As his breakthrough role in 1995's Clueless proved, Paul Rudd has the looks, charm, and charisma to be a romantic leading man. But instead, he gravitated toward funky independent projects and oddball supporting roles while alternating between film, theater, and television. In recent years, Rudd struck up a fruitful working relationship with Stella's David Wain and comedy honcho Judd Apatow, which led to roles in the 2004 smash Anchorman and its DVD spin-off Wake Up, Ron Burgundy, as well as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Walk Hard, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Rudd similarly collaborated with Wain and Stella-mate Michael Showalter on the 2001 cult classic Wet Hot American Summer, then produced and co-starred in Wain's sketch-comedy follow-up The Ten. He also co-wrote and stars in Wain's latest directorial effort, Role Models, a ribald crowd-pleaser about a pair of energy-drink shills (Rudd and Seann William Scott) who become Big Brothers as part of their community-service requirements after shenanigans involving a giant truck. The A.V. Club recently set down with Rudd in Chicago to discuss swearing in front of children, balancing comedy and emotion in Role Models, and the giddy highs of being a bar mitzvah DJ.
The A.V. Club: In your first film with David Wain, you were part of a large ensemble. With The Ten, you produced and co-starred. In Role Models, you co-wrote and star. Are you gradually taking over David Wain's films?
Paul Rudd: Yeah, I'm going to write and direct David Wain in a movie coming up next.
AVC: It could be Paul Rudd: A One-Man Show, and he could do the catering.
PR: I thought you were going to say he plays me. We do it in a black-box theatre. And he comes out in a leotard and starts talking about being Jewish in the Midwest. And can cry. Oh, I can see it, it's writing itself.
AVC: What would be the opening to David Wain Is Paul Rudd: A One-Man Show?
PR: "It really hurt coming out of my mom's vagina. I'll never forget it, I cried and cried and my head looked like a football. A quick smack on the ass and I was back to my apartment in New Jersey. Next thing I know, they're cutting off the tip of my dick! Then I went to acting school."
AVC: It's very concise.
PR: It's bullet points.
AVC: How did you become involved in the writing of Role Models?
PR: It was unintentional. I was never supposed to be, I guess. I read the script, but it was kind of evolving. The idea was there of a couple of guys that get in trouble and have to go into this mentoring program. I thought that was a very funny idea, and there was comedy. [Adopts soft, sarcastic voice.] And lessons to be learned. And tears to be shed.
AVC: The story wasn't by David Wain.
PR: Right, it was originally by a guy named Blake Herron.
AVC: Have you met Herron?
PR: I'd actually met Blake Herron years ago; I have yet to see him through this process. There were actually several writers on this movie, and it was even in more than one studio. This is not an uncommon thing, which is really scary if you think about it.
AVC: The whole "Let's get Robert Towne to do a polish" mentality?
PR: If something is great, wouldn't it just get made automatically? Which is not the case. I'm not saying that this was great, but it was pretty good. But it just changed a lot. Seann was already on board, and I had signed on, and it was in the process of being re-written by some other people, and I'd expressed some of my ideas to the producers. And they asked me if I would want to write it. I was shocked. I'm sure they were confusing me with Paul Rudnick, someone who's actually written something. Or Paul Rodriguez. I kind of have a Million To Juan feeling about me.
AVC: He was in The Whoopee Boys as well. Apparently he would only be in movies that had funny titles. The movies didn't have to be funny, just the titles.
PR: Do you think he was pissed off when he realized that Born In East L.A. was taken by Cheech Marin? "That one was mine!" Didn't Cheech and Chong just reunite to do some live shows? Those bridges get reconstructed. I saw an interview with them, and they said, "It's better than ever!" They seemed legitimately surprised how much they were selling out shows. And they acknowledged, "Yeah, we had many years where we were just not talking." They're like the Fleetwood Mac of comedy.
AVC: They are, in that they were fucking the entire time.
PR: They were. Weren't they married to each other?
AVC: They were for a while, but then one of them cheated with Stevie Nicks.
PR: Chong hooked up with Lindsey Buckingham for a while.
AVC: Actually I think Cheech was with Joni Mitchell for a while.
PR: Oh yeah? It's Richard "Cheech" Marin isn't it? And they were an item.
AVC: What was the writing process like? Did you spitball? Was there a lot of spitballing going on?
PR: There was a whole bunch of spitballing. I had written a version of it, and then David came on to direct it.
AVC: Had you done writing before? Or was this an entirely new experience for you?
PR: I had written things before, but nothing on this scale.
AVC: Like poems about your feelings?
PR: I write a lot of sonnets. One of my favorites is called "Me And Clouds." And of course my most famous one, which you can read on my blog, "Rain In My Heart." David came on to direct, and David and Ken [Marino] write together a lot, and Ken and I are great friends and have known each other for many years and worked together. So the three of us then worked together, and David and Ken really did this amazing job in integrating it all into one cohesive story. It's tricky when you have two characters, and these two characters have two kids, that you don't just have two different movies going on at the same time, cutting back and forth. It was kind of a challenge to integrate all of it so that we were all together in one scene.
AVC: Role Models was surprisingly sentimental. Were you worried about being too heartwarming?
PR: Your heart is certainly being warmed, and we were very sensitive to it, and wanted to shy away from it. We're all total sentimentalists and suckers for it when it's done right. I don't mind that at all. But if it's unearned, then you just want to punch your fist—it's so manipulative and transparent. It's terrible. The movie's done, I'm still concerned with that. But the only way to play against that stuff is to add in the most random, weird jokes, to kind of take away from that. You just throw in a vagina joke here or a fellatio joke there in the middle of a supposedly sweet moment, it won't make it so gag-inducing. Because you know where this movie is going. There's no surprise. But it is kind of a weird route to get there. This could so easily be a kids' movie, really, and it kind of is, I guess. And when I saw the first trailer for it, it was a very PG-type trailer, and I thought, "Jesus, what is this, The Sandlot?" And then I saw the red-band trailer and said, "Yeah, okay, that's what it is." People have seen it and said "Oh my God, that was way filthier than I thought." So there's something kind of weird about a really filthy family movie that is also commercially viable. But then David has his own subversive, absurdist humor. Fans of Wet Hot American Summer and Wainy Days and David's other stuff can see that he made this, too. To try and get that marriage of all those elements makes for a really weird movie.
AVC: It's commercial, but it's still got some of that Stella sensibility.
PR: Yeah, Stella sensibility with a School Of Rock-type trajectory.
AVC: Yet it's an R-rated film.
PR: Yeah, very much so. And the studio encouraged it. They did not want to have this PG movie. They were like, "No no, let's go rated R." And they made suggestions. We were psyched. We had a lot more freedom. One of the things that was tricky was just the legalities of doing things with a 10-year-old kid. This kid just has so much filthy stuff. Which is automatically funny for me, just seeing a little kid swear makes me laugh. It had to be cleared by his family, and we had to have Child Services on set. If we decided to go off on some improvisational jag, we'd have to rein ourselves in while we were doing it, because they could totally pull the kid off the movie. It was kind of strange. And then every once in a while we would just do something that was so fucked-up. But we could scream ignorance, and as long as we filmed it, we were willing to get yelled at.
AVC: Everything wasn't necessarily done through editing. The kid did curse.
PR: He certainly did. Although there were scenes where he's in them, and there's a lot of really foul language, and stuff being talked about that's very sexually suggestive or whatever, and he had to leave the room. So through camera angles and stuff, singles on people, we're talking to him in the scene and it's really just an empty chair while we were filming it. The very first day, Seann is playing "Love Gun" for him. And he's going, "You see, Ronnie? You get it? His dick is the gun." He was saying it to a pinball machine. There was nobody there.
AVC: It's a very Kiss-centric movie.
PR: Yes, and that was all David, he brought in the Kiss aspect.
AVC: Did you have to clear the Kiss stuff with Gene Simmons?
PR: Kiss is a super—they are total businessmen. They pride themselves on it. They were cool. They were like, "Great, yeah, absolutely." I was a Kiss fan growing up, and I knew at some place, I wanted to put in "I wanna rock 'n' roll all night, and part of every day," 'cause my friend Chris said that growing up, he really thought that was the lyric. But other than that, I was like, "Wow, we're going to go in the Kiss direction? Okay." But they were—we never met them or anything, but they let us use their songs. We don't mock Kiss. We're not making fun of them.
AVC: The portrayal of medieval role-playing in the movie is satirical, yet strangely respectful.
PR: Very much so, that was a big concern for all of us. 'Cause we don't wanna make fun of this, we want to hopefully show what's awesome about it, which is that a kid who maybe feels a little alienated can find something accepting and fun and freeing in all of it. If it's mean-spirited, it wouldn't work. 'Cause it's such an easy target anyway. If you can somehow capture the joy in it—it's certainly a switch for my character, who has no joy in anything, and has really hit a point in his life where mildly annoying things cause him to flip out, 'cause he has no sense of humor about anything anymore. If he can kind of re-discover—this sounds so Dr. Phil-y, ugh. I'm puking in my mouth just a little bit just hearing it. Did you see me spit, by the way? That wasn't even spit. That was drool. It made me actually kind of puke a little. Wow.
AVC: There's a danger that the movie becomes about you learning from a child, and him learning from you.
PR: "You'll never guess who learns from who!"
AVC: A lot of your scenes with Christopher Min—
PR: Mintz-Plasse. It's okay, you can call him McLovin, everybody else does.
AVC: You just worry that his entire life—he's going to be 90 years old at the nursing home…
PR: He blows my mind, 'cause he's not a nerdy kid. He's very funny and smart, and has a good sense of himself. I just kind of worry about him as the older guy who looks at a kid and knows how much his life has changed in two years. I don't think he will go the way of… somebody else. "I'm going to pour heroin into my eyeballs! And just fuck anything that moves!" He's very sharp. And he's so enthusiastic about everything. He doesn't get pissed off when people call him McLovin. He just can't believe what's going on in his life. And that's an incredibly warm, sweet thing, to be around that. It's really nice in a business where everybody seems to be jaded.
AVC: Speaking of warm and sweet things to be around, you were a DJ at bar mitzvahs. Did you have a signature bit or anything that set you apart?
PR: Oh, I did have a signature. I had a dance. It was a tough job. It was mentally kind of taxing, and one time I just lost it. It was the second bar mitzvah of the day, going on hour 15. And I started doing this really spastic dance. I was sitting there, about 22, having to listen to MC Hammer. "Oh God…" So I started dancing like I had some sort of serious mental issue. Just a gross, weird dance. And the kids thought it was funny. And then I started getting hired to do parties, cause I was known as the guy who did this dance. And my boss made a big deal of it. It was just gross. I would do it and feel like Coco in Fame, crying and showing her breasts.
AVC: It was your dance of shame.
PR: It was called the Dork Dance. It even had a name. And my boss would introduce me. He even coined a character name for me: Donnie Dweeb. It was just so hacky and lame. "Here, put on the giant sunglasses!" "Oh God…" I would die inside. But he let me work weekends so I could go to school.
AVC: That had to be good motivation to make something of yourself, so you wouldn't have to do the Dork Dance anymore.
PR: It was good motivation in that I always had to have my energy up and pretend that the party was the most amazing thing. If I wasn't in the mood it didn't matter, I had to do it anyway. And that's sometimes how you feel when you're doing a play. "Oh, man, I really don't want to get out of this chair and go the theatre." But you have to.
AVC: Presumably after the 50th bar mitzvah, all the joy was gone.
PR: Fiftieth? Maybe the fifth. There's only so many motzis you can take. Only so many horahs until you get lower back pain. But there was something very—when the kid and his friends are genuinely having a blast, as cheesy and tough as that sometimes was, it's like, "Cool. I'm really psyched that this kid had a good time at his bar mitzvah." My bar mitzvah, I went to my Nan's and she made kugel. It was not a big party or anything like that, with an Indiana Jones theme. But these kids had all of that. It was cool to see kids get psyched at their parties.
AVC: You're part of one of the happiest days of somebody's life.
PR: The happiest day of the grandparents' life.
AVC: Celebrations like that are mostly for the family.
PR: Oh, they're totally for the family. Absolutely.
AVC: Was there a way you'd insert your own personality into it?
PR: Yeah, they insist that you wear a tuxedo, and I used to wear a tuxedo, but I'd wear it with shorts and Doc Martins so I looked very Red Hot Chili Peppers. And the kids loved it.