There are certain actors who carry a movie without having to bear the weight. Paul Rudd invented this situation. He’s a character actor with leading-man looks who impressively walks the fine line between the two without losing a shred of the charisma that would make President Obama proud. Girls love that smile. Guys love that he thinks Coldplay is “gay.” Filmgoers eagerly line up to see movies he’s featured in (well, we'll find out with Role Models). A trained stage actor, Rudd seems to effortlessly portray a whole gamete of characters who only resemble one another only because of those trademark baby-blues.
7. As Kevin in 200 Cigarettes
Recap: As a heartbroken twenty something whose affinity for cancer-sticks rivals only his instance that without love, life is neither meaningful, nor necessary.
Reason: As he does with so many of his roles, Rudd knows when to take the volume to eleven. Anyone else wouldn’t have instinctively pulled back in all the right moments. This is a great example of a young actor flashing A-list chops while having to combat an onscreen mess-of-an-actress in the form of Courtney Love. His ability to incite laughter even at his most annoying saves the film on a repetitive basis. 200 Cigarettes wouldn’t have half its cult following without him.
6. As Andy, in Wet Hot American Summer
Recap: As one of the several inept summer camp counselors, Rudd rocks it likes it’s 1981 as a jean-jacket-wearing douche bag whose affinity for chasing “tail” interferes with his ambition to look after the youths.
Reason: When Rudd’s not busy convincingly portraying pushovers, he’s brilliant at playing dimwitted, overconfident douche bags whose lust for women rules over any good-natured requirements to counsel children. You absolutely hate him, but quietly wish you could be that brashly confident (namely because of his inexplicable ability to woo women far better than Bill Murray could in Meatballs). When a young child is chiding Rudd for not looking after his swimming campers he simply implies, “It’s your job to make sure kids don’t drown,” to which Rudd responds (with a young Elizabeth Banks licking his face), “Um…” Exactly my point.
5. As Jeff Reigert in The Ten
Recap: Plays a man torn between honest love with his gorgeous wife (Famke Janssen), and the adulterous affair he’s having with an alluring younger woman (Jessica Alba). He’s also the man plucked to introduce us to the sacred Ten Commandments, which includes the infamous “thou shalt must not commit adultery” amongst its harsh requirements.
Reason: When will people learn to appreciate Rudd’s brilliance in balancing deadpan, and all-out hilarity? This film is a satire, but he’s almost too convincing when going for authenticity amidst a brilliantly candid script that points the adulterous finger right at him. When you find an actor who can sling sarcastic one-liners while still almost winning over your sympathy, well Jesus, you’ve really got something.
4. As David in The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Recap: David is an employee at a Best-Buy-like retail store whose recent breakup keeps popping into conversation. As a likable enough guy whose false hopes for reconciliation, Rudd continually alludes to the “magic” of his failed relationship, always reciprocating it with an anecdote about how the experience virtually destroyed him. [Note: Tough call between placing his role as Brian Fantana in Anchorman here. Virtually identically important/well delivered performances]
Reason: Anyone else in this role would have tried to do too much to get across heartache. Rudd almost pokes fun at the disposition without coming across as a pretty-boy poseur who wouldn’t know the first thing about being dumped. This is the sort or role Rudd now slips into with ease. What’s remarkable isn’t only his ability to pull it off, but make us believe a thirty-something can carry the baggage of immaturity with the conviction of a much younger man.
3. As Josh in Clueless
Recap: Rudd makes his first major-film impression portraying a bookworm whose flirtations with law school are redirected towards his underage half-sister.
Reason: This film may have been Alicia Silverstone’s breakout film, but she couldn’t have had a better co-star to assist her to mega stardom. Rudd’s effortless display of sarcastic rebellion is seen here for the first time. Though still toying with the formula he now utilizes to perfection, Josh is a younger version of the stellar middle-aged, over-educated underachiever Rudd was born to play.
2. As Adam Sorenson in The Shape of Things
Recap: When an aloof museum attendant bumps into an attractive art student with quirky eccentricities, he’s immediately drawn to her (forgive the pun). This is the story of what happens when a genuinely good person falls in love with someone willing to sacrifice someone else’s heart for art.
Reason: This isn’t even an especially good film, but it’s how Rudd morphs into a dweeb, and then slowly back into the confident good-natured guy he appears to be at first glance, that impresses you. It’s uncanny how an actor—who can be so offensively sarcastic in several roles, can tone down the dude-to-dude banter so far it leaves you wondering how he could ever pull it off in the first place. When you find an actor who can play a cute, geeky type, and then reel back and deliver nothing short of a male-slut in his next role ... you know you’ve got a real talent on your hands.
1. As Pete in Knocked Up
Recap: Plays a good father whose wife (Leslie Mann) is so uncannily stir-crazy he struggles to balance his life as a rock-critic, father, and doting husband considering her laundry lists of eccentricities. He’s even got to lie about attending his Fantasy Baseball Draft. Absurd!
Reason: You have all seen this film, so the specifics do not required explanation. Let’s just say that Rudd could have easily taken Seth Rogen’s role, but not vice versa. The road trip to Vegas, the Back to the Future conversation, it's all brilliant. Perhaps it’s his rare sense of wit that allows him to balance out the characters dynamic so well. His ability to see the situation from both sides allows him to walk around in Pete’s shoes because he understands what it would be like to be in Rogen’s… flip flops.