HOLLYWOOD - When Paul Rudd landed the role of diminutive Marvel Comics superhero Ant-Man, the reaction of most of his friends was disbelief. There were some chuckles, too.
“First I wondered … ‘Am I too old?’ ” Rudd tells The Japan Times. “They said, ‘No, you look young enough but…’ And no one would finish the sentence!”
The 46-year-old actor may not be the first person that springs to mind when casting a superhero, he is best known for his work in comedies and as a writer. But Ant-Man isn’t your typical hero. He has been described as more of a “well-meaning thief” who is thrust into a situation that leads to a heroic outcome. Rudd says this accidental heroism is exactly what made him interested in the part.
“It’s usually compelling to me when somebody ordinary gets stuck or maneuvered into a mental place where they’ll either cop out — and you have no movie — or they do something really extraordinary,” he says, possibly reflecting on his own career. The actor was born in prosaic Passaic, New Jersey, to British parents and the last name Rudnitzky. In his early 20s, he appeared in several TV roles. His big breakthrough came as the love interest in the 1995 teen classic “Clueless.” After that, Rudd’s resume includes such Gen X cultural touchstones as “Romeo + Juliet” (1996), “Friends” (2002-04) and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004).
Playing the role of a main character in the ever-growing Marvel universe — he is set to reprise the Ant-Man role in next year’s “Captain America: Civil War” — Rudd’s face will no doubt cement his familiarity with a new generation, too.
Another familiar face in the film belongs to Michael Douglas, who plays inventor Hank Pym. He creates a substance for a suit that allows a person to change size, which Scott Lang (Rudd) accidentally steals and tries out.
“It’s a cool story, I like that it starts out ordinary — not like “Superman,” with some myth or allegory,” Rudd says. “It has conflict, but nothing real extraordinary. Like life, it has humor, accidental events, coincidence and then come the special effects and the big ending (and) there’s still stuff to be resolved or explored so, you know — sequel!”
Rudd was also one of the screenplay writers on “Ant-Man,” along with Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Adam McKay. Wright was originally meant to direct the film as well, but that job went to Peyton Reed after Wright left over creative differences.
“There’s a story there,” Rudd says, “but I’m not gonna be the one to tell it.”
Rudd has also written for the TV show “Party Down” and the 2008 film “Role Models,” and it’s something he could see himself doing more of.
“I like writing, because whether you do it by committee or solo, it’s a pretty easy flow and you’re not judged by it,” he says. “Like, someone can dislike what you wrote without disliking you.
“I’ve played characters where some reviews were so personal it was like telling me, ‘We don’t like you.’ You’re really out there, emotionally, when you help carry a movie that’s not played for laughs. Many of those roles aren’t that far from who I am. With Scott Lang, it is further from me, yet I felt myself sort of melding into the part. The same thing happened when I once played gay. I didn’t think I’d identify to the extent I did, but it shows how you can inhabit a character and most any character isn’t that totally far from yourself. It’s almost like we’re each a variation on one generic human being.”
While joining the Marvel universe is a bit of a commitment, Rudd says he’d enjoy acting in a psychological drama in the future, “Even something as commercial as, say, a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ story.”
“We live in such a technologized world that movies about when technology goes bad are inevitable — and increasing,” Rudd says. “You could do all kinds of movies involving the gadgets we now use routinely and just exaggerate their effects or dangers, and warp humans into or inside machines. Only somebody’s imagination limits any of that, and it can make for interesting — conflicted characters who get the chance to become heroic by opposing that one human who wants to be a dictator.
“There’s always the need to rise to the occasion and defeat the guy without scruples, that power-hungry villain. It’s just surprising to me that this time I’m the guy who comes to the rescue! On the other hand, like, why not? Didn’t Michael Keaton play Batman?”
“Ant-Man” opens in cinemas nationwide on Sept. 19. For more information, visit www.marvel.com/antman. The Japan Times has five “Ant-Man” polo shirts to give away. The deadline for entries is Sept. 17. For more information, visit jtimes.jp/film.