When last I saw Paul Rudd in person, it was March 2009 in the lobby of the Four Seasons in Austin. It was 3 in the morning, hours after I Love You, Man had its premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and costar Jason Segal had long ago packed up his pack of smokes and retired to his room; Rashida Jones remained, though, to taste-test Scotch with her onscreen fiancé. Also lingering were the remnants of a drunken wedding party who just wanted to, like, hang with Rudd. "Dude's cool," slurred one young man wearing his tie as a headband. "Real cool. He's an actor, right?" Right.
Rudd seemed in no hurry to git—he grinned and nodded at their few decipherable syllables about... well, it was hard to say. Then, finally, casually, he loped off to bed before early-morning press interviews during which he was, strikingly, more wide awake than a 10-cup pot of coffee.
On- and off-screen, Rudd is more or less the same guy—sharper and funnier than anyone in the room, even when he's the straight, sober man. He is effortlessly funny, a man who cracks a joke with a cocked eyebrow and a bemused smirk. He and Ken Marino and David Wain, his longtime friends and Role Models collaborators, briefly had a running joke during which they would pretend to drop something right in front of you, lean down to pick it up, and, on their way up, stop for a bit of a sniff right at crotch-level. They didn't say anything.
In Jay Roach's Dinner for Schmucks, Rudd once again pairs with Steve Carell, his Anchorman and 40-Year-Old Virgin costar. Rudd's the money manager on his way up, if only he can find an idiot to bring to the boss's dinner party; Carell, who dresses and poses dead mice, is that idiot. For the first time, Rudd plays a bit of a bastard—but only a bit. "I think there are parts of my personality that are apparent in the parts I play," Rudd explains. What does he mean? Read on.
As wacky and irritating as the movie is—intentionally so—I think it has more, well, heart than it initially lets on.
I think you're right in that, it is a tricky line to walk. Think about it: We are making fun of people, and that's not the kindest thing in the world. But the "idiots" in this movie aren't the jerks. And you believe in and root for the relationship between Steve and myself. That was the main thing—we hoped we could poke fun, and it would work. Whether it does or not, I don't know.
What did you first respond to when you read the script? Had you seen the French original?
I thought it was legitimately funny. I loved the idea of so many extreme characters—the idea of working with Jay Roach, who I've never worked with; Steve, who I love working with and have several times now. I knew the French film, but I have never seen it. And I thought my part would have its own set of challenges that I hadn't really done before. I thought it would be cool to be somebody who was doing some unlikable stuff, but is still having somewhat of a moral dilemma. You know, reacting to all of this craziness around him, but hopefully where it isn't one-note and boring.
Wet Hot American Summer was really the first time you were allowed to be funny—it's the beginning of what your career has become. And you've worked multiple times with so many of the same people—Judd Apatow, David Wain, Ken Marino—as writers, directors, real collaborators. How much of that allows you to put you in what you're doing. Meaning: You're not, in this instance, some schmuck-for-hire.
In Knocked Up, I'm a married man with kids, and I'm playing that in the movie. Judd and I are mining some of my own stuff for the movie. Same thing with Role Models—obviously, you needed therapy to get to it and write some of the things. With I Love You, Man, there is that nervous thing, the need to be accepted and liked, but not feeling like you have the type of capability to play it cool. I think that's a universal, relatable thing. It is also an optimistic, hopeful thing. With this one, he might have been a little less, "Oh, my god, I'm so this guy." But, let's face it, it's not Christy Brown in My Left Foot. I'm still playing a guy who looks, sounds, and acts like me.
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You should have played him like that. Awards and all.
I tried, but Jay really tried to steer me off that.
Before I let you go, why did Starz cancel [the Rudd-co-created] Party Down? Very disappointing.
Yeah, I know. I was disappointed, too. No one's asked me about that. It didn't really come as a big shock. We were playing the waiting game for such a long time, to the point where even the cast was wondering. A new regime started over there, and sometimes when they switch over, they just want to start fresh. It's frustrating, in that I feel like people were kind of starting to discover that show. At the same time, so many of my favorite shows had 12 episodes. So it's not that bad.