Taking Over Staten Island With Judd Apatow

Pete Davidson stars in The King of Staten Island. (Photo by Mary Cybulski)

Judd Apatow was searching for a funny actor who could fill in a minor role on the hit film Trainwreck. So who did Apatow turn to? None other than Manhattan’s Amy Schumer.

“Who is funny?” Apatow asked Schumer.

So Schumer took out her phone and searched for videos of Pete Davidson, then a quirky 19-year-old from Staten Island. Apatow was sold immediately, placing Davidson in the film in a small cameo role.

“Bill Hader was so taken by him that he recommended him to Lorne Michaels at Saturday Night Live, and he got hired,” Apatow said.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Davidson is blossoming into a comedy star on Saturday Night Live. But his best work yet might be the new hit film The King of Staten Island, which is directed, produced and written by Apatow.

“I talked to Pete about working on a movie idea together because I had a real instinct that this was someone who was going to do great things,” Apatow, who hails from Syosset, said. “We were kicking around a broad comedy idea for a couple of years, but it went nowhere. I gave him an idea, but I think it was a bad idea.”

Judd Apatow shares a laugh on set with Pete Davidson (left). (Photo by Kevin Mazur)

Then, Davidson began speaking to Apatow about his mom, Amy Waters Davidson. He actually lives in her basement in Staten Island.

“Isn’t it true that if she met someone, you wouldn’t like it?” Apatow asked Davidson. “What if she met another firefighter?

“We started to have real conversations about his life and his feelings about it. We realized there was a much more grounded movie to write.”

And that’s when The King of Staten Island came to life.

The movie is loosely based on Davidson’s complicated life, playing the role of Scott Carlin. His mother in the movie is Marisa Tomei, who stars as Margie.

“She’s really funny and warm, but she’s also so real and this is a complex character,” Apatow said of Tomei. “She loves her son, she’s concerned about him and trying to be there for him. But, at the same time, she’s not quite sure what the boundary should be.

She’s probably coddling him more than she should. She’s a little lost about how to handle him at this point now that he’s in his mid-20s. He doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. There was a lot to play, and I knew Marisa would be able to do all of that.”

Scott, just like the real-life Davidson, lives at home with his mom and his sister, Claire (Maude Apatow). Stan, his father, died while fighting a fire while Scott was a child. Since then, life is not the same. He has Crohn’s disease, ADHD and other mental issues that impact his daily life.

“This movie is fictional, but it’s emotionally very truthful,” Apatow said. “We tried to design a story that would allow him to talk about his feelings, even though almost nothing in the movie happened exactly like this. You would still know everything about Pete by watching this story.”

Though Scott doesn’t have a job, he wants to be a tattoo artist, a dream he’s had for a while.

But the real plot twist is Tomei’s role as Scott’s mother. Just like Davidson’s conversation with Apatow about how he would react to his mother meeting a new man, you can see what he would be like in reality thanks to this film.

Margie meets Ray Bishop (Bill Burr) after Scott inks a tattoo on Bishop’s son at the beach. Bishop, a firefighter just like Scott’s dad, shows up to the Carlin household, only to fall in love with Margie.

Davidson’s acting ability is at the forefront of The King of Staten Island, showing the difficult experiences he’s had while facing multiple mental health issues.

Of course, Scott attempts to break up the couple because no one can replace his hero father. But Scott is just dazed and confused when Margie kicks him out. He heads over to his friend with benefits, Kelsey (Bel Powley), and she also sends him out the door.

Eventually, the unthinkable happens. Scott and Ray reconcile in an unbelievable way, uniting in an emergency room with Margie, a nurse, watching. And it’s all thanks to key decisions that Scott makes near the end of the film, after being kicked out of his Staten Island home, that really connects everything to one another.

“I want people to fall in love with these characters,” Apatow said. “It is a tribute to first responders, firefights and nurses. It’s a reminder of a breed of people who dedicate their entire lives to serving others. It was important that we accurately presented those people who are willing to do that. In the film, Pete’s character is struggling to understand why his dad was willing to sacrifice himself for other people. That’s part of the journey of the film.”

The 138-minute movie debuted on June 25, smack in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning it wouldn’t be a traditional release. Instead, it came out on demand for viewers across the nation, growing in popularity in a non-traditional way with Universal Pictures.

“Suddenly, drive-ins are essential to our lives,” Apatow said. “It was completely different from how we normally do it, but I had an instinct that this movie was meant to come out in this time in this way. It is about sudden trauma, loss, people who help us and I’m so glad people are getting to see it in a time when they would get so much out of it, both in terms of entertainment and processing difficult emotions.”

The Blu-ray version of The King of Staten Island is now available online at www.thekingofstatenisland.com and in stores. And it features plenty of additional laughs that you won’t see in the regular film.

“There’s a really fun, fascinating commentary that Pete Davidson and I did that people will get a lot out of,” Apatow said. “We put a lot of mini-documentaries on the Blu-ray. I never know how I want to end a movie, so I shot multiple endings to this one. Most of them didn’t work at all. So it’s fun to see how I thought I could end the movie and why I was so completely wrong.”

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Joseph Wolkin
Joseph Wolkin is the editor of the Levittown Tribune, Syosset-Jericho Tribune and Anton Media Group's automotive special section and county news section. A graduate of Stony Brook University, Joseph has been published in dozens of publications. He is the author of Grandma: The Story Of A Boy And His Grandma.

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