Pete’s character in The King of Staten Island has the somewhat misguided idea to open a tattoo parlor/restaurant, and he spends much of the movie doing bad amateur tattoos on his friends, including a truly unfortunate attempt at Barack Obama. How much of that is true to life?
You know, Pete loves tattoos and that world. And part of that world is people who haven’t learned how to do it yet practicing on their friends and themselves. People will practice on fruit, or on pieces of plastic, but they’re always looking for some fresh skin. In a way, [tattooing] was a stand-in for comedy. It’s close to comedy, in that it’s artistic expression, and that you need to work hard to get good.
We had tattoo consults, and met with all sorts of artists. We were trying to figure out, “How good or bad would his tattooing be? What would his style be? His sense of humor?” We spent a lot of time sitting around in rooms, trying to figure out, “How would you make a really bad Barack Obama tattoo? If something went wrong, what would go wrong?” The truth is, it’s getting the eyes wrong.
Do you have any tattoos?
I don’t, because I’m hairy. You wouldn’t be able to see them after a day or two, and I’m not really up for shaving my body every other day. And my family thinks I’m corny. If I got a tattoo, it wouldn’t make me cooler. It would just point out how corny I am even more.
Pete wanted me to get a tattoo. He kept saying he wanted me to get a tattoo, or he wanted to get me tattooed on him. On the last day of shooting, Pete hired a tattoo artist friend to set up shop and tattoo anybody who wanted a tattoo. And you would think only a few people would do it—but there was a line around the block. Suddenly the nice lady who works in accounting is coming out with a giant dragon on her arm.
Your daughter Maude plays Pete’s sister in this. She’s appeared in your movies since she was a kid, but this is the first time you’ve worked with her since 2012. How was it working with her as an adult for the first time?
Obviously, I find my kids very entertaining, and I wanted to capture their relationship with each other on screen. Some of Maude’s scenes in our movies required fighting with her sister [Iris Apatow, who also appeared in Knocked Up, Funny People, and This is 40]. Well, I knew if I just strapped them both into the backseat of a car and drove around with the camera rolling, at some point I would get the real fight.
There’s a great scene in This is 40 where she yells at Leslie and Paul and tells them to fuck off. And the day we were shooting it, she got upset because it said in the script that her character starts to cry. She walks up to me, crying, and says, “How am I supposed to cry on cue?” And then I said, “Action!”
But then, as they get older, they have to decide if they like doing it, and if they want to pursue it. And Maude did. She went to acting school, and studied in college, and started working without me. We haven’t worked together since 2012, because she’s been on Euphoria on HBO, and Hollywood on Netflix. So it was really fun for me to get to work with her again, as a very skilled actress. When we used to work together. I would manipulate her to get her to an emotional state. Now, she knows her craft.