SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Leslie Mann laughs a lot now, but she didn’t always think her life was so amusing.
In fact, she winces whenever she is forced to talk about her high school years in Corona del Mar, Calif.
Even Hollywood royalty had a tough time in high school.
And the actress is indeed Hollywood royalty. She has been married for 12 years to comedy king Judd Apatow, who directed “The 40-Year-old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” both of which Mann appeared in, and produced “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Pineapple Express,” “Talladega Nights,” “Superbad” and “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.”
She’s in the new film, “Funny People,” which Apatow wrote, directed and produced. In it Adam Sandler stars as a comedy giant who learns he is dying of cancer. The devastating news forces him to reevaluate his life, and reconsider the girl who got away.
In her best role to date, Mann plays Sandler’s former girlfriend, who now lives in northern California with her handsome husband (Eric Bana) and two daughters, played by Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters Maude, 11, and Iris, 6.
Sitting in a beachfront suite in Santa Monica, Mann reflected on her difficult high school years, what it was like being directed by her husband and whose idea it was to cast her children as her children.
The 37-year-old actress also discussed her career, and whether she feels she sacrificed anything to raise a family.
She met her future husband on the set of “The Cable Guy,” which he produced. Besides “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-old Virgin,” she appeared in “17 Again,” “Big Daddy” and “Drillbit Taylor.” She also will be seen next week in the movie “Shorts.”
Q. Who were you at Corona del Mar High School? What group were you in? Were you part of the cool crowd? The nerds? The jocks?
A. (nervous giggle): Do we have to talk about high school?
Q. I’m trying to determine if you were funny back then?
A. I was shy. I was really shy. I was very insecure. But I did have a boyfriend almost the whole time in high school.
Q. The same boyfriend?
A. Yes. Jeff Roberts. He still lives in Newport Beach. He’s like the mayor of Newport Beach. Everybody knows him.
Q. Are you still in contact with him?
A. Oh yeah. We still speak to each other. I love his family.
Q. So, that took care of your social life in high school?
A. It did, but I was still not comfortable in my own skin. I think all kids are insecure at that age, aren’t they?
Q. No, I was very comfortable with myself.
Q. Of course, it was all downhill for me after high school. Unlike you, who apparently blossomed after high school?
A. I think that I’m just now starting to feel comfortable.
Q. At 37?
A. Yes, I’m getting there.
Q. How much has Judd Apatow held you back?
A. (laughs) That old ball and chain?
Q. Seriously, don’t you think you would have been much bigger in Hollywood now if you hadn’t met Judd?
A. You mean if I hadn’t got married and had two kids?
Q. Sure. Any regrets at all about putting your career second?
A. Zero. My life before kids was a 2. It was a dark time. It wasn’t an easy, carefree and reckless time. I feel like I just started coming into my own when I had kids. They have enhanced my life in every way possible. I would not change anything. Career is fun, but it doesn’t really mean much at the end of the day. I don’t put much stock in it. When I’m on my death bed, I’m not going to go: “I wish I had done that instead of spending more time with my kids.”
Q. Some people manage to do both.
A. I’m trying to find a nice balance, but my No. 1 priority is always my family. And they’re way more fun than work. It is fun to act, but it doesn’t add up to much.
Q. Did you have any idea that having children would mean that much to you?
A. No, not really.
Q. Before kids, did you think a lot about your career?
A. That’s all I thought about. Just me and my career. That’s what you do when you’re young and single.
Q. While we’re on the subject of your children, explain to me why you decided to exploit them by making them work in this movie?
A. (laughs) That wasn’t me. That was Judd tricking me into using them. That’s not something I wanted to do.
Q. They’re very professional. How did they get to be such good little actors?
A. They don’t have any clue as to what’s happening so they’re very natural. They were usually in eating scenes so we put food in front of them and rolled three cameras. Their friends can’t see the movie, and they can’t see the movie, so it’s totally off their radar. It’s like hanging out with mom and dad.
Q. Is it awkward for you to work with your husband and kids?
A. It’s not awkward. If it had been with another director, it might have been awkward, but then I wouldn’t have done it. Besides, Maud’s probably done with it now. I don’t want her to be a child actor.
Q. What about working with your husband?
A. It’s stranger working with other directors. Judd and I have the same sensibilities. We just get each other.
Q. Do you ever discuss upcoming scenes at home or on the way to work?
Q. You worked with Adam before (“Big Daddy”), but I was wondering how long you’ve known him?
A. That’s a funny story. Before I met Judd, I was with a group of girls at a nightclub, and Adam was with a group of guys. I had on a backless shirt, and he sent over a note written in ketchup on a cocktail napkin. It was some pickup line, like “Nice back,” or something. The person who brought over the note asked if I wanted to go over and meet Adam, but I wouldn’t do it. And he wouldn’t walk over to meet me, so it was a stand-off.
Q. Was he famous yet?
A. I don’t remember. It was 1995, and I’m not sure.
Q. When did you finally meet?
A. I met Judd three months after that nightclub incident, and we were at Ben Stiller’s birthday party. Adam was there. And since he and Judd used to be roommates, we met officially that night and had a big laugh over it.
Q. How is it working with him?
A. He’s so easy and respectful. He’s all about respect.
Q. Although “Funny People” is a comedy, it has serious overtones about how people choose to live their lives. Was that Judd’s intent?
A. It’s interesting what people do with a second chance. I don’t think they really change. That’s why I like the movie. It’s honest. It’s not the typical Hollywood movie that has to end with everybody being happy. That’s not the reality. Life isn’t tidy.
Q. How has financial success changed your life?
A. It doesn’t feel much different. I still look at prices. I’ll buy the cheaper granola at the grocery store. But I guess I do feel more comfortable buying clothes. It’s nice not to have that stress. But I still worry. It’s great today, but who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? I hope it’s always comfortable for us, but you never know. It’s a crazy time.