Speaking of casting—you are able to find great comedic leads, but all of the supporting people are really fit and catered to the lead. How is that process for you?
I like to ask the person I’m collaborating with, who in their world that they love that they should know about. That’s how I met Pete, through Amy Schumer. And Pete loved Ricky Velez, who is one of his best friends and started in stand-up with, he’s Oscar. And he was so helpful just talking to me about the script that we made him a co-producer in the movie. Derek Gaines, the guy who beats him up, at the fight club sequence, he is Pete’s old roommate when he started doing stand-up, and he used to be a pop-and-lock dancer before he was a comedian. There’s a lot of people from the Comedy Cellar who are great actors—Lisa Traeger plays the waitress, Lynne Koplitz is a great comedienne who plays Joy, Marisa’s sister. I feel like if you fill the world with people who are already in his world, you get something magical out of it that doesn’t feel like a world of strangers. I’m always looking for those opportunities. Kevin Corrigan was in “Pineapple Express,” and I worked with him on the pilot on “Freaks & Geeks,” and Marisa Tomei is the best actress you could get. Everybody wanted to raise their game because she was around. Having her really changed everybody’s attitude on set.
What did you see in Pete that made you want to do a movie?
I am just a fan of comedy. So once in a while I’ll meet somebody and just think, I wish they had a movie, or I wish I could collaborate with them on something. I felt that way about Amy just from hearing her on the radio on “Howard Stern,” she seemed to have a great story and a great personality and it all seemed very unique. With Pete, he is one of those people when you meet him, I met him when he was 20, you think, “I think that’s the next guy. It seems to be him.” Sometimes it takes years between that feeling. I remember seeing Adam Sandler at The Comic Strip when I was a kid, and he was fresh out of college. And the second you laid eyes on him, you thought, He’s the one, of all of us he’s going to be the one. I knew it wasn’t me!
Pete is a big-hearted person, he’s ridiculously funny, and there’s something fascinating about him. You do sense he’s going through something, and you want to know what it is. And you root for him, there’s something abut him that’s very vulnerable. And he’s a big, sweet guy. But quietly, he’s a real artist who is not afraid to go to difficult places. There were many moments where he could have said, “I don’t want to talk about that, I don’t want to go that deep,” and he never did. He did something on first movie that some people don’t even try to until their 12th movie. And it is a remarkable achievement that he decided to go through this process fearlessly, and he gives up a lot of himself on screen. There are moments that are very real, and as an audience member you know it’s real, it doesn’t feel like an actor who nailed a scene. He’s living it. I think it’s a real gift to offer up this fictionalized version of his story. It really connects with people.
“The King of Staten Island” will be available On Demand on Friday, 6/12.