Prior to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, most of the conversation centered around two bearded men in jean shorts: press-baiting Red State director Kevin Smith, and Ned Rochlin, the sweet-natured hippie played by Paul Rudd in the fest’s biggest comedy, My Idiot Brother. The movie sees broke, homeless Ned bounced among his three sisters, each wanting nothing to do with the genial chaos he brings into their lives, but the movie itself had no such problems, as it just sold to the Weinsteins for almost $8 million. Vulture sat down with Rudd and director Jesse Peretz at Sundance to talk about bizarro audience members, the downsides to having a bushy beard, and Rudd’s upcoming movie with Judd Apatow.
I heard the Q&A session after the premiere was insane. What went down?
Rudd: Yeah, the wheels came off on that one. [Laughs.]
Peretz: It was a very surreal Q&A. It started with this woman from some animal rights organization, and it sounded like she was going to launch into a deep metaphor about Ned and his dog, but in truth, she very quickly spun it into asking Paul whether he would be in a PSA for her organization.
Rudd: Which, I’m a big fan of animals and an animal rights enthusiast, but it went on and on. Then she got into a thing about how she’s a moderator and does public speaking, or something like that?
Peretz: Yeah, a moderator in, like …
Rudd: … Crazyland.
Peretz: And then there was another guy who had a rambling, five-minute question that was totally indecipherable.
Rudd: It was really amazing! I thought it was a comedy bit, a brilliant comedy bit. But I would think it was a fun Q&A to watch, because who doesn’t love to see a train wreck?
Peretz: I loved it, personally.
Rudd: It was way more interesting than having to listen to actors talk about acting.
The movie came to Sundance with a lot of buzz, but did that high profile have you freaking out at all?
Peretz: I totally was. People kept saying, “Man, your movie has all the buzz,” and, “Everyone says your movie is the movie to see.” On some level, you get excited about that, but on another level, you think, But no one has seen the movie except for Trevor Groth and John Cooper, who programmed it. That, to me, seems like the definition of hype.
Peretz: People were all talking about it and nobody really knew what it is. So of course I had the big fear that there would be expectations that would be hard to live up to.
Rudd: For sure. And there’s also that thing of living in our own bubble. We both had fears.
And then the Weinsteins picked it up in the biggest buy of the festival. Have you been able to relax since?
Peretz: I don’t know if I’m so chill about it because I still know that there are so many obstacles to actually getting a movie out. Honestly, for me, my bigger concern was that the vast majority of the cast hadn’t seen the movie, so they were experiencing it for the first time, too. The main thing for me was when we got halfway through the movie and I felt like there was a good vibe in the audience and the movie was playing well, I felt myself relaxing. Then when we stepped onstage and the actors were excited, at that point, I was like, Okay, it’s all good.
Jesse, you’ve said that you specifically wanted to make a movie where Paul would have a beard. Why was that?
Peretz: You know, Paul’s a guy who grows a beard from time to time, so to me, it looks like something that belongs on his face. I feel like somewhere in my head, when I visualized this guy, he was a dude with a beard. But that’s not intrinsic to who the character is, it’s just sort of …
Rudd: It fits. I mean, the guy’s a biodynamic farmer living in upstate New York. I live in upstate New York and see [guys like him], but who he is and his worldview is definitely the thing to hang the performance on. I get a little skittish about certain kinds of “externals” — a beard, a limp, a hook for a hand, whatever — because they can easily become gimmicks. They’re things that you can easily zero in on and have this hook to talk about — literally, if you’ve got a hook for a hand. [Laughs.] My inclination and the thing I was afraid of, at first, is people thinking I did this movie because I got to have long hair and a beard and really change the way I look from Knocked Up or Dinner for Schmucks or something. Like, “I’m really mixing it up!” That kind of stuff makes me a little nervous, the thought that you should do something just because it’s different. It certainly informed the character, but certain kinds of things like that can just become characterizations.
You shot the movie during a very hot New York summer —
Rudd: Which is not good beard weather.
Peretz: Brutal, brutal. It was the most brutal summer, heat-wise.
Rudd: Yeah, and I had the hair and all that. It was definitely a drag.
Paul, you and Leslie Mann are going to reprise your Knocked Up characters in Judd Apatow’s next movie. Had you known he was creating sort of a semi-sequel for them?
Rudd: Yeah, we had talked about it. He had asked me a while before it was announced, but the idea of telling a totally different story — it’s not a sequel in any way — and having these different dilemmas but the same character, I’ve never done anything like that. I really enjoyed that guy and related to aspects of his life and I like working with Judd, so when he was like, “What do you think?” I said it would be really, really cool. I shoot it this summer, but I still don’t know what exactly the story is.
He hasn’t sent you the script yet?
Rudd: No, no. I’m going to go out there in a few weeks and work on it with him. I know that he’s been writing, but the way we have always kind of worked is very collaborative. It’s one of the great joys of working with him, you don’t feel as if you’re just an automaton saying lines. You really feel like part of the creative process when you get to work with Judd, and I have an innate level of trust with him because we’ve worked together so much now. I’m really curious to see what the movie’s about! [Laughs.]
How did you feel about the poor reception to How Do You Know?
Rudd: Well, you know, it’s a bummer. You spend a lot of time and effort working on it, and you want it to be a big critical and commercial success. It’s always disappointing when it doesn’t turn out like that in those ways you can’t control, but as far as a personal experience, it was nothing but positive for me. I’m so happy that I got to work with such great people and I loved the experience of it. My response is kind of like what you would think when something doesn’t quite work — not the movie itself, but the [public reaction]. It’s such a different thing now, because unless your movie makes a lot of money on its opening weekend, it’s tough to stay around.