow, as Sadie and Charlotte, Pete and Debbie's little girls who server as a constant source of amusement and parental confusion to the harried Ben. The filmmaker laughs, "I had an instinct that they would be great, and they were. Now, I can never let them act again."
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