Paul Rudd of Friends (Phoebe’s boyfriend, Mike), Anchorman (Brian Fantana) and Knocked Up (Pete) stars in the new comedy Role Models (Danny), opening everywhere today. The Technique recently participated in a round-table interview where Rudd discussed the flick. Check out our review of Role Models on page 25.
Q. How much would you say the final product was improvisation versus the original screenplay?
A. This one is actually pretty heavily scripted. There were a couple of scenes that we improvised that were variations on what was written, and certain jokes that we would come up with in the moment. David Wain, who directed it, I’ve worked with a couple of times. The very first movie we did together was Wet Hot American Summer. And people think sometimes—the few people that have seen that movie—they always ask how much of that was improvised. Not a lot. He’s a director that likes it on the page.
Certainly there’s been a lot of stuff written in the last several years, and these comedies that have come out – and Judd Apatow and Adam McKay – about the amounts of improvisation. David does it, and he’s exploring different styles and things like that. We did leave certain parts of it open for improvisation. We also were lucky to get such funny people, and you want those people to add their own thing. There were a couple of scenes that we did as it was written, and it wasn’t quite working, so we just said, “Alright, we know what needs to go. Let’s see how we can get there.”
Q. What made you want to do the part in the first place?
A. I thought that the idea of guys getting in trouble – like guys that would be horrible to put with children – and having to go into a program and then being able to be just terrible role models for kids, or terrible mentors really. It was called Big Brothers originally. And then, just getting some weird kids and having the kids being weirded out by guys. It was a funny premise. I thought there was something there that seemed to follow this kind of School of Rock type trajectory that I tend to like. And the structure that was really appealing to me kept going through different rewrites and getting further away from what was really making some of it work in the original draft that I read. Then I was talking to the producer and expressing some of my thoughts on what would maybe help it out – what might make this character work, the kind of character that I feel more comfortable playing. She asked if I wanted to write it. And that’s how that came about. There was never any intention. So it became really kind of this immersive, therapeutic and fun thing to do – to get out my personal idiosyncrasies and things that annoy me, and just put it in the script like the sizes at Starbucks and stuff like that.
And then David came on afterward and we worked on it together as did Ken Marino, who David works with a lot and is one of my good friends, and we’ve worked together many times. We all kind of worked on it together and took it to this place of hopefully something acerbic and then something absurdist, and kind of family friendly, but then it’s filthy-rated R. It’s just a weird movie. I remember the first trailer that came out for it, and I watched it, and said, “That looks like Daddy Daycare.”
Q. How was working with Jane Lynch again after The 40 Year Old Virgin?
A. Great. We were writing it for her. We never even asked her if she would do it. But it just seemed like, “Let’s get Jane to do this.” I mean, she’s just so funny. The thing about Jane Lynch is that she’ll make whatever it is that we’re writing actually funny. And so hopefully we’ll look better than we are. But you know, you want funny people to do the parts, and so we were thrilled when she said, “Yeah.” She just seemed kind of custom-made for it and really made it her own.
Q. Your character, like you said, was kind of cynical and dry. Is that in any way reflective of yourself as a person?
A. In some aspects it is. I don’t think that I’m a cynical person in my life, though the character that I’m playing has a lot of cynicism. I have curmudgeonly aspects of my personality, and I also have a short fuse when it comes to colloquialisms and people that say 24/7. That kind of stuff just bugs me. And so I feel a kinship towards that character in those regards, but I think I actually tend to be a glass is half full kind of person more than half empty. And yet, I really admire and like and think that “half empty” is a funny character. I always just had a huge, huge connection to George Carlin. Anything that George Carlin seemed to say it was just so, “Yes, yes!” I look to George Carlin less a comedian and more as a thinker and social commentator, and one of the biggest brains that we had. He just happened to do it under comedy.
I really related to a lot of the things that made him angry – about language and all the bullshit and pretension that goes on. I really wanted to bring aspects of that to this character. I wanted the character to be very annoyed and disaffected and dissatisfied with his station in life, and where he was at. Kind of like, “Whoa, I’m in my mid thirties” is a very common thing – like “Oh my God, this is so not what I imagined for myself at this time.” I think that if that’s the way you are in life, there are certain things that other people might find amusing or mildly annoying. For somebody who is so caught up in that kind of angst, it doesn’t roll off their back. If they get super annoyed by people who say, “Heard that” or “Been there, done that,” for them, there’s nothing humorous about that at all. One, it’s just funny, and two, I get it.