Monday, June 29, 2015

Blast from the Past: My 1985 TV commercial with Jack Riley

In the summer of 1985, you might have seen this Houston Post spot airing on local TV stations or -- no joke -- displayed on the massive Astrodome video screen during Astros games. (Yes, I actually attended a game where I saw myself looking larger than life. The experience was... weird.) I know I claim to be enjoying myself in Hollywood, but this actually was shot in H-Town's deluxe Palm Restaurant. And yes, that's the great Jack Riley from The Bob Newhart Show as my own private buzzkill.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dwight Howard: Superstar

Just how cool is Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard? Consider: After torrential rains descended upon H-Town May 25 while he and his teammates were fighting the good fight against the Golden State Warriors, Howard opted to stick around and interact with fans stranded inside Toyota Center after the game. And yesterday, Howard served as genial host -- and generous popcorn dispenser -- at a special screening of Inside Out (sposnored by Fandango and Relativity Sports) for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston.

While interviewed before the screening at Santikos Palladium AVX, Howard revealed that he's an enormous fan of Pixar-produced animated features. ("I'm just a big kid trapped inside a big man's body.") Which, of course, came as no suprise to anyone who'd seen Howard waxing nostalgic about his all-time favorite movie, Pixar's Finding Nemo, as part of Fandango's "I Love Movies" on-line series.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Coming to CNN, DVD and VOD: Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me

Many celebrities – maybe most celebrities -- would reflexively draw away from the public eye, to avoid public scrutiny and personal embarrassment, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Not Glen Campbell.

In June 2011, two months after his 75th birthday, Campbell revealed to the world that he had the terrible and terrifying disease that gradually, relentlessly, decimates the memory. At the same time, however, the enduringly popular country-pop star announced plans for a series of farewell concerts. Later that fall, Campbell began what was originally scheduled to be a five-week tour – a tour that eventually extended to 151 shows over 15 months.

Kim Campbell, the singer’s wife, accompanied her husband on the tour, and three of his children – Ashley, Shannon and Cal – performed in his backup band. Some performances went surprisingly smoothly. Others didn’t. “It was almost like a game of roulette,” Ashley Campbell told the New York Times in a 2014 interview. “You’d have a great show and then a difficult show, and you’d start to wonder, ‘Oh no, is this getting towards the end?’ ”

The same question occasionally occurred to director James Keach and producer Trevor Albert as they followed Campbell on and off stage during the filming of Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, their critically acclaimed behind-the-scenes documentary that is by turns heartbreaking and spirit-lifting as it charts the decline and defiance of an artist struggling to transcend his affliction while continuing to do what he does best and loves most.

The film -- which had its world premiere at the 2014 Nashville Film Festival, and features admiring commentaries by Paul McCarthy, Brad Paisley, Steve Martin, Blake Shelton, Bill Clinton and other notables -- will be shown at 9 pm ET Sunday, June 28, on CNN. It will be available on digital platforms starting Aug. 18, followed by a DVD and VOD release on Sept. 1.

Keach says Campbell impressed him as “a real-life hero” during the lengthy production of I’ll Be Me, which he views as not only a tribute to “one of the greatest musicians this country has ever known,” but also a group portrait of a family bravely united in a common cause. The film does not stint on showing Campbell traversing wild mood swings while raging against his incurable disease, or struggling to recall song lyrics, and recognize once-familiar friends and surroundings. Time and again, however, I’ll Be Me also emphasizes the ties that bind, the music that delights, and the spirit that endures. “The making of this film has been an exhilarating, joyous and inspiring ride,” says Albert. “I attribute that entirely to the heroic spirit of Glen Campbell and his extraordinary family.”

Following the Nashville Film Festival premiere of Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, I had the privilege of hosting a post-screening Q&A with Keach and Albert. You can read some excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity, here.

I wish I could rock a western shirt as well as James Keach (at the 2014 Nashville Film Festival)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Farewell to Patrick Macnee -- The real original Avenger

As a tribute to Patrick Macnee, the dapper Brit actor and original Avenger who passed away Thursday at age 93, I wanted to share some snippets from a luncheon interview I did with the gentleman back in 1987, when he passed through Houston to promote a movie titled Shadey. The film, I must admit, was instantly forgettable. But the conversation was an unadulterated delight.

During a visit to Toronto a few years ago, Patrick Macnee ran into an old friend, Peter O'Toole, in the lobby of his hotel. ''And while we went up in the lift together,'' Macnee recalls, ''he said to me, 'Well, what have you been up to?' And I said, 'I'm doing The New Avengers.'' And he said, 'Oh, Patrick, you're always doing The Avengers. . .' ''

Macnee joined in the hearty laughter of his lunchtime companions when he finished the anecdote during a recent Houston visit. But he's the first to agree there was more truth than jest to O'Toole's comment. Even so, he remains greatly pleased by what other actors might bemoan as typecasting.

''As a matter of fact,'' Macnee said, ''I think they're going to do a new Avengers series. And I shall be the oldest living Avenger. But I don't give a damn -- it's a good pension.''

During his four decades as a professional actor, Macnee has appeared in hundreds of movies, plays and TV productions, playing everything from a psychiatrist who moonlights as a werewolf (The Howling) to a mystery writer who plots to kill his wife's lover (during the original Broadway run of Sleuth). He has been the boss of Napoleon Solo (The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.), a confidant for James Bond (A View to a Kill), and a music mogul who signs a heavy-metal rock band (This is Spinal Tap). In Shadey, an off-beat black comedy he visited Houston to promote, he co-stars as Sir Cyril Landau, a corrupt British industrialist who lusts after his grown daughter (Leslie Ash).

But Macnee remains, now and perhaps forever, best known as John Steed, the suave British superspy who spent almost all of the Swinging '60s as one of The Avengers.

During the show's original run, he was teamed with such attractive partners as Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman and Linda Thorson. For the better part of a decade, though, it was Macnee as Steed who remained the show's constant. (''I had to stay -- I had two little children with ever-open beaks, and I had to send them to college.'') When the series was revived in the mid-1970s as -- what else? -- The New Avengers, Macnee took his brolly and bowler hat out of storage, and once again slipped into the Steed role.

''I think,'' Macnee said, ''I will probably still be playing John Steed shortly after I'm dead… I can come down like Hamlet's father, through a mist and everything.''

Between 1966 and 1969, The Avengers was shown, sporadically, to U.S. viewers on the ABC network. But it wasn't until the series went into syndication in the '70s that it attracted a serious cult following. (CBS briefly aired The New Avengers as a late-night offering in the early '80s.) Today, the original episodes co-starring Macnee and Diana Rigg still are shown in many major TV markets. The Avengers cult continues to thrive, spawning newsletters, magazines and paperbacks.

And, yes, there's a good possibility the original cast will return for one of those ''grand reunion'' TV movies.

The proposed plot, Macnee said, calls for Steed's four former partners to take center stage. ''It's from their point of view,'' he said. ''I've disappeared, and they think I'm dead. So all four of the girls attend my funeral, and open the casket -- and I'm not there.

''It's a bloody good idea, and I'll tell you why. Because Honor Blackman is still beautiful. Di Rigg is gorgeous. Linda Thorson, whom a lot of people despised, is now half-way through a new situation comedy in Hollywood where she's gonna be the new Gracie Allen. She is wonderful. And Joanna Lumley, who was on The New Avengers, is a big star in England now. Can you imagine having those four girls, coming in and sleuthing from a woman's point of view?

''And then I can ponce about a little bit behind a tree or something. As long as they pay me a lot of money, I wouldn't mind.''

Lest he give the wrong impression, Macnee is quick to emphasize that money isn't everything. It's a lot, but not everything.

Besides, he added, ''You don't become an actor to make money. I earn money on commercials. I do all those in-house things for IBM, when they have new things for the computers and all that… I stand about in a bowler hat, and make a fortune.

''I did one with Don Johnson the other day for General Motors, about seatbelts, for kids. They'll show it in all the schools. And we had a lot of fun.

''If you do about five of those a year, it's good. They pay you an enormous amount of money for one day's work. Consequently, I can do work that I like to do.''

Macnee, a wonderfully entertaining raconteur over a long lunch, speaks of acting the way most other people might speak of a part-time business that's little more than a hobby. To hear him talk, he's pulling a grand scam on producers and directors everywhere: He gets to make films and TV-movies with marvelous people, travel all over the world, and have a great time. And he gets paid for it. What a deal!

''I've just been in Rome doing a film, which I adored,'' Macnee said. ''I was playing some poncy old priest, inveighing against AIDS or something, in some galaxy in 2021. And, you know, doing that, you earn more money, and have more fun, in three weeks than you do in four months on Broadway.''

To be sure, Macnee said, being so closely identified with the John Steed character has limited the diversity of roles that come his way. ''But it works two ways, that. Because I can fill a theater -- I've just played six months in the West End, in Dick Levinson and Bill Link's play, Killing Jessica. And you can always fill a theater based on the fact that people know you.

''And by sheer luck, people like Joe Dante, for whom I did a film called The Howling, and Rob Reiner, who directed This is Spinal Tap -- they remember me, because they were little kids when they saw The Avengers. So they cast me as mad scientists and crazy uncles and all that lot. So I really can't complain. I really can't.''

But Macnee can complain -- and be quite vocal about it -- when he must suffer those he considers fools and pretenders. He almost didn't do Shadey because it was directed by Philip Saville -- a long-ago boyfriend of Diana Rigg.

''During all the time she was doing The Avengers,'' Macnee recalled, ''he was frightfully grand… and spent all of his time saying to Diana Rigg, 'You shouldn't be doing this cheap, common series. Somebody who played Cordelia opposite Paul Scofield in King Lear, playing in this thing?' So every day, she used to turn up, terribly bad-tempered. And she left after 18 months, inveighing against all male chauvinism, the producers, the fact that she was paid less than the makeup man…”

So Macnee was less than eager to play Sir Cyril, the millionaire with a daughter fixation, for Saville. In the end, though, Macnee was impressed by Snoo Wilson's script, and signed to make the movie.

''But once we started filming,'' Macnee said, ''Philip came up to me and said, 'It's all improvisation, you know, Patrick -- if you know what I mean.' I said, 'Yes, I do know what you mean. You want me to improvise incest, right?' He said, 'Well, yes.'

''So I went to Leslie Ash and pulled her top down, exposed her naked, and I said, 'You mean like that?' And he said, 'Well, you don't have to do it, really. . .'

''There are so many frauds about, aren't there?''

Macnee, who was born and raised in London, has lived in Palm Springs, Calif. for nearly two decades. (He became a U.S. citizen eight years ago.) He refuses to be coy about his age -- rather, he cheerfully admits he's ‘‘an old-age pensioner who gets Medicare,'' with two grown children.

''But I take care of myself. I walk a lot. And I got very miserable at one time, and got very fat. But now I'm getting thin again, thank God. And I keep reasonably fit. I gave up drinking and smoking -- which for a 65-year-old is a good idea, because then you stand a chance of reaching 75. Unlike most of my compatriots. As much as I loved them, and they're infinitely more talented, they're now resting their little bones underneath the cross.

''I've lived a lot of life, which is rather fun. Career-wise, I suppose I could have done a lot better, really. But you can't think about those sorts of things, I don't think.''

Not when you're still having so much fun. Not when you're Patrick Macnee.

Unfortunately, the Avengers reunion movie Macnee described never made it past the planning stages. Even more unfortunately, Macnee lived long enough to see the disastrous 1998 feature film reboot of The Avengers starring Ralph Fiennes as John Steed and Uma Thurman as Emma Peel. On the other hand, that movie did provide a tidy paycheck for Macnee, who cameoed as an invisible secret agent who was heard but never seen. I have no doubt that, even if he was disappointed by the movie in general and Fiennes’ performance in particular, he kept his criticism to himself – and laughed while sauntering all the way the bank.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thanks to Seth Rogen and Kim Jong-un, I got to see a Robert Altman movie tonight

A funny thing happened on my way home to Houston from the CMA Music Festival in Nashville: My departure was delayed, so I got to see Robert Altman's That Cold Day in the Park -- a singularly idiosyncratic 1969 feature I had not seen since its original release -- at a major Altman retrospective organized by the Belcourt Theatre here in Music City.

But wait, there's more: At the end of the screening, I got so speak with two very special Belcourt guests: Kathryn Reed Altman, the filmmaker's widow, and frequent Altman collaborator Michael Murphy, who played a small but key role in the 1969 film. Cowabunga.

Actually, this was my second sampling of the Belcourt's Altman retrospective during this Nashville sojourn. Last Wednesday, I had the irresistible opportunity to see Nashville on the 40th anniversary of that 1975 classic's theatrical opening. And again, the Belcourt offered a special added attraction: Vintage TV news footage of the movie's local premiere, an extravaganza attended by several real-life country music stars (including Minnie Pearl, who seemed impressed by the acting but not by Nashville itself) and a few stars cast as country artists in Altman's epic. (Henry Gibson, evidently sensing that many locals were less than impressed by the film's depiction of Music City denizens, diplomatically told TV reporters how much he really, really enjoyed shooting Nashville in Nashville.) 

The Robert Altman retrospective continues through July 7 at the Belcourt Theatre, Nashville's premier art-house cinema. In a brochure prepared for the series, Belcourt programming director Toby Leonard credits Seth Rogen and Kim Jong-un for making it all possible. No, seriously.

Leonard writes:

The week between Christmas and New Year's has always been a tricky one in the art house world. Dominated by big-budget studio pictures with visions of gold statuettes dancing in their heads, what's an independent cinema to do? In 2013, we had a major success in that period with Inside Llewyn Davis on one screen and the opening of a three-week Hitchcock series on the other. In 2014, our plans were to have a solid run of Birdman going, with a series of Capra restorations tacked onto the end of our yearly holiday run of It's a Wonderful Life. By Thanksgiving, the Belcourt was already on track for a record year for ticket sales. But there were strange rumblings afoot. 

On Monday, Dec. 22, as friends and relatives were dialing down for the holidays, Sony Pictures -- at the behest of major multiplexes, fearful of North Korean retaliation -- had already put its planned Christmas Day release of The Interview on hold. By that point, many independent theaters had made offers to Sony to screen the film. I'd made my own inquiry, perhaps as some sort of joke. After all, what does a mainstream bro-comedy have to do with our mission anyhow? But by Monday evening, with the aid of the Alamo Drafthouse chain and the leadership committee of the Art House Convergence (upon which we sit), it seemed that a last-minute release of The Interview could actually happen. On Tuesday, it became a reality. Since Sony had restored the Capra films we'd planned for that week, we had no issue cutting showtimes from that to allow The Interview to open two days later. Local and national media descended. The rest is history and is totally on Google.

So, why rehash this story at all? It goes back to misgivings about the film itself and why, at the end of a banner year, would we alter plans to accommodate this movie (which was ultimately validated by an amazing outpouring of support). As programmer of the theatre and nonetheless still conflicted, I resolved to use our cut of the ticket sales for good. I decided on Robert Altman.

Many larger-scale repertory series have been underwritten by generous donors who have allowed us to really go out on a limb with some of our larger projects: Hitchcock, Bresson, the Coen Brothers, just to name a few. However, this one is different.

So, here it is, 19 features covered entirely by the proceeds from one truly remarkable folly. Thank you, Robert Altman. Thank you, Seth Rogen. And thank you, Nashville, for 90 years of support.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Review: Melissa McCarthy kicks ass in Spy

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear – specifically, the mid-to-late 1960s – when the line between madcap spy spoofery and serious secret agentry often was smudged in slick flicks pitched somewhere between the edgy exploits of Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer and the antic excesses of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm. 

Spy, the latest collaboration between Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy and filmmaker Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) is a satisfyingly amusing and sporadically hilarious throwback to the era when 007-spawned comedy-adventures were as ubiquitous as comic-book epics are today, and notables as diverse as David Niven, James Garner, Dirk Bogarde, Cliff Robertson and rotund stand-up comic Jack E. Leonard (who played a dual role opposite Jayne Mansfield and Phyllis Diller in 1966’s aptly titled The Fat Spy) slipped into James Bondage with varying degrees of success.

Like many, if not most, of those Swinging ‘60s curios, Spy is a mashup of broad comedy, sci-fi gadgetry, brutal mayhem – broken limbs and lethal weapons are utilized as punchlines – and snappy/snarling one-liners. Unlike all but the best of its predecessors, however, it manages the difficult feat of maintaining a pleasing ratio of funny business to rough stuff.

McCarthy is perfectly cast and consistently engaging as Susan Cooper, a modestly frumpy but exceptionally adroit CIA systems analyst who, from her desk in the Langley headquarters basement, monitors, directs and warns far-flung agents in the field. She issues her info – culled from surveillance satellites and super-duper computers – through earpieces worn by such licensed-to-kill daredevils as Bradley Fine (Jude Law), a lethally smooth operator who has become the object of Susan’s unrequited desire. Behind every successful secret agent, Spy indicates, there is an unsung desk jockey – a set-up, the movie none-too-subtly suggests, that mirrors the bond between overpaid male corporate executives and their underpaid but unquestioningly loyal female underlings.

But when bad guys hack into the files at Langley to access names and faces of every CIA spook with field experience, it’s up to the heretofore underappreciated and, better still, conveniently anonymous Susan to get off the bench and enter the spy game. Eager for the glamorous, globe-hopping life of a Jane Bond, she initially is disappointed to find she’s expected merely to observe and report as she zigzags throughout Europe while decked out in guises – a bespectacled cat lady, a champion Mary Kay Cosmetics salesperson, etc. – that are equal parts demeaning and demoralizing.

(By the way: Since we are living in the age of political correctness, when the professionally outraged are constantly on the alert for things to be outraged about, I fully expect someone to complain that Spy actually is trafficking in sexual stereotypes that are demeaning to cat ladies and Mary Kay salesepeople. Yes, I really do.) 

Only gradually does Susan get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to express her inner badass, after she fortuitously gains the trust of Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a cunning and condescending arms dealer with a stereotypical crew of incompetent underlings. Trouble is, even with the help of a gawky Langley co-worker (Miranda Hart of Call the Midwife), an inappropriately touchy-feely Italian agent (Peter Serafinowicz), and an incessantly self-aggrandizing and unabashedly sexist CIA operative (Jason Statham, robustly spoofing his own tough-guy image), Susan may have a hard time keeping Rayna from sealing the deal on a compact weapon of mass destruction.

Working from his own screenplay, Feig keeps Spy moving at such a brisk clip that it’s difficult to make sense of the byzantine plot, and unlikely that’s you’ll really care. He relies a bit too heavily – and too often -- on scenes in which McCarthy (evincing blue collar brass) and Byrne (exuding mean girl haughtiness) swap profanity-laced insults that, apparently, are meant be at least mildly shocking in their gender-reversed ferocity. (Wow! Look at that! Gals can be just a vulgar as guys!) On the other hand, it’s refreshing to see that, for once, McCarthy’s plus-size physique is cannily employed for something more than the occasional sight gag. 

At the risk of spilling a few beans: After a certain point in Spy, you have to believe Susan can make the transition from wisecracking to ass-kicking. And, trust me, I mean it as a compliment to say McCarthy makes it very easy to believe that the seemingly mousy desk jockey is quite capable of beating the living hell out of men who make the fatal mistake of taking her too lightly. And because of that, Feig is able to make the leap from flat-out farce to comedy-laced thriller – and then back again – with relative ease. Again: That’s not something you can say about a lot of the Swinging ‘60s spy capers.

Indeed, as I sauntered out of the multiplex on my way to the parking lot after a preview screening of Spy, I found myself thinking: In the real-life world of international espionage, the men and women who do the actual heavy lifting probably are low-profile, deceptively unprepossessing pros who look and sound a lot more Melissa McCarthy than, say, Scarlett Johansson. 

No joke: As much as I enjoyed Spy, I now want to see McCarthy in a (relatively) serious action-adventure in which she cracks heads and shoots straight and surprises everybody.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

LeBron James is ready for his close-up -- in Trainwreck

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader are billed as the stars of Trainwreck because… well, because they are the stars of Trainwreck. And no doubt about it: They are nothing short of amazing in director Judd Apatow’s wild and crazy rom-com (which Schumer scripted), striking a dead-solid-perfect balance of uproarious R-rated hilarity and stealthily affecting sincerity while playing, respectively, a commitment-averse magazine writer who views love roughly the same way Superman views kryptonite, and a renowned sports-medicine surgeon with an all-star lineup of satisfied customers.

But while Trainwreck (which opens July 17 at theaters and drive-ins everywhere) is bound to earn copious kudos for the above-the-title leads – and for Apatow, who’ll add the film to a sterling resume that already includes The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up – don’t be surprised if critics and audiences also heap praise on the star-making performance by a supporting player who’s already a superstar: LeBron James.

Yes, that LeBron James, the celebrated Cleveland Cavaliers power forward who’ll be leading his team this week and next against the formidable Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

But no matter how things shake out on the hardwood courts this week, you can take this to the bank: The superstar known as King James already is establishing himself as an MVP in a whole different game.

At least, that’s the early scouting report by critics who viewed Trainwreck last March at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Variety film critic Scott Foundas said the film’s “biggest surprise is indeed James, who plays himself — or, rather, a self-aggrandizing, penny-pinching version of himself — to deadpan perfection.” Ryan Bort of agreed, noting: “[James’] role is larger than anyone could have imagined, and his performance is certainly the best and most substantial foray into acting we've seen from a sports superstar of his magnitude.”

In the world according to Trainwreck, LeBron James is a sage and sensitive soul whose deep and abiding friendship with Dr. Aaron Connors (Hader) is strained only when he fears his buddy might make him miss an episode of his favorite TV series, Downton Abby. (“Listen, I’m watching it tonight,” he tells Aaron, “because I’m not going to practice when all the guys are talking about it – and I’m left out!”)  He’s initially happy to hear that Aaron has, well, scored. (“My boy got intimate! Sexual intercourse! Whoa-ho!”) But he frets that someone as anti-monogamy as Amy Townsend (Schumer) might break Aaron’s heart. And when Aaron does indeed find that love is a hurtin’ thing, King James is quick to stage an intervention with a back-up team that includes Marv Albert.

Yes, that Marv Albert.

When I caught up with Judd Apatow in Austin the morning after Trainwreck premiered at SXSW, we spoke about many things – the brassy wit of Schumer’s screenplay, the seriocomic grace of Hader’s career-best (so far) performance, his own history of supporting fresh talents like Schumer and Lena Dunham, etc. But I made sure I saved enough time during the interview to ask: So, Judd, tell me -- what was it like to work with LeBron James?

“When Amy wrote his name in the script – well, that was the dream,” Apatow said. “In a situation like this, you never think you’re going to really get LeBron James – you think you’re going to get somebody who retired from the NBA in 1968."

But thanks in large part to Bill Hader, an alumnus of Saturday Night Live, the dream became a reality.

“Bill had meet LeBron when he hosted Saturday Night Live, and told us that he was a great guy and super funny,” Apatow said. “So Bill and I took him out to lunch, and we talked a little about his part, which in a lot of ways is the Bruno Kirby part in When Harry Met Sally… We thought that it would be really funny if that person just happened to be the greatest basketball player in the world. And LeBron really laughed.”

Which isn’t to say King James took his movie debut lightly. Indeed, “LeBron showed up as a very well-prepared actor,” Apatow said. “He was very loose, he was willing to experiment and improvise just like everybody else, and he revealed himself to be riotously funny -- which we are all jealous of.”

But wait, there’s more: LeBron James arrived just in time to make his “character” a very eloquent and passionate spokesman for Cleveland.

“His shooting days started a week after he announced that he was going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Apatow said. “So we quickly added that to the script.

“But, you know, he’s always telling people he’s the mayor of Cleveland.”

Trainwreck also features a very funny cameo performance by another NBA notable, Amar’e Stoudemire, as another of Aaron's patients. Ironically, he filmed his part before he moved from the New York Knicks to the Dallas Mavericks – at a time when he doubtless had no qualms about saying “Dallas sucks!” on screen.

“We watched all these different athletes on Letterman,” Apatow said, “because we figured if they're funny with Letterman, we know we can make them funny in the movie. Amar'e was so charming and witty -- and he also turned out to be a great guy to work with. And he carried off some difficult moments, like where he’s doing that whole bit when he’s supposed to have just come out of surgery.”

So what is Judd Apatow’s secret? How does he get such effective performances -- such funny performances – out of superstars who are, essentially, non-actors?

“My favorite thing with any actor or actress,” Apatow said, “is to let them know that they have enough time to figure it out. I think when people are rushed, they can't act. And when they feel under pressure to make it perfect right away, that's when people panic. I always tell them, ‘Look, you have plenty of time, we are going to do a lot of takes." And usually just that information gets them almost all the way there.

“The nightmare that a lot of people have is that they’re only gonna get one take, some crappy shot, and someone's gonna say, 'OK, check the gate! We're done!' But I always just say, 'We're not going to move on until you're happy.'"