Actor Ryan Lee talks about his role as Melissa McCarthy's son in Judd Apatow's This is 40, debuting in theaters December 21
Last summer's Super 8 introduced us to a number of extremely talented child actors such as Joel Courtney, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso, and Ryan Lee. A majority of the comic relief in director J.J. Abrams' sci-fi thriller came from Ryan Lee, who played the fast-talking pyromaniac Cary. The 16-year-old actor brings his comedic chops to the big screen once again this weekend in director Judd Apatow's This Is 40, debuting in theaters December 21. The actor portrays the young son of Melissa McCarthy's Catherine, and the love interest of Maude Apatow's Sadie. I recently had the chance to speak with the actor over the phone. Here's what he had to say about working with Judd Apatow, trying not to laugh on the set, and much more.
Can you talk about how closely you have followed Judd's movies? He has a really unique style with everything he does. Was that one of the main draws for you?
Ryan Lee: Yeah, definitely. I'm only 16, but Judd Apatow's name is basically legendary, from Knocked Up to Bridesmaids. There's no question. Almost everything he does, if not everything, is awesome. I heard about this and I was ecstatic about it. I tried out for the role and I got it, so you can imagine how excited I was.
Was everyone attached when you came on? Did you know that Melissa McCarthy was playing your mother?
Ryan Lee: No, I actually didn't. As soon as I found out I got the part, I went to meet Judd the next day. I thought I was only meeting Judd, but Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow's daughter were all sitting in a room. We rehearsed, and I got to meet all of them at once, which was kind of crazy and overwhelming. Then Judd said to me, 'Do you know who your mom is going to be?' I actually saw Bridesmaids the day before I met him. Melissa McCarthy was one of the best parts of that movie. She walked through the door a couple of minutes later. I shook her hand and I said, 'I'm going to make this awkward and long for you, all right?' She said, 'OK, I'm picking up what you're putting down.' We had a connection within the first five seconds. It was awesome.
Your character kind of becomes a thorn in this family's side.
Ryan Lee: Yeah, it's basically in a moment where Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) are going through a mid-life crisis and hard times with finances. Then Debbie doesn't want to admit that she's 40. I haven't been through that personally, but I guess I can imagine what that's like to go through. Halfway through the film, everything gets crazy. At a moment when Pete and Debbie don't need anymore crap in their lives, that's where I come in. I'm basically the tipping point.
Maude Apatow has starred in all Judd's directorial efforts, and it's been fun to watch her literally grow up on screen over the past few years. Can you talk about your time on the set with her?
Ryan Lee: Yeah. I remember watching Knocked Up when Maude was doing that thing about how babies were born. She improvised that. I met Maude and it was like, 'Oh my God. That's so you.' She's really smart and really cool. We became good friends.
You've worked with a lot of fantastic directors before, especially J.J. Abrams. Is there anything you can say specifically about Judd's style and how he commands a set?
Ryan Lee: Yeah, J.J. knows what he wants but he's not going to act it out for you. You basically create J.J.'s vision, and he loves that. You go to Judd, and he goes, 'OK, we'll go on script for the first two takes. OK, we got that. Now improv, and go.' Basically, it's a free-for-all. It's a lot more laid back. It's not like J.J. is uptight or anything, because J.J. would let us improv as well, because he wanted us to be real kids.
Were there any off-script parts that made it into the movie that you were glad made the cut?
Ryan Lee: There is a lot of stuff with Melissa McCarthy where he would say, 'OK, improv.' There's a scene where Melissa McCarthy tells me to turn around, so I don't see her yelling at Paul Rudd. When she told me to turn around, it was like 'Thank God' because I was trying so hard not to laugh.
I was actually on the set of Judd's Funny People for a day. It was a crazy experience, seeing what kind of takes he does.
Ryan Lee: Yeah, Judd just wants options. Judd will do it five different ways, and then be done. J.J. knows when he gets it. That could be the difference, yeah.
I see you're also starring in a TV pilot. Has that been picked up by anyone yet?
Ryan Lee: Yeah, we just finished shooting it, and it's going to be pitched to ABC. We're just kind of waiting.
Is there anything you can say about who you play in that?
Ryan Lee: Yeah, I play Marcia Gay Harden's son, and Malin Akerman is playing my stepmom. She's a Trophy Wife, which is the name of the pilot. I think it's going to change, though. I think there is some reality show called Trophy Wives. I told Maude Apatow that I got this pilot called Trophy Wife. She goes, 'Ohh..... congratulations.' She thought it was some reality show. She said, 'How much of that is actually real?' It's about this ex-wife that comes back and everybody is crossing paths in a cool way. Marcia put it in a cool way. She compared it to Modern Family, but it's not. That is this happy family that all comes together. This one is the side of divorce, but in a really funny way.
Do they shoot it in that testimonial style, with actors talking to the camera?
Ryan Lee: Oh, no, not that. That is the only thing I don't understand about Modern Family. Is it like a biography?
I'm a big fan of the show, but I don't think they've ever explained it.
Ryan Lee: Me too. I love Modern Family.
I could be wrong, but I don't think they've set up that there is a camera crew there.
Ryan Lee: Our show is basically very real, what a lot of real, American families have to go through with divorce. The jealousy of the younger wives. Then we have Marcia Gay Harden, who is a doctor.
What would you like to say to anyone who might be on the fence about This Is 40 about why they should check it out this weekend?
Ryan Lee: It is just as funny as Bridesmaids, but it's not all about the humor. It makes you think about getting older, and family, and love. It's a really heartwarming and really good movie.
Great. That's my time. Thank you so much.
Ryan Lee: Great. Thank you for having me.
You can watch Ryan Lee in This Is 40, opening in theaters nationwide December 21.