Paul Rudd on mid-life crisis in This Is 40
Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are back and now they're heading for a mid-life crisis, writes Neala Johnson
Having examined the average American male's arrested adolescence for every last gram of comic potential, director Judd Apatow turns his attention to the midlife crisis in This is 40, a raw and raucous look at one of the major danger zones in modern married life.
"Hopefully, you have a little bit of a grace period in between," says Paul Rudd, who plays the filmmaker's everyman alter ego in the new film.
"But I guess at every point of your life you are wrestling with something."
A "sort of" sequel to Knocked Up, This is 40 takes up the story of Rudd's character several years down the track.
Overfamiliarity, the strains and stresses of parenthood, and stretched finances have taken their toll on what is an essentially solid relationship between Peter and Debbie (plated by Apatow's real-life wife Leslie Mann).
As their combined big birthday approaches, he practices avoidance, while she throws herself into an obsessive cycle of diet, exercise and self-improvement.
The more they withdraw from each other to concentrate on their own personal demons, the wider the chasm that opens up between them.
Even during preliminary discussions about the movie, the three key players knew they wanted to tell a story about marriage that didn't gloss over the ugly bits.
"There are all different kinds of marriages.
This one in the movie is fiction and it is also ratcheted up for comedy's sake, but a lot of the issues they are dealing with are pretty relatable issues," says Rudd, acknowledging that This is 40 does offer a fairly sobering view of the social institution.
"The goal, I guess, is just to be content and happy and at peace. And I am sure there are many people that are in that place but I don't want to see a movie about them. Most of them probably live in Asia, don't talk to people and are so advanced ... they certainly don't fart in bed and piss their wife off like my character does."
Like Apatow's previous film Funny People, This is 40 stretches the envelope in terms of what audiences expect from a mainstream comedy.
Emotions are raw and both the characters themselves, and the situations they find themselves in, are surprisingly volatile.
In one scene, for instance, the driver of a SUV beats up Rudd's character in a disturbing road rage incident that comes seemingly out of nowhere.
"I tend to respond to anger in comedy," says Rudd.
"George Carlin is probably my all-time favourite comedian and Louis C.K. is one of the best there is. And there is real anger and disgust in a lot of the stuff they are talking about. It's more social commentary, really. It makes me feel a little bit more sane and I like to laugh at it, what else are you going to do?"
Despite the intimate nature of much of the material in This is 40, Rudd says there was very little awkwardness between himself, Apatow and Mann during filming.
"You think there would be, because I am in these scenes where his wife is my wife and his kids (Maude and Iris) are my kids, and in some of the scenes we are emotionally and physically naked.
"It's maybe weird that it wasn't so weird. I don't know what that says. That we have known each other a long time? Or he feels absolutely no threat from me whatsoever?
"He made that abundantly clear. I don't know how to feel about that."
Rudd, 43, says he didn't have any major meltdowns or an epiphany himself when he hit the big 4-0.
"It does sound weird, just the way it forms weirdly on the lips: f-f-f-f-f-orty. I just don't associate that sound with me. But as my father always said, it beats the alternative."
Rudd has now worked with Apatow on three of the four films the king of comedy has directed (including Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin).
"I have done lots of things outside of Judd, however everything kind of changed once I did work with him," Rudd says.
"He has been a major presence in my life and he has given me opportunities for which I will always be grateful."
If Rudd's comments could be interpreted as announcing at least a temporary separation from team Apatow, that might well be the case.
The New York-based actor has just finished performing in the Broadway production of Grace, his first stage play in six years.
"When everything is firing on all pistons and the audience is engaged and you feel the energy in the room of a thousand people as active participants, the thing just takes flight in a way you don't experience anywhere else. It's incredible."
Rudd has four films scheduled for release in the coming year.
"They are all quite small independent productions. The whole of last year was a bit of a change for me, going back to the stuff I used to do before all these comedies. It's been very gratifying."
But he isn't saying goodbye to humour any time soon. Next month, he starts work on Anchorman sequel The Legend Returns with Adam MacKay, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig and Christina Applegate.
"We are all very excited about it. It's going to be fun to put on those clothes again," he says.
This Is 40 (M) is out today.
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Mid-life romance: Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in This Is 40.