De Niro, a co-founder of Tribeca, and Apatow, the director of “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” convened Thursday for a conversation built around the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios. Both have made numerous films for the Comcast-owned studio founded in 1912 by Carl Laemmle. But as stark as the differences between De Niro and Apatow, the yuck-filled conversation, if anything, proved the blurring of genre lines.
De Niro, who famously segued into comedy with “Meet the Parents” and “Analyze This,” is far looser and jovial than his iconic, intimidating big-screen presence. And Apatow’s films, while uproarious, are ultimately personal expressions that make room for drama, too, like James L. Brooks and Cameron Crowe movies. “One movie might be a little broader than another, and something might be more serious,” said Apatow, talking about “walking the line” between comedy and drama. “But I’m usually thinking about ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ or ‘Broadcast News’ or something like that’.”
The conversation, moderated by Mike Fleming of Deadline Hollywood, was sometimes awkward. (Meryl Streep had originally been planned to join, but canceled due to a family illness.) Apatow frequently joked at the impossible transitions between discussing such different filmographies. Talking about casting the then less known Steve Carrel in “40 Year-Old Virgin,” Apatow paused and then exaggeratedly added: “Much like Christopher Walken in ‘The Deerhunter.’“
Apatow drew a more direct line between his “Funny People” and De Niro’s “The King of Comedy” - both movies, he said, about performers and their wounds. “Goodfellas,” he said, is hilarious,” and that even “Cape Fear” ‘‘has some humor in it.” But like many before him, figuring out De Niro proved too difficult for the filmmaker.