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Elisabeth Rappe

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Elisabeth Rappe is a regular contributor to Film.com, CHUD, and The Spectator's arts blog. She spends her off-time with comic books, her pug, Elliot, video games, and Clint Eastwood movies.

Why People Love Paul Rudd

Think fast! Do you know anyone who hates Paul Rudd?

You don’t.  None of us do.  It’s possible they may not know who he is. (“Paul Rudd? Don’t know if I’ve seen his stuff.”) But once you illuminate them – “Do you remember the guy who was trying to win back his girlfriend in The 40 Year Old Virgin? Or the harried dad in Knocked Up?” – they’ll undoubtedly say “Oh! That guy! Yeah, he’s cute and funny. I like him.”

If you show someone a photo of Paul Rudd and they say “Ugh! I hate him!”, gently ask them why.  They probably have him confused with Stephen Moyer, who plays Vampire Bill on True Blood, and is disliked largely because Vampire Bill is a courtly Southerner, and not Eric Northman.  Once you point out they’re two different people, and that Vampire Bill is a fake person, and Moyer is probably a decent dude if you get to know him, I imagine the response will be “Oh! Paul Rudd, I like that guy. He was so dreamy in Clueless!”

But why do people really love him?

It’s because Rudd is, to cop Goldilocks’ blissful phrase, just right. He’s good looking, but comfortably so. Men can watch him and not feel threatened. Women can enjoy him without feeling like he’d use and abuse them. He’s that guy you’re friends with, dating, or married to.  He’s delightfully normal and happy to be here.

He’s talented and versatile, but not in one of those imposing, frightening, and distant ways like a Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, or Viggo Mortensen.  You can only handle those guys once a year, and only during the bleak and dramatic midwinter.  Rudd can quietly slip into a film, a talk show, or an SNL sketch and entertain you before you realize just what has happened.  I’m laughing! He Mac and Me’d us again! Oh, that Rudd.

No, his talent hasn’t been tested as flamboyantly as Jason Bateman’s (who can sleaze it up so beautifully), but he’s quietly hopped genres, fitting into romance, comedy, and drama without fanfare, and turning in a solid performance each and every time. We tend to brush off an actor who can downplay himself, unless it’s George Clooney, at which point it’s hailed as Best Actor greatness, but it’s a gift to be an everyman actor without having to go all Method about it.

Praising Rudd’s affability makes him seem boring, though, and he’s anything but. Rudd has no restraint, and is willing to do just about anything for the sake of a laugh.  He’ll pose nude for Andy Samberg, bust a move as Tayne, sit straight-faced through a Mac and Me clip, or put on a 1970s shag to bemoan women in the workplace. It’s the best kind of humor – unfiltered, but not screaming for attention like so many other comedic actors.   Even when his characters are ludicrous (Wet Hot American Summer, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), they’re the kind of idiot we’ve actually met at some point.

But the real reason we like Rudd is that he’s so good at playing us.  We’ve been the retail employee going out of their mind listening to Michael McDonald, the person who finds themselves without a same-sex friend, a tired parent who decides to go wild in Vegas, the corporate stooge desperate to please their boss, and the schmuck who has to do community service with a SCA enthusiast.  We watch him try, fail, suffer, and succeed and we laugh along with a wince, remembering when we were there, and knowing we’ll be there again.   And in our dreams, we handle it as smoothly and wittily as Rudd’s characters do, knowing we don’t, but glad he’s there to be our fantasy inner monologue.

That’s why we like — no, love –  Paul Rudd.


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Tags: Clueless, Forgetting sarah marshall, Knocked up, Paul rudd, The 40-year-old virgin, Wet hot american summer