Paul Rudd's newest roles have him speaking like he's 70, dealing pot to uniformed officers and playing matchmaker between Judd Apatow and "Role Models" co-writer/director David Wain. It has less to do with diversity than it is having fun on a shoot, he says.

Rudd's name lately is most closely associated with Apatow and bromance comedies like "I Love You, Man" and "Role Models," but this month he goes toe-to-toe with veteran comedy director James L. Brooks for comedy-romance "How Do You Know."  The 41-year-old actor has Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson as his father in the flick, and is playing up against heavy-hitters Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon.

His character George is obviously a successful businessman, one with integrity, but the audience is barely ever treated to his good times: three steps into the film, George is being notified he's under federal investigation. He's subpoenaed. He's close to indictment. His friends and family disappear. And he can't ask out a girl or take her on a date without bumbling around the English language.

That, Rudd says, is what makes "How Do You Know" and James Brooks film. It's just one of several adventures he's on for the next few months, as the film drops Friday, "My Idiot Brother" heads to Sundance 2011 in January and "Wanderlust" makes its way through editing.

Rudd sat down with HitFix for a one-on-one chat in New York last week, on "turning" roles, "Hud" and "My Left Foot," making playdates with directors and creating calculated chaos.

"How Do You Know" has such an unusual script -- it's not fluid chatter, the narrative kind of lurches and then moves.

It's got a specific cadence, it's musical: It's James Brooks. And one of the things that I loved about it and my character was he used words and phrases that seem to ones you'd use in 1947. He's old-timey. He turns a phrase that you never hear. If you can do that and make it not seem pretentious and not an affectation… it's a great character.

I explain to Reese's character, I say "'Kramer vs. Kramer,' have you seen the picture?" I mean, I'm a young guy. Who under 70 would ask, "Have you seen the picture?" In any other movie I would work on, if that was the line, I would say, "Is it OK if I say 'movie' or 'film'?" But this one, I'm saying "picture." Like, "I'd like to thank you, you've done me a great turn: you've given me temporary amnesia."

Who says that?

Nobody.

Was that the appeal?

I loved this kind of guy who had an ethic and was dignified, something old-fashioned in that he's polite and kind of seemed like another character from another movie from another time. I did love that. It was one of my favorite things.

And it also differentiates that guy from other characters that maybe I've done in other movies. I mean, I haven't taken that many Daniel Day-Lewis type "turns." But wait 'til you get a load of my Christy Brown next year.

You're working with a bevy of new actors and characters next year, with people like Zooey Dechanel. But you're also choosing to work again with folks like Jennifer Aniston and Judd Apatow…

I think some actors -- wisely so, perhaps -- really seek out different roles each time. A lot of times I hear the question "Why did you go with this role?" I always thought that was a weird question -- even before I was ever working as actor -- I thought, maybe they're doing this role because they got the job? Very few people get to pick and choose like that, and I'm not one of them. More so now than I think was the case in the last few years. But as I've gotten older, [I've] become a little less precious with this kind of thing. I've always wanted to do things that I like, whether a play or a movie, in that it spoke to me in some way. With a lot of comedies with a lot of these characters, they're not so different. I haven't cared. I like the movies, I think they're funny and I like the people. Less precious.

That being said… I really would like to do other things, and I absolutely want to work with other people I haven't worked with before. And at the same time want to work with people I know I really like working with and am friends with, good collaboration and rapport with because it's actual experience of filming it was fun.

I just finished "Wanderlust," I did with David Wain. We've worked with each other throughout our entire careers. And we asked Judd to come in and produce it. And David and Judd had never worked together… and after so many years, it's kind of nice to have the same groups of people in your life for a long period of time.

You were talking about rhythm to the script before…. when you added Judd to the mix, what does he do to the thing?

He brought storylines, ideas. The script was there and I always thought the script was very solid. Judd has a way of working when he writes and directs -- neither of which he does in "Wanderlust" -- he has a very specific style. He likes to do alternate takes and lots of improvisation and kind of have all of these options and figure out things in the editing room. David's doesn't necessarily work like that.

…Especially when you said the script was already really solid…


I was a bit of a liaison between the two, though we all worked on it together. It was the mixing of styles. That was at time a challenge and other times really great, it forces you to think in new ways. It was chaotic at times. Good -- good chaos. We had a great time. It seemed funny to us as we were doing it. It's interesting when you have people who have worked together for a long time.

It's like putting together a play-date.

Yeah, it was like -- here's my friend who's German, who is trying to speak to my other friend, who speaks Spanish. They both know and respect each other's cultures yet trying to communicate can be… interesting.

But we all find a lot of the same stuff funny.

All done shooting?

Finished two weeks ago.

And you have a film that made Sundance. How do you spread out as an actor in it?

It's called "My Idiot Brother." The guy who made that is Jesse Peretz, we made "The Chateau" together. We've collaborated many times, even on things that never got made. It was really fun because, one, the cast was great and it was a super-fun character to play. And, two, I look different in that than I have in other things.

Yeah, your character in the film gets busted for pot dealing, right?

He has very little baggage. This character lives -- like in ["How Do You Know"] -- according to an ethic. If you always give people the benefit of the doubt, and you're very open and trusting and throw your trust and openness out there, he believes people more often than not will rise to the occasion.

Are you that way?

I think in an idealistic way, I do. But I don't think it pans out that way, more often than not.

So my character winds up selling weed to a uniformed police officer in the beginning of the movie, and then I get out of jail and I go and stay with my sisters who are living different lives, and then I systematically create chaos in each one of their lives. But there's something kind of Chauncey Gardener about the guy, like he's not an idiotic guy, he's not a druggie at all. He's just a light soul. He's troubled in other ways, and they come out in specific ways, so he's not just a two-dimensional character. There's something really feel-good about it.

Is that important for you to play characters that you empathize with?

Yeah, I mean I have to. I so empathize with Owen's character in this film, because he's so great. I would love to play one of those characters that seems so completely unsympathetic and awful, just to find the way into that. And then you get into serial killer or Hitler.

All the stuff that Jeremy Irons or Christoph Waltz plays.


Exactly. It's like that moment in the movie "Hud," where Paul Newman… the character was a son-of-a-bitch. He wasn't supposed to be light. And people liked him. And [Newman] goes, "That was the big failure of the movie."

I don't know if I agree with that assessment. Because he was a son-of-a-bitch, and there's an innate likeability of Paul Newman. I mean, Jesus, it's Paul Newman. He's the best there ever was. So there's that moment with Melvin Douglas' father, and Hud has killed his brother and he's standing on the stairs and is confronting Hud, and Hud says, "My mama loved me but she died." So you're like, this poor fucking guy! The pain that he's carrying around, and the guilt and you zero in on that, it's like, how can you hate somebody? That's what makes a character a character and not a caricature.

That being said, when are you doing theater again?

I have no idea. It's been quite a few years since I've done a play. I'd like to do another one, but the years go by, I get more and more bummed out about eight shows a week, one day off. That sucks. It's a different thing. Hopefully I do something in the next year or two.

"How Do You Know" is out Friday (Dec. 17).