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Focus shifts to other ‘Knocked Up’ couple

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‘This Is 40” is a sequel of sorts to “Knocked Up” that puts the focus not on the accidentally pregnant couple at that movie’s center but instead on Pete and Debbie, the harried marrieds who served as their cautionary tale.

Judd Apatow, who directed both movies, says it made sense to put that duo front and center, a sidekick-to star upgrade usually reserved for TV sidekicks like Frasier, Rhoda, Joanie and Chachi.

“Most of what I heard from people about ‘Knocked Up,’ ” he says, “were their feelings about this relationship Pete and Debbie were having. And it was left unexplored.”

And he’s just the man to explore it. As in “Knocked Up” (2007), Debbie is played by Apatow’s own wife, Leslie Mann, with young Maude and Iris Apatow again cast as the couple’s daughters. Paul Rudd returns as Pete, the Apatow surrogate.

While some of the movie’s details are taken from the Apatows’ real life — Maude really did watch “Lost” compulsively, and the couple really did shut off the home’s wi-fi — most of the main developments are meant to apply to anyone attached and anxiously reaching four decades.

“It’s emotionally true,” says Mann. “Certain things like feeling neglected by your husband after a certain number of years, or feeling like you’re getting older — that’s kind of a universal feeling.”

“This Is 40” opens Friday. Apatow, a true Hollywood comedy kingpin, now is working on the next season of the HBO series he produces, Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” as well as the long-awaited sequel to Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman,” shooting next spring.

The plot is secret, “like it’s ‘Star Wars’ or something,” but Apatow says Ferrell has fallen right back into Ron Burgundy’s musky, scotchy self: “His eyes just light up with madness.”

As for his other recent smash, “Bridesmaids,” though star Kristen Wiig is in no hurry to make Part 2, Apatow has pondered again shifting the spotlight, perhaps to the crass roommate played by Rebel Wilson.

Says the producer, “I could keep spinning off and spinning off forever.”

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