THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION
December 31, 1997
At the Helen Hayes Theatre in NYC
A perfect combination of James Dean and the boy next door, Paul Rudd graciously greeted me with a big handshake and a warm smile just before curtain call on New Year's Eve. At the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway, Rudd was starring in The Last Night of Ballyhoo, a touching Alfred Uhry drama that gracefully blends stirring romance, witty one-liners and meaningful reflection in the story of a Southern family grappling with their American-Jewish identity in the 1930s. Personable and startlingly down to earth, Rudd is the rare exception in ego-dominated Hollywood.
A New York City resident, Rudd may soon find a walk in the park to be more like a fan frenzy. Already idolized by millions of female Clueless fans, Rudd is soon to be a universally household name. With his role as Alicia Silverstone's brotherly beau in Clueless, his romantic lead in Ballyhoo, and now his star turn opposite Jennifer Anniston in The Object of My Affection, Rudd proves that, even in Hollywood, sometimes nice guys finish first.
THC: About The Object of My Affection, did you feel that you were taking a career risk, or career jump, by playing a homosexual character?
PR: Not really. I think that as cheesy at it is, everyone's like, "Oh, its kind of in to be gay," which is kind of ridiculous. The one thing is, I don't think that it's as taboo as it was 20 years ago.
I really like the story, and I thought that it was probably such a common story that hasn't really been told in a main-stream American film. No, I never really thought of risks, I never thought, `Well, I don't really want to play this character because he's gay.' You just hope to play interesting parts, and that was an interesting part. And I was so thrilled to work with the people that were involved. Because they were so good. It just kinda went back to the same thing, "Oh my God, what am I doing in this?" The very first day, I had a scene with Alan Alda. It was my first day of shooting and I had been doing the play for six months, I hadn't worked in front of a camera for over a year, and I just felt that if I lifted up my shirt it was going to say "Made in Taiwan" across my stomach. I felt completely over-whelmed.
One of the most interesting things about it is that is doesn't really fit into a genre, and American films, they're so intent on genre, and this, if it had to fall into anything, it would be romantic comedy. But I guess the very essence of romantic comedy, you know the man and woman perfect for each other go through hell, lose each other, a lot of laughs in between--till finally they find each other again in the end. This has all of those elements except the main character is gay, so it doesn't really fit into that genre because you can't have happily ever after the way the audience wants it to be. I know for Nick Hytner, who directed it, the challenge would be to pull that off, to make it emotionally fulfilling, and yet real and painful and all of that.
THC: Do you consider yourself part of the Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio group of actors?
PR: Boy, for different films there's always a list that goes around to casting directors and directors of actors, and I think those guys are definitely above me as far as lists go. But sometimes, I'm on the same lists as them just because we happen to fall in the same age category, and often compete for the same roles, which they usually win (laugh). I really like both of those guys.
I try not to think of myself in any category and I don't ever really try to imagine myself competing with another actor. I just know I want to do the things that I would want to see and I know the things that turn me on, whether it's on the stage, or its a play or a film. I just kind of want to keep doing my own thing.
THC: What do you think about the role of appearances in Hollywood? Do you think looks have become more important than they used to be?
PR: Yeah, probably. I think they're really important in television for some reason and they're really important in America...But yeah, the best man usually does not get the role. Sometimes the best ass does. Or the best face.
THC: Why did you take the role in Ballyhoo?
PR: I have a personal connection to it in a lot of ways. The reason that I took it was because it was, I thought, a pretty well-crafted play and it was on Broadway, and how cool is that?
I am of Russian/Polish descent, I am in real life the other kind, which is the character that I'm portraying in this play, and I think this character is a lot more eloquent and rooted in who he is and how his religion influences his life, maybe a little more than I am.
I grew up in Kansas, so I definitely felt a little ostracized, a little independent as far as that goes, being a Jew in Kansas, there weren't that many in the town I was in. But my upbringing was probably more like the Freitag family in this play in that I was raised with Christmas. The line "Jewish Christmas trees don't have stars," which is one of the first lines in this play, is literally right out of my upbringing. So, I'll do this play, my parents will come see it, and we'll all feel absolutely hypocritical and guilty.
THC: Is there a particular person who inspires you to act?
PR: I don't know if it was as much inspiration as it was enlightenment, and that was Steve Martin. And I think it was his comedy records. I used to love, love Steve Martin. I still do...I would get these albums and I would just listen to them all the time. I would stand in my room and pretend that I was delivering his comedy routine...And I don't know if that planted any kind of seed, but I wasn't raised going to the theatre.
THC: I have to ask you one `gossipy' question (not boxers or briefs or anything as risque as that). What are you doing for New Year's Eve?
PR: Well, um, you know it wasn't even finalized until today. Nick Hytner is having a gathering so I'm going to go there, and then a buddy of mine is having a big party...I don't normally participate in New Year's Eve, it's usually such a let down. But I'm not expecting anything. I'm looking at it as just another night out. My main ambition is to get out of Times Square before midnight.
And it's boxers, by the way.