Paul Rudd on Men’s Health, 53-year-old star of ‘Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania’ changed one writer’s perspective on aging, happiness, and purpose.
Write Ross McCammon.
That was Paul Rudd’s first joke, and it came about 30 seconds into our lunch at a Brooklyn café, right after I acknowledged that the sheer number of toasts available on the menu—from avocado to burrata to fig—made this the most “Brooklyn” café he could have possibly chosen for this interview.
Avocado toast with a side of Fleet Foxes. It’s a 2017 joke, but, still, it’s funny.
He would deliver like two other jokes over the next couple hours. Okay, maybe three. Ten max.
Rudd may be singularly hilarious in I Love You, Man; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy; This Is 40; and even Marvel’s Ant-Man, or in a million absurdist Conan appearances, and don’t get me wrong, the next two hours would involve laughter, good cheer, and so much grinning my cheeks hurt, but he’s not comedic in person. Not zany. Not even remotely off-the-wall. Wearing a beanie, glasses, and maybe a day and a half’s worth of stubble, he squinted at me for about five seconds outside the restaurant before I realized it was him. He politely asked if it was okay if we grabbed a table in the restaurant instead of in the coffee-shop area. And when we got to the table, I asked him if he’d rather sit facing the wall because, you know, he’s Ant-Man and people might sneak a few iPhone shots, and he said, “Well, I do usually. . . .” The overarching vibe is chill, gentle, low-key, generous.
And thank God. You can watch Paul Rudd chewing up scenery in his movies or during any of his five SNL hosting gigs, or just clear your schedule for an hour and YouTube “Paul Rudd.” He is genuinely very, very funny in literally every single thing he’s been in. But as with so many funny people, it’s complicated. Fueling that humor is a hopeful weariness we can all relate to—especially now. His funniest roles are marked by equal parts indignation and empathy. It’s as if Rudd has played a confused middle-aged dad his entire career, even as Josh in Clueless, when he was 26. Now that he’s actually a middle-aged dad, well, his portrayal of a fool suffering fools is highly compelling. Paul Rudd’s gift is something more interesting than being funny. And, to me, more powerful.
PAUL RUDD DOES NOT come from a lightweight people.
“This is my grandfather David,” Rudd says while moving his iPhone across the table and showing me a sepia-tone image of three frowning chaps with their arms crossed. David Rudd is in the tightest ribbed turtleneck ever donned, and the other two—Rudd’s great-uncles Jack and Morrie—are shirtless. They’d be considered jacked if they were around today. Correcting for inflation, they’re swole. “My grandfather would tour all over London as ‘The Strongest Man in England.’ ”
“He and my uncles would travel around and wrestle.”
After making plans to write a whole other story about the Fighting Rudds of England, I ask him if his dad was fit like his grandfather. Not really. But his grandfather—who would change the family name from Rudnitsky to Rudd during a time of anti-Semitism in England—passed down a genetic predisposition to hard work and earnest effort. His dad—an airline exec—was funny, but the target of his humor was foolishness and idiocy. “He was pretty cutting. Anything that George Carlin said sounded to me like my dad. He was pretty clear thinking, no bullshit. He could get very frustrated by idiots, and he would never let things roll off his back. He could get pretty animated talking about something that annoyed him, which was a lot of stuff.”
From his earliest roles, Rudd was highly believable when playing frustrated characters, manipulating the anger that resulted from that frustration—and the relief that resulted from overcoming it—for comedic effect.
His acting in the 2008 movie Role Models, costarring Seann William Scott, was partly an homage to his dad. “There’s a scene where I order a large black coffee and they say, ‘You mean venti?’ Just the naming of the coffee cups and the pretentious nonsense behind so many obvious things. . . . It’s a personal thing. And I remember putting this in and going, This is for my dad, because he will totally appreciate this. I thought, I can’t wait for my dad to see this. I’ve always just ordered black coffee, like my dad.”
It was also an homage to two movie scenes that helped Rudd see that anger isn’t as funny as incredulousness. The first is in 1986’s The Money Pit. “When the bathtub falls through the floor and Tom Hanks just starts maniacally laughing. God, who’s better than Tom Hanks?”
The other is in the underrated 1985 movie After Hours. Rudd says it made him want to study acting. “Griffin Dunne has been through so much. And he finally finds a safe harbor in some guy’s loft because there’s a mob out in the streets looking for him. And he calls the cops, and they say, Go get some sleep. And they hang up on him. But he doesn’t get mad. He’s just stupefied. And he says, ‘Oh, wow. Oh, wow.’ The only emotion is surprise. It’s beyond frustration. And it’s sublime.”
Here’s what tomorrow will look like for Rudd: “I get up and I have a cup of coffee, and then I do cardio before I eat anything. I never would’ve done that before [Ant-Man]. I lift weights, hopefully at least three times a week. And I’ve learned so much about how my body reacts to foods, how it reacts to exercise, and where I’m happiest and how much it affects me mentally. . . . If I’m in this suit, running around playing a character who’s supposed to be a superhero, I just feel better. And I feel less like an impostor.”
He eats eggs every day. A lot of salmon. Protein shakes that are just protein and water, no fruit.
“It sounds like hell. It’s really not. I find routine comforting.”
And he finds falling off that routine discomforting. Regimen has become essential for Rudd in the same way it’s become essential for so many of us who now do a lot of our work from home.
“There isn’t an office that we have to go to every day where we see the same people and do the same kind of job. Routine is a human need. It’s grounding in a really positive and healthy way.”
This past year was tough. There were two events that caused him to take stock of how much he’d fallen off his routine.
One was shooting Quantumania right after The Shrink Next Door, an eight-episode Apple TV+ miniseries that showed Rudd aging about 30 years. I loved watching Rudd and Will Ferrell play their characters mostly without any of the tricks they use for funnier roles, and it’s worth it just to see how Rudd’s genetics seem to defy even the efforts of professional makeup and special-effects artists. As a 70-something old man, he still looks young. And soft.
“I worked really hard to get back into shape for Quantumania, and I realized, Oh my God, this is so much harder than it was [for the last Ant-Man project]. I had fallen off more than I had in the past. All of a sudden my clothes fit tight. And I thought, God, this sucks. I can’t even wear these pants. So I’d say to myself, Well, I might as well just eat some of these cookies. I was irritable and self-conscious. I just wasn’t in a good mood. I really beat myself up.”Paul Rudd
Do you see what others see, what I’m seeing right now, that you don’t seem to have aged as quickly as other men in their 50s? I ask him.
“I see some things that people are politely not acknowledging. I’m certainly happy that people don’t say the opposite. Like, God, he looks a hundred years old! It’s flattering, but at the same time, I never know what the response is supposed to be.”
Come to think of it, I wouldn’t know how to respond, either. Because who knows what’s responsible for it? It’s almost certainly an alchemy of genetics and all the resources available to a rich actor who needs to look his best in order to land more roles that make him richer and richer. And gallons of moisturizer.
As I sit across from Rudd, he looks young, sure. Maybe 42? And if a sunbeam christens his chiseled jaw in the right way, a little like a superhero. But the overwhelming impression is something more nuanced—and more earned—than that. He looks like an expert.
This story appears in the March 2023 issue of Men’s Health.
Photography Carter Smith
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