• Image about paul-rudd-though-rudd-will-ferrell-sarah-marshall-americanway

The affable actor shows us his silly side, his serious side, and everything in between.
Photograph by Erin Patrice O’Brien.

Paul Rudd and I have veered wildly off track. He’s called me to chat about his pair of movies being released this month, and somehow we’ve found ourselves gabbing about everything but. At the present moment, after confessing his love of home-decor periodicals, he is trying to get me to Google “farm sinks.” I do, but he describes them to me anyway, and surprisingly, he really does know what he’s talking about.

“It is basically considered an excavated sink, like you would normally see on a counter,” he explains. When I mention that my husband is also a home-decor junkie and that he once marveled over mother-of-pearl while reading Elle Decor in bed, Rudd’s excitement escalates. “I totally get that, and I bet you secretly love it,” he says. “It’s very different than metrosexuality. It’s not about getting a manicure. I think that many men, me included, are like this. It’s the duality of the male psyche.”

Paul Rudd, interior designer? Don’t be so surprised. Rudd can do -- and has done -- just about everything he’s dreamed up for himself. And while Hollywood producers might not be asking him for design sketches for the studio cafeteria, it wouldn’t be much of a shock if they did, given his Midas-like golden touch of late.

Rudd displays some of his trademark elasticity this month with two drastically different films. In the first, called I Love You, Man, he plays a groom-to-be with only female friends who’s looking for a best man. He eventually finds one, Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Jason Segel, after a hilarious -- and at times, a bit bawdy -- search. Those seeking more family-friendly fare can also hear Rudd voice Derek, the fiancé of a woman who turns into a 50-foot-tall monster and helps save the world from an alien invasion, in the DreamWorks animated feature Monsters vs. Aliens.

Blue humor and cartoons? Well, why not? Rudd, after all, is a man of many faces. During our interview, I meet a few of them.

1. The Comedian. Though Rudd, who grew up in Overland Park, Kansas, is best known for his roles in sidesplitting comedies (think The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Role Models), he didn’t set out to be the funny guy. Initially, he was just trying to get noticed.

“I was definitely desperate for attention at a very young age, and it certainly kicked in in high school,” he says. “I liked public speaking and something called forensics. In the Midwest, we had forensics competitions, which is weird, because now I’m thinking it sounds like Quincy. But it actually consisted of these public-speaking contests and doing little impromptu comedy bits.”

That was all it took. Rudd studied acting at the University of Kansas before moving to Los Angeles, where he enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and worked as a DJ at bar mitzvahs to pay the rent. He landed his breakthrough role as Alicia Silverstone’s swoon-worthy former stepbrother in Clueless and followed that up with a series of mostly dramatic roles, including turns in Romeo + Juliet, The Object of My Affection, and The Cider House Rules. It wasn’t until 2001, with his role as a bullying camp counselor in the cult smash Wet Hot American Summer, that he truly broke into the comedy world. Three years later, he hit it big with Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and has largely stuck to the funny formula since then.

I Love You, Man is no exception. When we eventually get around to speaking about the movie, there’s an enthusiasm in his voice that makes it clear he’s not just shilling for the project because of contractual requirements. “I really, really like this film,” he says. “The world is a tough place right now, and it seems like the movies I would want to see or the things that I respond to are things that make me laugh. And I Love You, Man has a lot of glass-is-half-full facets. It is very sweet, it is sophisticated, and it’s not mean-spirited in the slightest.”

While Rudd is a full-fledged member of the comedic Tinseltown coterie known as the Frat Pack, he says the funny-bone-tickling direction his career has taken was unintentional. “I just wanted to do things that I liked,” he says. “I do get more scripts that are comedic rather than dramatic, but I also tend not to look into things in terms of comedy and drama. I am really much more interested in having fun.”

2. The family man. Like many men his age, Rudd, 39, juggles work with a busy home life, one that includes a four-year-old son named Jack. But Jack is hardly impressed with his daddy’s movie-star status. In fact, if his current interests are any indication, Jack is a future rock and roller, not an actor in training. Rudd and his wife, Julie, a stay-at-home mom, let their son take the lead in his own leisure pursuits; so far, that has resulted in the little tyke having a decidedly mature musical taste. Jack’s favorites include Bob Geldof, Tom Petty, and Elvis Costello -- hardly typical toddler fare -- and Rudd appreciates his kid’s knack for individuality.

“It’s funny and crazy to see what he gravitates to,” Rudd says. “It’s not something we push on him. It will just be playing on the iPod, and he’ll be like, ‘Wow!’ “

So although Rudd dipped his toe in the family-friendly pool in 2006’s Night at the Museum and is doing it again now with his role in Monsters vs. Aliens, Jack -- who Rudd says can’t sit through more than 40 minutes of Ratatouille -- was not his main motivation. Like any savvy actor, he simply knows where the good material is, and when the opportunity came along for him to be animated, he jumped at the chance.

“I didn’t necessarily try to seek out a kids’ movie,” Rudd says, “but I was really excited to do it. I had never done anything like this. I really find some of the animated kids’ movies to be the best movies. I think it’s just because they have to appeal to children and adults that they really, really focus on quality and story and characters.”

Jack may come around one day. And if he does, he’ll probably think his dad is pretty cool. For now, though, Rudd is perfectly happy to skip the movie theater in favor of staying home and jamming out to his son’s latest musical preference (which, as of press time, was ’70s rock band Squeeze).

3. The Thespian. It may surprise some of Rudd’s fans to know that before his star truly skyrocketed on the screen, he was busy taking bows on the stage. Underneath his goofball veneer lies the heart of a theater buff who’s been performing in plays since high school. Rudd made his Broadway debut in 1997 in the Tony Award–winning production The Last Night of Ballyhoo and since then has lit up the stage in fare varying from Twelfth Night to The Shape of Things to Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Even now, with his A-list status and with screenwriter and producer Judd Apatow on speed dial, Rudd remains passionate about theater. While many of his peers plant their roots in Los Angeles to keep a toehold in the movie business, Rudd has opted to stay close to the bright lights of Broadway. “It’s one of the major reasons I live in New York,” he says.

Rudd’s most recent stage outing was a limited-run revival of Three Days of Rain that costarred Julia Roberts. Though Roberts’s star power drew most of the curious patrons to the theater, many critics raved about Rudd and his subtle portrayal of dual roles. Why would a guy who earns serious coin in front of the camera devote himself so steadfastly to the grueling, less- glamorous art of stage work? Rudd says that he revels in the process of stage acting and is convinced that those experiences have made him a better film actor.

“There is something really nice about the routine of doing a play, and for actors, we often don’t really have [routines],” he says. “When working with Judd [Apatow], we are always changing dialogue and thinking of things on the spot. But even when you’re working like that, you have to change camera angles, so you have to be able to repeat what you did. That’s where doing a play helps. I think it is the way to learn more than anything else, just because of the repetition.”

Though the scheduling demands of theater have prevented Rudd from doing more stage work, he admits that he is always on the lookout for another production to lure him back in front of the curtain.

4. The Scribe. Screenwriting seems like a natural fit for an actor as articulate, savvy, and skilled at improvisation as Rudd. And while he’s penned a few bits, scenes, and jokes in his past works, it wasn’t until last year that he wrote his first complete screenplay, for the box-office sleeper Role Models. The film -- a sly, heartwarming buddy flick disguised as a lewd, guys-only romp -- received universally strong reviews, thanks in large part to Rudd’s thoughtful script. Roger Ebert wrote in one review: “Role Models is the kind of movie you don’t see every day, a comedy that is funny. The kind of comedy where funny people say funny things in funny situations, not the kind of comedy that whacks you with manic shocks to force an audible Pavlovian response.”

Ever humble, Rudd takes such praise in stride. He quickly deflects credit to his cowriters, veteran funnymen Ken Marino and David Wain from the comedy group the State. “It wasn’t even my idea,” Rudd demurs. “It was a rewrite of an original, which was actually a dramatic film.”

Indeed, the project turned out to have some drama despite the comedic revisions: Rudd and his cowriters were given a tight deadline to complete the script, only to have the Hollywood writers’ strike halt production halfway through filming. “It was definitely a little chaotic at times,” he says, “but also very exciting and fun.” Despite the complications, the process stirred a creative spirit in Rudd, who plans to do more screenwriting. Considering the success of Role Models -- which took in nearly $85 million worldwide -- studios, fans, and critics alike will be lining up for his next effort.

A cross-genre stage and screen actor who strikes gold with his first screenplay? Rudd couldn’t have written it any better himself.

5. The Regular Joe. Though Rudd and I have made it a point throughout this conversation to work in a few highlights about his movies, most of the time, we end up chatting like we would if we were grabbing beers at a sports bar. Among the things we cover that have nothing to do with anything (or at least anything he’s called me to promote) are our respective bar and bat mitzvahs, his obsession with New York City cable news channel NY1, and, of course, his vast and superior knowledge of home decor.

Rudd is busy telling me about Jack-and-Jill bathrooms and dupioni drapes (both of which are mentioned in I Love You, Man, per Rudd’s improvisation), when it occurs to me that outside the bounds of the reporter-star relationship, I’d really like to hang out with this guy. And though I -- nor his fans, most likely -- will never actually grab a beer with him, it’s that friendly, familiar quality that makes him so beloved as an actor. We love him because he’s just like any one of us (aside from the fact that he could casually name-drop Will Ferrell into a conversation). He’s a parent. A spouse. A jokester. A theater geek. An aspiring writer. A rabid news watcher. And a darn good decorator.

ALLISON WINN SCOTCH is a New York-based freelance writer. Her latest novel, Time of My Life, was just released by Random House.