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Judd Apatow: Pete Davidson movie is 'well-suited for this moment'

Judd Apatow stands by his decision to release The King of Staten Island on VOD. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Judd Apatow stands by his decision to release "The King of Staten Island" on VOD. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, June 12 (UPI) -- After many studios postponed the release of summer blockbusters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Universal Studios decided to premiere The King of Staten Island on video-on-demand Friday.

Director Judd Apatow said he considered joining The Fast and the Furious 9 and Ghostbusters: Afterlife in postponing a theatrical release, but ultimately decided against it.

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"It really was a question of waiting a very long time or releasing it right away," Apatow told UPI in a phone interview Tuesday. "It felt wrong to hoard it for a year."

The King of Staten Island stars Pete Davidson as Scott, a 20-something who never left Staten Island, N.Y., after his fireman father died on the job when he was 7. The comedy drama deals with Scott's stunted growth and lack of ambitions.

"I felt like the movie is meant to make people happy and help them process emotions about grief and trauma," Apatow said. "So it is a movie that's well-suited for this moment."

Apatow estimates it could be another year before it is safe for audiences to fill theaters again. On the other hand, Christopher Nolan is still pushing Warner Bros. to release Tenet in theaters July 17.

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Some theaters are considering reopening as soon as Friday -- a decision reached only this week, long after Apatow and Universal announced video-on-demand plans for King. Apatow added that he did not delve further into the science of what conditions would make theatergoing safe again.

"I personally would need to have a lot more information before I was comfortable releasing a movie in a movie theater," he said. "I would have to know that there was no scenario where anybody could get hurt."

As such, viewers who know Davidson from Saturday Night Live won't have to leave their television to see his starring role. King has some parallels to Davidson's real life. Davidson's father was a firefighter who died at the World Trade Center during the terrorist attack in September 2001 when Davidson was 7.

"I thought that this was a great opportunity for him to reveal who he is to people," Apatow said. "I think it's very generous to share your story."

Davidson speaks often about his father, sometimes comedically in his stand-up and often emotionally in his social media posts. He differs vastly from Scott in ambition. Scott makes lackluster attempts to become a tattoo artist. Davidson started doing stand-up as a teenager, and SNL cast him when he was 20.

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"It is an imagining of what his life might have been like if he didn't have comedy and was lost," Apatow said.

Another aspect of King inspired by Davidson's life is the character of Scott's mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei). She sends her daughter, Claire (Maude Apatow), off to college, and starts dating for the first time in 17 years. Apatow said Davidson wanted to pay tribute to his own mother.

"Pete was interested in exploring how he has needed a lot from his mom," Apatow said. "He wants her to be happy and have her own life."

Melding someone's real persona with a fictional character has become a motif for Apatow in his film career. He wrote with Amy Schumer and directed her in Trainwreck, and produced Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's autobiographical The Big Sick.

Apatow said directing documentaries has helped him meld comedy and drama. He directed The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling about his mentor and documentaries about the band The Avett Brothers and Mets players Darryl Strawberry and Dwight "Doc" Gooden.

"When you work on documentaries, most of the time you're not concerned about where the laughs land," Apatow said. "Also, documentaries are so honest that it's harder to create things which don't feel as authentic after you make a bunch of them."

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Apatow credited both Davidson and Schumer with pulling no punches. He said neither comedian ever vetoed an idea that could be too personal or embarrassing for them. Dave Sirus also collaborated on King with Apatow and Davidson.

"This isn't just something that was created to make a movie," Apatow said. "It's actually something that's very important to them."

Although King is very much Davidson's story, it rings true for Apatow, as well.

"For me, it's very personal because I've had losses in my life that I'm always working through," Apatow said. "I deeply understand Pete's struggle and have my own version of it."

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