While pursuing different types of roles just for the sake of shaking up his career isn’t Paul Rudd’s style, he admits that starring in Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” helmed by Peyton Reed, definitely feels like a departure, particularly when it comes to promoting the film.
“There are a lot of people that are interested and there is a lot we can’t say,” Rudd says. “Nobody was telling me (not to) reveal any storylines from ‘I Love You, Man.’”
As the titular character in the July 17 release, Rudd is Scott Lang, a conman who has a suit that shrinks him to the size of an ant and infuses him with superhuman strength.
For Rudd, who will receive a star July 1 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, playing a superhero in a big-budget summer action movie represents a new frontier, having made a name for himself in comedies such as 1995’s “Clueless,” 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and 2012’s “This Is 40.”
“I’m doing physical things that I haven’t done in films before. But at the end of the day, it’s a character who’s struggling to find his way in the world, and that’s not unlike other things I’ve played,” says Rudd, who worked with Adam McKay on the long-in-development script (Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish also get writing credit). “There is some kind of Everyman (aspect) to it that I think people will relate to. He’s got issues with his family and struggles, and those kinds of things I’ve always been drawn to.”
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Portraying the Everyman has been a hallmark of Rudd’s career, but writer-director Judd Apatow says Rudd offers more than charm.
“He is the perfect person to play a superhero,” says Apatow, who worked with Rudd in “Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “This Is 40.” “He is immensely likable but has always had a hint of darkness in his personality.”
“Ant-Man,” which co-stars Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Judy Greer and Corey Stoll, combines the light and dark to tell a story Rudd calls “inherently dramatic.”
“There are certainly moments of levity and laughs,” he says. “However, I tend to think that comedy, drama and action don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. The visual aspect of it is mind-bending in that everything small looks so big. So what tone all of that creates is somewhat unique and surprising.”
It’s Rudd’s ability to move effortlessly between comedy and drama that makes him an appealing collaborator, Apatow says. “He is a fantastic dramatic actor and also one of our great comedic actors,” he says. “He is so much fun to write for because you know how much he will bring to it.”
Unlike Rudd’s previous films, “Ant-Man” required intense physical preparation that involved working out with trainers and gymnastics work. “My diet completely changed,” says Rudd. “My entire day was structured around health and fitness.” While the workouts were extreme, Rudd says he enjoyed the routine and focus necessary to maintain the intensity.
“I can be a myopic person by nature, so I got into it,” he says. “When you’re going through all of that stuff for that long, you actually feel the part more than you would (otherwise).”
Rudd shot scenes as Ant-Man in May for next year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which made him realize the potential for longevity that a Marvel character would offer. “I was still working in a bubble and then all of a sudden I’m on set with those guys and it felt very real in a way that I hadn’t even experienced until that point,” he says.
Rudd has also been intensely aware of the scrutiny that comes with being a part of the Marvel Universe.
“You’re operating under a microscope a little bit more,” he says. “My default tends to be to make fun of myself a little bit, not take certain things very seriously. So I’m learning to be more aware of how I talk about this, because I’m very excited about it. If it was a straight-up comedy with some of the other jokers that I’ve worked with, it’s almost expected that you would make fun of so as not to sound self-important.”
After “Ant-Man,” Rudd will also star in two 2016 films: the indie drama “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” co-starring Selena Gomez and Jennifer Ehle, and the animated comedy “Sausage Party.” And in July Netflix is releasing “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day at Camp,” an eight-episode half-hour comedy that serves as a prequel to the 2001 indie cult feature.
“We were too old to play the parts to begin with. Now, it’s 15 years later and we’re going back even further and playing younger than we did,” he says. “That just seemed to fit the spirit of the whole thing. It was such a fun character to play because he was just such a buffoon.”
Most of the film’s original cast returned for the series, including Janeane Garofalo, Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper, though they shot the scenes independently.
“There were a lot of people that worked on it that I never even got to see. I went in and did my part, and it all gets edited together,” Rudd says. “But that movie was pretty special for all of us involved. It made me nostalgic that we weren’t all there shooting it together at the camp and doing it like we did the movie.”