INTERVIEW: Paul Rudd on breaking into the Marvel Universe in Ant-Man

INTERVIEW: Paul Rudd on breaking into the Marvel Universe in Ant-Man

Paul Rudd’s first official appearance as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe came last summer at San Diego’s Comic-Con where he, his Ant-Man co-stars Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stoll, and director Peyton Reed, took part in the first half of a panel for Disney’s two 2015 Marvel movies, Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

To be honest, Rudd looked a bit overwhelmed, but in that adorable, wide-eyed way that makes the amiable actor even more endearing. His film hadn’t even started shooting, and there he was staring down thousands of rabid comic book fans.

After Rudd and his cast-mates left the stage, Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” started blaring from the audio system and Robert Downey Jr. strut on stage and proceeded to fling red roses at the crowd. The rest of the Avengers followed with similar bravado.

“I had never been to Comic-Con before and I was standing there amongst the Avengers. That’s like going out with the Beatles,” says Rudd, now in the more comfortable confines of his New York home. On this day, the only pressure he feels is whether or not to go to an orientation at his daughter’s future kindergarten later this afternoon.

What factors will influence this important decision?

“If I feel like it,” he says with a laugh, before adding, “I’m sure that I will, because I don’t want anybody from the school to read this. If one of the higher ups is at a theatre in Mississauga and picks this thing up and leafs through it…”

Whaaaa? Did Paul Rudd just throw down a Mississauga reference? How does the star of I Love You, Man, This is 40, TV’s "Friends", and the man about to become Marvel’s newest star, know about Toronto’s suburban sister to the west?

“I have relatives in Mississauga,” he says. “I have cousins and an aunt and uncle. My grandparents were in Mississauga. I’ve had relatives in and around the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] my whole life.”

Rudd, it turns out, comes from a family of European Jews (his grandfather changed their surname from Rudnitzky) who relocated after World War II. “My grandparents were in England. Except for my dad, and then his parents who emigrated to New Jersey right after the war, everybody else in the family went to Toronto,” he explains.

“So on my mom’s side of the family, both my grandparents…in my entire life they always lived in Canada. And my mom’s sister and my uncle and their two sons were born and still live in Toronto and my aunt is in Canada, and so many cousins, all of my cousins, everybody’s Canadian!”

Rudd was born in Passaic, New Jersey, then moved with his family to Kansas City, from where he made regular family trips to Ontario.

He made his professional screen debut on TV’s "Sisters" in 1992 then did a run of rom-coms and dramas (Clueless, The Object of My Affection, The Cider House Rules) until finding his niche in comedy.

So it was a bit of a surprise when he was chosen to play Ant-Man, the Marvel superhero who can shrink down to the size of an ant while maintaining incredible strength. Actually, Rudd plays Scott Lang, the protégé of the original Ant-Man, scientist Hank Pym (Douglas), who developed the Ant-Man suit then tapped Lang, a petty criminal, as his successor.

“[Lang is] somebody who likes to root for the little guy, who’s made some choices in his life that you could argue are not the smartest choices, but maybe they’re well intentioned,” says Rudd.

He agrees he was an unusual choice for the role, but says, “That made me want to do it.”

That, and the fact that his friend Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) was set to direct and wanted him for the part. Rudd didn’t even have to audition. “I went down and met the Marvel guys and kind of did just some kind of physical stuff,” he recalls. “I think they just wanted to make sure I could do some of these things.”

But in May of last year, Wright abruptly left the project. After spending seven years on Ant-Man, and writing the script with partner Joe Cornish, Wright just couldn’t see eye to eye with Marvel on a few important points.

“Well, you know, it was a speed bump, obviously, in the middle of the thing, but the train kind of righted itself pretty quickly,” says Rudd. “One, because it had to. It wasn’t like we were going to push the movie. But two, Peyton came on board and Peyton is so, I mean, Peyton is the hero in this thing because he’s a great director, but he’s very, very magnanimous and unflappable.”

Another script was written, but discarded.

That’s when Rudd and his pal writer/director Adam McKay (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues) started working on a rewrite of Wright’s script.

“There were certain things that Marvel wanted and then we had some ideas,” explains Rudd. “We spent a pretty good amount of time in L.A., in New York, we’d get together and spend a couple months getting this thing in place.”

In the end, Wright, Cornish, McKay and Rudd all get writing credits. Rudd’s nod is just the second feature film writing credit of his career, after 2008’s Role Models.

“I’ve never written anything in this world before, like a superhero movie, so that part was kind of exhilarating,” he says. “And I’m a firm believer in, no matter what kind of film it is, whether it’s a drama or comedy or superhero, whatever anybody else wants to classify it, I don’t think in those terms. I only care about characters, relationships, and intention. And it’s like, all right, now let’s do some of that, but throw some ants in there.”

He’s kidding.

In fact, ants are very important to him. “These are my friends. I feel a real kinship to them now, and I find them fascinating,” he says. Not only will he no longer kill an ant, he won’t even usher one out of his home. “I just leave them alone,” he says.

We already know that Rudd’s Ant-Man will appear in the next Marvel movie, Captain America: Civil War — but beyond that?

“We’ll see, I don’t think in terms of really long term. The other thing too is, I’m not 100 percent sure of what’s expected of me over the next several years, I really don’t. I mean, who even knows? This movie hasn’t even come out yet.”

As for the nearer future, is he going to that kindergarten orientation?

“Ah, I probably will,” he says. “I probably will be, yeah.”

Marni Weisz is the editor of Cineplex Magazine.