In Kansas City, Paul Rudd was a hero before he ever donned a costume and began fighting crime.
The affable and busy actor, who grew up in Overland Park, already endeared himself to his hometown through his Big Slick Celebrity Weekend. The charity event, which Rudd co-hosts with KC-area stars Jason Sudeikis, Rob Riggle, Eric Stonestreet and David Koechner, has raised millions for Children’s Mercy hospital's Cancer Center.
Now Rudd is back exhibiting his cinematic heroics in two new movies. He reprises his role of the size-shifting Avenger in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the latest Marvel blockbuster. He says the sequel (which he co-wrote) allows him to “lean into the humor” of the material more this time.
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Rudd also portrays the real-life secret agent Moe Berg in “The Catcher Was a Spy,” the story of a Boston Red Sox ballplayer who infiltrated the Nazis during World War II.
Meanwhile, the 49-year-old performer’s Dorian Gray appearance has grabbed the attention of other celebs. Comedian Mindy Kaling launched the hashtag #paulruddisawitch when tweeting “Paul Rudd has been handsome for 40 years and is somehow still like 32.”
This prompted “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert to ask him if he bathes in panda placenta to maintain such boyish good looks.
Calling from his home in New York prior to the “Ant-Man” opening day, Rudd discusses his job as an Avenger, the superhero potential of his fellow Big Slick hosts, the downside of eternal youth and his obsession with Worlds of Fun.
Q: You play two very different kinds of heroes in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “The Catcher Was a Spy.” Is there a specific trait they share?
A: Both of those characters — though one was real — were people making a sacrifice for the big picture. They’re putting themselves on the line for the good of the world. Those things are similar, even though they’re clearly very different types of characters.
In our last interview you said the first “Ant-Man” was essentially a heist film. What word would you use to describe this new one?
A search-and-rescue film? I guess that’s really three words.
How did you feel about being excluded from “Avengers: Infinity War?”
I knew why. But when I saw it, there was a little bit of the feeling that there’s a party going on and I didn’t get the invitation. I loved the movie, though. Is it called FOMO? Fear of Missing Out? I may have had a little of that.
At this year’s Big Slick, you provided a Captain America shield signed by your fellow Marvel superheroes that auctioned for $53,000. How did you gather those autographs?
When we were shooting “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” we were also shooting another “Avengers.” So everyone was around. I was able to get a shield, and I just kind of went around. It was like having students sign your yearbook. I put it on the table and said, “All right, when you get a second, please go over and sign it.” That was pretty amazing. I think that was a solid investment by the guy who bought it.
Did anybody write anything unusual?
Everybody just signed it. They knew it was going to go for charity. I said I was doing it for Big Slick, so people were respectful. If it was something for me, I’m sure it would have received a slew of inappropriate messages.
If the other Big Slick hosts were to be cast as Marvel superheroes, which ones would they play?
Oh man. Let’s see. We’ll start with Riggle. I could see Riggle as … you know, I’m going down the list and thinking, he could be Hulk. But then Koechner could be Hulk. They’re literally all coming up Hulk.
Sudeikis would be the one who is not Hulk. Sudeikis would be Tony Stark. Iron Man.
You are regarded as one of the most instantly likable actors. When is the last time you were in a situation when someone genuinely disliked you?
I’m sure that happens on a regular basis. It just isn’t on a talk show. When was the last time I was genuinely disliked? It happens with about the same frequency it happens to anybody else. Then again, sometimes people are extra nice to me if they recognize me. But they think I have a very false existence anyway.
Because deep down they’re thinking, “Oh, it’s just some spoiled Hollywood liberal,” right?
Absolutely. They’re nice to my face. Then they walk away and say, “There’s nothing special about that guy at all. And he’s shorter than I thought.”
You got to reunite with Kansas City actor David Dastmalchian in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” What new obscure KC references did you guys discuss while shooting this time?
We went through a whole list on the first go-round. This time, I’m thinking we got lost on the topic of old Worlds of Fun rides. My favorite was always the Zambezi Zinger. But we thought of one I’d forgotten about called the Schussboomer. We spent some time talking about that.
Did you know the Zambezi Zinger is now located in Colombia?
Yeah. I read an article about that. You know, that’s kind of nice. It’s a little like having the Queen Mary docked in Long Beach. It’s not sailing, but you know it’s out there.
Were the Ant-Man scenes or Giant-Man scenes more freaky to film?
The Giant-Man scenes. I’m supposed to move slow. So I do, and I just feel silly. When I’m really small, I’m not even there. So those are just great. Moreso on the first one, when I was small, I had to go through all the actions in a separate room surrounded by lots of cameras so that they could digitally put me into these scenes when I was really small. Technology has improved in the last few years so that I had to do a lot less of that this time. But the Giant-Man stuff, we did actually shoot some of that where I’m acting like a big lumbering goof.
Are you embarrassed by any movies from your past?
I’m not embarrassed by any of them, and I know there are several that I should be. But my outlook tends to be that I go into every one of them thinking this could be really good. There have been a couple that I knew going in were not going to be that great. But only a couple, and I did them for very specific reasons. And it can be soul-crushing, for sure. This might surprise some people, but I really care about what I do. When it doesn’t work, it affects me. However, I am pretty good at having the initial mourning period and then just moving on.
Considering the dozens of movies you’ve made, do you think you’ve ever created an iconic character?
I don’t think I’ve created any kind of iconic character. But there are characters more extreme than the others that are identifiable. I can’t imagine that I’ve created an iconic character like Ron Burgundy (in the "Anchorman" movies, which co-starred Rudd). That’s an iconic character in my mind — in the comedy world. I’ll tell you an iconic character that is one of the great comedic performances is Jack Black in “School of Rock.” I can’t imagine anybody else who would do it or could do it like that.
You’ve now seized the mantle of eternal youth from the late Dick Clark. But have you ever experienced ageism?
I’ve got a 13-year-old son. I experience it every day. There’s nothing that makes you feel your age than hanging out with a bunch of teenagers. And that’s fine with me.
What would be your ideal 50th birthday celebration?
It would involve being with my family, preferably someplace warm. By the time that rolls around (in April), I’ll be ready for a vacation. I haven’t given it much thought, as far as the celebration. Having a big party seems like such work. I tend to go smaller.