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November 19, 2012

Mann on Fire

Hollywood's most reliable funny girl, Leslie Mann, finally takes the spotlight in This is 40, an uproarious send-up of marriage and motherhood. (Guess whose life it's based on?)


Photo Credit: James White

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As far as accessories go, Leslie Mann has everyone beat as she hobbles into Fig, the airy farm-to-table restaurant in Santa Monica's Fairmont Miramar Hotel: She's wearing a giant moon boot on her right foot. A day before, she broke her toe on the set of her Marie Claire photo shoot. The photographer was going for a "deconstructed gown kind of thing" and asked Mann to jump back and forth in an attempt to get her Gucci dress to billow. "I felt like such a dork," says Mann, dressed far more low-key today in a black-and-gray-striped shirt and black skinny jeans. "I'm leaping, and the fans were blowing, and the dress would fly up, and I was barefoot. That's the other thing — I have giant feet, and they are not attractive at all." Mann didn't say anything when her toe got caught under her foot and snapped; she didn't want to seem like a pain in the ass. Now it's swollen and blue, and she tells me she'll have to wear the boot for four weeks.

Mann is startlingly unself-conscious about the whole broken-toe affair. (She even tweeted a picture of it.) But that's hardly surprising — accessibility is her sweet spot. It's why her husband, writer-director Judd Apatow, loves to cast her in his films, including his latest, This Is 40: She comes off utterly at ease on-screen, so much so that even farting (like she did in The Change-Up) or vomiting all over Steve Carell (like she did in The 40-Year-Old Virgin) — or, in real life, tripping during a photo shoot and schlepping her foot around in an Aircast for a month — doesn't phase her one bit. "I actually had a whole different ending [for that scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin]," says Apatow. "They get pulled over by the cops, and in the last second, she reveals that she has a gun under the seat. And Leslie said to me, 'No, I really think I need to throw up in his face.' and then she went off and made her own vomit out of strawberry yogurt and some sort of breakfast cereal. And it turned out to be one of the biggest laughs of the movie."

Mann, who herself turned 40 this year, is sitting across from me, wolfing down fish tacos with her fingers. She is warm and friendly, laughs easily, and lights up when she talks about her kids, Maude and Iris Apatow (whom her husband frequently casts as her kids in his movies). Providing a healthy, normal home life for their girls is clearly a priority — Mann herself was raised by a single mother in Southern California. "I am always jealous of people" who grew up with married parents in the suburbs, she says. "I feel like they have such an advantage over everyone — unless the [parents] are, like, raging alcoholics and beating [their kids]. But to have the parents stay together and have that stability, I just feel people like that are so much more solid. Is that a lie I tell myself?"

This sentiment echoes a familiar strain of family-values conservatism that belies the sex, weed, and psychedelic mushrooms that have figured prominently in Mann's husband's work: in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Carell's character is holding out for love; in Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl's Alison never considers abortion and ultimately falls for her baby daddy; in Funny People, Mann's character decides to stick with her cheating husband. It's all about family for the Apatows, and sitting with Mann, it's clear she's influenced less by a Hollywood focus-group-tested conservative agenda than by the traditional Apatow worldview — in which Mann is at the family's emotional core. "These projects are homegrown," says Apatow, 44. "They come out of conversations we have about how we're doing."

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