Sitting alone in a ground floor meeting room of a Mexican hotel, the Caribbean Sea lapping against the white sands outside, Paul Rudd, dressed in jeans, white shirt and grey blazer, resembles an island castaway recently brought back to civilisation. This is mainly due to the large and impressively bushy beard he’s sporting.
He stands, shakes my hand and offers me a glass of iced water from a jug on the sideboard. His slow, considered drawl, amiable grin and easy air give you the feeling that he’d be a great pal: probably your best friend. And he’s funny. He’s funny because he doesn’t know how funny he is. What a nice man. And therein lies the problem.
Rudd is here to promote How Do You Know, the latest film from the pen of comedy writing legend James L Brooks. In it he plays George, the lovely yet downtrodden son of disappointed tycoon Jack Nicholson. George is a damp squib, a trait that, with films like Knocked Up and I Love You, Man, has become worryingly regular in Rudd’s career. Would Brian Fantana, Rudd’s Sex Panther-wearing reporter in Anchorman, have offered a stranger a glass of iced water? No freakin’ way. That’s why it’s my mission to bring out the tiger, or panther, within Paul Rudd.
Tell us about George.
George’s life is falling apart in pretty much every way. I get fired from my job, my girlfriend walks out, I’m getting indicted by the government and facing possible jail time for something that happened with work, messing with the figures a bit. I don’t think I did it, but I’m responsible and my entire world’s falling apart. I’m a decent guy and I meet Reese Witherspoon. We have a blind date and I fall in love. She becomes my life raft, even though she doesn’t feel that way about me. The idea is about two people meeting on the worst day of their lives.
The character’s a bit drippy…
I think he’s an ethical guy. One of the things I loved about him was the things James Brooks wrote for me to say. Nobody talks like that. It’s kind of a heightened Forties speak. So, yeah, there is something a little neurotic about him. Maybe even a little twee, as you say…
This is the worry. Since Brian Fantana, most of your characters have been a touch on the wet side. I want to extract the beast within Paul Rudd. So, what’s the nastiest, baddest thing you’ve ever done?
I killed a man. With my bare hands. And my mind. I hurt him, I really punished him with my bare hands, but I wound up killing him with my mind. What’s the worst thing I’ve done? I’ll tell you something, and this is pretty bad. I live in New York City and not that long ago a cab driver took me to my apartment in a very, very horrible and circuitous, terrible route, and I wound up only giving him a 15 per cent tip. Yeah.
That is horrible…
I was put off.
Do you want me to print that? It’s probably illegal.
He knows who he is and if he’s reading ShortList now he’ll probably come after me.
Do you have a favourite swear word?
I think c*nt is the best. I mean, it feels good. [Adopts doped voice] It feels really good to just say it. The “cuh” and the “tuh”. It’s a perfect balance, you know? It’s like peanut butter and chocolate.
It’s quite good when a bit of spit comes out into the other person’s face as well.
Yeah. [Slowly] C*****nt. F*ck’s pretty good. And you know what I’ve been actually kind of high on lately? Sh*tballs.
Sh*tballs? Sounds like a recipe.
Yeah! You have to try my grandmother’s sh*tballs. She makes them for the holidays. Christmas isn’t Christmas without Nanny’s sh*tballs.
OK, we’re unleashing the tiger. Insult me using the word sh*tballs.
Whenever I use sh*tballs, it’s not so much in an insulting way. It’s more as just an exclamation, like, “Holy sh*tballs! That goal was incredible!” or, “Holy sh*tballs! That’s Jack Nicholson!” If I were to insult you, f*ckface is great. That is a classic.
OK, call me f*ckface.
Andrew, you f*ckface c*nt.
I like it. So, your character’s not so great with the ladies, but what are you like with women?
You know, I’ve been with the same woman for 15 years, so I don’t know. Fifteen f*ckface sh*tball years. I’m married, so that part of my life is long dead [laughs].
Have you got any bad dating experiences to share from when it was still alive?
Oh yeah, and this will probably also answer your question about how I am with the ladies. How I was, before I had one. When I was in high school there was this girl who went to another school and who I went out with a few times. Then she’s like over it and as soon as I realised this, I was obsessed. I remember I was working and I couldn’t stop thinking about her and my boss was like: “Just go see her.” He actually made me leave work because I was so useless, so freaked out. So I just went, like a stalker. I knew she was working at the mall and I found her car in the parking lot and I bought a single rose and stood by her car, waiting for her to come out after work. I stood there for at least three hours after all the cars had left, all the stores had closed, and it didn’t occur to me that clearly she saw me and then got a ride home with somebody else. So I just stood by her car with a rose and then just finally wrote her a note and put it on her windshield. Pathetic [laughs].
Would you like to play a superhero one day? It’s a manly thing to do.
I think it makes sense, because you look at me and you think I seem… bulletproof.
What would your action hero name be?
Doctor Thesaurus? Has he got a first name, like Doctor Keith Thesaurus?
Yeah, Doctor… it might be Keith. Hmm… Doctor Keith Thesaurus. No, because there’s the “th th”. I think maybe Charles Thesaurus.
Chuck to his friends…
Chuck to his friends, of which there’s really only one. And my superhero abilities are really on a smaller scale. I’m absolutely unbeatable at Scrabble. That’s it. That’s my power. Able to use a triple-word score at any given turn.
Have you ever made anything with your bare hands?
I sure have. Let me think. I made a candle holder in the shape of a sleigh that was made of metal. And it was made for Christmas. I made that in school. I’ve made a lot of things with my hands. I made a football player out of Lego when I was a kid.
I’m not sure Lego counts…
Because you’re using the Lego? I built some shelves. Does that count?
Not unless you cut the tree down yourself.
I built a sandcastle once.
Jack Nicholson plays your dad in this film. Did you feel the need to man up? Because he must have some stories…
With his role in the movie, you know I’m his son and we’re close yet I have disappointed him in some way. I am clearly not the son he imagined himself having. So, that just probably, automatically, fit the bill. We got on really well, but in terms of manning up, I don’t know anything about the Lakers, I don’t know anything about basketball. I know a little bit, because I do follow sports. I know it’s hard to believe, but I do have some stereotypical male qualities. But I couldn’t get into serious Laker talk with him. That said, when we went out to dinner, I had plenty of Scotch and he didn’t really drink, so…
Did he ooze sex appeal?
He oozed something. He is absolutely the most confident, most charismatic, biggest thing to walk in the room, and he has been for most of his life. He oozes confidence, he’s cool, he’s striking. Women get a little weak-kneed around him.
I did a little.
What gets shouted at you most: “Phoebe’s boyfriend”, “Sex Panther” or “Slappa da bass, mon”?
Wow, man, you know what? Those three get shouted at me kind of equally. And I can usually tell who’s going to say what as they approach. Anyone starts to approach and just does that [adopts air-bass guitar pose], I know that here comes “Slappa da bass”.
Nice. Do you feel more alpha male after this interview? Will you be on the phone for Bourne 5 or something?
Yeah, I definitely feel a little more rugged. Like I’m probably going to put in a patio. And here we are in Cancun — I don’t know what I’m drinking this water for. I’ll probably just go for straight tequila now. And I’ll probably just kick somebody in the balls.
In the sh*tballs?
In the sh*tballs. And I don’t care where they’re from or who they work for — I just want someone to look at me funny one time and I’ll knock ’em out.
How Do You Know is at cinemas nationwide from 28 January