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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

August 5, 2005

In Universal's raucous comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, comedian Steve Carell (the best thing to come out of Comedy Central's The Daily Show) plays Andy, an amicable fellow who, despite his relatively advanced age, has never done the deed.

When Andy's buddies (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, and Seth Rogen) uncover this fact during a poker game one night, they immediately embark on a mission to "fix things" by finding the right girl for their compatriot. Along the way, Andy faces several hardships of the social scene, including an unstable drunken girl, an unsuccessful bout with speed dating, and a grotesquely painful lesson in personal grooming.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin is directed by Judd Apatow, who co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Carell, and also stars Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich, Lovely and Amazing) and Elizabeth Banks (Seabiscuit, Spider-Man).

In this interview, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd talk about making the decidedly R-rated comedy, researching middle-aged virgins, and dealing with the gruesome points of chest waxing. As the two actors walk into the room and greet each other, Paul makes note of their eerily similar attire by saying, "We look like 40-year-old a**holes."

The Interview

MEDIA: So back in the day, what was your game with the ladies, and where did you go to meet them?

STEVE: The sody pop stand! [laughs] I was a bad dater, and up until eighth grade, I went to an all boys school. So by the time I hit high school, I was a bit freaked out about women in general. And the "putting them on a pedestal" part of the movie...I definitely did that. I was very wary of women. And especially in high school, as soon as I went from being a friend and started looking at a woman as a potential love interest, I could not even talk. I was pretty bad.

And what about you, Paul?

STEVE: [comically, to Paul] I bet you were a stud!

PAUL: Hardly. But I did buy, my senior year in high school, a jeep--tried [to] give off the appearance that I was kind of cool. And I grew my hair long like Michael Hutchence from INXS. So really, I just relied on external things to try and fool girls.

STEVE: Oh! I did mix my own perfume for a girl that I liked. I went to my mother's perfume and I mixed probably eight or ten perfumes together into a jar. And I gave it to this next door neighbor. [exaggerated] "And we're married now." No. [laughs] That's not true at all!

Steve, what is it like seeing your face plastered on billboards everywhere with that goofy expression?

STEVE: Very surreal. I was driving around with my daughter, who's four. And she kept asking me, "Why are you on the signs?" [laughs] "You look stupid." We'd been out of town for a couple of weeks, so when we left, none of these billboards were up. And then we came back, and they were every hundred yards, and I kept pointing them out to my wife. "Twelve o'clock! There's one at two o'clock! Look at the bus!" So it's pretty strange. It's weird. [jokes] "And it!" No, Universal's really promoting it. They really seem to be getting behind it. It's exciting.

PAUL: When I first saw it, I was just so thrilled that the Universal marketing department absolutely got it right. It seems you always see the poster, and it's like, [groans] "Oh God, they all look the same now." But when I first saw the poster of this, I couldn't stop laughing. It is the funniest picture in the world. [laughs]

STEVE: It's pretty stupid. I'm thinking about that as my headshot from now on.

How did that particular picture end up being selected for all the billboards and posters?

STEVE: Well, that was actually the last thing we shot in the photoshoot. There were a bunch of other setups--one where I was sitting with a drink, sipping through a straw, and I was surrounded in a bar by other people who were in all sorts of suggestive positions. And this was the very last thing. It was almost an afterthought. You know, "we'll just do this kind of funny look, almost like a '70s yearbook photo." There were certainly a lot of different expressions, and that's the one I think they found the most virginal.

Steve, how autobiographical is the script for you?

STEVE: [jokes] I will not answer that question.'s not autobiographical at all. I, in fact, have two children. [jokes] So they are a beard. Uh, was a notion that I had that I brought to Judd last year. Essentially, the pitch was the poker scene--that sequence of a guy desperately trying to keep up with these other guys who are telling these great sex stories, and it quickly becomes apparent that he's out of his element. And that was what I pitched to him.

How closely do you identify with your character?

STEVE: I identify with him in the sense that he's trying. He's doing his best to get through life and keep a good aspect and disposition going--keep his hopes up. But I think there's an underlying sadness to the character, [jokes, lowers voice] which, in fact, there is to me as well. [accepts sympathetic "aw" from those present] I think there's the parallel.

Was there any research to be done on actual 40-year-old virgins?

STEVE: We were given several case studies by Universal, which we read. Seriously! And there are quite a few case studies documenting middle-aged virginity, and who these people are, and where they live, and what are their likes and dislikes. And what we found to be the case, more often than not, is that they're just normal people who, for one reason or another, never did it, and just very similar to the character, at some point, just kind of gave up on the whole notion because it was harder, to...(every time I say something, all of these really bad puns start floating into the room) was more difficult to keep attempting than to just give up. So that's kind of the research that we did, based on the character. In terms of meeting any, not that I know of. And that's a hard thing. It's not something you wear on your sleeve. Who knows how many virgins we've met in our life? [laughs] This sounds like they're aliens.

PAUL: The government...they try and hide it, but they do exist.

STEVE: [laughs] I don't know. It wasn't based on any, "Oh, I know this virgin guy who lives down the street who rides a bike. I'm going to do a movie on him. I hope he doesn't come, because he'll sue us." It wasn't anything like that. But we did do some research. And what we found just reinforced what we had originally imagined--that this is just a guy. This isn't some incredibly damaged human being. This is just a guy who, for a number of reasons, kind of missed the boat.

Any advice for the 40-year-old virgins out there?

STEVE: Apart from "see the movie"? No. I'm certainly in no position to actually give sexual anyone! If anything, I'm in need of it.

Why does Universal have case studies of 40-year-old virgins?

STEVE: [jokes] Oh, that was just internal. That was just based on employees of Universal.

Are many of the scenes in the movie improvised?

STEVE: There was a lot of going off the book. That whole run that Paul does of, "You know how I know you're gay?" That is just a perfect example. [to Paul] Do you want to talk about that?

PAUL: We were sitting there waiting for them to set up, and Seth and I were joking around, and we just kind of started calling each other gay, and why we knew. And the crew was getting really upset with us, like, "God, I can't believe they're doing this while we're shooting." But Judd really encourages that. But at the same time, there was a script. So as far as what's improvised and what isn't, I don't even really remember. But the way that we would shoot it was not unlike the way we did Anchorman, where we tend to shoot [the scene] one time as scripted, and then do something different. And that was literally the direction. "Okay, do something different!" [laughs] And Judd would just never cut. We shot a million feet of film, which...this is a true thing I didn't even shoot a million feet of film, the film company will buy champagne for the cast and crew.

STEVE: On the last day of shooting, we went over a million feet, [and] the film company wheeled in an enormous tray of champagne.

PAUL: And good champagne, too. Not crap.

STEVE: We had made their year, apparently.

Were there other notable instances of improvisation?

STEVE: Well, Jane Lynch, the woman who plays Paula the manager...her audition was improvised. And Judd, as soon as her audition was over, sent the tape of the audition to be transcribed, and that is what ended up being in the script, because she was so funny. The whole run of her coming on to me...we had an idea for it, but she took it to such a different place that it's nothing that either of us could have scripted for her that eloquently.

Steve, how real was your infamous chest waxing scene?

STEVE: That was 100% real. We set up five cameras, because we knew there would be one take. There was no way of going back and trying to get it again. So we set a camera up on the guys, one over me, one specifically on my chest, one on the waxer...And it was not scripted. We just had an idea for where it would go. We hired a woman who was an actress/waxer, which in itself was a little daunting.

PAUL: A "waxtress."

STEVE: A waxtress, yes! Because she wasn't a professional waxer. So yeah, that was all real. If you watch closely, there's one close-up where you can see blood actually beading to the surface. So that was not CGIed! And when I pitched it to Judd, I said it should be for real. It really should be legitimate waxing. Because I thought to see them laughing at me in pain would be probably the funniest part of the scene. Because there's this guy thing, this sadistic nature that men have, to see other men in non-life-threatening pain. And especially self-inflicted. You know, like a kick in the nuts. It's just funny. You can't help but laugh at it if you're a guy, because you know they're not going to die. So to kind of capture that on camera, I thought, would be really amusing.

PAUL: And it really was. Very little acting required in that scene.

STEVE: And you know what? It hurt so much. It really did hurt! [laughs] And a lot of the women in the crew were aware of what was going to happen. And I didn't! And they were saying, "You sure you don't want to trim your hair down a little bit? It'll hurt less. Can I give you some Advil?" And I kept saying, "No! No, no, no, no, I'm fine. I'm fine!" And then, halfway through, I was just sweating and thought, "This is a baaaad idea!"

PAUL: [to Steve] Didn't you say that when you wax, they give you some kind of oil or cream or something?

STEVE: Well, they're supposed to put a little oil over your nipple and then the wax, so your nipple actually doesn't come off on the gauze. And they started it without doing that. [laughs] And I was like, "Hey...Hey, guys! I know this, at least." So it was actually a really fun day. It was a day I both dreaded and looked forward to, equally.

So did the hair eventually grow back?

STEVE: It did. Actually, it took about seven weeks, and my wife was very happy when it eventually did, because I looked like a freak for a long time. [laughs]

Paul, you play a guy who can't seem to get over his ex-girlfriend. Can you talk about how pathetic your character is?

STEVE: [to Paul] And you, personally...

PAUL: [laughs] Yeah, uh...

STEVE: [laughs] That's not a loaded question at all!

PAUL: Well, the character's kind of almost a stalker. So there's something really creepy about that, too. [laughs] I don't know how that comes off, but he can't quite get over the past--a past that I think he's completely made up. I think they only went out for like six weeks or two months.

Did you feel you had more creative freedom since the movie was always going to be rated R?

STEVE: Well, just based on the subject matter, we felt that it was an R rated movie. And Universal never blinked at that, and, in fact, asked us to earn it--to actually be a hard R, to not pull any punches, and to not try to soften it. Just make the movie we want to make. But the objective wasn't to "make this more of an R." We just wrote what we thought was the funniest. We wrote for the characters and we wrote for the situations, and we didn't really think about, "We have to make this dirtier, or less dirty." We just wrote it the way we saw it. So it was nice that we never felt like we had to censor ourself.

Steve, do you feel any particular pressure now that you're a lead and headlining your own movie?

STEVE: There was no pressure until you started talking. [laughs] Ummm...all the way through shooting it, I just kept thinking, "If this is the last movie I ever do, this has been great. This has been just fun." So I try not to get ahead of myself at all in terms of what the next thing is. I've been really lucky just to support myself acting, and being able to help create and be the lead in a movie is way beyond any expectation I'd ever had. So I'm pretty happy with what has happened so far. And honestly, if this is it, if it all comes crashing down tomorrow, I'm still pretty happy.

Any plans for the future?

STEVE: [laughs] I'm going to finish this bottle of water.

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