Set Report: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”

Whether you lost it at eight or eighteen, one’s virginity is something that some take pride in whilst others could care less about. In the new Universal Studios comedy “the 40’Year-Old Virgin”, Steve Carell portrays Andy Sitizer – a man hitting the big 40 who’s never gotten laid in his entire life – not even by accident. When his electronics store co-workers (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, and Seth Rogen) find out, they make it their job to fix that right up – but even the best plans never get laid so easily.

Whilst his name may not be familiar, Carrell is a man whose star is quickly rising. After a scene-stealing performance as a co-worker of Jim Carrey in “Bruce Almighty”, Carrell managed to do the impossible – steal limelight from Will Ferrell in last year’s much talked about “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”. He’s also on the small screen in the US version of hit British sitcom “The Office”. ‘Virgin’ however marks his first foray as a leading actor, but will playing such a tough role cause him to lose fans? “That has never, ever been anything near the forefront of my mind. No, if anything, it will accentuate my sex symbol status which I’ve really cultivated over the years” admitted the actor to me and group of online press in Los Angeles this past April.

Don’t expect much in the way of sexy hijinks in this feature though – “He’s just kind of turned inward in a lot of ways. He’s made a comfortable life for himself within that person, who he’s become. And then he meets these guys and he meets a woman who helps bring him out of that. So actually the story, I think the title kind of leads people to believe it’s a really over the top crazy sex comedy but it’s really not. It’s actually a very sweet relationship comedy” says Carrell.

For all its sweetness, there’s still a lot of the usual physical and improvised comedy freely floating around set. Sitting down and watching shooting taking place, its actually quite astonishing how much of the dialogue was made up on the fly. Each take delievered completely different monologues with the actors bouncing ideas of each other and even us.

For example one scene has Andy going in for a body wax – an arduous task considering he’s ultra hairy. Carell really does get his own body hair waxed in these scenes, and the resulting pink skin and minor bleeding are very much for real. That day of the visit we witnessed filming of a scene set in the store the next day when a co-worker comes up to apologise. The whole point of the scene was to soothe Andy’s shyness about his body hair by mentioning other famous hirstute stars. Trying to think up some names, one of the journos came up with Alec Baldwin which drew an immediate sigh of “ooooooh!” from the crew. The next take, it was included and don’t be surprised if it ends up on film.

Director Judd Apatow, best known for his short lived but much loved TV shows like “Freaks & Geeks” and “Undeclared”, admits up front this’ll be a real R-rated comedy and likes the improv style of direction. He hopes to emulate the work of the likes of Garry Shandling and James L. Brooks with sweet comedy that has a real biting edge. Even he though must answer to the ratings board, which means the home video release will go even further – “Every once in a while, you would push something too far. We do a lot of stuff for the DVD. We actually hired an editor just to cut deleted scenes and an uncensored cut of the movie”.

Apatow seems totally relaxed shooting on the fly, as does a lot of the crew who seem to have adopted a toy robot as a mascot even when his robotic voice actually interrupts filming. He briefly talked about one of his favourite scenes – “We did a speed dating set piece with a lot of funny people. Mo Collins was in it from “Mad TV” and Gillian Vigman was really, really funny. The woman who wrote that Matt and Ben play, Mindy [Kaling] – she’s got a pilot this year – [plays] Paul Rudd’s ex-girlfriend, who he is semi-stalking , who is really funny. My wife Leslie Mann plays a drunk girl he picks up at a bar and he thinks he can lose his virginity, which leads to a very long, intricate drunk driving sequence. And Dave Koechner did a cameo in our sequence where they go to a family planning center and he plays someone’s father. No Will [Ferrell]. We didn’t bother Will”.

So how did all this come about? “Steve mentioned that while doing ‘Anchorman,’ there’s a character he liked and I liked the idea that he was surrounded by younger people giving terrible advice. So we just started sitting down and outlining together and trying to figure out what the story would be. And we very quickly agreed that we wanted to have it be, hopefully, be really funny, but ultimately be a sweet story about a guy growing up. Like a middle-aged coming of age story. So we started outlining before we started writing. And then we had this idea that he dates this woman who is actually a grandmother, so he goes from not having any responsibility with a woman to being in the most committed relationship on Earth with Catherine Keener” says Apatow.

If there’s one reason Andy doesn’t get laid its his house decor, best described as a loving badge to geekdom. 60’s comics and toys, old gaming machines, trophies, action figures on the walls. The sets are simple and on the cheap, yet it looks like a lot of care has gone into it. The cast also looked into real life cases of people who just slipped (or rather haven’t) through the cracks of society and never really done it with anyone.

“There are more people out there than you think who are this person, or variations of this person. (They aren’t) necessarily weird or phobic or have emotional problems, but it’s people it just never happened to. That’s kind of the crux of this character. He had a few opportunities and it didn’t pan out and at one point he just gave up trying” says Carrell.

One person who has no sympathy for these guys though is Carell’s wife – “I just make out with a lot of women in this movie. And the fact that I co-wrote it is indicative. I tried explaining that to my wife, too. I come home, she’s been taking care of a one-year-old and a four-year-old all day and I slump down on the couch, “Oh, what a day.” One day I actually came in, “Oh, what a tough day of shooting,” and I was serious. She looked at me and said, “You just made out with Elizabeth Banks for 12 hours,” who is this gorgeous, gorgeous actress. She’s like, “I have no sympathy for you at all”” recalls the comedian.

In the end what can people expect? “It’s sweet – I don’t know how they’re going to market it because I think it’s both really sweet and grounded and real, and yet there’s going to be that element of raunchiness here and bawdy. I’d say bawdy more than raunchy. But it’ll be fun. I mean, it’ll be fun to do that balancing off of this real love story between two people and then some of the other craziness that happens” says Carell. People will be able to lose it for themselves on August 19th.