These two L.I. natives draw material from their own lives and put it up on-screen.
Both men are revered storytellers. Here's what they had to say in separate interviews:
Was directing your wife and kids easier because of the established relationship, or harder?
It's more complicated because we are trying to accurately portray a lot of the obstacles we face in life. The stakes were high for making the movie work. If the movie was awful, I've embarrassed my entire family in a worldwide way. I felt that every day on the set.
How much of your real life relationship did you put into the film?
Paul [Rudd] is playing a Frankenstein monster combination of me and him at our worst. It's not exactly the feel of me and Leslie together. However, a lot of the issues Paul's character has are my issues. I am one to hide in the bathroom and look at Huffington Post for a half-hour while my wife is tracking my movements on Twitter.
What is it about the age 40 that freaks people out more than most ages?
It's probably because people think of it as the halfway point. It's the moment where, if we don't start taking good care of ourselves, our bodies are going to start breaking down. It's also the end of the time period when women are having babies. We aren't young enough to do something that important, which I think is a powerful moment for people.
What kind of impact did growing up on Long Island have on you?
I look back on it as an amazing place to grow up. I had an ideal situation in a nice neighborhood in Woodbury. We'd jump on our bikes after school and disappear until dinner time. It was an enormous amount of fun. I even washed dishes and was a busboy at East Side Comedy Club in Huntington when Eddie Murphy and Rosie O'Donnell used to come in. I was intimidated by how great they were. It was a magical time for me.
What made you use your own kids over child actors?
I’ve always found my kids really amusing. I think they are fascinating to watch. I’m happy with what they did in the movie. They get across sibling rivalry and all the pain of being a kid in a way that you couldn’t do with normal actors reciting lines. They are so comfortable on the set that they forget we are shooting a movie and they start fighting with each other. But they also know there’s a comic aspect to it. It’s strange to watch. They have learned so much through osmosis.
You came up as a stand-up comedian. When did you decide to go behind the scenes and give up performing?
I kept getting offered work as a writer and not great work as a performer and I took the hint. At some point I realized that my ideas work better when used in creating dramatic situations as opposed to me just giving a speech. I like showing all the different points of views about problems, not just me explaining it directly to the crowd.
You lived with Adam Sandler in the ‘80s. Did you think he would become a megastar?
We all thought Adam would be a big star. The question was, when was it was going to happen. He was so funny and charismatic that everybody wanted to be around him. His stand-up was weird and inventive. Looking back now, it’s funny how sure we were that he’d make it. He’s not only a great actor and creative person, but he’s truly one of the great guys.
Will we be seeing more of the '"This is 40" couple in future films?
It’s possible. I’ll say it right now. I’m not afraid to make, “This is 50.”
What did it feel like to be back in Valley Stream, where you shot your first film, "The Brothers McMullen"?
My neighborhood, my friends and the homes I spent my childhood in I have always looked back on with great nostalgia. We shot six houses down from where I lived in Valley Stream. I pictured the Fitzgerald clan living in my house where I grew up. It adds to the authenticity of the film.
This is your third film playing Mike McGlone's brother. Is there a natural chemistry between the two of you?
Sometimes you just get lucky and you have great chemistry with someone. We got along really well from day one. My only regret is that we haven't done it in 15 years. But we are going to shoot a sequel to "The Brothers McMullen" in 2014 to have it ready for 2015, marking the original film's 20th anniversary.
How are you able to draw name actors while keeping the budget low?
Wherever the actors got the bug to act, it wasn't from watching a horror movie. They got involved for the theatrical aspect of real actors playing real people in real situations. Each one wants a chance to explore real emotions, and you rarely get to do that in the film business today; it's either dopey comedies, horror films or acting against a green screen.
What do you want viewers to walk away from this film with?
A lot of times you see a family Christmas film that is just saccharin and sappy. Many times, they don't feel like real folks. I wanted to create a family that felt real. Christmas is about getting together with your family, forgiving, resolving issues and recognizing that they might be nuts, but they're maybe all you got.
How much realism from your personal life is in the new film?
It’s probably my most personal film to date. There are moments and exchanges of dialogue that come from my life. Some of the bigger stuff I’ve pulled from friends’ stories. When Rosie Fitzgerald takes her grandchild to get baptized (without the parents knowing) that came from my extended family. I thought it was very specific to my family, but after the film was screened many people told me how their aunt or grandmother did the same thing.
You have embraced new formats such as making your films available on iTunes and Video On Demand on the day of its release. How has it impacted the success of your films?
Quite honestly, it has changed my career for the better. Recently, I was driving on Sunrise Highway to my folks’ house in Rockville Centre. I passed by theaters in Rockville Centre and Valley Stream. Both are out of business and “The Brothers McMullen” ran in those theaters. That’s an idea of what is going on all over the country. If you don’t live in an urban area, it’s almost impossible to find these small movies. What I discovered is that those people who liked my films weren’t discovering them theatrically because they never got to their towns but rather saw it at home on HBO or DVD. My lawyer made the suggestion to go with iTunes and VOD, this way, they don’t have to wait for the film to show up at their local art house theater they can get it now. I didn’t know if it would work but it did and the audience wants it.
What did you learn as a director from working with Steven Spielberg as an actor on “Saving Private Ryan”?
That was a lucky experience for me because it was like going to graduate film school. Steven was very cool and told me that I could hang out and watch him all day long. I got to learn from one of the masters.... It changed my approach with how I worked with actors. I conceived my film “Sidewalks of New York” on that set after watching him work with handheld cameras and available light.
As an actor in a film that you are directing, how do you direct your own performance?
Since I write my own scripts, I have already lived with my character for a year before I start shooting so I made a lot of my choices as an actor in my office while I’m writing the screenplay. When I show up on set, I know what I need to do in any given scene. But if there’s a scene where I’m outside my comfort zone, I will turn to the fellow actor I’m in the scene with for feedback or ideas. My producer, Aaron Lubin, or director of photography Will Rexer of Huntington will also keep an eye on my performance.
You always bring your films to Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. Is it a good luck charm for you?
I’m a Long Island filmmaker, and it’s the Long Island film art center. I’ve always had a great reception there. It’s my audience. If the audience there doesn’t like one of my films, I have failed. I like to hang, take pictures and talk with folks. There are a lot of familiar faces. It’s important to me to screen there. It’s my home court.