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Paul Rudd: Anchorman to Ant-man

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Ant-Man sees Paul Rudd (perhaps surprisingly) join the ranks of Marvel’s superheroes. He tells Tom Ellen about Avengers rivalry and trying to ‘Basic Instinct’ Michael Douglas

Rudd

With Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, 1995

Over scrambled eggs in his favourite Manhattan diner, Paul Rudd is telling a true story that could have come straight from a superhero origin film. “It was 1994, and I was shooting Clueless,” he recalls. “I’m leaving this restaurant one night when a guy with a gun runs up, screaming, ‘Give me your money!’ All I had on me was my Discman and a signed headshot of Alicia Silverstone she’d given me as a joke. This didn’t go down well; the guy put the gun to my head, and fired a shot right next to it. Then he grabbed my stuff and ran.”

Had this event taken place in the Marvel Universe, the 25-year-old Rudd would no doubt have reinvented himself as a masked vigilante, hell-bent on battling personal stereo-based crime, possibly operating under the alias ‘Discman-Man’. Or a good name. But in reality, he just went back to work; finished Clueless, and set about becoming one of the planet’s best-loved comic actors.

Two decades later, Rudd’s superhero moment has finally come. ShortList is in New York to speak to him about Ant-Man: Marvel’s second superhero film of 2015, in which he plays protagonist Scott Lang – a reformed cat burglar who acquires a supersuit that shrinks him to insect size. The film began life back in 2006, when Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright signed on as co-writer/director, only to quit citing creative differences last year. Rudd is insistent, though, that a stormy production process does not make for a less spectacular end product; and with his – and Marvel’s – track record, you’re inclined to believe him...

Rudd

First off, Ant-Man is a very different project for you...

That’s why I was excited to do it. My career veered to the left after Anchorman, and I love working with those guys, but I never got into [acting] to do just one thing. It’s also exciting because Ant-Man is the first of my movies my kids will see. That makes me a little nervous.

How does Ant-Man fit into the Marvel Universe? Let’s be generous… he seems a less bankable character than, say, Captain America.

Well, he’s a funny character. There’s something innately amusing about somebody that can shrink down and talk to ants. But he can definitely kick ass with the best of them, and he will play a role in this Universe, for sure. This is the first movie you see him in, and it won’t be the last. I just got back from shooting scenes for Captain America: Civil War, and that’s the first time I really felt part of it all, like: “Holy sh*t, there’s Iron Man!”

Guardians Of The Galaxy director James Gunn said that if The Avengers are The Beatles, then The Guardians are the Rolling Stones. Who’s Ant-Man in this analogy?

Adam Ant, obviously [laughs]. I was actually a huge Adam Ant fan as a kid, so we had many conversations about Stuart Goddard on set. Just casually dropping his real name, there, to prove I’m a true fan. But, no, in this analogy, I think Ant-Man is probably The Who. He’s got the power of Roger Daltrey’s voice, mixed with Keith Moon’s left-of-centre humour, plus John Entwistle’s technical brilliance, and Pete Townshend’s... ability to communicate with ants [laughs]. Not many people know Townshend can do that. 

Do you think Ant-Man can compete with the likes of Iron Man at the box office?

I don’t know. We’ll see [laughs]. This movie has its own unique stamp [in the Marvel Universe], because it looks unlike anything else. Because Ant-Man is so small, you see things from a perspective you normally wouldn’t, and that technology has come a long way since Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. Stan Lee said the thing they had trouble with in the Ant-Man comics was perspective; you could never get across how small he was. But you can in a movie. And we have.

Were you into comics as a kid?

Not really. My family would send me comics from England, so I was obsessed with The Beano and The Dandy.

You’d make a decent Desperate Dan, actually...

Yeah, I’ve got the chin, the stubble. I’m even wearing a flannel shirt. What more could I be doing, honestly?

Rudd

Can we talk about Edgar Wright? How did you find out that he was leaving?

He called me. Right after he’d met with Marvel, I was his first phone call.

What did he say?

He said, “I’ve left” [laughs]. And that was nerve-wracking, to say the least. In a situation like that, you have to adapt and re-think, but it’s turned out all right. This is very much [Wright’s replacement] Peyton Reed’s movie now, even though [Anchorman director] Adam McKay and I did a rewrite of the script.

Your co-star Evangeline Lilly described your updated script as “more American” than Edgar’s. Would you agree with that?

I wouldn’t say “more American”. It’s not like we just added a bunch of fat people [laughs]. Honestly, we didn’t stray too far from the original blueprint.

What kinds of changes did you make?

We tried to create different dynamics between characters. We changed some dialogue, added scenes. It’s tricky, because a lot of people helped create the finished product, but the spirit of the movie, the guts, the trajectory; that all existed in the first draft.

Were you in touch with Edgar throughout shooting?

Of course, he’s a friend. He’s the reason I’m doing it – he wanted me to do it. But the guy who seems to be forgotten in all this is Peyton. All the interviews I do, I get asked about Edgar, and it’s getting to the point where I’m going to have to stop talking about him, because it’s disrespectful to Peyton.

Understood. But let’s still chat about Edgar some more – don’t you think the reason people are interested is that it’s been kept slightly under wraps?

Maybe. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. A lot of people were upset [about Edgar leaving], but, actually, what is that percentage of people in terms of everybody who will end up seeing this movie? I guess there’s always a sense of mystery when you don’t know the details about something. People ask me about this movie, and I can’t divulge details, y’know? So, we’re both in a difficult position here. Have you done this before, where you’re talking to someone about a movie they cannot actually talk about?

Many times.

[Laughs] It’s f*cking crazy, right?

Michael Douglas stars in the film, too – what was he like to work with?

I’ve worked with a few heavy-hitters – Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman – and I put Michael Douglas in that category. It took me a while to be myself around him, but on the last day we were shooting a scene where he’s interrogating me across a table, and it suddenly hit me: “I could – Basic Instinct him!” So, I’m sitting there, trying to figure out how I can get my ‘kit’ out without anyone noticing...

Hang on – you wanted to actually flash your privates at him, Sharon Stone-style?

Yeah. If you’re going to Basic Instinct Michael Douglas, you gotta do it right. So, before we start, I unzip my pants, get it out, and pull my T-shirt down to cover it. I’m all ready to do my exaggerated leg cross reveal, but my ‘kit’ gets caught in the elastic of my underwear. It’s all... smushed. So, I’m sitting there, one hand pulling my T-shirt down, and the other trying to adjust myself, and I suddenly realise it looks like I’m... masturbating [laughs]. Like, I’m trying to rub one out while Michael Douglas is giving a soliloquy. Eventually, he just stopped and said, “What are you, a f*cking pervert?” [laughs].

Away from acting, how do you spend your time?

With my kids. I have an Irish pub in my basement, and I’ve just put karaoke in, so they’re getting into that. The pub’s great because you can run the gamut of experiences, from hilarious to profound. When I’m down there by myself, drinking Scotch, listening to The Pogues, that’s when I feel life makes the most sense [laughs].

Rudd

Have you ever met any of your musical heroes?

I’ve met Tom Waits. I try to use him and guys like Shane MacGowan and Jeff Mangum as beacons for my own career. If I take a job, I think, “Would those guys like this?” They’re so true to themselves, and I always wanted to think like that. My whole career I tried to go for things I really believed in, or I thought would be challenging or unique.

You auditioned for Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in Titanic, right?

Yeah. I hoped I’d have a shot at it, but looking back, I don’t think I did. I wanted it, not because I thought it would be the biggest movie ever, but because my dad was a Titanic expert. He made his living taking Titanic history tours.

Do you regret missing out on parts like that?

No, you don’t dwell on it. It’s that same self-preservation thing that happens when you have a gun to your head. Sometimes I think: what does, say, Tom Selleck really think about missing out on Indiana Jones because he couldn’t get out of his Magnum PI contract? Or anyone that was offered a major role and didn’t take it? Maybe that’s hard to handle.

If you did other stuff you were proud of, hopefully you’d be OK.

Maybe. I don’t think it’s impossible to be an actor and be happy, but I think if you took an informal poll, the unhappy ones might outnumber the happy ones. Most actors have that thing where you read 99 good reviews, but you remember the one bad one.

Have you been checking online to see what the notoriously hot-tempered Marvel fans think about you playing Ant-Man?

A bit. It seems mostly good. I’m glad it wasn’t all bad, anyway [laughs]. Let’s hope they feel the same once they see the movie...

Ant-Man is at cinemas nationwide from 17 July

(Images: Rex; Disney)

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