[22 March 2009]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
DALLAS - Paul Rudd and John Hamburg, star and writer/director respectively of the man-crush comedy “I Love You, Man” (opening Friday), are joshing around near the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel.
“I was going to put you up for ‘The Duchess II,’” laughs Hamburg who then intones “Paul Rudd is The Duchess.”
“How’s the script?,” Rudd asks.
“I’d love to pass it on,” replies Hamburg, best-known for the goofball “Along Came Polly.” “I read it actually. I’m tired of comedy.”
“It’s an incredible thing,” Rudd smiles. “I would never have pegged you for ‘The Duchess.’”
“Gotta keep ‘em on their toes.”
Keeping viewers on their toes is something that Rudd, who turns 40 next month, has been doing for much of his career. Rudd’s resume as a “serious” actor is long and respectable, including many turns in Shakespeare (including Baz Luhrmann’s take on “Romeo and Juliet”), the movie version of John Irving’s “The Cider House Rules,” the controversial Neil LaBute play “Bash,” and a cable-TV adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.”
Yet, from his two-year stint as Phoebe Buffay’s hilariously straight-arrow boyfriend on “Friends” through scene-stealing roles in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and “Knocked Up” and starring slots in last year’s “Role Models” and now “I Love You, Man,” the baby-faced Rudd has become a main player in films directed or influenced by Judd Apatow. Along with the likes of Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Jason Segel, he’s becoming the face of early 21-century multiplex comedies, usually as the put-upon straight man - in every sense of the word - around whom chaos reigns.
He could be seen recently spoofing the cover of Vanity Fair with Segel, Hill, and Rogen in a takeoff on the famous VF shot with Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley (who, of course, starred in “The Duchess.”) Judging from the girth on display, you might want to call them “the Snack Pack.”
Of course, longtime Rudd fans knew of Rudd’s comedic bent as far back as 1995 when he played opposite Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless.” If “I Love You, Man” - in which Rudd’s friendless character, real-estate agent Peter Klaven, goes on a desperate hunt for a male buddy to be his best man and ends up with loutish but lovable Sydney (Segel) - turns out to be as big a hit as “Role Models” ($80 million globally), then Rudd’s comedic future seems set.
Q. So do you prefer drama or comedy?
Rudd: I really don’t have a preference. I like doing plays and movies; they’re all individual experiences. But I have had a great time working on these comedies the last few years…I really like all the people I’ve worked with and, a lot of times, it’s the same people. And the way and the style in which a Judd Apatow might shoot something - or an Adam McKay (“Anchorman”) and John Hamburg - there’s more collaboration and improvisation is encouraged ... They’re fun to make ... and when the economy is so sour and national mood is so down, comedies do well. In a way, I feel that, as an actor, the idea of working on a period drama right now - I don’t think I could do it. I wouldn’t want to do it. I’d much rather make a fart joke.
Q. Some have come up with the term “Apatowian” to describe this generation of youth comedies which may be as emblematic of their times as, say, the gross-out “Animal House”/“Porky’s” style was in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. What’s the appeal?
Hamburg: Here’s the thing, I think there are all sorts of comedies. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” couldn’t be further from these (more) realistic comedies and people are flocking to that. People’s tastes are all over the place, as long as it entertains them. I do think Rudd has opened up a lot of casting possibilities. He has also proved that audiences can gravitate to a more naturalistic, fly-on-the-wall, dialog-type (comedy) movies.
Q. Paul, you’re a guy everyone can relate to, the guy next door, not as outrageous as the people around you.
Rudd: I do like those kinds of roles. I don’t think I’m good enough - funny enough - to be the big comedy guy.
Hamburg: Paul’s able to do what a lot of guys can’t do and that is be the center of the movie and not just have the jokes around him but actually be really funny as more of a straight man, a reactor kind of guy. That’s going to keep him employed.
Rudd: I have liked roles like that in the past, like Griffin Dunne in “After Hours,” where everything is put upon him. I love that movie and he’s so funny in that movie, too. I tend not to think in such black-and-white terms, even if it’s comedy or drama, lead or supporting. The same thing with straight man. The convention is there but I don’t think that as a straight man, you have to be stoic and (just) let everything go on around you. Being put upon is fun.
Q. “I Love You, Man” was originally written (by co-screenwriter Larry Levin) a few years ago ... This was before the “bromance” term came into being (for close yet platonic male friendships). Was it a hard concept for people to get their heads around at first?
Hamburg: Yeah ... but we never pitched it as a bromance. It was just like everybody could relate to the story of how you meet friends; how a guy who doesn’t have really close friends and wants to make one as an adult. Anybody we pitched it to said, ‘Oh my God, I have no friends.’ ... People connected with the basic premise.
Q. Did making this make you look at your own friendships?
Rudd: Not so much but I did think about, when I first read it, my parents and their friends. They had friends because my mom made the effort. My dad just kind of went along with it. It seems with a lot of the people we talk to, it’s always the dads who say ‘I just go where she tells me to go.’ ... When you’re a guy and out of college, if you have a family or even a girlfriend, those buddy relationships start to disappear and there just aren’t that many of them anymore.
Q. While there’ve been lots of “buddy movies,” there haven’t been a lot of movies that have explored male friendship.
Hamburg: Male friendship is a potentially awkward minefield and men don’t emote their feelings as much as women do, traditionally. There haven’t been a lot of movies that have tackled just guy-guy friendship without any other issues involved.
Rudd: That’s one of the things I really liked about (“I Love You, Man”) is that neither Jason’s or my character are generically male. We’re not macho guys in the classic sense of the word. And we are guys who kind of wear our hearts on our sleeves, for all of the silliness, it’s not so far removed from people I am friends with.
Q. Speaking of friendships, “Friends” was a breakthrough role for you.
Rudd: It was a little bit of a surreal experience and I never anticipated it going on as long as it did or to do as many shows as I did. I only signed on to do two. It was an interesting thing to experience how they make it. They are under such time constraints on television, there are several cooks in the kitchen, and it’s so tightly choreographed. ..There were times when I thought this seems antithetical to comedy ... I could see where it would seem stifling.
Q. Would you do TV again?
If something’s good, that’s always the bottom line.
Q. The (progressive metal) band Rush plays a pivotal role in the movie as one of the bonds that unites Peter and Sydney. Whose idea was that? Why Rush?
Hamburg: That was my idea. I was in a band in high school, the Luv Rynos, and we attempted some Rush covers. But I loved Rush and they felt to me to be the kind of band that two guys would bond over. I love their songs and it just turned out Paul is a Rush head, too.
Q. How did Lou Ferrigno end up in the movie?
Hamburg: I really have no idea why I thought of putting Ferrigno in the movie as himself. I knew I wanted it (to be set) in LA and Paul’s character was a real-estate agent. In LA, you run into celebrities of all different levels of fame. I just thought it would be funny to have Lou Ferrigno.
Rudd: I worked up enough nerve to tell him how much I loved him as a kid and I had the cover of the TV Guide with the Hulk pinned on my wall ...When I was a kid, he was on a flight I was on. I told him that but he didn’t remember seeing me.