ENTERTAINMENT
03/20/2013 09:12 am ET

Paul Rudd, 'Admission' Star, On Kansas, 'Prince Avalanche,' And Why He Can't Pass For Jon Hamm

Paul Rudd has had two movie careers. Chances are, you remember his first: it's the one that started with "Clueless" and ended with the release of "Anchorman" in 2004. Like the rest of society, however, you have somehow repressed that career in favor of the one Rudd has now, where he often stars as the affable and lovable funnyman. (There's no sarcasm in that last sentence: We do love Paul Rudd.) What's interesting, though, is to listen to Rudd discuss that first run, as he does here, before "Anchorman" changed everything. Think of it this way: Paul Rudd was in "The Cider House Rules."

Before we get to that, however, there's this: Rudd stars in this week's new comedy, "Admission." When I met Rudd at his Midtown Manhattan hotel, it was in the middle of a New York City snowstorm and that kind of threw his press day into a bit of a disarray. Flights to New York were canceled, so what was supposed to be a short interview became (after a somewhat difficult commute to his hotel by this reporter) a free-for-all conversation about almost anything.

In "Admission," Rudd plays the administrator of an alternative high school who does his best to influence a Princeton admissions counselor (played by Tina Fey) about one of his most gifted students. Here, Rudd discusses his own experience in college at the University of Kansas, the benefits of growing up in the Midwest, and the "secret movie" he made with director David Gordon Green, "Prince Avalanche." Oh, and Paul Rudd loves pistachios.

Paul Rudd: Want some pistachios?

Mike Ryan: I'd feel bad taking your pistachios.
No, I can put this in here and we can eat pistachios while we talk.

Nothing goes better with a New York blizzard than pistachios.
They go hand in hand. Pistachios are the kind of thing you kind of forget how good they are until you start eating them. Like, "God, I really enjoy these." It's like bowling.

Are there "famous people" pistachios? Do you get better pistachios?
I just grabbed these from the mini bar. [Rudd proceeds to talk at length about pistachio ice cream, which is much more interesting in person than it would ever read in print.]

Are you aware that Jon Hamm has pretended to be you?
Pretends he's me? In what way?

At a charity golf tournament at the University of Missouri, a journalist friend of mine witnessed Jon Hamm say, "Paul Rudd." when asked his name by an unknowing photographer for the caption. Hamm did confirm this.

[Laughs] Well, you know, Jon and I were roommates. Jon and I go back since we were teenagers. But I went to Kansas and he went to Missouri, so I wonder if that had more to do with any kind of an MU connection and to put me in there just to, you know. He's never told me that.

I'm a fan of that story.
Yeah, that's a good one. "Paul Rudd," he just said me. I don't think it would work the other way around if they asked me who I was and I said, "Jon Hamm." No one would believe it. "Oh, yeah. OK, sure. And how tall are you?"

I think you're right. He wanted it to read "Mizzou alumnus Paul Rudd."
Yeah, that's what that was all about. It had to have been, right? I'm surprised he didn't say, "Yeah, my name is Paul Rudd and also if you could just put in there 'KU Sucks.'" I always tell people, in Columbia, Mo., where Mizzou is -- as you know and for the people reading this -- there's a place called Guns, Liquor & Ammo. Or there was.

No, there is.
That was there, yeah.

We should talk about your movie.
I'm sorry. But, let's be honest, we don't need to talk about the movie. Who cares? You want a drink?

Yeah, OK.
What do you want? Coke, Sprite?

Whatever you grab is fine. You know, we are talking about college, and that is a theme of the movie.
OK, yeah ... that's true! Way to bring it back!

It's a movie about Princeton, which is why we're talking about a Big 12 and now SEC school.
Did you apply to Princeton or any of these Ivy League schools?

No, just Mizzou. I didn't even apply anywhere else.
No, me either. I went to high school in Kansas and, now, I'll go to KU, then I went to an acting school. And it wasn't until I went to acting school that I even realized, "Oh my God, I'm never going to take a geography class. I'm never going to take a math class or an English class. All I'm going to do is read plays and work on plays." That was the first time where I thought, "Oh my God, I don't want to be stupid," and I started reading and trying to educate myself a little bit. By the way, I went to KU, but, had I applied to Princeton, I wouldn't have gotten in -- or any Ivy League school, realistically. But, I do look back and think that it would have been really cool to have done that.

I would have loved to have gone to one of those Ivy League schools. But, now, as an adult, I wonder if I would have loved to have gone to one of those Ivy League schools for the experience of going to one of those schools, or would I have loved to have gone to one of those schools because then I could say as an adult that I went to one of those schools.

But things turned out well for you. If you had gone a different direction, who knows if that still happens?
I don't know. It's not something I spend too much time thinking about that kind of thing, because it wasn't the way that it went. But, now that I have children of my own, I start thinking, What's my opinion about what college is going to be for them? You know, my parents are European, they're both from England, and I never went to high school and had my parents say, "OK, we have to do this because you have to apply to colleges." That was never a conversation in my house. I just grew up differently, so I never applied to any other schools.

And now that I live in New York, and I know this world, like in the movie. I know people who went to all of these different schools. And I live in New York City and I have kids -- one is in pre-school and one is in 2nd grade -- but, already, you can see the trajectory that parents want to put their kids on so that they get into one of these schools. It's a very East Coast thing.

And you grew up in the Midwest ...
I like it. I like being from the Midwest. I like being from the flyover states. It's weird, I identify myself -- I don't know how I identify myself. Do I identify myself as a Midwesterner? I've lived in New York City longer than any place -- I've lived here for 18 years. And I was born here and I lived in California as a kid. I lived in Kansas twice. And my parents were from London. So, I always felt like I was kind of moving around and I never knew where my roots really were. But, I think the formative years for me were spent in the Midwest. And, during that time, I think I kind of came to this conclusion that it's a good thing to grow up in a place that you know is not the cool place to be. I think it's good for your kids' psyche and character to know that you're living in a place that people don't necessarily come to. Unless they have relatives, you don't visit.

And now, when I go back to Kansas City -- and I go back, still, pretty often -- while I am happy that I live here, I will say there is something ... I do feel more relaxed there. People seem to be friendlier. And there's something I really treasure about it. I love New York City -- it's the greatest city in the world -- but there are some aspects of Kansas City that I really miss.

When I was at Sundance I saw "Prince Avalanche."
Oh, right on.

It was really nice to see David Gordon Green do a small film like this after something like "The Sitter" which was critically panned and didn't do well at the box office.
Like a throwback to some of his earlier movies?

Exactly. Did you get that sense?
Well, David is awesome. I love that guy. I've known him since "George Washington" -- we met at a film festival. We met at Rotterdam and it was like, "These guys are awesome." And David, who I became good friends with, I just remember thinking, This guy is the real deal. There's nothing pretentious about him and he's funny as hell. And he's quirky and poetic. He really is. You know, I think part of what is authentic about him is that he did go off and do "The Sitter" or "Your Highness." I remember when he was making "Your Highness," he goes, "I kind of picture it being a stoner movie, but it's 'Krull.' A stoner 'Krull.'" And he's like, "I guess studios didn't really like that description."

Because "Krull" was such a huge hit.
Exactly! All of the things he might like are things that maybe not the majority of people might like. Like "Stroker Ace." Or "Six Pack." He's like, "That's a great movie," and he'll tell you why. But, working on "Prince Avalanche," which was very much an intentional exercise in making a movie just because we wanted to make a movie. And no bells and whistles -- just focus on the heart of it: a simple story. When we were making it, I didn't even know it it would be seen.

Really?
When it came out that we had made it, there were articles, "You guys made a secret movie."

That's true.
That wasn't our intention at all. We just didn't announce anything. There was no pressure, we just got some cameras.

Though, "secret movie" sounds cool.
It does sound cool. We didn't make a big deal. We didn't go through the channels that you go through to publicize your movie. We just wanted to make this movie that was a remake of an Icelandic movie called "Either Way." And we thought it would be fun. And to connect with what it was for him and for me. What's fun about this? We both spent many years trying to achieve something -- trying to work. Thankfully, we both have had success at it -- or some success at it. And, with that, comes expectations and then pressure.

Well, that's interesting about expectations because your career is interesting. You burst onto the scene in "Clueless." And then I feel you burst onto the scene again in a lot of comedies in the early 2000s. Is it weird that your 1995 to 2003 seems different to me than from "Anchorman" on?
"Anchorman" was definitely ... sure, well, "Anchorman" was a shift in my career as far as doing ... I started doing movies that people saw!

People had seen your prior movies.
Well, yeah, I had done "The Cider House Rules" and stuff. But, I started working with a lot of the same people after "Anchorman" -- working with Judd Apatow. And then I started getting involved more in writing and stuff like that after "Anchorman." And they were all comedies. But, yeah, I mean, I've always just wanted to be a working actor and I wanted to do things that I liked. I was definitely drawn to comedies. I know I was. But I also like drama.

Well, that's kind of why a movie like "Prince Avalanche" feels like a throwback for everyone.
By the way, I saw when it played at Sundance and people were really laughing. And I remember kind of being surprised that it got as many laughs as it did. Because, for me, and I know with David, a lot of things we found funny in it were things that were not really funny. And they just sounded kind of strange. You know, David's sense of humor is really weird and I love it. But I don't think that we are so maybe unique in that. So, it was nice to hear people laugh at certain things, but I was surprised that it got as many laughs as it did. But, again, I never viewed that as a comedy or a drama or whatever. I don't even know! It was an experiment!

I won't take any more of your time. Thank you for the pistachios, by the way.
Sure thing! Take some for the road!

I feel I've left a mess.
It's impossible not to leave a mess when you're eating pistachios.

But this is your room.
Hell, it's not my room. They just rented it for the day. I wish it were my room.

When I'm buried in snow and this is my only source of life, I'll think of you.
I saved your life.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

PHOTO GALLERIES
'Admission' Photos

Subscribe to the Entertainment email.
Home to your favorite fan theories and the best movie recs.

CONVERSATIONS