pee-wee's big holiday john lee interview

I’m curious about Judd Apatow as a producer. His shooting style is very much about putting the camera in the right place and letting actors be funny, while this is very composed and feels very planned. What was it like working with him on a project that was very unlike his normal kind of movie?

That was one of my first questions in that meeting. I didn’t ask it overtly, but I basically suggested that question and he basically said “I couldn’t make this movie. I don’t know how to make a Pee-wee Herman movie. And you clearly do.” He knew, we all knew, that Paul knows this character better than anyone else in the world. Literally, our job is to make his movie better. [Apatow] was so hands off. He gave me some tips and advice on giving lines to actors, but he was basically hands off. His contribution is one hundred percent in the script. He worked on the script a lot and worked on honing it in and making sure it resonated with the audience in a larger way, which is what I think is the success of this movie compared to the other movies, what makes it different. At the end, you’re sad, but out of joy. There’s something very sweet and optimistic about it and that’s very much Judd’s influence. As producer, he’s just like “Go make this movie, you seem to know what you’re doing.” And he would check in and help out and talk to people when we needed help. It was really easygoing.

Here’s my one slightly hardball question, if you’re ready for it.

Who am I going to vote for?

Who would Pee-wee Herman vote for?

Where do I stand?

Since Netflix owns this movie, the audience is unlimited. But seeing it last night in a 1,200-seat theater was a magical experience.

Yes. It was magical.

Are you even slightly upset that most people won’t get the chance to see this in theaters?

I don’t have any pressure of box office. I’m not spending these next few days freaking out to find out how much money it earned. No, not at all. I’ve done TV so much that it doesn’t seem that different to me. The thrill was…last night was wonderful. People had a great time, laughing at all the right moments, laughing over other jokes, which I always think is a great sign… No, the great thing about Netflix is that they’re super-supportive. They came on set as fans, not as business people, and they would say “I just wanted to see this scene.” It was really great. I think it’s kind of changing cinema. On-demand and Netflix are making smaller movies like this, which are very selective or not intended to be universal, although I think this movie is universal…it’s giving them a life. Which is great. There’s nothing wrong with that for me. I only have good things to say about Netflix.

Do you have a favorite joke in the movie? One gag that you’re most proud of?

I have a couple. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Pee-wee walks away from the wedding and he just walks backwards. I fought for that to stay in there for so long. Because no one else would walk out of that situation like the way he’s walking out of it. Everyone else would run or do something like that. But the way he just stares and just slowly walks out is, to me, emblematic of Pee-wee and why he exists. It’s so weird and strange. And, of course, the gigantic, long balloon sequence is hard to deny. It’s like a tenth of the movie It’s like two minutes long in a ninety minute movie. It’s not a tenth, but it’s a large chunk of the movie and it’s just one shot of a many blowing up a balloon and letting the air out and that’s its own little set piece.

What’s next for you?

I’m telling everyone that I’m doing the Morrissey biopic. Because I want that to come true. I want to be directing the Morrissey movie. I want it to be in print so he can be like “No one’s making–! Who’s this guy making my movie?!” That’s my goal in life.


Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is streaming on Netflix right now.

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