The Late Bloomer is the story of Dr. Pete Newmans (Johnny Simmons), a successful sex therapist whose practice is devoted to helping people re-channel their sexual impulses. When his doctors discover a pituitary tumor that has delayed his onset of puberty for 15 years, Pete undergoes what would normally be years of puberty in a matter of weeks. Mood swings, voice changes, acne and, of course, near uncontrollable erections greet Pete as he tries to navigate life as both a horny 15 year-old kid and a 30 year-old desperate to be a complete man and get the girl of his dreams. Based on the book The Late Bloomer: A Memoir of My Body by Ken Baker.
We caught up with the director of the film version, actor and comedian Kevin Pollak, to learn more about this incredible story come to life on screen.
Congratulations on an extremely hilarious film that is simply unbelievable and almost too good to be true, but in fact, it is. How did you stumble upon this story that eventually turned into a movie called, The Late Bloomer?
I directed the documentary that premiered at Sundance and shortly thereafter, my acting agent submitted me to play the father in the film called The Late Bloomer and the producers reaction was that they needed a director and heard great things about this documentary, but we would prefer if he would read the script, think about how he would like to direct it. So that is how it was brought my way. I saw an amazing opportunity based on a true story about a guy who goes through puberty for the first time. I knew there would be comedy and hijinks. He suddenly gets a rush of testosterone and goes through puberty, as a fully realized 30 year old and turns basically into a werewolf. My goal, as I pitched to them was, how do I make sure the first act the audience cares about everyone and solidify the relationship with his two best friends, hilariously played by Kumail Nanjiani and Beck Bennett. The parents I cast, J.K. Simmons and Maria Bello. Then I got Jane Lynch, Brittany Snow came on board. She’s the heart and soul of the show.
It must have been awesome for you, being a comedian yourself, but to be on the other side and getting to have some fun directing all of this unbelievable talent. The list you just went through is like a comedy jukebox. Did it just make it that much easier to bring the film to life?
Well, yes. No question. I learned pretty early on, it might have been Barry Levinson, who I worked with on, what I consider to be a masterpiece, Avalon, but that was my first real, dramatic film work opportunity. Here I saw a guy who started out as a comedian himself, loved comedians and comedy, always thought in those regards and then when it came to directing, he kind of insisted the task at hand was get a great script then do a great job at casting and let these amazing actors and actress lift your script to such a height that it makes you look like you know what you are doing as a director. I would take that from him and from Rob Reiner, a guy who is larger than life, but also insist that everyone is having a good time. This is supposed to be fun. If we are not having fun there is no point. Also, leadership qualities that I have picked up from these people. I have had a few directors that I spoke to of course, on my chat show. Jason Reitman, Christopher Guest, people like that and there was a reoccurring theme that you need to have an opinion because you will be asked questions. You need to have a strong voice and answer to every question whether you have an opinion or not. You still need to have an answer. Everyone is looking to you for leadership. That’s very daunting, but I found it to be easy waters to maneuver through. All the instincts, maybe I have gotten over the years as a stand-up comedian, I think, allowed me to be somewhat good at this.
I think you can upgrade yourself from somewhat good. I mean this position was catered to you because of everything you have done in your career on both sides of the coin. Working with amazing talent, you’re an amazing talent, being in front of the camera and understanding what they need, being a stand-up, being able to improvise, being quick on your feet, was it refreshing? Did it refresh comedy for you? Or when you let other people play in the playground, observe and guide, does it refresh the comedy space?
I think that is a great way to put it. It is refreshing in many ways. You know I like comparing stand-up comedy to a boxer in the sense that you can work hard, train, study, spend time with people in your corner, but when you step into that ring, you are living and dying moment by moment based on your own wit and skill set. Having to rely and depend on those instincts, no question, this was a refresh button because this was a new setting to use those skills and instincts to be put to the test. It was constantly uplifting that I would have an idea, share it, they would make it better. They would have an idea, I would encourage it and they would make it better. I loved working with the actors and being surprised with the comedy that was being created.
You know there is physical humor, situational humor in this film, but the humor that I really gravitate towards and sometimes latch on to are the little dialogue treats. Like when Simmons’ character is at the hospital getting ready to have surgery or get checked out after the basketball game and someone says to run an MRI and the doctor states, “How’s your insurance?” and Simmons says he is a doctor. The Doctor then responds, “Alright, then throw in a CAT scan.” I love that stuff!
Yeah, that was an addition of mine. Sam Robards is a great actor, has great comedic instincts and skills. He played the doctor in that moment. I had this little idea that in the script, I think he asked, “Do you have good insurance?” just to allow the character to say he was a PH.D. So, I had Sam say Yahtzee as a way to celebrate. Then let’s add the MRI. I just felt like what is the emergency room setting when a patient comes in and a lot of tests need to be done and if doctors considerate and concerned then they are going to want to know if all the tests are going to get them in trouble financially. I liked the idea that a doctor was considerate enough to ask and the information he gets causes him to say “Yahtzee” just made me laugh. Those little moments, for me, being older, I would get that from the Marx Brothers or the great little asides in Woody Allen movies, or Mel Brooks movies. You don’t spend any time lingering on the joke. You make them small and rapid fire and just keep moving.
You are only going to be asked a million questions like, “What was it like getting your first boner?” and When did you realize what puberty was?” and “What was it like getting hair in places that it didn’t previously have it?” It is amazing how much we forget about that or put it into the dark, shadowy corners of our mind. Watching this movie, I could not imagine being, well technically, not a full blow adult, but being the age of one, and then all of a sudden being overwhelmed with every experience you should have had the last 20 plus years?
Yeah, it is unfathomable that this happened to a man at the age of 30, in this case, based on a true story. Testosterone goes flying through an adult, in this case a PH.D. I knew the comedy would be there for me it was how do I get everyone to care about these characters in the first act. I rolled up my sleeves and did some work on the script and spoke with the actors. That task at hand, so when the comedy hijinks comes, no pun intended, but when we get to our masturbation montage, we wanted the audience to care about these people. There is tremendous heart in this film. I am quite pleased. It is a delicate balance. How do you get people to care and then also be silly and stupid? Very hard. I loved that opportunity.
I’ve got to say you were able to capture one of the best-worst basketball players on film attempting to play basketball. It was very entertaining. What put it over the top for me was whoever made the musical selection, I absolutely love the song that plays during the basketball scene right before the sh*t hits the fan. Did you have a say with the music? Were you knee deep in every nook and cranny with this film?
I was indeed, yeah. I also choreographed the basketball scene. I played in high school, so I knew what bad basketball looked like. It made me laugh that these guys get up once a week, on the weekend, to play three on three basketball and nobody is good. That made me laugh a lot harder than seeing some skill. So we shot a lot of footage before we got to what was in the film. And then for the music one of my editors picked the song because it was from the basketball scene in the Michael J. Fox movie Teen Wolf.
Brought back such great memories!
Yeah, so for everyone who associates that song with that movie, there is this ridiculous added bonus that is kind of there for the taking, but if not it is kind of playful that goes along with the horrible basketball moves.
When you see someone in pants playing basketball, you already know they are off to a bad start.
There are a few shots in there that are my favorite. One is that the camera is looking sort of an over the shoulder shot of the guy with the ball and he is trying to find the open man and the camera is showing a clutter of offense and defense and it slowly pans over to this one guy by himself and he is holding out his arms like throw me the ball and then the camera pans back and the decision has been made not to throw him the ball.
It is the subtle things are the things you take home. I’ve got to say Kevin, it is always a pleasure to talk to you and pick your brain. I think you are a very important piece to the comedy pie as a whole when it comes to comedy existing as an entity on this Earth. Congrats on all the success you have had and I really thoroughly enjoyed The Late Bloomer.
Thank you for your support and interest. I am proud to be that piece of pie for you and the world.
The Late Bloomer is available via VOD now.