"It was really so hard for him to recover," says the Saturday Night Live star's mother of his devastation after the death of his firefighter father on 9/11

By Benjamin VanHoose
May 11, 2020 01:03 PM

Pete Davidson is tapping into his emotional past for his new film.

With The King of Staten Island, which he co-wrote and stars in, the comedian, 26, brings a semi-autobiographical story to fans — one that mirrors his grief as he grappled with the death of his father. In a behind-the-scenes look at the movie, exclusive to PEOPLE, Davidson's family and the filmmaking team discuss the emotional journey that led to the finished film.

"When you see someone like Pete, you know there's a lot going on but you really don't know what it is," says director Judd Apatow (Trainwreck) in the clip. "I think people are interested in his struggle; they want to know, 'How are you doing? What happened to you?'"

He adds: "King of Staten Island is an opportunity for Pete to tell you about himself, and to tell you about his feelings and his journey."

In the movie, the Saturday Night Live actor plays Scott, a 20-something aspiring tattoo artist living at home in his New York City borough hometown, still coming to terms with the loss of his firefighter father, who died 17 years prior.

In real life, Davidson's dad — who's name is Scott — was a N.Y.C. first responder who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The comedian was 7 years old at the time.

The King of Staten Island
The King of Staten Island
| Credit: Universal Pictures

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"It was really so hard for him to recover, and I would even say that it's just been recently that he's finding his way and being okay," his mother Amy says of Davidson's devastation.

"The movie is like my love letter to my mom, and trying to end that part of my life," says Davidson. "I feel like we finally got to a place where we could let go a little bit."

The actor's younger sister Casey adds that making the movie brought out a lot of emotions in her brother. In King, his character's mother and sister are played by Marisa Tomei and Apatow's real-life daughter, Maude Apatow.

"I think this movie stirred up a lot of emotions for him, both good and bad," Casey says, "but I think it'll be therapeutic."

Apatow, 52 — who previously ushered in star-making performances for Amy Schumer in 2015's Trainwreck, Seth Rogen in 2007's Knocked Up and Steve Carell in 2005's The 40-Year-Old Virgin — stresses how difficult it can be to share such vulnerable, personal stories in one's work.

"It's a really beautiful thing to share something that's this hard with other people," says Apatow. "It's a real gift."

Adds Davidson: "I'm just hoping that you could enjoy the movie and relate to it in a certain way."

The King of Staten Island will be available to rent online on June 12.