Steve Carell and Paul Rudd co-star in "Dinner for Schmucks," opening next week.
Credit: Paramount Pictures
Every married couple has "the list."
You know what I mean, too. Each spouse gets their fantasy list of celebrities they are allowed to indulge any carnal fantasy with if the opportunity ever arises, which it won't, which is the point. It allows you to admit some stray desires to your spouse safely, under the guise of a game, and then it removes the threat of temptation.
The problem if you work in a business like mine is that celebrities don't just remain images on a TV screen. I end up interacting with them all the time, and in many cases, you end up in a strange vaguely familiar relationship with them that lasts for years in some cases. I'm not presumptuous enough to call these people my friends, but I would say you end up being friendly with them, almost as a side effect of just doing the job.
In my case, I had a moment where "the list" became a terrifying prospect, because I'm fairly sure Paul Rudd sits very near the top of my wife's list. She's not alone, of course, thanks to the almost mythic power of "Clueless" on the girls who saw it at the right age. Rudd is one of those actors who has always been fairly charming, since his first major roles, and who continues to redefine himself as he works. When I was invited to the set of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" in Hawaii, it was amusing to watch how even the actors who didn't need to be on-set decided to hang around for weeks after they had to be there in some cases. Often when a film is on location, actors will fly home when they aren't needed, but with "Marshall," there was none of that. People stayed. It was probably the longest I saw the various member of the Apatow repertory company all in one place.
As it happened, Paul Rudd didn't have a lot to do during the week I was there, and since my family was there with me, Mommy and Toshi spent a fair amount of the time by the pool, where Rudd spent much of his time with his son, who turned out to be the same age as Toshi. By the end of that week, I think if you'd hooked my wife up to a lie detector, she could have easily passed if asked if Paul Rudd was her new Hawaiian husband, and there is an equal chance she could not have picked me out of a police line-up. That's the effect he has on women, damn it, and if he weren't such a nice, normal, decent guy, I'd hate him for it.
Instead, I still look forward to chats with him, and this talk about his new film "Dinner For Schmucks" was just as enjoyable as every other interview I've done with him. See if you agree.
Paul: Hi, Drew.
Drew: Mr. Rudd. How are you, sir?
Paul: I’m alright, man. How’re you doing?
Drew: Good. Good. Terribly sorry I couldn’t be there this afternoon.
Paul: Where are you?
Drew: I’m at home.
Paul: Yeah, it’s better to be at home anyway.
Drew: Yeah, well, got the kids and stuff this afternoon, so...
Drew: Really enjoyed the movie, sir. I have no idea how it played at last night’s screening. I saw it about a week ago and I really… I thought it was great fun.
Paul: That’s awesome. I’m so glad. I saw that you had seen it and I read that, too, that you were there last week. I was super excited. It’s the first time I’d heard any response from it, and your opinion matters to me, my friend. So I’m really glad that you dug it.
Drew: I just love how far out you guys went with it. The fact that it’s one of those... and I will say after hearing a few people reacting last night, it does not seem to be a middle-ground movie. Like you’re really onboard or you’re really not, and it seems like that’s the kind of comedy that would be most exciting to do, but it’s also the riskiest... where you guys really make a strong choice upfront and then you 100% go for it.
Paul: I’ll tell you... the basic construct of the thing is just not everyone’s cup of tea, you know? And it seems… I think it’s even kind of been a little baffling in the marketing of it. I have no idea... I haven’t sat in any of those meetings... but just from an outsider's point of view, it’s like here’s this movie where it looks like the whole thing is built on making fun of people, which is mean spirited. And even though it’s not, or at least, we would hope it’s not, and obviously with the way the whole thing, you know, resolves itself and who the actual idiots really are, it’s... yeah, a tight wire, you know?
Drew: Well, I know that you’re a big comedy nerd and a lot of the stuff that we’ve talked about that you’re a fan of, they make big choices like that. Like I wouldn’t compare you guys style-wise, but I know we were laughing at one point about "Garth Marenghi's Dark Place," and that’s one of those things that... man, if you were not in on the joke, it must look like it’s in another language and you have no idea what you’re looking at.
Drew: And “Dinner for Schmucks,” right away from the very beginning, sets up a very specific tone with Barry’s world, especially the way the credits now play. I think by the end of that credit sequence, you either kind of have a sense that you’re on board for this or you’re not. Can you talk about… because I know that this went through a lot of evolution even in the filming process, like Jay talks about finding a lot of these things late... can you talk about how you felt the tone snapped into place and how you guys came to an agreement on what you were making?
Paul: Well, you know, Steve and I would talk about just some of the things we… what we kind of loved about it, and how it made us feel. It seemed in a way, it was kind of an old-fashioned comedy. You know? Like a Laurel and Hardy thing and “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” and there were those old-fashioned elements to it and some of the mania that was going on. At the end, the dinner party reminded me of Marx Brothers. There was kind of a Marx Brothers sensibility. I wouldn’t compare our movie to those, but you know just that kind of feeling and we loved it. And Steve and I both are concerned with having it have heart but not be saccharine or sentimental. And to try and do that through this kind of weird story was weird. I mean, we liked what was weird about it and also that it wasn’t a gross out in any way. You know we weren’t really relying on raunchy language or things that a lot of teenagers couldn’t see or buy a ticket to.
Drew: It just seems unusual...
Paul: And to be funny. We wanted it to have its broad moments because the characters are pretty extreme, but with us we really just wanted... you’ve just got to believe that these guys come to care about each other and weirdly, you know, like each other. It’s being moved in some way. I viewed them like... it’s funny you talked about the credit sequence. I mean, there’s something silly, you know... we tell people this movie “Dinner for Schmucks” is about my character who has got to find this idiot for a dinner and Steve’s character is... I hit him with my car because he was rescuing a mouse because he does taxidermy on mice and he arranges them in these dioramas. I mean, that just sounds ridiculous. And you know the actual dioramas and that opening credit sequence is beautiful. It’s incredible artistry and when we were filming the actual dinner and he was doing "The Tower Of Dreamers" speech, and the passion with which he was talking about his work and seeing the things he’s done with the mouse who’s playing his wife, you know... this is an artist. More so than Jemaine. More so than anyone else in the movie and it’s really, I don’t know, like I found it to be moving and all of that, so... I don’t know if that answers any of your questions, but…
Drew: Farce is not something that is part of the vocabulary right now. I think, you know, comedy has sort of moved over to this sort of detachment and there is a… you either get stuff that is very observational and very human or there’s almost a detachment from the broad. It’s rare that people do outright farce these days, and there’s really no other way to describe especially the last act of this movie.
Paul: Right. Yeah, I mean, that’s what I was saying about the old-fashioned and the Marx Brothers. It seemed different than what I'd been doing… and I agree with you... farce... and it was exciting to do. Hopefully it will work, but I know Steve and I were having a blast doing it.
Drew: I love the combination of comic voices in this, whether it’s Chris O’Dowd, who I really enjoyed from "The IT Crowd," or David Walliams who is just a bizarro cartoon in his appearance in the film. Or even the way you and Steve are playing such radically different types. And like where typically, I think, you would be the straight man role and little else, I liked that as the film proceeds we start to see cracks in your persona and we realize you’re not nearly as straight as you initially seem. That almost seems like what Steve brings out of you. How much fun is it to get to play with all of these different guys, whether it's Jemaine or Walliams, and to know that each of them is going to come in and have their moment to kill?
Paul: I mean... it’s great. It was great just to be in scenes with these guys because I’m a massive fan of all of them. And I really do mean all of them. I love "The IT Crowd." I’m a huge "Little Britain" fan. And Jemaine is incredible in every single thing he does, so to be able to act with them and Ron and all of them... it’s crazy. It was really exciting. It was also super exciting to see what they were going to do and with the way Jay directs which is, you know, he really does kind of allow the actors to try different things, contribute what they can, and it was just fun to see what they would come up with. In regard to Dave Walliams and the way he looked, you know, when he met with Jay he was saying, "What do you think about just like a white suit, light hair, super blue eyes, a wife that he kind of dotes on him that you would not imagine him to have?" Like he was so specific in his choices and the way he would want to play them, it was just... certainly amazing to see. Amazing to see Jemaine like just sort of come out in goat legs, reading the script and imagining you know this kind of pretentious artist Matthew Barney mixed with Peter Beard or you know… and seeing Jermaine play it so kind of… not over the top really, in any way, but it’s such an extreme character. It was just really, really fun to watch.
Drew: And how is Jay as a ringmaster in the midst of all this? Because I really respect the way he builds comedy worlds.
Paul: Yeah, he’s pretty incredible. I mean, you spoke with him. You know he’s the nicest man and everybody says this about Jay, but Jay is so on top of the actual filmmaking. I would hear him just say things to the cinematographer or some sort of cut that he could make and I realized that he’s an expert editor. He’s thinking technically about stuff that I hadn’t really heard other directors say. He really wants us to feel as if we’re contributing. He so wants ideas and collaborations and it’s not that he doesn’t know what he wants, because he definitely does, but he’s the kind of guy that can have a great idea and then make you think you thought of it.
Paul: And I felt... because he’s such a versatile director, you know, I mean he can do a broad comedy. He can do drama, and has. But there’s total trust with Jay. I know Steve and I both felt it where sometimes you’re doing something and you’re like, "Oh, God, I didn’t feel like that was right or this little moment might have been funnier than that moment." And whatever Jay would say it was, like, "Oh, yeah, yeah, I see it, Jay. I see what you mean." He’s stealthy in the way that he operates and I don’t mean sneaky. It’s just that he’s so gifted. He’s so smart and he’s so open to exploring ideas that he makes it appear that he’s just along for the ride where really he’s just orchestrating everything.
Drew: I would agree that I think it’s a hard film to sell in 30 seconds. You know, one of my other favorite comedies this year, “Four Lions,” the Chris Morris film... I honestly don’t know how you cut a 30-second spot for it for America. I just…
Paul: I know. I hear "Chris Morris in America," and I wondered how they were going to wrap their brains around him, but yeah. I haven’t seen it yet. I can’t wait.
Drew: A lot of the comedies that mean the most to me are the ones that I don’t think you can really cut an out of context trailer for, so I hope people take the chance. I hope that you and Steve get them in the door and then I hope that they realize that it’s just a crazy ride. But congratulations on it, man.
Paul: Thanks, Drew. Thanks a lot, man. I really appreciate it. Taking the time to talk to me and... yeah, we’ll see. I have no idea what the reaction will but I’m glad you liked it and I did, too.
Drew: All right, well, Paul, always a pleasure to talk to you.
Paul: You, too.
"Dinner For Schmucks" opens everywhere on July 30. We'll have more on it before then, including a nearly-hour long interview I did with Jay Roach
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