In This Is 40 Graham Parker plays a rock star who is signed by Paul Rudd’s character’s (Pete) record label and ultimately isn’t able to make anywhere near the amount of money that Pete had hoped. What some younger fans may not know is that Parker isn’t simply an actor, but rather he’s the lead man of Graham Parker and the Rumour, a popular British band of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
The band has recently reunited for a new album and a tour in addition to their appearance in Judd Apatow’s film. In honor of the film’s upcoming home entertainment release, I had a chance to sit down with Parker and discuss the film. We talked about how he originally got involved, what it was like working with Apatow, his process of learning how to act on set, and more.
Check out the full interview below.
WGTC: Could you tell me a bit about how you got involved with the film? I heard that you actually mentioned Apatow in a blog post that he ended up seeing. Any truth to that?
Parker: I think I did something on my website or in an interview somewhere and I was talking about my last album, it’s called Imaginary Television, it’s basically songs that are based on TV show plots that I invented, and I guess I was writing something about it and I said something like, ‘Judd Apatow call me.’ I was kind of being facetious, but guess what, he did.
WGTC: After he called you, what was the process like with getting you to join the film?
Parker: I’d reformed my original band The Rumour and we were set to do an album. Judd didn’t know anything about that. He sort of got a hold of me out of the blue and I met with him. I said, ‘Wherever you’re going to be, give me a time and place and I’ll meet with you. I don’t want to just talk over the phone.’ So I met him and he just gave me a rough outline of this film, kind of being a little bit cagey, kind of feeling me out to see if I was the right person for the part. He just sort of mentioned the sub-plot of the indie record label that would be signing acts like myself. Then I dumped it on him that guess what, I’d reformed The Rumour, my first band, and I know he’s a huge fan. I knew that much. I could tell that just talking to him. He was mentioning songs from all over the place that he knew of mine. So I think that was another added cherry for him.
So he called me a week later and said, ‘Let’s get you in the movie acting as yourself. Let’s fly The Rumour in to do a two-day shoot. This is all perfect.’ And that was it. Next thing I know I’m flying off to Hollywood doing various different bits and pieces in the movie.
WGTC: There have to be more flattering roles than the guy who sinks a record label. What’d you think when he told you what you were doing?
Parker: Yeah! Really! He could’ve cast me as a superhero or something couldn’t he? Flies in wearing a cape and saves Pete and Debbie. But no, he has to give me the part of the guy who just ruins it for everyone.
A friend of mine pointed out that when they went to see the movie what they thought was interesting about it is I was the only one in it who was content. I’d accepted my lot in life and was quite happy to be bringing his label down, because it was like ‘Hey, this CDs not going to sell, what’re you talking about.’ It’s almost like I thought he was being altruistic by signing me because he was just a fan. Like he didn’t need me to make him money. So my character turned out be sort of the most successful in his own way, in that he’s sort of content with where he’s at.
WGTC: The actual comeback tour has been more successful than the one in the film right?
Parker: Yeah much more yes. Thank you. Thank goodness for that. We had some good gigs and some great crowds turned out. We’re doing another short tour now, only driving distance type stuff, to tie in with the DVD. As I was joking on Twitter the other day, the next tour will be called “My Auntie Saw This Is 40 On TV Tour.” Because this tour is the Three Cords Good/This Is 40 DVD Release Tour. So we’re sort of milking it for a bit. You might as well, you don’t get many chances like this.
WGTC: You’re credited as playing yourself. How much of the character you played was actually Graham Parker and how much was a fictional character?
Parker: I’ve never acted, so the first attempt I had was a part that got cut from the movie, it didn’t make it anyway. I was doing a back and forth with Charlyne Yi at Pete’s birthday party where there were tons and tons of things being filmed that didn’t make it. Judd seems to hold the record for footage shot. I wasn’t quite sure what to do so I kind of played it super cool.
My next attempt was after The Rumour did their concert. I stepped down off the stage and talked to Paul Rudd’s character Pete. When I did that particular bit I kind of came up with some real parts, some sketches and stuff, most of which didn’t make it.
I kind of took control and by the time I got to the bit where I was in the record company and I’m complaining of having gout, I was basically doing my dad. It popped into my head that my dad would be a great character to do. So I was playing someone that’s 10 years older than a sixty-year-old, which I thought the part kind of called for, except when I was on the stage, then I had to be a much different colored person. It was pretty interesting finding the note for the part really. I think I found it almost by the time it was all over. It was a learning experience, a very fast learning curve for me.
WGTC: You spoke about all the different takes Apatow does, what was it like working with him as your director?
Parker: It’s all about laughs. He’s cracking up and so are the producers and everybody else. Once you get on a roll with the improv stuff he’s having a ball. I think he’s a very happy guy when he sees it flowing. He was quite pleased with what I was doing which is very gratifying. We just kept doing more and he kept shouting lines out to me and shouting lines out to whomever I was talking to.
The atmosphere is absolutely fantastic. He works very hard. He’s demanding, no question about it, but it’s done in very good spirits. The whole spirit is how many people are laughing on the set. That’s a pretty good atmosphere to work in I think.
WGTC: In your 20s did you ever imagine that you’d still be playing music and touring in your 60s?
Parker: Well that’s a good question because the answer is definitely no. In that period we still though pop music, like all the people did, that it was a trend and a fashion and that it would wear off pretty quickly and you were lucky to get a couple of hits. Like Ringo said, when this is all over he’d go and work in a hair salon. That’s how everyone thought. Even though The Stones kind of outlasted it, but not many people did. The Beatles split up after a short time really.
So no, I didn’t think I would get past 30 and still be making records. I was 24 when I entered the business, 25 when it started to get moving, so I thought 30 was a million years away. No question about it.
That concludes our interview, but I’d like to thank Graham for taking the time to talk about the film. Be sure to pick up This Is 40, out on Blu-ray and DVD March 22nd.