In college, Paul Rudd starred in a ponderous experimental stage production of Macbeth in which two performers shared the title role. There was a Good Macbeth and a Bad Macbeth. No prizes for guessing which one Rudd played.
At some point in his career, Rudd became pegged as the perennial nice guy. He’s the down-to-earth family man in Knocked Up and This is 40. He plays the put-upon guy who tolerates the antics of Seann William Scott in Role Models, of Steve Carell in Dinner for Schmucks and of Jason Segel in I Love You Man. He was Phoebe’s boyfriend on Friends and, in Parks and Recreation, an adorably dim city council candidate named Bobby Newport. (“I guess my thoughts on abortion are: you know, let’s all just have a good time.”) At his most ill-behaved – dirty talking in the mirror in Wanderlust, farting in bed in This is 40 – the gags land harder because of Rudd’s apparent wholesomeness.
Part of the equation is surely what has been described as Rudd’s “unthreatening handsomeness”. Reviewing Rudd’s Broadway debut in Neil Labute’s Bash in 1996, New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley described Rudd’s physical appearance as embodying the quality of a glass of milk. Rudd can laugh at it now. “Maybe he wasn’t far off,” he says. Even off-screen, Rudd’s reputation for niceness is apparently indestructible. In not-long-ago surfaced footage of college-age Rudd as a party DJ, he helps a little girl celebrating her bat mitzvah pass under the limbo bar and blow out her candles.
Elsewhere, Rudd has demonstrated a taste and flair for absurd comedy creations. He plays sex-crazed scalawags in Wet Hot American Summer (the prequel series arrives on Netflix later this month) and again in Anchorman, improvising the latter film’s most memorable line about the seductive powers of the cologne, Sex Panther: “Sixty per cent of the time it works every time.”
But there’s no question that Rudd is most well known as comedy’s everyman — or, as he prefers, comedy’s “everyguy”. And it happened by accident.
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