Amy Schumer wrote the script for — and also stars in — the Judd Apatow-directed film “Trainwreck,” currently being filmed in New York.

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Comic actress moves from stand-up to standout

  • Article by: CARA BUCKLEY
  • New York Times
  • August 6, 2014 - 9:24 PM


No one could understand why Amy Schumer was not freaking out.

It was the day before production began on “Trainwreck,” now shooting on the streets of New York, and this Kewpie-eyed, razor-tongued comedian was about to undertake her first meaty movie role.

Not just any role, but the starring role. Directed by the comedy juggernaut Judd Apatow. Featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Tilda Swinton, among other big names. Also, Schumer, 33, wrote the script.

With so much resting on her shoulders, various cast and crew members said, surely she was jittery, at the very least?

“I’m really not,” Schumer remembers replying. “Is that naive?”

It was a show of the sang-froid that has defined and elevated Schumer, who in less than three years has gone from stealing the show at a Charlie Sheen roast to creating an Emmy-nominated Comedy Central series to now sailing toward mainstream fame, Apatow’s wind at her back.

On the face of it, theirs seems an odd comic coupling.

Caustic and unblinkingly ribald, Schumer’s comedy takes dead aim at gender roles. One of the skits on her show, “Inside Amy Schumer,” takes place in “O’Nutters,” a sendup of Hooters where the wait staff consists of testicularly endowed men. In another, Schumer plays her boyfriend’s military video game: Her avatar, a female soldier, ends up being raped and publicly shamed, a scenario she manages to imbue with dark humor.

Apatow, 46, has built a career out of softer fare, from the high school misfits of “Freaks and Geeks” to Seth Rogen’s bumbling journey toward fatherhood in “Knocked Up,” that has honed a reputation for creating so-called man-boys who resist growing up. It’s a characterization he disagrees with and resents — “In most of my movies, there’s an equal component of what female characters are up against in their lives,” he said — and one he has chipped away at in recent years by serving as an executive producer of Lena Dunham’s HBO show, “Girls,” and producing “Bridesmaids,” which grossed $288 million worldwide. Both Schumer and Apatow said their approaches were not all that different. “We find the same things funny,” Schumer said.

“And we both appreciate brutally honest comedy,” Apatow said.

The pair met two years ago, after Apatow heard Schumer on Howard Stern’s show while idling in Los Angeles traffic and was struck, he said, by her warmth and biting humor. Always on the lookout for funny people who can tell interesting tales, he contacted her to brainstorm on a potential script.

They abandoned her original idea — they declined to divulge what it was — and came up with a story plumbed heavily from Schumer’s life, about a commitment-averse woman trying to get past her self-sabotaging ways. In other words, pitch-perfect Apatow fare.

“Most people aren’t that funny — there’s only a few that take it to a higher place,” Apatow said recently on the “Trainwreck” set. “She’s insanely funny, and she has stories to tell.” Working on the script, he said, he pushed Schumer to dig into her vulnerabilities, “almost like a therapist thing.” He said he had never worked with anyone who wrote so quickly.

Schumer said that as her friendship with Apatow grew — she calls him her “fairy godfather” — her trust in him deepened as well. “I’m not afraid he’s going to slam the door shut,” she said, “We’re in this together.”

Bill Hader, the “Saturday Night Live” alumnus who plays Schumer’s would-be Mr. Right in “Trainwreck,” described the partnership between the comedian and the director as “the perfect melding.”

“Judd’s interested in comedy and sadness and people self-sabotaging and the messiness of life,” he said, “and Amy is interested in the same.”

“I’ve acted in a lot of films where the lead wrote the movie,” Hader added. “She’s definitely the calmest.”

Schumer attributed her relaxed demeanor partly to the magnitude of resources for the production. A multimillion-dollar movie crawling with experienced crew members and overseen by a seasoned director, “Trainwreck” is starkly different from her own show, which is produced at a breakneck pace by a small team on a fraction of the budget.

“Making this feels like a vacation,” Schumer said of the film. “I’m the most relaxed I’ve been in 10 years.”

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