By Shelley Mann
From "Freaks and Geeks" to "Superbad," the great thing about anything wunderkind director Judd Apatow has touched is the feeling you're watching a group of friends on screen.
So it's nice to find out the "Superbad" stars - Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Bill Hader - are just as chummy in real life as onscreen. The foursome stopped in Atlanta during a whirlwind, multi-city promotional tour for the Apatow-produced movie, which opens today.
The group, ranging in age from 18-year-old Mintz-Plasse to 29-year-old Hader, joked around a lot during a recent interview, poking fun at each other indiscriminately. But it was obvious all four are also serious about creating smart, realistic comedy.
That's just what the folks behind "Superbad" had in mind. Real-life friends Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote the script, about a pair of longtime friends hoping to lose their virginity before leaving for college, because they were sick of not identifying with movies and shows about people their age, the cast said.
"You enjoy 'Saved by the Bell,' you enjoy that version of high school, but you don't really relate to it. It's so ridiculous," said Cera, best known for his role as George-Michael Bluth on "Arrested Development." "This movie is not so much an exaggeration of high school. It's not a dumbed-down version."
Instead, "Superbad" reminds the group of some of their favorite, true-to-life high school flicks - "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Dazed and Confused." Their movie features multidimensional characters, not stereotypes, Hill said.
"In most high school movies, they use characterizations, nerds or jocks. Our characters are way more in-depth, they hang out with all different kinds of people," he said.
The cast members also enjoyed being given the freedom to improvise during filming. Hader remembered one scene in particular, where his character, a cop, shares his life story in a seedy bar.
"It was about an eighth of a page in the script, but as we were rehearsing it started to grow," Hader said. "My character started telling a story about his wife and (director Greg Mattola) said 'we need another camera in here,' instead of being like, 'we need to move on.'"
It was a welcome change for Hader, who, as a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," is usually forbidden from improvising. Because the show is filmed live, changing the script could throw off the other actors, he said.
Being able to improvise to make a funny script even better is a rare skill, and the crew of writers and actors behind Apatow projects like "40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up" is always on the lookout for new recruits. They're looking for people who are really funny, but who also understand the value of working with an ensemble cast.
"The more we do it, the more we find a person here or there, and you almost can tell right away they're going to fit into our fold," Hill said.
They're also always searching for that next great script.
"I feel like my goal now in everything is trying to figure out how to get the same cast back together, whether it's a Western or 'Georgia Rule 2,'" Hader said. "We could just be the cantankerous guys who work at the bar, I don't care. I just want to get us in the same room."