July 27, 2009— -- What is the tie that binds Jim Carrey's "The Cable Guy," Will Ferrell's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," Jason Segel's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Steve Carell's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and Seth Rogen's "Knocked Up"? The answer: Emmy Award-winning Judd Apatow, 41, who produced the first three, and wrote, produced and directed the rest.
Apatow and his wife, actress Leslie Mann, sat down with ABC News Now's "Popcorn With Peter Travers" to promote Apatow's latest creation, "Funny People," which he wrote, produced and directed, and in which the ubiquitous Mann co-stars. The movie opens nationwide July 31.
Apatow is credited for producing a string of critically and commercially acclaimed comedy blockbusters, including "Talladega Nights," "Superbad," "Step Brothers" and "Pineapple Express." His name is associated with success and, as a result, he gets "credit for a lot of things like Harry Potter," Apatow jokes.
"Funny People," starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, is about a famous yet depressed comedian, George Simmons (Sandler), who, according to Apatow, "gets sick suddenly and realizes he doesn't have friends or family."
George hires Ira Wright (Rogen), a struggling stand-up comic, as his assistant and constant companion. As his disease goes into remission, George's old love, Laura Anderson (Mann), re-enters his life and, along with his near-death experience, inspires him to reassess his life. Apatow credits his fascination with "people who are hungry for success and pay a high price for it" as the inspiration for the film, adding that he has been around too many people "who are sick, who think maybe they haven't been living right and then get better and drift back to the same neurotic life."
Apatow's friendship with Sandler, 42, began when they met as two struggling stand-up comics in their early 20s.
Mann and Sandler met at a nightclub before Mann met and married Apatow. Sandler, according to Mann, sent a note to her "with ketchup on a napkin which said 'nice back,' which is not that great." A standoff occurred when neither Mann nor Sandler would go to each other's tables. A few months later, Mann met Sandler again at a party, but this time she was with Apatow, which she concedes was "a little awkward."
That awkwardness soon dissipated, and Mann went on to star with Sandler in 1999's "Big Daddy." Mann's favorite co-star is Jonah Hill ("Funny People," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up"), who has a special place in her heart. "I play Jonah's wing woman," she says. "I have the job of picking up women for him."
When it comes to romance, Mann and Apatow have a winning recipe. "I'm a lucky man," says Apatow. "She's an amazing person. I never settle in. I feel like we've been dating for three weeks, and she might turn on me. It's been amazing working with Leslie. She's a hard-core actress while being viciously funny."
While it was practically love at first sight for Apatow, with Mann it took awhile.
"I was in my early-20s and wasn't attracted to nice boys. I was at the tail end of the stage of liking boys who treated me bad," Mann says. "Judd stalked me for a couple of months and somehow worked his way into my life. We went to a basketball game and, somehow, the clouds parted and I realized this is the guy I should be with and not the jackasses who don't treat me well."
Unlike a lot of couples, Apatow and Mann do bring their work home with them and believe it strengthens their relationship. Apatow cast their two daughters, Iris and Maude, in his movie, which he describes as an "intimate dynamic." Mann says, "They've grown up watching us do it, so they get it."
"A lot of times it's a dining scene filmed with three cameras, which they don't seem to notice. They get into huge fights with each other and shut down production," she says.
Because of the nature of Apatow's R-rated films, neither their daughters nor their friends are allowed to see any of the movies once they're done.
Some of Apatow's movies have been criticized for their portrayal of the female stars, most notably by "Knocked Up's" Katherine Heigl, who said, "It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys."
Mann defends the criticism, pointing out that many of Apatow's female characters are based on her own interaction with Apatow. For example, when Heigl kicks Rogen out of the car in "Knocked Up" because of their fight on the way to the gynecologist, it was based on a real incident in Mann and Apatow's marriage.
"We had a fight going to the gyno's office when I was pregnant for the first time," Mann says. "I kicked him out the car. He deserved it. It was fun to see it on-screen."
Apatow and Mann are also getting better at fighting. "I used to hold grudges," Mann says. "Now, I let them go because I have a bad memory.
"I have such a good time with Judd. He's so great -- such a great director. I get to have input and go into the editing room," she says, quickly adding that the other stars do as well. "My kids are comfortable coming to visit. It's the perfect situation."