Paul Rudd on Judd Apatow, Auditioning for ‘Anchorman’ and Fearing Success

Paul Rudd has worked with comedy director/writer/producer Judd Apatow on a number of projects, including in Apatow’s upcoming Knocked Up spinoff, This Is Forty.  Naturally, it would seem like the two have a long history pre-Hollywood and that Rudd always planned to be in comedies, but it turns out that isn’t the case at all.  Rudd opened up about his relationship with Apatow, popping zits, and his initial fears of success in a length interview with Playboy.

It turns out that Rudd became of fan of Apatow’s seminal Freaks and Geeks series and the two began to exchange e-mails.  The two didn’t actually meet until Rudd was auditioning for one of Apatow’s first movie successes.  Rudd explains, “We e-mailed each other for a long time. I wasn’t actually in the same room with him until I auditioned for Anchorman. And walking in there and seeing him was weird. It felt as though I was meeting my Asian pen pal. I really wanted to make a great first impression.”

Rudd, however, wasn’t his usual self — he attempted to fit the 1970s image he would use in the film during the audition, confessing, “I wanted to do something special for the role. I was working on Friends that week, so I was able to raid the show’s wardrobe department. I don’t normally dress up for an audition to try to impress the director unless it’s something I really want and I think dressing up might help. The wardrobe supervisor on Friends helped me find this horrible polyester suit, and I had enough time before the audition to grow a mustache and the chops. It wasn’t fully grown in, but it was enough to give them the general idea.”   Rudd has played a variety of comedic roles — in fact, he reveals that he initially aspired to do more serious roles, mentioning, “That was the plan. Maybe not exclusively Shakespeare, but definitely serious theater. I was pretty focused. One of my first acting roles in college was in an experimental version of Macbeth” — but he’s perhaps at his best when he’s the most socially awkward.

To help him prepare for those kinds of roles he draws on his own awkward memories, admitting, “I was at a football game—this may have been in junior high or my freshman year of high school. I had the great fortune of having puberty hit me like a Mack truck, where overnight my hair curled up like Hall and Oates’s. My skin went bananas and I had acne all over the place. My mom told me not to pick at my zits because if I did they’d scar over. So I didn’t touch them, and I was very self-conscious about it. One night I was at a party, and there was this girl I had a major crush on. She was part of a social clique I couldn’t get anywhere near because I was so unpopular. I knew people had been making jokes about my zit, so I started joking about it too. I wanted them to think I didn’t care, that this huge megazit on my face was no big deal to me. And this other girl, one of the leaders of the clique, said, ‘Oh, Paul is just looking for attention, like he always does.’ She just belittled me in front of everybody, including the girl I liked.”  After laughing the comment off, “I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and was like, ‘Fuck it!’ I just squooshed the zit and pus squirted everywhere. The way I felt in that moment is the same feeling I’ve had in varying degrees throughout my life. It’s helplessness and shame and anger.”  How does such a common teenage horror drive him?  Rudd explains, “I’ve learned to capitalize on that feeling. I’ve devoted my entire acting career to reproducing and dwelling on that feeling. Every character I’ve played is just a variation of that kid with a zit he’s terrified of popping.”

But Rudd’s career didn’t always go as planned.  In fact, he initially feared success more than failure and claims to have had a “meltdown” in the mid 1990s.  What was the cause?  “It was a series of things coming down on me all at once. I got a job on this TV show called Wild Oats, and it made me skittish. I kept asking myself, ‘What if it’s a hit? I’ll have to keep doing it for seven years.’ The audition was fun, because we got to improvise and goof around, and it felt as though it could be okay. But I got cold feet. My hand was literally shaking as I signed the contract. Even though I needed the money and I was lucky to be a working actor, I was 24 and precious. This is where acting and youth really screw with you. I wanted to do theater. I wanted to do cool indie movies.”

Rudd next appears in Wanderlust, opening in February.

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