In the summer of 2018, seemingly from nowhere, Pete Davidson was everywhere. The Saturday Night Live comedian was engaged to Ariana Grande having only just started dating her and had inspired the phrase Big Dick Energy, a term used to describe someone with the kind of swagger which suggests they have reason to feel so confident.
Scrawny, bug-eyed and covered in tattoos, Davidson was portrayed as a cartoonish but alluring eccentric, a narrative which was seemingly confirmed when Ariana Grande dropped him and he subsequently dated women including Kate Beckinsale, Margaret Qualley and Kaia Gerber.
The King of Staten Island, the latest film from director Judd Apatow, which was released on-demand this week, attempts to untangle the man from the myth of Pete Davidson, drawing on experiences that the comedian had living in the New York City outer-borough.
Apatow cast Davidson in his 2015 film Trainwreck on the advice of the film's lead Amy Schumer, but in The King of Staten Island the director goes one further, working with him to adapt experiences from Davidson's life.
The film follows Scott, a stoner and aspiring tattoo artist based on Davidson who hangs out with his friends in Staten Island while grieving the loss his firefighter father, who passed away when he was seven. The experience has left him numb, confused and unable to grow up properly. The seed of the story, Apatow says, "was Pete’s character’s desire to see his mom happy", and this leads to her dating another firefighter and pushing Scott to move on with his life.
As we see in the final credits of the film, Scott is in fact the name of Davidson's father, a firefighter who lost his life after heroically running into a Marriott hotel by the World Trade Center on September 11th just before the building collapsed.
In the film Scott's father dies in a hotel collapse which is unrelated to the 2001 terror attack, a change which Apatow made in order to keep the focus on Davidson's grief rather than the collective experience of that day. "We very quickly decided that 9/11 is too big a subject to fit into a movie like this,"Apatow explained to Uproxx. "It’s a trauma that the entire world shares and we wanted this movie to be about his personal grief."
This personal grief is something that leaks into every aspect of Scott's life: from his career prospects to his love life. As with his character Scott, Davidson struggled to process the grief of losing his father, getting into trouble at school, taking drugs and grappling with suicidal thoughts and borderline personality disorder. There is one especially troubling scene during The King of Staten Island where he has his foot on the gas driving faster down a freeway while keeping his eyes firmly closed. It's a moment that that brings home what the person everyone sees as a whacky comedian has been through.
Exploring his childhood and his own mental health by playing a character who he says is "75% per cent me" has helped Davidson get closure, saying during a podcast with Sky News, “One of the main reasons why I wanted to make this [movie] and tell this story was because I wanted this chapter in my life to be closed."
Apatow has talked about the film being, "an imagining of what Pete’s life would have been if he didn’t find comedy", but what it really does by laying out the path his life was likely to have taken is show how impressive it is he found success after something so traumatic.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more delivered straight to your inbox
Need some positivity right now? Subscribe to Esquire now for a hit of style, fitness, culture and advice from the experts
You Might Also Like