PLAYBOY: In the biblical comedy The Ten, your character is involved in a love triangle with Jessica Alba and Famke Janssen. Isn’t that like picking between a bundle of cash and a slightly bigger bundle of cash?
PAUL RUDD: Yeah, that’s really a win-win situation, isn’t it? It’s funny, because that wasn’t even the part I was supposed to play. I originally had another role, but because it’s an independent movie and the cast was so big and (director) David Wain was trying to figure out all of the schedules, I ended up working with Jessica out of circumstance. She could only shoot on certain days, and the role of her lover hadn’t been cast yet, so I ended up switching parts to do it. And y’know, it wasn’t such a bad consolation prize. I made it seem like I was just helping out David and being a team player for the film. But deep down, I was plotting and scheming to do those scenes with Jessica.
PLAYBOY: You also have a supporting role in Judd Apatow’s latest film, Knocked Up, as a husband in a loveless marriage. As somebody who has been recently married, did that make you more or less optimistic about your chances of making marriage work?
PAUL RUDD: At times it felt like we were filming a documentary. When Judd is working on a script, he already has certain actors in mind, and he’ll let us improvise ideas and come up with some of our own material. Judd and I would often talk about what it’s like being married. And my wife would keep a checklist of things about me that piss her off, and she’d say things like, “Oh, here’s one for Judd. Pick up your fucking coffee cups!” That’s the kind of marriage we have. We can talk openly about how the other person drives us absolutely crazy, and then it gets a little awkward for awhile, but then we see it in a movie and we can laugh about it again. I think that’s ultimately what it means to be in a healthy, good relationship. (Long pause.) But seriously, we’re doomed.
PLAYBOY: Aside from the obvious safe sex methods like condoms, do you have any tips on avoiding an unwanted pregnancy?
PAUL RUDD: Besides avoiding sex altogether? Because I think that’s almost 100 percent effective. Well, let me think. There’s the proper Christian answer, which you don’t hear a lot but I think is mentioned somewhere in the Good Book. If you’re worried about getting pregnant, try anal sex. That should do the trick. They don’t tell you that at Bob Jones University, but it’s true.
PLAYBOY: In I Could Never Be Your Woman, you play a 20-something guy who is seduced by an older woman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Did you take the role because you really believed in the project, or for the chance to make out with Michelle Pfeiffer?
PAUL RUDD: A little of both, actually. When I was working with Michelle, I just tried to be professional and learn my lines and not drool on myself or make some really weird generational joke about my testicles. That would have absolutely fallen flat. When you’re working on a movie, you kind of leave all that baggage behind and it just becomes about two actors doing a scene together. But that said, she’s definitely one of the most beautiful women on the planet, and there were times during the shoot where I’d stop myself and think, ‘They’re paying me to kiss Michelle Pfeiffer. What the hell is going on?’ I must have really good karma, y’know? I must’ve saved some puppies from a burning building in a previous life or something. On the very first day of shooting, we did a scene where both Michelle and I were in our underwear and I was straddling her and taking pictures of her with my cellphone. That was day one. It was amazing and a little uncomfortable.
PLAYBOY: We understand the amazing part, but how was it uncomfortable?
PAUL RUDD: Well, I didn’t know her at all, and like many of your readers, I spend a great deal of time thinking about Michelle Pfeiffer. So to actually be with her, and looking at her in her underwear, and I’m sitting on top of her and, well… as an actor, that was rough. I don’t care if you studied at Yale or what kind of theatrical training you might have. There is no way you could not be… I don’t mean in a crude way, but it was just, like, “Oh my god.” You know what I mean? I’m not sure if I should say anything else. It was a very cool first day at the office, let’s just say that.
PLAYBOY: This is your second film with Amy Heckerling, who directed you in your breakout movie, the teen comedy Clueless. You’ve gone from playing a guy trying to have sex with his step-sister to a guy trying to have sex with somebody old enough to be his mother. Does that feel like a step forward or a step back?
PAUL RUDD: I think it’s a pretty obvious leap forward, don’t you think? Kind of a natural progression. Maybe the third film that Amy and I do together will take it a step further. What’s left? Necrophilia, I guess. I’ll be having sex with dead people. It’ll be like The Sixth Sense, but I’ll be saying, “I fuck dead people.” I’m having sex with people and they’re all dead but only I can see them. It’ll either be a big hit or it’ll ruin my career. I suspect the latter.
PLAYBOY: As long as we’re talking sex, we may as well mention The OH in Ohio, in which you played Parkey Posey’s boyfriend who was unable to give her an orgasm. For all of our female readers who may have gotten the wrong idea, would you care to assure them that you do, in fact, know how to please a lady?
PAUL RUDD: You mean for people who confuse movies with real life? Are they really out there? You know what’s weird, though? Maybe they’re on to something. Maybe they know something that I haven’t grasped yet. If you think about it, in almost every one of my films, I’m the guy in an unhappy marriage or an unhappy relationship. I think I’m just “acting,” but maybe they know something about me that I haven’t figured out.
PLAYBOY: The OH in Ohio is memorable mostly for the scene where Mischa Barton tells you that you have a magnificent penis. How often does a guy get told that his penis is magnificent?
PAUL RUDD: For me? It’s happened only once before. Paul Sorvino said it to me on the set of Romeo + Juliet. We were in the makeup trailer. He glanced over at me and I was wearing pants, but whatever, I guess he liked what he saw. Who am I to argue with the guy? He was in Goodfellas. By the way, that’s a complete lie. There was another time, which was a little different but not that far off, when I was working with Michael Caine on the set of Ciderhouse Rules. He told me that I was the “Callipygian ideal.” Do you know what that means? It’s perfectly-rounded buttocks; the perfect ass. I think it might be a Greek word, but it’s also used in a couple of haughty-taughty novels. Anyway, Caine told me I was an Callipygian ideal. Which is also completely untrue. I just like using the term “Callipygian ideal.” I think many of the readers of this magazine could spot a Callipygian ideal a mile away. You want to see a Callipygian ideal? Just flip ahead five pages and you’ll probably see one. Don’t waste time with this interview.
PLAYBOY: You spent most of your childhood in Kansas City. Are you sick of the “no place like home” jokes yet or can we slip one more in there?
PAUL RUDD: I’ve heard them so often that I just glaze over now. But give it your best shot. What do you got? Nothing, right? See what I did there? I flipped the tables on you. I’ve turned this interview against you. I don’t know if this is still true, but for a while the state slogan of Kansas was “The Land of Ahs.” Even the people working for the state government were getting tired of the Wizard of Oz jokes, so they turned it into something else. It was “The Land of Ahhhhhs.” But honestly, I really like Kansas City, and I go back there whenever I can. I have a theory about that city. At any time, you can turn on the radio in Kansas City and hear “Bad To The Bone” by George Thorogood. And I’m not even throwing out a random reference to be funny. I really think that “Bad To The Bone” is always playing on at least one radio station in Kansas City. That specific song. If there’s ever a time when “Bad To The Bone” isn’t playing, it’s possible that something bad will happen. Buildings would just collapse and crumble, and a giant vapor would drift over the town. I can’t explain it. It’s like living in a time warp. “Bad To The Bone” is something that keeps the city alive. It’s our musical sustenance.
PLAYBOY: As a teenager, you worked as a DJ and MC at bar mitzvahs, and you became famous for something called the “Donny the Dweeb Dance.” Please explain yourself.
PAUL RUDD: Oh, god. Well, that’s a long story. That happened after a particularly long day. I was on hour sixteen of a double-mitzvah day. I was doing back-to-back mitzvahs, and I think I just hit the point of no return. I was losing my mind and I just started dancing, mocking my own job. I always liked to get out there and dance with the kids, but on this night I did a dance that the kids thought was kinda funny. I don’t even remember what it was. It was this awkward dance move where I stuck my ass out in a weird way and just flailed my arms around. It was so popular that my boss said I had to keep doing it because the kids were always asking for it, and I whored myself out for another six months doing this dance. It was really just awful. And to make an embarrassing story even more embarrassing, I was 21 or 22, which was about twenty years younger than most of the guys who did this kinda thing for a living. But I was the “hip” DJ. All the other DJS would wear tuxedos, but I also wore shorts and Doc-Martins because I thought it made me look like Angus Young from AC/DC. And I had really long hair. I thought I was crazy but kinda cool looking. But now I realize that I wasn’t in any way cool. I actually looked like Yahoo Serious.
PLAYBOY: Your first film was 1992’s A Question of Ethics and you used the screen name Kenny Chin. Were you just unsatisfied with the finished product?
PAUL RUDD: That’s a really horrible story, too. It was my first acting job out of college, and I was told it was an industrial film for schools or something. I didn’t really like the script, but it was experience in front of a camera so I agreed to do it. On the last day, we shot a scene where my character realizes the error of his ways. After we finished it, the producer came over and said, “That was great, but let’s try an alternate ending.” They gave me the new script, and it was all about being saved and “Thank God I’ve made the right decision, because otherwise I would have been going to hell.” Really hardcore, Born-Again Christian stuff. So I said to them, “I’m not comfortable with this because I’m Jewish.” And they said, “Well, you’re an actor. Act like you’re Born Again.” It was really a nerve-wracking thing. I was so green and naïve, and I felt like I’d been tricked into being in a Christian film. I finally told them that I wouldn’t say it. It was the only time I’ve ever said no to a director. And they freaked out and started threatening me. They even used the “you’ll never work in this town again” speech on me. But I didn’t budge on it. I was upset that they’d mislead me and didn’t come clean about what the job was about. They released the movie anyway, and I asked them to use the name Kenny Chin, which was kinda an inside joke. In college, my buddies stole a big ceramic clown from a miniature golf course and we used it as the central character in our little movies. So I thought the name Kenny Chin would be funny, if only to my friends.
PLAYBOY: You almost didn’t get to use “Paul Rudd” as your professional screen name, because there was another actor with the same name. How did you finally win it back? Did it require a cage match?
PAUL RUDD: It did, actually. We settled it in an ultimate fighting championship. The other Paul Rudd was into a lot of Taekwondo and martial arts, whereas I’m more of a grappler. When he came at me with this flurry of moves, it literally took ten seconds before I could get my elbow around the back of his neck, like a boa constrictor, and I could’ve snapped him like a twig. He finally just gave up and said, “Okay, fine, you can be Paul Rudd.” No, seriously, the first Paul Rudd retired from acting not long after I got into the business. He was a respected actor in New York during the 70s, and he was happy to give the name to me. He actually wrote me a letter and it was really nice. He asked if I had a son. People ask me all the time if he’s my father, but we’re not related at all. I’d love to meet him, though.
PLAYBOY: During your first few years as an actor, you did some staggeringly awful movies like Runaway Daughters, Stalking Back and Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. Is there one movie that you still look back on and think, “What the hell was I thinking?”
PAUL RUDD: Well, there are plenty of stinkers in there. But they were all enriching and worthwhile episodes from my life, and I value them all in different ways. The Halloween sequel seemed like the most humiliating choice at the time. It was one of my first films, and as with any young actor, I wanted to be Daniel Day Lewis. I was a little reticent to do Halloween because it just didn’t seem like my sensibility. But they told me that this one was going to different. And when I saw it, I was mortified. But, y’know, I got to spend time on the set talking with Donald Pleasant about Harold Pinter plays. And I got to meet the guy who plays Michael Myers. I mean, how cool is that? But at the time, I was really upset about it. I look back at it now and I love it. It seems so hilarious that this slasher film was one of my first acting gigs. It helped me become a little less precious and pretentious. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Halloween 6.
PLAYBOY: Not long after moving to Los Angeles in 1994, you slipped into a deep depression and eventually fled the city for New York. What happened, exactly?
PAUL RUDD: It was a series of things, sort of an accumulation of doing Halloween and some other movies and projects that I didn’t really believe in. When you’re 24, it seems so romantic to be this tortured artist, when in actuality you’re just a whiner. I’d write things on the walls of my apartment, “Fuck this, fuck that,” just venting about everything that was getting to me. And then there was a big earthquake, and a friend of mine died in an awful car accident. And not long after that, I was involved in a series of really weird car accidents. I’d never had so much as a speeding ticket, but within the course of just one week, five of my cars were hit. And two of them happened when my car was parked. I wasn’t even driving in them. So it was almost like this cosmic thing of the universe telling me, “Get the hell out of here.” You know what I mean? I’m not somebody who lives my life based on a cosmic anything, but it was just like, “Okay, I get it, I’m done.” I really felt as if I was cracking up a little bit. I have many, many good friends who are completely centered and normal and they love living in Los Angeles. But when you’re in the entertainment industry, there’s this complete saturation and I didn’t want to be surrounded by it all the time. I was born in New York and always had an affinity for the East Coast. I don’t think it’s normal to live anyplace where it’s 70 degrees and sunny all the time. Many people think it’s paradise, but it’s fucking hell to me. I’m not kidding. “Don’t you hate the cold in New York?” Absolutely. That’s why I live there. Because when it gets warm, I feel pleasure in ways that you don’t understand, Mr. Santa Monica. You have to go through the shit to appreciate the good.
PLAYBOY: Even when your film career began to take off, you’ve continued to perform on Broadway. But unlike a lot of movie-actors-turned-theater-thespians, you’ve never done full-frontal nudity. Why have you refrained from flashing your junk on the Broadway stage?
PAUL RUDD: I’ve often said that I’d like to do a play where I’m totally naked. But each and every time, the director and the cast have insisted that I put clothes on. There were a few times when I was fired from a production because I did a full-frontal nude scene at the very first performance and they said it was inappropriate. Something along the lines of, “You need to leave and never come back!” And I’ll tell you, the cast of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” has regretted it ever since. (Laughs.) See, the only reason that joke lasted as long as it did is because I was trying to think of a children’s play and that’s the best I could come up with. I was thinking of using Peter Pan or A Christmas Carol. I’m just not as well-versed in the kid’s productions. But I took too long with the buildup to the gag, and the payoff was kinda weak, so I don’t think it worked. Welcome to my career in acting. In all seriousness, I’m pretty carefree about stuff like that. If it was something classy, I’d show the ol’ D&B. And by D&B I mean, of course, “dick and balls.” Even in The 40-Year Old Virgin, most of the people who saw it got pretty up-close-and-personal with my ass, probably more than they wanted. But it’s not like directors are asking for it. I think it’s clear that I am not the Callipygian ideal, no matter what Michael Caine says. He needs to get his eyes checked.
PLAYBOY: You’ve also dabbled in quite a bit of Shakespeare. You were in Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and the 1998 stage production of Twelfth Night. Are you drawn to Shakespeare for the integrity or for an excuse to wear tights?
PAUL RUDD: I wear tights in everything, even if you can’t see them. I actually like Shakespearean plays because it’s some of the most incredible stuff ever written. This isn’t in line with the rest of this interview at all, but I just love being able to say those lines. And if you really know what you’re saying, the effect it can have on an audience is just divine. It’s as close to perfect as you can get. And the tights are just a little added bonus. A cherry on the top, if you will. As I understand it, the male actors back in Shakespeare’s days were also playing the female parts, so maybe that’s why they wore tights. They needed to strap the junk in. I don’t think that’s true at all, but I’m gonna say it anyway. Seriously, though, everybody in Elizabethan times was gay. That’s a fact. Look it up.
PLAYBOY: A few years ago, you were asked to return to your alma mater, Shawnee Mission West High School, and talk to the drama students about acting. What kind of advice did you give them?
PAUL RUDD: Well, the first thing I did was hand out a hundred copies of Pippin. And then we did a trust circle. I honestly don’t remember what I said. I was probably drunk. I didn’t get up there and pontificate about life in the theater or anything like that. I mostly just answered their question as seriously as I could, believe it or not. I told them – and I firmly believe this – that if you really want to be an actor, you should do a play. Because more than acting school or classes, you’re going to learn everything you need to know just by doing a show, and doing it every night for the entire run. And you can do it anywhere. It could be in Kansas City or New York or anywhere at all. It’s the best and only way to find out if you really love acting. And then I said, “Well, I’ve got to go now. I’m needed on another multi-billion dollar Hollywood movie set. I’ll see you later at Kraft Services. Oh, wait, I guess I won’t.”
PLAYBOY: You did an exaggerated imitation of Al Pacino’s Scarface character in last winter’s Reno 911 movie. If you ever run into Pacino, do you owe him a debt of gratitude or an apology?
PAUL RUDD: First of all, thank you for recognizing that it was purposively awful. I haven’t run into Al Pacino since shooting that film, but even if I tried getting in touch with him, I don’t think he’d return my calls. He’s still pissed off about Anchorman, because my character was a blind guy who was always saying, “Hoo-wah!” You may not know this, but we started out together in New York during the late 70s. It was him and me and Bobby D and Marty. We lived together in a studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, back when we were all still struggling. Here’s the weird thing about Al. It could’ve been 90 degrees and he’d still be wearing a scarf. But that was Al. Sometimes Gene Hackman would come by, and let me tell you, that guy can stink up a bathroom. We had some great times. We’d perform monologues for each other, or we’d go out and race our motorcycles up and down 9th Avenue.
PLAYBOY: You do realize that the math doesn’t work out, right? During the late 70s, you were only 8 or 9.
PAUL RUDD: Yeah, yeah, I know. Anyway, I’ll never forget this day back in 1978. I was hung over and I woke up next to Angie Lansbury. During the fevered dementia that some people call “pillow talk,” she looked over at me and said a two-syllable word that forever changed my acting life. She said, “Hoo-wah!” And Al must’ve heard us and decided to steal it. Because originally, it was my catch phrase! It was mine! (Laughs.) I honestly hope that people read this and don’t realize I’m kidding. And I especially hope that Al Pacino reads it and doesn’t get it. “Who the fuck is this guy?”
PLAYBOY: In The 40-Year Old Virgin, your character claimed that watching the same Michael McDonald video gave him a nervous breakdown. And you also suggested that enjoying the rock band Coldplay is enough to qualify somebody as gay. Do you have any regrets about dissing them?
PAUL RUDD: A little bit. With the Michael McDonald thing, it was just because his video was playing over and over again in my character’s store, and that’s enough to make anybody a little crazy. I think Michael McDonald appreciated the joke, and I’ve heard that he dedicated a song to me at one of his concerts. But Chris Martin (the lead singer of Coldplay) apparently didn’t think it was as funny. And in all honesty, that did kinda bum me out. I thought the only way to make that joke funny was to mention a band that sold tons of records and that people actually like. There are many bands that are much more gay than Coldplay. You would never guess this from some of the movies I’ve done, but I don’t like jokes that put down other people unless they’re really asking for it. Like Hitler. I don’t feel bad about making a Hitler crack. Cause let’s face it, he was kinda an asshole. But otherwise, I try to stay away from anything that’s too mean-spirited.
PLAYBOY: Enough about acting, let’s talk about your real passion: drag racing. Last year, you competed in the Cadillac Super Bowl Grand Prix. Although from what we understand, you lost to the host from Access Hollywood. Was that a blow to your ego?
PAUL RUDD: Hell no! My goal was actually to come in last place. Honest to god. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to do it, but when I found out it was a charity event for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, I couldn’t say no. The race was early in the morning and I was hung-over, and some of the celebrities who took part were so serious about it. So I thought I’d just drive as slow as I could and try to actually delay the race and come in last place. And I almost did it. I ended up going faster than I wanted, because that weird competitive thing took over during the first few minutes. But then somebody, I think it might’ve been Venus Williams, totally took out my back tires and I spun around. Some of them were weirdly hardcore about it. They came in early just to test out the track. And I was like, “Dude, come on! It’s for Make-a-Wish!” As soon as I knew I wasn’t going to set any records, I just drove around. Whatever. “Hey, look at me! I get to ride in a fun little car!”
PLAYBOY: You have a son named Jack. Pardon us for saying so, but that’s so unHollywood of you. Couldn’t you have considered giving him a more wacky name, like Toaster?
PAUL RUDD: Toaster would’ve been great! Early on, long before I ever thought seriously about being a parent, I wanted to give my kid a really cool name. But then when it becomes a reality, I thought, “I don’t want to do that to my child.” There were a few weird, obscure names that I liked. I thought about Satchel early on, but it seemed too Woody Alleny. I also considered calling him Leroy. There’s something about a white Jewish kid with the name “Leroy Rudd.” One of the major things that I kept coming back to during the process was a George Carlin routine. This is not a joke. He talked about how so many kids these days have soft names like Tyler, Jordan, Flynn, Tucker, and Kyle. In his day, boys had real names like Eddie, Vinnie, and Tony. And then he said, “Soft names make soft people. I’ll bet you ten times out of ten, Eddie, Vinnie, and Tony are beating the shit out of Jordan, Kyle, and Tucker.” And he’s right. That kept resonating with me. So I named my son Jack Rudd. That’s a man’s name. Jack Rudd, Private Dick.
PLAYBOY: During your many visits to Conan O’Brien’s talk show, you’ve plugged your latest projects by using the same clip from an 80s movie called Mac and Me, in which a character in a wheelchair is rolling off a cliff. Do we sense a bit of film envy?
PAUL RUDD: I’m impressed that you picked up on that. Well, for one thing, Mac and Me is just a fantastic film. I’ve seen it many, many times. And I think it’s just so bizarre and funny to use the same clip over and over again. I’m surprised that Conan let me do it so often. I’d like to keep using that same clip for the next twenty years. I don’t know if I could get away with it. Some of the people who work at the film companies have been very upset with me. They were not pleased. When you do these talk shows, you’re supposed to be promoting something, but I just feel like such a jackass. Does seeing a clip on a talk show really convince anyone to go out and see a movie? It wouldn’t convince me, unless that movie was Mac and Me. But my tastes run a little different than the norm, I suppose.
PLAYBOY: You smell a little musky right now. Is it possible that you’re wearing Sex Panther Cologne?
PAUL RUDD: (Laughs.) Well, your readers won’t ever know this, but I’ve got nothing on right now. And I don’t mean cologne. All I’m wearing is cologne. Cologne and a pair of moon boots, and that’s it.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the August 2007 issue of Playboy magazine.)