Everywhere my pop-culture lenses look, Hollywood is feeling 40. From Megan’s surprise party for Don on Mad Men a few weeks back (zou bisou bisou!) to the recently released trailer for Judd Apatow’s second fortysomething comedy This Is 40. (One can only assume Apatow is working towards a complete trilogy). Tina Fey’s Bossypants, the crescendo of which has the 30 Rock creator and star grappling with what turning 40 means in terms of motherhood and career — and whether or not she needs to immediately take her pants off when she gets home now — is still hovering near the top of the New York Times best-seller list.
Then again, having just turned the big four-oh myself, maybe it’s just me?
“It’s sort of like when you buy a new car and then you suddenly start to notice all the cars are similar to yours,” says Bridesmaids director Paul Feig of turning 40. “And you go, ‘Wow, we all bought the same car!'”
When Paul Feig was staring down 40, Freaks and Geeks — the cult-favorite TV show he created and was executive produced by Apatow — had already been cancelled (prematurely, it should be noted), and he made a conscious decision to do away with childish things and begin viewing life through the eyes of a full-fledged adult. (Granted, an adult who would years later win the hearts of America with a movie in which a woman poops in a sink.)
“Everyone takes pause at 40. It’s the age you have to assess everything in your life. It’s the fictitious marker that’s always coming up when you’re young,” he says. “The world really does look at you to kind of have it together by 40, and be successful by 40. Whatever success means. If you’re still really kind of a mess when you’re 40, then it’s, ‘Woo, boy, that’s a loser. That guy’s a loser.'”
What followed 40 for Feig, now 49, was an incredibly successful and rewarding decade, authoring books, directing Emmy-nominated episodes of TV, and seeing his Kristen Wiig-led ensemble comedy receive a couple Oscar nods. (Just this past week, he inked a deal to re-team with breakout Bridesmaids star Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, directing the duo in an as-yet-untitled buddy-cop flick.)
As a birthday gift for yours truly, Feig — to me the Hollywood definition of success at and beyond 40 — had a few tips on staring down the intimidating milestone:
1. Do away with childish things.
“Forty is the line of demarcation that says you’re an adult now. You’re an adult, so don’t pretend you’re a kid anymore. Here’s what you don’t want to do (and this is just how to be me, which I don’t recommend): You don’t want to get older than you should be, and you don’t want to be younger than you should be. I don’t like small-mindedness among older people, and I don’t like judgmentalness from younger people. Keep up with things just to have an appreciation of them — knowing full well that it will horrify some younger people. Because the last thing they want is their dad coming in going, ‘Hey, what’re you listening to?’ and dancing around the room going, ‘This is pretty groovy!'”
2. Realize that being a proper adult is a hard-fought reward.
“As far I’m concerned, being an adult is way more fun than being a kid. But then I was a kid who wanted to be an adult. I’d watch shows like Bewitched and see Darren come home and mix a martini and I’d go, ‘That looks awesome! I want to do that!’ I always thought the adult world looked cool. I was little in the ’60s, when that Mad Men kind of adult thing was still kind of around, especially in my parents’ world. I remember the big moment for me — I was young, I was probably five or six — was when my parents took me to Vegas for the first time. Now kids can walk right through the casino and nobody gives a s—. But back then you couldn’t. We were probably at the Sands or Dunes or something, and we were walking around the outer edge of the casino, and you could look down at the casino floor and it was all people dressed up in suits and tuxedos, and smoking and gambling and drinking, and it looked so glamorous to me. I was just like, ‘I want to go down there.’ I remember my dad literally just starting to walk me down the stairs and them running over and saying, ‘Sir, you cannot bring a child in here!’ I remember thinking, because I always felt very mature as a kid, ‘Why not! I want to go down there.’ They got tickets to a Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight, or something like that, some giant fight, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, we’re all going to go to the fight!’ And they took me down to the nursery, it was like a glass door that looked out at the casino. So you could see out into the casino, but you were trapped in this room with all these kids and toys. I remember getting stuck in there — and I was miserable. And I remember vowing, ‘As God as my witness, when I’m an adult — and I can’t wait to be an adult! — I will act like an adult.’
3. If you haven’t done it, do it now.
“The easiest trap to fall into, and I fall into it all the time, is looking back and going, ‘Oh f—, I really f—ed up. I should have done this, I should have done that.’ And it can eat you up. It will eat me up for long periods at a time. But then you go, ‘Well, I can’t get it back. So what the hell am I doing? Change it now.’ The biggest thing is, you can’t dwell on it. But you can learn from it. It’s the most trite thing in the world, you see it stitched on pillows and it doesn’t mean anything until you actually think about it, which is: ‘Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life.’ It’s a very important statement, because it’s true. Because all the stuff that came before should have nothing to do with anything, because you go like, ‘I’m going to do it now.’ Do it now.”
4. Always have older friends.
“It’s healthy to have older friends. You go, ‘Look, I’m younger than them!’ That’s always the nice thing, if you can be the youngest one in the room at times. Like if you’re always the oldest one in the room, you’ll start to feel like the oldest person in the world. So get older friends, because they’re cool. Get cool older friends. They’ll constantly go, ‘Oh, what do you care about? You’re young! I wish I was your age!’ That gives you perspective on it. One of my best friends in the world is this woman — she’s 83 years old, she’s the most spry, in-shape person you ever met in your life. She’s gorgeous, and she’s just super cool. She’s knows everything, does everything. But not in an embarrassing way. She just exposes herself to things. And you go, ‘Goddamn, that’s awesome. That gives me hope. I don’t have to go off the rails.’ You don’t want to be rappin’ grandma, but at the same time I’d rather hang with rappin’ grandma than complainin’, racist grandma. My only nightmare is if somehow I live to 100 or whatever there’s no way I can’t not be the oldest person in the room. So then you go, ‘I just want to be the coolest oldest person in the room.’
You’ll go through this, because I went through this in my early 40s, which is you start getting really obsessed with age. You start to feel really old, and you start doing this math: ‘How long do I have for this, and how long do I have for to hit this age?’ You start to feel super old. And then weirdly it will pass, once you kind of go, ‘I can’t do anything about it. It’s happening.’ Do this, because this is always a nice salve: Look back on the first time you thought you were old and it was over, and it was probably some time in your mid-30s, and you’ll go, ‘Well s—, I’m 40 now, and what an a–hole I was for thinking that back then, because look how young I was then!'”