Greg Mottola, Director of Superbad, Adventureland, Paul and more: Interview on The Sound of Young America

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Bullseye
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Greg Mottola

Greg Mottola is a director whose films and TV shows often capture the sweet, funny, embarrassing but very real moments of being an adolescent. He's directed Superbad, starring past guest Michael Cera, Adventureland, The Day Trippers and episodes of Undeclared and Arrested Development. His newest film Paul (which features Bill Hader) is out March 18th and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as English geeks road-tripping from Comic-Con, living out some of their sci-fi fantasies when an alien joins them on their trip.

JESSE THORN: It’s The Sound of Young America, I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest is the filmmaker Greg Mottola. He’s had an interesting career path. His first film, The Day Trippers, was released in the mid-1990s and was a success in the world of indie film, but it took ten years for him to release his next film. He worked in television on shows like Undeclared, which was part of the launching pad of the vast Judd Apatow comedy empire, and Arrested Development, among others. His first film after his first film was the international megahit, Superbad. He’s since made Adventureland, a really sweet and hilarious coming of age comedy set in an amusement park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his latest film is a road trip comedy with tones of the 1980s supernatural adventure film called Paul. It’s about two geeks who come to America from England to visit the San Diego Comic-Con and go on a road trip of alien sites and find themselves on the road trip with a real alien in their car. Greg Mottola, welcome to The Sound of Young America.

GREG MOTTOLA: Thank you Jesse, pleasure to be here.

Click here for a full transcript of this interview.

JESSE THORN: So one of your first filmmaking mentors was Steven Soderbergh, and I’m wondering if you could tell me how you came to work with him.

GREG MOTTOLA: I met Steven when I was still a film student. He had seen a short film I had made. I had very little money in film school, so I bought three rolls of film and designed a film that could be shot in one long take the length of a roll of film. I shot it three times, and I think the first time a PA walked through a shot and ruined it, and the second time a piece of the set fell down, and the third time all the actors got the lines right and nothing fell apart and that was my student film and thesis film at Columbia University.

It made the rounds of film festivals and Steven had seen it and invited me to come meet him in Los Angeles.

JESSE THORN: Where was he at in his career when you met him?

GREG MOTTOLA: I met him very early on. Sex, Lies, and Videotape had not yet come out. He had been the toast of Sundance Film Festival and I remember a big article about him had come out in Rolling Stone magazine and he was the great new hope of independent film and yet no one had seen his movie yet. It was an interesting time to meet him; he’s a great guy. He basically said, look, I liked your film, I like you, if you ever have a script that’s any good maybe I can help you. A couple of years later I sent him the script to Day Trippers.

JESSE THORN: He really changed the face of filmmaking with Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Partly it was ripe for the changing; he was in the right place at the right time. That film created the paradigm for independent film as it existed for the following ten years or so. What was it like for you to see that happen in real-time to this important guy that you’d just met?

GREG MOTTOLA: It was exciting, because like many people my age I grew up on 1970s American cinema. I just saw the Al Pacino movie - - sorry, it’s escaping me.

JESSE THORN: Scent of a Woman.

GREG MOTTOLA: Ha ha! Yeah, Scent of a Woman. I saw The Panic of Needle Park the other night at film forum. Those are the kinds of movies I grew up on. Sidney Lumet and Woody Allen and Coppola and Scorsese. In the 80s things changed. This will be an interesting full circle, because Paul is such an homage to commercial mainstream movies of the 80s. I felt like movies like Strangers in Paradise and Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Spike Lee’s first few films really were a radical change. To me it was exciting because I fantasized about having some kind of career that crossed both Hollywood and some kind of personal independent cinema, which we didn’t have a name for when Steven started.

JESSE THORN: That seemed like something that Soderbergh was really committed to after Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Was that an inspiration for you when you started your own film career?

GREG MOTTOLA: I’ll never forget that the person who helped me the most in the beginning was somebody who didn’t have to do that. Steven had a lot going on; a lot of people wanted to make movies with him. He took real time, actually took some money out of his own pocket, and was there to read drafts and look at cuts of the movie. It was a huge thing, and we’ve remained friends. As my career has progressed slowly and strangely I always think of how he’s managed to do his own thing in all kinds of ways. He’s worked on all these different skills; he’ll do a micro budget film and then follow it up with a giant studio film. To me, the fact that he can do it and do it so well just shows that it’s possible, and that’s incredibly inspiring.

JESSE THORN: The Daytrippers, your first feature film, was a success in the context of the very small indie film; it didn’t make it into Sundance, but then it won the grand prize at Slam Dance, the festival for movies that didn’t get into Sundance. It had distribution; it was very well received critically. After you made that film, what was your plan for your next stage of career?

GREG MOTTOLA: I felt like there was a bit of a window open at that time where studios were - - I think periodically they allow indie filmmakers to do a film at studio level. It happens for certain filmmakers every now and then, and I thought maybe I could be one of them. I wrote a script and sold it to Columbia Pictures and was in the process of making the film. Essentially, I almost had the dream and it fell apart. The studio decided that the movie was just a little too weird. It was getting a little too expensive. Even though we had a green light they changed their minds and put us in turnaround, and I wasn’t able to revive it elsewhere.

JESSE THORN: How long was that process?

GREG MOTTOLA: It took a good two years between the time I spent writing it and then rewriting it with the studio’s involvement and casting. Probably the bigger mistake I made is what happened afterwards, which was to spend a little too much time feeling sorry for myself.

JESSE THORN: I can understand why you would feel sorry for yourself, spending two years working on something that comes to almost nothing.

GREG MOTTOLA: What I’ve learned through this business is that that’s just an aspect of it; you just need to accept that and move on. There’s a lot of projects that people work on that don’t go anywhere, or that get finished and never seen. It is an aspect, a risk, of this career.

JESSE THORN: Did you have an opportunity at that point to make feature films that were not necessarily what you might call “your” feature films? Did you get offered the chance to direct talking dog movies or something?

GREG MOTTOLA: I kind of did, actually. The interesting thing about this business is you can get your foot in the door, and then you end up on a list of directors and a certain kind of project comes your way. You try to keep going through the various doors and jamming your foot in until you get to the door you actually want to be in.

I did turn things down. I was not in the position to say no to anyone, but I did say no. I feel like getting to make a movie is such an incredible gift; it’s really the most engaging, interesting job I could imagine. I love films so much. I really didn’t want to make movies that I don’t want to see. I just don’t want to make a film that I would turn off on an airplane. I only want to make things that I’m happy to have put out in the world, so I decided instead of doing some movie that I didn’t really believe in I would be much smarter to go off and do television. If I can get on some good shows, and I was extremely lucky in that regard, every show I got to work on was a really good show.

JESSE THORN: Now in 2011, there are a lot of gifted film directors who are working on good television shows. My buddy Rian Johnson was directing a couple of episodes of Terriers last year, I remember. Jeffrey Blitz is directing episodes of The Office; this is something that’s very common, but it’s really something that’s started to happen in the last five or ten years.

For the most part television directors directed television, had a specific set of skills and, while maybe a marquee filmmaker was brought in to make a pilot and create the tone of the film, most of the people who were directing a given episode were television craftspeople specifically. Where did you get the idea that it was a good plan to go into episodic television; and, did you always think that would be a good fallback position?

GREG MOTTOLA: I think a few things happened at once; it started to happen with actors, too. Feature actors started to do more TV and go back and forth; and TV actors started to more easily, it seems, make the jump to features. Although I worked mostly on network shows, there certainly seems to be a feeling that a lot of the stuff that happens on cable, in particular, is sometimes more interesting than what’s happening in features. There’s an adult content that you can do on cable TV that’s very hard to get green lit on the feature level. I think that was actually true in comedy. I look at a show like Arrested Development, and I think that it’s much more experimental than most mainstream TV comedy. It’s the reason why a show like that struggles to stay on the air, but it got made and it’s obviously got this huge cult following.

I felt like I had to work. I also felt like I couldn’t afford to be a snob about TV, and realized that there are just extremely talented people working in TV that I could collaborate with; Judd Apatow being an obvious example. Judd had called me about maybe doing an episode of Freaks and Geeks, and I was in the middle of thinking I was going to make my feature at Columbia, and I really regreted that I didn’t get to do it because my movie didn’t happen. It was one of two times in my life I owed Judd quite a bit. He called me and asked if I wanted to do Undeclared, and I literally moved to LA within weeks.

JESSE THORN: One of the talented people that you worked with on Undeclared was Seth Rogan, who was a writer on the show, despite the fact that he was 17 or something like that.

GREG MOTTOLA: Yeah, it was ridiculous. I actually got the inspiration to write Adventureland when I was directing episodes of Undeclared. Being around all these young people, these college aged people and younger got me reminiscing about that time in my life. It was crazy, Seth was writing some of the funniest comedy I’d ever read in my life and I think he was about 17 or 18 at the time.

JESSE THORN: That’s crazy. And it was at that time that you first became aware of the feature script that Seth had written with his partner Evan Goldberg of Superbad.

GREG MOTTOLA: One day Seth said he wanted to do a reading of a script that he and his buddy had written. I believe it was Seth and Jason Segel who read the two lead roles, the Jonah Hill and Michael Cera parts, surrounded by a whole bunch of other really funny comedy people like David Krumholtz and most of the cast of Undeclared were involved. I for one didn’t necessarily think that I was going to be making a teen film at an particular point in my career, and when I heard the script I thought that that was one of the funniest and, in a way, one of the truest things I had ever read or had read to me. It just struck me as something that I would know how to make, so I immediately told Seth and Judd, look, if you can’t get anyone better and you’re desperate, keep me in mind. It took several years for a studio to get their heads around such a filthy R rated teen comedy, because teen comedies have definitely drifted in the direction of PG-13 for several years, but thankfully they remembered that conversation.

JESSE THORN: Tell me what specifically about that script, especially as you first heard it, spoke to you.

GREG MOTTOLA: I thought it was young people talking the way young people really talk, and that the filthiness had a point; that was actually very psychologically accurate. In lieu of experience and confidence, young men talk a lot of stupid shit, can I say that? Can you bleep me?

JESSE THORN: Hahaha, yeah. You worked hard enough to try and come up with something else.

GREG MOTTOLA: I was struggling. It just seemed to me that that sort of whole deer in the headlights quality that Jonah Hill’s character had was so true. He didn’t know anything about sex, all he knew is that these hormones were driving him insane; they were making him mad. It didn’t strike me at all sexist or mean spirited; it felt very human and very relatable. Of course it was extremely ridiculous in places, but that’s pretty much how I experience life, anyway; I feel that most of life is extremely ridiculous. It felt like Seth and Evan had written something from their own experience, even jokes that were somewhat controversial to include, like slow dancing at a party and somebody having a stain on their pants leg. That actually happened, that was a true story, something that happened at a school dance that Seth and Evan had witnessed. The old axiom of “write what you know” was taken to a new level on that script.

JESSE THORN: I want to play a really pivotal scene in the film. This is the emotional climax of the movie, and if you haven’t seen Superbad, first of all, you should just watch it because it’s really great, but maybe you don’t want to hear about this; maybe you’ll be stunned to hear that the core relationship in the film ends up stronger at the end of the movie, it being a comedy and all. Let’s hear a little bit of Superbad.

As I was watching this scene again just 45 minutes ago before we started talking, the thing that struck me about it was that it is very silly. It’s so emotionally powerful in the film that I think I had just forgotten about how silly it was. There’s a point where Jonah Hill is tapping Michael Cera on the nose with his finger. Tell me how you found the balance in tone in this scene, and in this film, to have something that is so sincere and so emotionally raw and also just goofy as heck.

GREG MOTTOLA: When I first heard the script and it got to the very end of the film and the movie ends with the two main characters going their separate ways, not truly parting but an implication that they’re seeing that they finally will have to part and go off to college. I started to think about how important those relationships are, those first true real friendships, especially when you’re so open at that point in your life; when you’re not a jaded adult. I thought if we could just slip that into the subtext of all this ridiculousness and whether it’s homosexual panic or it’s bravado or it’s all these shades of what young men go through to try to appear a certain way to women and to their peers. If you strip it down it’s just so ridiculous. They’re just bending over backwards to try and appear like people they’re not and that scene in particular was something that did not exist in the original script, and we were all talking about it one day thinking that there’s just a missing piece here, there’s something about their little emotional journey that we’re not taking full advantage of.

I think Judd was the one who suggested a scene like that, and Seth and Evan went off and wrote it. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill started to act it and I thought, is this going to be a difficult scene to direct? Are they going to feel just absurd? And they were amazing. They just completely fell right into it. We shot it pretty late in the film and they actually kind of felt that way about each other; they really enjoyed each other as people. It’s one of those great moments where you think, god, these people are making my job easy.

JESSE THORN: It’s The Sound of Young America, I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest is the director Greg Mottola. He’s got a new film out called Paul about two geeks on a road trip who find themselves accompanied by an alien. He also directed the very funny, very touching Adventureland.

In this scene one of the secondary characters played by the great Martin Starr has fallen into a date with a cute girl that he’s really excited about having gone well. He’s suggesting a second date and, I would say, doing a bad job.

One of the things that I loved about Adventureland was that you had this cast with some really remarkable performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart and Ryan Reynolds and Martin Starr. One of the things I liked about it was that it reflected that part of being 17 to 19 where a weird dude can almost accidentally go on a date with the hottest girl because neither of them is quite sure whether they’re hot or weird. Everyone’s trying to figure out who they are and sometimes they maybe misplay their hand and accidentally go way down-market or up-market in a way that they wouldn’t if they were anything other than seniors in high school or freshman in college.

GREG MOTTOLA: One aspect that I drew upon from my own life was a high school date I had had with a young woman who was considered one of the great beauties of my high school. It was such a shock to my friends that literally one of my best friends came and tailed us because he could not believe it was happening. I used a version of that scene in the movie where Jesse Eisenberg’s character goes on a date with Lisa P, played by Margarita Levieva, and his next door neighbor shows up. It was so unbelievable to me, still actually, that that ever happened. I could not have played it more terribly that night. My earnest, young self just destroyed any chance of fun. These things happen.

The Martin Starr scene you played I think is a good metaphor for making a movie like this after making Superbad, which is kind of - - he’s trying to tell this young woman who he is; he’s trying to get her to meet him on his terms thinking that that’s what people want. It’s like making an indie film that’s highly personal and putting it out there after having a successful movie; it’s ridiculous. It’s a ridiculous, naïve thing to do; but, it’s kind of what I love about people like that. When I made Adventureland I thought, hopefully there’s some people with a little compassion and a sense of humor who will appreciate what I’m trying to do, too.

JESSE THORN: Adventureland was somewhat of an autobiographical for you as I understand it; you actually worked at an amusement park, a sort of seedy amusement park which is the setting for the film. The movie is a period film set in the period when you were an adolescent. Was it difficult to convince the world that the guy who made the most successful teen comedy of its time should make a melancholic character piece as a follow-up?

GREG MOTTOLA: When I was shopping the script around to the various indie film financing places, I was basically met with the reaction that it needs to be wackier, and it needs to be contemporary. Kids today aren’t going to care about the 80s, and people who grew up in the 80s don’t want to see this movie, and we want it to be funnier and basically we want to make Superbad but for a lot less money. There’s an unfortunate thing that happens in indie films - - there are wonderful movies that come along like Juno, and this is not a knock on that film at all, but it is wildly successful and there’s an expectation that you can make a film for $8 million dollars and it will make $150 million at the box office. Suddenly people like me who want to do little personal films that they know are intended for a specific audience are being held up to an impossible standard. I think it was about that time I was trying to get the film made.

Eventually I found people at Miramax who were willing to let me make the film the way I saw it, but there was always the temptation to try and push it more towards wacky teen comedy. I think I talked them out of that, I’d like to believe. The more ridiculous or vulgar stuff that’s in the movie is actually stuff that all happened; the next door neighbor who punches the main character in the groin constantly was my next door neighbor, who has not yet litigated against me.

Once again I was thinking of Steven Soderbergh, and I was thinking, why not try this? I am getting all these other kinds of offers, and I’m suddenly being offered a lot more money than I’ve ever been offered before, why not spit in the face of common sense and make a small film that’s going to be hard every step of the way. I’m glad I did. I had such a good experience getting to do that kind of thing and then getting to go back to the studio world. What’s money?

JESSE THORN: Let’s hear a clip from my guest Greg Mottola’s new film, Paul. In the scene, the two protagonists Graeme and Clive have just kicked off their road trip of alien related sites in the American Southwest. They’ve stopped at a kitschy alien-themed coffee shop staffed by a friendly waitress played by the great Jane Lynch. After she offers them their choice of bumper sticker, she asks about their trip.

Let’s talk a little bit about Paul, which is your new film. I really enjoyed it a lot. It’s a movie about two geeks, essentially, and each of these two geeks is an artist; one is a writer and one is an illustrator. The film, in a way, is about them finding their way from being appreciators to being sort of full throated creators while learning to embrace the appreciator part of who they are. Does that sound completely insane?

GREG MOTTOLA: No, not at all. I’m listening to you and thinking, oh, I’ll steal some of that for interviews.

JESSE THORN: A lot of times when you see a movie about people who love to appreciate things learning to create things, it’s about them leaving the appreciating behind. This is almost a celebration of appreciating at the same time that it’s a transformation story.

GREG MOTTOLA: In college and graduate film school I fell in love with European cinema and art house cinema, but never lost the side of me that was a kid who grew up on a lot of sci-fi novels and fantasy movies and old Hollywood classics. Some of my friends have asked me, why did I go do a movie about a goofy CGI alien? I never saw it as strictly that. I have a real affection for people who have something they love; an escapism or a fantasy world. I was that person as a young man. When I started seeing Simon and Nick’s work in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and Spaced I thought, these guys have a great pop culture mash-up style that somehow doesn’t fall completely into just nostalgia and collage. They’ve got their own thing going, they’re like the Kanye Wests of geek culture; they put it into their blender and spit it out and make it their own thing and it’s interesting and has a life and vitality to it.

When I heard they had a project they were writing and that Edgar Wright would not be available to direct it and my agent asked if I wanted to meet on that I immediately said yes; especially because it was about sci-fi. Even though I’ve worked in this comedy, naturalism world and my greatest hero probably is Woody Allen, you know, Woody made Sleeper. All the movies that are being referenced in Paul are some of the most famous films ever made, obviously. We’re not talking about extremely obscure cinema, but they are movies that really contributed to me wanting to be a filmmaker; certainly Spielberg and Star Wars and the Alien films and 2001 later on, all those movies were incredibly important to me as a young person.

JESSE THORN: This movie is in part an homage to I would say especially that kind of Spielbergian school of family adventure film, despite the fact that a large part of it takes the form of a talky/slacker comedy.

GREG MOTTOLA: Right.

JESSE THORN: Tell me about blending those two very different kinds of film together.

GREG MOTTOLA: When I first met Simon about this the script wasn’t even written yet, and Superbad was actually opening the day that we met. We met in a restaurant in Manhattan, he had just finished shooting How to Lose Friends and Alienate people, he had been up all night filming night work and he hadn’t slept and I was anxious because my first studio film and my first movie of over a decade was coming out and it was a perfect way to meet, we were completely out of our minds.

He started to tell me the idea and he said I want this to be kind of like Little Miss Sunshine with an alien instead of Alan Arkin. He said he hadn’t even seen Superbad yet, but I saw Day Trippers in a theater in London and I liked it; I liked its scrappiness and I liked its edginess. He said that’s what made me think we should talk. That was very pleasing to hear. I thought about that a lot when I started to figure out how to try and shoot the movie, that it would be a film that starts like a lower budget, scrappy road movie with a handheld camera and claustrophobic interior RV scenes, and then slowly introduce elements like music and a sort of change of film style to let it, by the end, turn into the Hollywood movie. The sort of Spielberg, Joe Dante, Robert Zemeckis film that these guys would fantasize about.

JESSE THORN: I read somewhere something where you were talking about Seth Rogan describing the alien character Paul in this film as being Axel Foley like, in that he is a character that is there in part to create change in the world around him. I guess you could make an argument for Axel Foley being an alien in the context of the Beverly Hills Police Department.

GREG MOTTOLA: That movie was on TV recently and I had actually forgotten how much - - I remembered some specific gags, but there’s a lot of really funny and rather observant satire about race in that film. It paints Beverly Hills as a place where people are kind of racist. Eddie Murphy comes along and is unbelievably charming in the film, and he gets those people to see things slightly differently by the end of the movie, all of his cohorts. I think Simon and Nick wrote Paul that way. There’s a liberating aspect of Paul. He is an unapologetic person; he comes from a planet of bisexuals, he uses drugs and does not apologize for it, he smokes, he drinks.

JESSE THORN: He’s pretty openly anti-religious.

GREG MOTTOLA: He’s a freethinker, as they used to say when it comes to the subject of religion, and does not apologize in America for that and doesn’t feel like atheism is a dirty word. I guess he could never run for office. It’s interesting to watch it with a general audience because I think in the right chemistry people pick up on that and enjoy this alien saying these things that would be slightly more controversial coming out of a human’s mouth. Interestingly, Simon and Nick are so wonderful together, but they really rather daringly wrote a movie where they play straight man at certain times to a character that doesn’t even exist; to a mess of pixels.

JESSE THORN: I want to ask you about creating that character. I know that you went through all kinds of special effects tests in the months leading up to making this movie in order to demonstrate that, especially on a not enormous budget, you could create a main character for a comedy film that was completely computer generated in a time when people just aren’t going to buy the ET rubber suit mode of totally fictional, made-up character generation on screen. It’s one thing to create one of these characters for an action movie where it’s difficult for people to act like they’re scared of a dinosaur that’s not there or whatever, but I think it’s even more difficult for people to joke around with a dinosaur that’s not there.

I thought it was very interesting that you asked Joe Lo Truglio, who is a gifted comic actor, a member of the sketch comedy group The State and has a featured role in the film, to, on set, essentially play the role of Paul the alien in the place that a script supervisor or someone would in a typical filmmaking situation.

GREG MOTTOLA: Because Seth was going off to shoot Green Hornet and the studio didn’t want to come up with the money it would have cost to have Seth actually be there and read lines off screen, I really didn’t know what to do and I’d never done anything like this before. At least with Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis came to set and acted the role of Gollum every day so the people were playing against a very gifted actor. One day I just realized, well, Joe is amazing and hilarious, and I can ask him. It’s a huge favor, and thankfully he said yes. He took it really seriously, he watched tapes of Seth doing the part; we had spent a few weeks in pre-production just as if we were rehearsing a play, just doing the film from start to finish with Simon, Nick, and Seth, and we recorded all of that stuff so the special effects people would have a place to start with picking up Seth’s mannerisms and we’d have lines of - - we ended up recording pretty much all the lines because everything subtly changed when we shot it. Joe watched what Seth was doing so he could take in the interpretation of the character, and he would then add to that his own improvisations and really let it live so that to Simon and Nick, while we were shooting, Joe really was Paul, and it helped them and Kristen enormously. I’m very indebted to Joe Lo Truglio; it was a great thing for him to help me that way. Joe is hilarious and he gets to be incredibly funny on screen, too.

JESSE THORN: I want to ask you one thematic question about all of your movies taken together. Adventureland is a movie about a character in Jesse Eisenberg who is essentially trying to figure out a way to get himself away to college. He’s not extraordinarily poor; he lives a lifestyle that is actual, but you don’t see a lot in Hollywood movies. I think that that was also reflected in Superbad in that you have these characters that live a middle class suburban lifestyle that is neither the kind of everyone is happy as long as we have our family world, or the you won’t believe the dark stuff that’s going on behind white picket fences world.

I wonder how that sense of groundedness - - first of all, how you maintain that when you live in crazy Hollywood world that I have half a foot in here in Los Angeles and just seems crazy to me, I feel like I’m always living the Randy Newman song “My Life is Good.” And also, how you translate that feeling to an absurdly high concept film like Paul. I read a couple of interviews with you around the time of Adventureland when you were saying, I’m just glad I’m not doing super high concept work, and this is probably as high concept a film as could exist.

GREG MOTTOLA: Yeah, without a doubt. I did have a real strong feeling that - - it’s pretty much what you said. “Normal” people are depicted two different ways, often, in popular entertainment. It’s either extremely sentimentalized, everyone has a heart of gold kind of pandering; or, there is the indie version, which can be very interesting but sometimes can be equally a cliché of the horrible, reptilian monster that lurks behind the white fence look at the suburbs. It’s very rare that I go to a movie and think, oh, that feels like what I remember suburban life feeling like. When I was thinking about Superbad, and when I go back and watch movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I think, that’s exactly what that felt like. It’s wacky moments, but so much of it is so naturalistic and so dead on. I think it’s interesting to see your own life in some way and maybe see something about it you haven’t quite taken in or admitted to yourself or whatever. I think some of the energy that came out of Superbad, besides being hilarious, was that young people saw themselves reflected in a way that felt more authentic than more recent teen comedies.

Obviously Adventureland was a similar kind of goal. In Paul I think I really wanted to honor what the script was about, which was really taken from the point of view of somebody who loves those movies. I think you described it well; they’re admirers who then get to be participants, and try to subtly instill a feeling of the power that pop culture can have. That pop culture isn’t necessarily this evil corporate monster that wants to sell you Happy Meals. For some people, at a certain time in their life especially, this stuff is incredibly powerful, and that escape isn’t purely negative, it actually opens up a lot of things for people.

JESSE THORN: Greg, I really appreciate you taking the time to be on The Sound of Young America, thank you so much.

GREG MOTTOLA: It was a pleasure.

JESSE THORN: Greg Mottola’s new film, Paul, is in theaters in most places as you listen to this on the radio. It opens Friday, March 18th.