Amy Schumer is one of the funniest women in America right now. Actually, scratch that — Amy Schumer is one of the funniest people in America right now, and nowhere is that better exemplified than in her upcoming feature film Trainwreck. Directed by Judd Apatow, the R-rated comedy — which Schumer wrote, produced, and stars in — made its debut earlier this spring at SXSW to thunderous applause. I should know — not only was I there, I was laughing my ass off.
Cleverly inverting standard rom-com tropes and genre trappings, Trainwreck is evocative of both Schumer’s stand-up stylings and Inside Amy Schumer, her Comedy Central series that was just renewed for a fourth season in advance of its third season debut. Yet, Trainwreck also feels like a step forward for Schumer as a writer and a performer, showing that she is equally adept with writing raunchy riffs as she is with creating a heartfelt, cathartic coming-of-age story about a woman who probably should have come of age a little bit sooner.
The riotously funny film tells the story of Amy (Schumer), a woman whose father has drilled into her brain that “monogamy isn’t realistic.” Though she holds a high-profile job as a journalist at a men’s interest magazine and lives a bohemian, uninhibited lifestyle full of hard-drinking and wanton sex, she finds herself wanting more in life. When she is assigned to profile a rising star in the world of sports medicine (Bill Hader), she finds herself falling for him and, as a result, it calls into question everything she’s ever believed about how relationships can and should work.
In addition to breakout stars like LeBron James and John Cena, the cast features a murderer’s row of comedic talents, including Colin Quinn, Jim Norton, Dave Attell, Kurt Metzger, Robert Kelly, Pete Davidson, Nikki Glaser, Bridget Everett, Rachel Feinstein, Jon Glaser, Russell Park, Vanessa Bayer, Tim Meadows, Kyle Dunnigan, and more. There are also cameos aplenty, including the Wu-Tang Clan’s very own Method Man. “I’m trying to work with every member of Wu Tang Clan,” Judd Apatow explained in an interview. “I’ve done Ghostface Killah, RZA, and now Method Man. So time to go to Raekwon.”
Last summer, I traveled to New York City along with a small group of journalists to visit the set of Trainwreck. The production had taken over a beautiful two-story home in a tony neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. By all accounts, it seemed like a nice place to raise a family — which made it perfectly at odds with the core values of Schumer’s character in the film. For the on-screen Amy, stasis is death and settling down is the ultimate form of stasis. “Every life around me has taken them in one direction, and mine has gone in another one,” Schumer said of her character. “A lot of it is just me beating myself up, why I’m different, and also some judgments in the way that they experience me.”
Though this marks Schumer’s debut writing and starring in a feature film, she was more than up to the task. Of course, having someone like Judd Apatow in her corner may have helped a little too. “I don’t think I would have even had the confidence to try to do it,” Schumer confessed. “But Judd really encouraged me and made me feel like it was possible.” It’s not as though Schumer was totally inexperienced; she does write, produce, and direct a fair amount of sketches for her Comedy Central Series. “I kept it real small in my mind, though, so I would think scene at a time,” Schumer said of the writing process. “We would beat out the scenes, and I tried to think of it like the TV show.” Ultimately, though, Schumer settled into a groove. “In a lot of ways, it’s a lot more relaxing,” explained Schumer, “because I do just get to play this one character, instead of shooting four scenes in a day where I’m playing all different weirdos.”
But make no mistake — Schumer’s character is still a weirdo, and this particular weirdo comes from a very personal place. “I think everyone is partially a trainwreck,” Schumer observed. “I’m just for some reason more willing to share that with everybody. But I think it’s just a way more vulnerable side of me than people have seen on the TV show.” Not too personal though. When asked why her character was named “Amy,” Schumer had the most relatable explanation of all: “That’s like straight-up laziness,” she said with laugh. “And no one ever changing it! We just went, ‘Should we just keep it?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s just keep it.'”
Part of what makes the film work is an underlying sense of creative synergy between Schumer and director Judd Apatow. Interestingly enough, Apatow only intended to produce the film at first. During auditions, candidates came in to read with Schumer, and Apatow would loosely guide the scenes. “I was thinking, ‘It feels like he’s seeing what it would feel like to direct this,'” Schumer explained. “But [I wasn’t] getting my hopes up.”
Then, on the final day of filming Inside Amy Schumer season two, she received a phone call. “I could feel that it was an important phone call, so I stepped outside, and the [assistant director] looked at me like, ‘Are you out of your f–king mind?” Schumer recalled of that day. “I was like, ‘I need five minutes.’ He was like, ‘I’m going to slap you!’ I was like, ‘No.’
Sure enough, it was an important phone call — Judd Apatow was on the other end, and he wanted to throw his hat into the ring to direct the film. Initially, Schumer tried playing it cool by saying, “Oh, I had my eye on a couple of others.” After taking a moment to collect herself — and ensure that she wouldn’t cry off all of her makeup — Schumer came clean. “All right, I’m going to be honest with you,” she started. “I’m trying to play this cool, but this is a very big f–king deal, and I don’t want you to think I don’t know that.” And with that, she landed one of if not the biggest comedy director working in Hollywood today.
Though Apatow obviously gets a kick out of Amy Schumer’s sense of humor, what impressed him most was her work ethic. “She’s probably the hardest worker of any writer I’ve ever worked with,” said Apatow. “When I give her notes on the script, she’ll give it back to me in three days. Most people, it could be a month. I could never hear from them again! She really turns it over. She’s very, very disciplined.”
“There’s something great about working with people who are trying to break through, because they work so hard,” he continued. “It’s fun to try to crack the code of why people would go see an Amy Schumer movie. What is her persona onscreen? That moment in people’s career seems very interesting to me. I just sort of like that, and I like the level of enthusiasm of people when they’re working on one of their first projects, because they’ll just stay up all night. They’ll kill for the movie.”
Killer instinct aside, one of Schumer’s biggest concerns about working with anyone — Judd Apatow included — was making sure that her creative vision remained intact. “It’s so important to me that the specific voice of this character is heard, and not misrepresented,” she explained. “I feel like people get it wrong a lot, and no one is going to know this girl better than I do.”
As someone whose oeuvre is filled with deeply personal films, Apatow defintely understood where Schumer was coming from. Directing someone else’s script, as it turns out, is actually easier on Apatow mentally. “When I direct [something that I’ve written], I’m very willing to throw the entire scene in the garbage when I get there in the morning, so I don’t honor anything that I’ve done,” he revealed. “But Amy has written a great script, so we shoot it, and then we enhance it. But I tend to just get to the set, if I wrote it, and think ‘What if I was totally wrong the last year and a half? What would I do?’ And that makes me more neurotic, because I know I’m allowed to chuck it out. Here, I’m not. So I just try to do a good job with it.”
“He knows how important that is to me, and it’s important to him,” Schumer said of her director. “He likes to get a lot of options, but I think preserving this story and this point of view is important to both of us, and Judd has made me feel very much like he wants my specific voice to be heard.”
If the strength of Trainweck‘s SXSW debut is any indication, come July, Amy Schumer’s voice will be heard loud and clear. And that is a very good thing.
Trainwreck premieres on July 17, 2015.