Paul Rudd, scene-stealer in Knocked Up, Anchorman, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and pretty much every male comedy America loved (minus The Hangover) in the past five years, has some ideas for how to ramp up the absurdity of this article. He shows up bearing Scrabble, having determined it more intrinsically funny than checkers or chess. Then he whips out props for errands he has to run: a broken shower knob, a sad pair of glasses he rolled over on in bed. But he’s most proud of his next plan. “I actually need an eye-doctor appointment,” he says. “I thought it would be funny if you interviewed me while I was getting my eyes checked.” Within the hour, Rudd has me in a cab en route to Moscot Eyewear and Eyecare on 14th Street to meet with his optometrist, Dr. Harvey Moscot. The walls are lined with photos of other actors in thick-framed glasses: Fred Armisen, Jason Schwartzman, and Justin Theroux, who’s such a loyal customer he has a style of frame named after him. But unfortunately, Dr. Harvey himself is at Moscot’s Orchard Street branch. “That is a real shame,” says Rudd. He urges me to come back in a few days for his appointment. “Four o’clock on Thursday.” Later Rudd says he’s drawn to movies that are “funny and smart and weird and stupid in all the right places.” This situation pretty much meets the criteria.
This summer, Rudd is once again counterprogramming to the usual “big, huge, epic action movies, or sequels, or big, huge, epic action sequels.” On July 30, he debuts Dinner for Schmucks, directed by Jay Roach, the guy behind Austin Powers. Rudd plays a rising executive who, in order to get a promotion, has to bring the biggest, weirdest idiot he can find to his boss’s dinner party, which is actually a secret competition. Enter Steve Carell.
Schmucks is the third time Rudd and Carell have worked together. “We tend to like the same things,” Rudd explains. “You want to hopefully genuinely feel something for these characters and their relationship. And focusing on that, to us, is more important than getting a joke or a line out.”
In life, Rudd’s main focus is spending time with his wife and 5-year-old son, Jack, who shows little interest in Rudd’s work—he even refused to watch a bit Rudd did on Sesame Street—but seems to get how important it is to his old man. “My wife asked him, ‘What are your favorite movies?’ And he said, ‘Well, I really like Toy Story and Bee Movie and Star Wars, but I think that probably after this summer it’s going to be Dinner for Schmucks.’ He won’t see it. I’m not going to take him. But it was just so sweet that he would say that.”
Most summer weekends, the family can be found up near Rhinebeck, where they have a house. “I look at it, really, as a great opportunity to get Lyme disease,” says Rudd. “It’s so hard to get Lyme disease in the city anymore.” Recently, Rudd converted his unfinished basement into “a full-on authentic Irish pub.” When Jack (whose middle name is Sullivan) was born, Rudd’s father, Michael, said, “I want my grandson to own his own Irish pub.” So he built one himself in the basement of his Kansas City home. Michael was supposed to move out here so he and Paul could do the same in Rhinebeck, but he wound up getting cancer, and died. “It was awful,” Rudd says quietly. It took him a year and he had to hire contractors, but Rudd managed to build an “East Coast annex” in honor of his father. “It’s called Sullivan’s,” he says. “I’ve got Guinness on tap and everything.”
We spend the rest of the afternoon running errands: a hardware store to fix the shower knob; CVS to get batteries for the beeping carbon-monoxide detector Rudd forcibly ripped out of the wall. He no doubt thinks he’s seen the last of me. But on Thursday at four, I return to Moscot, and soon I am interviewing Rudd while he gets his eyes dilated. (“If you do another piece on me, we will go get my teeth cleaned,” he promises.) I learn many things: Rudd has an astigmatism, and nearsightedness, and a condition called blepharitis, a dandruff of the eyelid, that needs to be treated with medicated pads. “What would happen if I just rinsed my face with Head & Shoulders?” he asks. As the exam progresses, and more weird instruments are used to shine bright lights or shoot puffs of air into his eyes, Rudd’s pupils turn saucerlike and tears begin to stream down his face. He’s such a mess that as he pays up, I wonder if he can even see well enough to walk home. “Don’t worry about me,” Rudd insists, then promptly runs face-first into a wall. The entire room gasps. A second passes. Rudd turns around and beams. “Classic bit, for all of you!” he crows, and triumphantly walks away.