After decades of cult adoration but scant commercial success, the British musician is finally getting his big-screen close-up in This Is 40 — thanks to a longtime fan named Judd Apatow

By Melissa Maerz
December 14, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST
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It’s a good thing that Graham Parker can take a joke. When the 62-year-old Brit agreed to appear in This Is 40, he knew he would be playing a semifictionalized version of himself, an aging rocker who’s signed to an indie label run by Paul Rudd’s character and who can’t sell records anymore. But ”aging rocker” is hardly the sum of Parker’s résumé: He and his band the Rumour first emerged with 1976’s Howlin’ Wind, which captured punk’s energy before the Sex Pistols and new wave’s sharp lyricism before Elvis Costello. Since then, he’s recorded with Bruce Springsteen, toured arenas with Blue Öyster Cult and Journey, and secured two spots on Rolling Stone‘s Greatest Albums of All Time list. Cut to a scene in 40: Leslie Mann and Rudd are driving home from Parker’s underattended ”comeback” show when an ambulance speeds by. ”The last of Graham Parker’s fans just died!” Mann exclaims.

Parker is the first to laugh. ”I told Judd, Make me the mark!” he insists, picking at his calamari in a New York bar. Looking the part of a rock legend with his spiky white hair and aviator sunglasses, he says he relished an outtake where he worries aloud about getting gout, then displays a photo of his aunt Queenie’s swollen foot. ”Making jokes about aged rock stars,” he says, grinning wryly. ”That’s good.” It helps that Apatow came to Parker as a fan. Having grown up in the record industry — his grandfather’s label, Mainstream Records, released Janis Joplin’s first album — Apatow calls himself a ”music obsessive,” and notes that he used Parker’s 1979 single ”Love Gets You Twisted” in the finale of his TV show Undeclared. For this role, he was considering Joe Jackson until a friend pointed him to Parker’s blog, which mentioned that the rocker was hoping to place his music in more movies. ”It said, ‘Are you listening, Judd Apatow?”’ the director tells EW. ”I took it as a sign.”

By coincidence, two weeks before Apatow called, Parker asked if the Rumour might consider reuniting. (The band broke up in 1980, when Parker says they’d plateaued: ”I didn’t want to sit around desperately thinking of how to make it big.”) They had just booked a studio when Apatow asked if they’d perform their first show in more than 30 years on the set of This Is 40. ”All of their children came,” remembers Apatow. ”Most of them had never seen the band perform, so it was a very emotional thing for them to witness.” For Parker, it was the perfect gig: ”The extras clapped for everything. They’re extras — they’ve got to like it!” When the band talked about old times, Apatow stuck around. ”I wanted to know who took drugs, and who went crazy,” he admits. ”I heard someone say, ‘He pushed me out of a moving car!’ It was the ’70s.”

These days, real life might be even better. Last month, Graham Parker & the Rumour released Three Chords Good and kicked off a reunion tour. ”What’s funny is that he’s playing a guy who’s not doing very well, but he has a highly acclaimed record and sold-out shows,” says Apatow. ”It’s the inverse of the movie.” Parker claims that young people think ”Graham Parker” is just a movie character. But that’s okay; he’s got a new dream now: ”That I get so many acting parts, I can lock up my guitars forever.” He smiles. ”I’m exaggerating slightly. I’m not giving up my day job.”

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