As How Do You Know’s financial fall guy George — who’s exiled from his firm and may have to take a prison sentence from misdoings at the firm owned by his dad, played by Jack Nicholson — Paul Rudd varies between elation at meeting Witherspoon’s Lisa, the girl of his dreams, and depression at the fact his life’s become a nightmare. Speaking with Rudd in New York, I asked him how, as an actor, you find a way to play those opposite ends of the emotional spectrum without getting too broad or blown-out.
“Well, we did so many takes,” he said. “James Brooks likes to do lots of takes; he’s kind of known for it. We would do varying degrees with the hope that we would find a right tone in the editing room. If something’s justified, you can kind of go farther than you think — if it’s justified. Otherwise it looks fake and kind of phony and broad and big. It’s just trying to hold on to what the reality of the situation is and how this guy might really genuinely react. Then he has that line, too, where he says, ‘Optimism is sanity for me right now.’ It’s those moments.”
For his part, writer-director Brooks praises Rudd’s “rubber face” and comedy chops as a big part of George’s character. “If you say, ‘Cross the street,’ he’s going to do something funny (with it), as he does in this picture: He gets a laugh crossing the street,” Brooks said.
Rudd, reunited with Witherspoon for the first time on-screen since 1998′s “Overnight Delivery” — no, you didn’t know about that, because no one saw it — had a little past experience to ease the way, but not so much that he wasn’t on his toes. “We had worked together before, but it had been a long time,” he said. “So we knew each other, just had familiarity and friendship and all of that. So that was good. But there was nothing we ever really said. We don’t really sit down years before a scene and (discuss) this and that. It’s great working with her. She’s so good — you don’t have to do much.”
While Wilson may regret not logging any screen time with Nicholson, Rudd wishes he’d had more time to bounce off of Wilson. “It was a real bummer for me that I didn’t get to do more stuff with Owen, because I’m a huge Owen Wilson fan and I’d met him a few times, but I’d never worked with him,” he said. “So I’m excited that I’m doing this movie with Owen Wilson, and then we had very little interaction in the movie. But I did get to do all of my stuff with Reese and Jack Nicholson, and when you’re kind of working opposite people that talented, that good, you really don’t want to mess up. It makes my job easier, kind of — you just want to play at their level, I suppose.”