Since his early days as a teenage stand-up comic through to becoming one of the youngest people to ever join the cast of Saturday Night Live—not to mention its first cast member born in the 1990s—the trauma of Davidson’s childhood had been a part of his story. But never has he tackled the pain with such scope and unflinching totality as he has in the new film The King of Staten Island.
“When you see someone like Pete, you know there’s a lot going on. You really don’t know what it is. I think that a lot of people are interested in his struggle,” Judd Apatow, who not only directed the film—available now on demand—but co-wrote it with Davidson and his best friend Dave Sirus, said in an inside look at the movie courtesy of Universal Pictures. “They want to know, ‘How are you doing? What happened to you?’ The King of Staten Island is an opportunity for Pete to tell you about himself and to tell you about his feelings and his journey.”
For the unfamiliar, Davidson was seven years old when his father Scott Davidson, a New York City firefighter, died in service during the September 11 terrorist attacks. To suffer such a devastating loss at such a young age was, as he told The New York Times in 2015, “overwhelming.” He began acting out in school, at one point ripping out his hair to the point of baldness, and struggled with suicidal thoughts.
“And it was really so hard for him to recover and I would even say it’s just been recently that he’s finding his way and being okay,” Amy Davidson, the comedian’s beloved mother, says in the featurette.
Since his first stand-up performance at 16 in a Staten Island bowling alley, Davidson’s career has been steady upward trajectory, with appearances on Guy Code, Wild ‘N Out, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A cameo in Apatow’s Trainwreck, which co-starred SNL’s Bill Hader, helped him land the audition for the long-running NBC late-night comedy series. He was only 20 when he made his first appearance on the show.
Along the way, Davidson has been disarmingly honest about his struggles, sharing his diagnoses with both Chron’s disease and borderline personality disorder. But it’s only with this latest film that he’s dared to expose himself so fully.
Mary Cybulski / Universal Pictures
“One of the first conversations we had was, ‘How autobiographical should The King of Staten Island be,'” Apatow admits. “We decided that it could be completely fictional, but it’s an imagining of what Pete’s life would’ve been if he didn’t find comedy and he dreams of being a tattoo artist.”
In the film, Davidson plays Scott, a young man in his mid-20s stuck in an arrested development since the death of his firefighter father when he was only seven years old. Over the course of the film, he’s forced to finally grapple with his grief and begin to move forward with his life. Marisa Tomei co-stars as Scott’s mom Margie, serving as Amy’s surrogate. Meanwhile, Apatow’s daughter Maude Apatow plays Scott’s younger sister Claire, the fictional version of Davidson’s younger sister Casey.
“It’s pretty transparent as I could be,” Davidson tells E! News of how he approached telling his story. “We really wanted to follow this family and tragedy and how it affected them. And we wanted to show how you could overcome tragedy through life experiences. So, I think we kept it pretty much—everything that I wanted to do I got to do.”
Sister Casey addressed the effect the film had on her brother in the first look featurette, explaining, “I think this movie stirred up a lot of emotions for him, though. Both good and bad. But I think it’ll be therapeutic.”
As Davidson tells it, his kid sis is absolutely right. “I think when you’re able to share a story like this at this magnitude and with so many people, it really allowed me to be as open and honest as I could be and it helped me deal with a lot of my personal demons,” he says. “This was something, one of the goals for this film was to allow me to put my past behind me and I think we were able to do that.”
Davidson’s other best friend Ricky Velez, one of many important figures in the comedian’s life to make an appearance in the film, admits that it’s “cool” to see his pal “take something that’s so vulnerable” and bring it to life. “I think a lot of people don’t understand Pete and this is a nice little look into his life,” he continues.
While the film may give moviegoers perhaps only familiar with the comedian through his recent high-profile romances the opportunity to get to know who he is a bit better, for Davidson, the film’s intention was a little simpler.
“The movie is like my love letter to my mom and trying to end that part of my life,” he says in the featurette. “I feel like maybe we got to a place where we could finally let go a little bit.”
Now, the king can look forward to what’s next.
The King of Staten Island is available now on demand.
(E! and Universal Pictures are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)