Before Paul Rudd was staring in films like Ant-Man, he spent a year and a half DJing bar mitzvahs.
This was just one of the many anecdotes Rudd shared with thousands of Florida Gators during an interview moderated by New York Times writer Dave Itzkoff. The interview included questions about Rudd’s hit films and even a lightning round of “this or that” styled questions.
“My life is pretty ordinary,” actor Paul Rudd said. To the thousands of University of Florida students sitting in the Stephen C. O’Connell center late last Monday night, “ordinary” isn’t exactly the word they’d use to describe a renowned actor currently staring in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
When The Alligator, a local Gainesville paper, first reported Rudd’s appearance at the university, a UF student was quoted as saying, “Paul Rudd has made it.” However, Monday night in a basketball stadium full of college students, Rudd said that “making it” is relative. He said that times like this, when he’s sitting in a room full of people who came just to listen to him speak, is when he feels like he’s made it.
Itzkoff called into the audience and asked if that student came that night, and he did. The student stood up and blew Rudd a kiss to which Rudd caught and placed in his pocket. He then blew the student a kiss. Though a mere bystander during it all, I was sitting fairly close to the student and pretended Rudd blew his kiss to me *swoon.*
Rudd remembered being about ten years old listening to Steve Martin comedy records and making videos just to make people laugh. It was then that his neighbor in Kansas City suggested to him to become an actor. “That was a light bulb moment,” Rudd said. “I always felt like an outsider because I moved around a lot. As a way to fit in, I clowned around.”
Rudd admitted to not being a very good student in college and saw it only as a “social endeavor.” After leaving the University of Kansas during his junior year to attend an acting college, Rudd felt bad his friends were studying real academic topics while he was just reading plays all day. To feel more educated, Rudd spent time reading atlases and studying maps. “That’s how I get all my roles, guessing capitals,” Rudd joked after correctly naming the capital of Illinois.
The first of Rudd’s films to actually make it to be big screen was one that premiered before many of us were even born. Rudd told the audience when he first read the script for Clueless he didn’t really get it, but after a while realized how clever it was. After the first live reading of the script, he and other cast members went to a bar, despite many of them being underage. He recalled the character Christian being openly gay and not being made fun of as “refreshing and cool.” Still, after the film’s release, a producer called Rudd to congratulate him but told him not to get used to the film’s success.
When Itzkoff mentioned Rudd’s appearance in 20 episodes of the hit sitcom Friends, Rudd confessed it was a complete fluke. “I just happened to be there on that day.” He never expected to be on the show for more than one or two episodes. Regardless of the millions of viewers Friends received, Rudd recalls the experience as surreal. “I always felt a little bit like a prop. Because no one is tuning in to see Mike.”
However, audiences are tuning in to see Andy in the Netflix original series of Wet Hot American Summer, released over a decade after the original movie. “We didn’t know if it was going to come out,” Rudd said about the 2001 cult hit that inspired the new show, but he said it was the most fun he’d ever had. Itzkoff describes Rudd’s character Andy as “completely oblivious and arrogant,” but describes Rudd as easygoing. Jokingly, Rudd admitted he has an obnoxious side. “I don’t think I hide it well. Some people in the Midwest have a default nice side,” Rudd said. “Playing a moron is a release. It’s the best.”
The role of Andy was very influential for Rudd. If it wasn’t for Wet Hot American Summer, Rudd said he might not have been cast in Anchorman. “There are only a handful of scripts I keep and read because they’re just so funny,” Rudd said. Wet Hot American Summer was the first, and Anchorman was the second, Rudd said.
In regards to more grounded films like Knocked Up and 40-Year-Old Virgin, Rudd said acting in them is therapy, but on a much more public scale. And, like most of us, Rudd admits to having conflicts in his life, but he is able to channel them into his films.
The final movie Rudd reflected on Monday night was Ant-Man. To the everyday person, Ant-Man sounds like a silly kids movie, but to Marvel enthusiasts it was another great comic come to life on the silver screen. “I jumped at the chance because I wanted to try something different,” Rudd said. “I was excited about the challenge and had ideas of what I wanted to do with it.” Rudd also confesses that while on set of Captain America: Civil War he asked the prop guy if Rudd could hold Chris Evans’s shield while Cap used the restroom. “I felt like I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, like watching someone bathe.”
Overall, Rudd said that it was important for him in his career to try to do things where he could learn as much as possible. “I don’t want to be in something massive and then not be able to follow up.” He explained this as a way to make his career “burn slowly.”
Some advice that he gave to the crowd was to try not to control things. “You can’t follow any trajectory. Know that there’s no one way,” he said. “Don’t give up and don’t take rejection personally.” He also remarked how far kindness could go. “People remember jerks.”
As for the lightning round, Rudd’s favorite president is Lincoln, his favorite vice president is Biden, his favorite member of the Wu Tang Clan is Old Dirty Bastard, he prefers Godfather over Good Fellas, but when it was between Wiz Khalifa and Kanye West, he couldn’t decide because he’s “so white and lame and Jewish.” Oh, and if he could pick a woman to be on U.S. currency it would be a toss up between Harriet Tubman and Amber Rose.