“60% of the time, it works every time.”
– Brian Fantana, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
The same could be said of Paul Rudd himself.
To say he has had a varied career would be something of an understatement — he’s played some blinders, but also starred in absolute shockers (here’s looking at you, This is 40). But Paul Rudd makes the best of a bad situation. He brings a very, very likeable charm and humour to his roles, and for this, we cannot fail to adore him. Furthermore, he’s proved his versatility. Rudd’s talent spans TV bit-parts and Shakespearean greats, and now the nice guy of Hollywood is playing criminal-turned-hero Ant-Man.
Rudd’s movie debut was Clueless in 1995, and his stint as Josh, the kindly love interest of Alicia Silverstone’s Cher, cemented his status as a cult teen heartthrob. However, Rudd is more than eye candy. He conveys cleverness and compassion in the role of Josh with an adept delivery of quips and intense gazes. This was Rudd’s breakout role, and whilst its fashion may have aged, its wit and enjoyability have stood the test of time.
After Clueless, his most memorable performance came as double-denim-clad douchebag Andy in Wet Hot American Summer (2001). Watching Rudd maddening the camp director, you can see the influence of British comedy on his work — Andy comes across as a slightly sleazier version of Rik in The Young Ones. Rudd’s parents are British, and he recounts watching Monty Python as a child. Wet Hot American Summer itself didn’t do so well at the time, but the satire struck a chord and Rudd, along with his cast members (Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper… ) went on to great things.
One could say that Friends was one of those great things, but Rudd’s character Mike was pretty much a rehash of Josh in Clueless. Rudd made him lovable, though, and Mike provided an excellent foil to Phoebe’s maniacal hyperactivity. Rudd brought his comedic flair to the role, once again demonstrating his talent for slapstick. You know the one when Ross and Mike hang out for the first time? According to Rudd, making Friends was a ‘strange experience’ in which he ‘mainly hung out in the background and talked to Gunther’ – someone had to, I guess.
It’s no coincidence that Rudd stars in two of the most famous blockbuster comedies of the noughties. It’s also no coincidence that both of those comedies manage to satirise their own genre intelligently in a way that others fail to achieve. Anchorman deserves its cult status (shame about the sequel), and Rudd’s Brian Fantana is a glorious sleazeball. Rudd takes a stereotype and drives it to exaggeration with gleeful abandon, and it’s so enjoyable because of the contrast with his nice-guy image. Likewise, The 40-Year-Old Virgin sees Rudd as a cynic with a porn habit. His delivery of biting, withering lines with a smile on his face is achingly funny (I’m thinking of the Jane Lynch/David McDonald scene). No more Mr. Nice Guy. Both these films are classics, and Rudd’s performances are timeless.
However, Paul Rudd’s talent isn’t restricted to comedy. Notably, he played poor old Paris in Baz Lurhmann’s unique Romeo + Juliet, and paraplegic Wally Worthington in The Cider House Rules. In 2012, he starred in the heartbreaking Perks of Being a Wallflower as an inspirational English teacher. These roles affirmed that Rudd has the necessary gravitas for serious films, whilst retaining his characteristic charm.
At first glance, Ant-Man is a major departure for Rudd — it may have seemed more natural for him to join the Marvel-verse with Guardians of the Galaxy for example. Scott Lang is an ex-con that turns from a life of crime in order to serve humanity. Serious stuff. But, y’know, as an ant. It’s a pretty silly concept, with bags of comedic potential. Of course, there’s also the fact that Paul Rudd co-wrote the movie with Anchorman writer Adam McKay after Edgar Wright’s departure.
Yet despite its comedic roots, Ant-Man signals a new stage in the illustrious career of Paul Rudd. He’s sidelining the sidekick roles and taking centre stage, and he also has a leading influence in production. Whilst he’s flexed his writing muscles before with the sitcom Party Down, this is his first major film project. Furthermore, once you join the Marvel franchise, you can never truly leave: he’ll be in Captain America: Civil War in 2016 and probably more beyond that. He’s entered a new genre, whilst retaining facets of the one that made him famous.
So, what’s after Ant-Man? Well, there’s the Netflix prequel to Wet Hot American Summer for starters. It will be a ten-parter starring the same cast as the original, heightening the joke that the actors are far, far too old to be playing their characters (discarding the fact that Rudd doesn’t look a day older than Clueless). There’s also 2016’s The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, which will see Rudd playing a man who gains a new perspective in life after forming a bond with a teen suffering from muscular dystrophy.
Told you he was versatile.