IR: "The Age of Aquarius" was an interesting song to use at the end of the film. How did that idea originate?
JA: We did a few table readings of the movie, and Garry Shandling is someone that I always go to for his advice because he's a brilliant writer. And he kept saying to me, "You need the sex at the end of the movie that the virgin has to be better than everybody else's sex because he has found true love. You have to show that he has better sex." And that's the whole movie. And he kept saying it, and he was driving me crazy.
JA: [Continues.] And he was even on my answering machine: "Judd, have you figured it out?"
JA: [Continues.] "He has to have the best sex, I know I'm right about this." And I would sit with Steve and say, "How do you show that his sex is better. I can't show his sex! I mean, how do you do that?" And then Steve turns to me one day and said, "Maybe I'll just sing a song." And then I instantly said "Age of Aquarius." [Laughs.]
JA: [Continues.] And I have no idea how to shoot a musical or do any of that so it was [laughs] really difficult to get it done right. Because then would they be in '60's outfits? Why would they be in '60's outfits? And then you'd have about eight thousand debates about what that would look like and what his attitude would be. And I always knew I could cut it out if I had to, if it felt wrong.
IR: Much of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" has the kind of freewheeling zaniness that I often associate with improvisation. Was improv used to get some of the ideas for the scenes, dialogue that type of thing?
JA: I'm a big fan of improvisation as part of the process. Whenever I'm having trouble with a scene, I always would bring the actors into my office, and we would improvise the scene. So I could see what the instincts of the actors were. So then I would have to hire people who were comfortable improvising.
Steve is from Second City, so that's his background. And Jane Lynch was in Second City. Catherine Keener never would consider herself an improviser, but when you would do it with her, she would be amazing at it. She would act like she couldn't do it, and then she would be better than everybody else. [Laughs.]
And so what I would do is, I would rehearse before we shot the movie and have people improvise and expand on the ideas. And then on the day of the shoot, we would shoot the scene. And then I would really, you know, take the handcuffs off and let people go.
JA: [Continues.] And usually that's when a lot of the best stuff happens.
IR: What do you feel most proud of about "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"? Do you have any favorite scenes? The one that everybody loves, of course, is the chest-waxing scene, but you might have a different perspective on all of this.
JA: I'm proud that the chest-waxing scene works so well because it is so hard to get very big laughs in a movie and to come up with something memorable. I'm amazed at how that turned out. I mean it was Steve's idea. He says, "This is only funny if you really wax me."
JA: So we put four or five cameras on him and just did it. And that worked better than I could have ever imagined.
But the scene I'm most proud of is the one where Catherine Keener and Steve break up. Because it is just a very interesting scene. She wants to have sex. He's in a panic. He comes up with a reason not to have sex. Which is, his toys have fallen on the floor and he needs to organize them. And then she feels rejected as if it's about her. But she doesn't know that he's a virgin, and he's terrified. And they have this really brutal fight that's both funny and heartbreaking. And I'm proud of the fact that that scene works so well in a movie that's really a pretty broad comedy. It's a realistic moment.
Interview Continued on the Next Page