Judd Apatow’s first documentary movie “Doc & Darryl” let the funnyman explore a subject close to his heart — the lives of troubled Major League Baseball icons Dwight “Doc” Gooden and Darryl Strawberry — but the result wasn’t as heartening as he expected.
“I thought it would be much more uplifting,” Apatow said during a Q&A after a screening of the ESPN Films “30 for 30” movie in New York on Wednesday. “As it went along, I think we became more and more aware of how recent some of their troubles were, so it changed the documentary in a big way.” Apatow first got involved with the project after ESPN Films Manager of Development Jenna Anthony tweeted at the director asking if he had any ideas for “30 for 30,” to which he said, “How about Doc and Darryl?”
Two of baseball’s biggest superstars from the 1980s, Gooden and Strawberry were the heroes of the 1986 World Series Champion New York Mets whose careers and personal lives spiraled out of control due to drug addiction. Gooden famously missed the Mets’ ticker-tape parade the day after winning the World Series due to an all-night drug bender. Both men have endured a multi-decade struggle with substance abuse and run-ins with the law.
Apatow co-directed the documentary with Michael Bonfiglio, who previously directed “You Don’t Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson,” for the ESPN series. Among the people interviewed in “Doc & Darryl” are Mets teammate Keith Hernandez and lifelong Mets fan Jon Stewart. For the documentary, Gooden and Strawberry reunited at a diner in Queens where the filmmakers could shoot them discussing their shared history. Bonfliglio also interviewed the two men separately, and conducted all of the interviews for the movie.
“If I asked those questions, it would come out wrong, like, ‘What’s crack like?'” Apatow said. “It would have gone in a terrible direction.” Surprisingly, Gooden and Strawberry had never discussed their personal demons with each other, and spent the first hour of the nearly three-hour meeting reminiscing about good times and telling inside jokes, according to Bonfiglio. “I pulled each of them aside and said, ‘We’ve got to talk about the real stuff,'” he said, adding that there were several tense moments during the individual interviews. “It’s never super comfortable to say, ‘What about that time you beat your wife?”
One of the reasons Apatow said he wanted to make the documentary had to due with the way Gooden and Strawberry’s public personas had evolved from sports icons to late night talk show punchlines. “They became caricatures, when in fact they were people with a disease,” he said. “I’m glad that it humanizes them and tells people what their lives have been like.”
In a brief interview with IndieWire after the Q&A, Apatow said that even though the film wasn’t as uplifting as he thought it would be, it did inspire positive emotions that he hadn’t expected to be confronted with. “It certainly made me feel a lot of compassion for people who are struggling with this,” he said. “I hope the movie inspires people to get sober or hang on to their sobriety.”
Though “Doc & Darryl” is Apatow’s first documentary film, he and Bonfiglio are already on to their next non-fiction collaboration, a documentary about the making of alt-country band the Avett Brothers’s latest record, and he hopes to start work on a documentary about the late comedian Garry Shandling in the fall.
Apatow said that despite not being able to control what happens in a documentary like you can with a narrative film, he is looking forward to working on more documentaries in the future. “I really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s nice not having to be funny.”
“Doc & Darryl” premieres on ESPN on July 14.