The Lost Roles of Paul Rudd

After his breakthrough role in Clueless, Paul Rudd spent the next decade or so as a rom-com leading man, starring opposite Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in forgettable chick flicks and playing Phoebe’s boyfriend Mike, the unofficial Seventh Friend, on Friends. When Rudd appeared in Anchorman, it came as a bit of a shock that he could hold his own against the likes of Will Ferrell and Steve Carell, but astute comedy fans (i.e. those who had seen Wet Hot American Summer) knew he was more than just a rom-com pretty boy all along. After working with Rudd for the first time on Anchorman, Judd Apatow cast him in two more career-defining supporting roles in The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, cementing Rudd’s status as a box office draw and a talented performer capable of getting laughs from raunchy material and improvising with the best of ‘em. Starring roles followed, with Rudd appearing in well-reviewed, high-grossing comedies like Role Models and I Love You, Man. He can next be seen in My Idiot Brother, which opens tomorrow, and in two anticipated releases from popular comedy directors David Wain and Judd Apatow, respectively: this fall’s Wanderlust and next summer’s This is Forty.

Let’s take a look at some parts Paul Rudd has come very close to playing over the years, including one in a Will Ferrell sequel the studio doesn’t want to touch, another in a remake that would have seen him taking over a role from John Denver, and parts in two Rob Thomas-created series that Rudd was unable to fit into his schedule.

1. Clueless (1995)

The roles: Murray/Christian/Elton

Who got them: Donald Faison/Justin Walker/Jeremy Sisto

Paul Rudd won the lead male role in Clueless, but, prior to being cast, he tried out for three different parts in the movie. He received more screentime and higher billing as Josh, the role he actually won, but some of these other parts might have put him on the scene-stealing path he ended up on years later, rather than leading him to spend a decade in rom-com purgatory.

2. Veronica Mars (2004-2007)

The role: Vinnie Van Lowe

Who got it: Ken Marino

When Veronica Mars first began, Paul Rudd was originally considered to play rival private investigator Vinnie Van Lowe. Rudd’s movie career started to heat up, though, and he was unable to take the part. Rudd had worked with series creator Rob Thomas and writer John Enbom on creating Party Down for HBO in 2004, five years before the show found new life on Starz. Rudd left the Veronica Mars position open, allowing frequent collaborator Ken Marino to nab the job, which ultimately led to Marino scoring his career-making role as Ron Donald on Party Down when Rob Thomas and company finally got it to series in 2009. Had Rudd taken this Veronica Mars part, it’s possible that Ken Marino wouldn’t have met Rob Thomas and John Enbom and they wouldn’t have thought of him to play their pathetic catering boss on the Starz series. Despite not being able to take this recurring role, Paul Rudd was able to guest star in a season three episode of Veronica Mars.

3. Funny People (2009)

The role: George Simmons

Who got it: Adam Sandler

Judd Apatow has said that, if he were unable to book Adam Sandler to play George Simmons in Funny People, he would have gone with either Paul Rudd or Jason Bateman. Rudd and Apatow always do great work together, but this part seems so perfectly tailored for Adam Sandler that it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking his place. Needless to say, the role would have been modified to fit Paul Rudd if he had played the part, but Adam Sandler’s life paralleled his character’s in a very interesting way. Like the fictional George Simmons, Sandler has been a world-famous movie star for ages, while Rudd was a newly-minted leading man at the time. Also, Judd Apatow had all that old footage of Adam Sandler in his early 20s from when they were roommates, which he was able to incorporate into the film to heighten its reality. Plus, to my knowledge, Paul Rudd hasn’t performed stand-up extensively either, another thing Sandler has in common with the character that he doesn’t. It would have been strange to see Rudd trying to win back Leslie Mann and spending time with her character’s kids, after Mann and the Apatow children had played Rudd’s family in Judd’s previous directing effort, Knocked Up, just two years earlier.

4. Party Down (2009-2010)

The role: Henry Pollard

Who got it: Adam Scott

Party Down was originally sold to HBO in 2003/2004 as a starring vehicle for Paul Rudd, and Rudd, who was filming Anchorman, was talking to co-star Steve Carell about playing Ron Donald. The network, however, was unhappy with the pilot outline and chose the superficial Hollywood fantasy Entourage over the darker, more realistic Party Down. Rudd co-wrote the script to the pilot with John Enbom, Dan Etheridge, and Rob Thomas, and he stayed onboard as an executive producer when Party Down eventually came to exist on the Starz network five years later, with Rudd’s longtime friend Adam Scott taking his place.

While a Rudd-Carell version of Party Down would have been hilarious, being locked down to the show would have prevented these two actors from taking other opportunities that came their ways. Rudd and Carell both joined the ranks of the biggest comedic movie stars following the release of The 40 Year Old Virgin, with Carell landing a starring role on a popular broadcast sitcom. Plus, we got a pretty damned impeccable version of Party Down anyways, which gave a major boost to mega-talented under-the-radar actors Adam Scott and Ken Marino, who were perfectly suited for their roles. Paul Rudd never had the chance to guest star on Party Down, but he’s said he “definitely would have done something in Season 3 but unfortunately, [the show] was canceled.”

5. Howl (2010)

The role: Luther Nicholas

Who got it: Alessandro Nivola

Paul Rudd was cast in a small role as literary critic Luther Nichols in the James Franco-led big-screen story of poet Allen Ginsberg’s obscenity trial, but he had scheduling conflicts and was unable to take the part. Rudd and Franco are both regulars in Judd Apatow’s films, but they’re never done one together. It would have been neat to see them appear alongside each other in a biopic that’s so far outside of the Apatow wheelhouse, even if Rudd’s part was going to be pretty small.

6. Horrible Bosses (2011)

The role: Nick Hendricks

Who got it: Jason Bateman

Paul Rudd was close to starring in this summer’s Horrible Bosses, but was unable to due to a scheduling conflict and left the role open for Jason Bateman. Like Bateman, Rudd is funny and likeable enough to still have the audience on his side, even while contemplating murder, and he would have been a nice fit for this part. Rudd presumably left this project to work on Wanderlust, with his frequent collaborators David Wain, Ken Marino, and Judd Apatow. While Horrible Bosses became a hit and would have been a nice vehicle for Rudd, Wanderlust is likely more fulfilling since he was more involved in the creative process (serving as producer) than he would have been with Bosses. Paul Rudd has long been the bridge between Judd Apatow and David Wain’s respective cliques of actors, and him bringing the two camps together has been a long time coming.

7. Anchorman 2 (unproduced)

The role: Brian Fantana

The entire original cast and creative team were on-board for an Anchorman sequel last year, but Paramount has no interest in producing Anchorman 2, even though everyone involved (some of the biggest names in comedy currently) agreed to take pay cuts. So, don’t expect to see Paul Rudd reprising the part of sleazy news correspondent Brian Fantana anytime soon.

Other unproduced projects:

These are movies that Paul Rudd was either attached to or considered for that he no longer seems to be involved with. One of these projects could be resurrected at some point in the distant future, but, as of now, studios aren’t actively developing these properties with Paul Rudd.

  • Cordless (in development 2004) – Paul Rudd was set to star opposite Anna Friel in this dark comedy from writer/director Oren Moverman, which was to follow “a young couple struggling to conceive a child in a Manhattan apartment building in which the concept of neighborly love veers toward voyeurism.” Steve Buscemi, Malcolm McDowell, and Fisher Stevens rounded out the cast, but production never got underway.
  • Will (in development 2006-present) – Demetri Martin sold the pitch for Will, a comedy set in a world where angels in Heaven write all people’s lives. Paul Rudd signed on last year to play an ordinary guy whose angel (played by Zach Galifianakis) quits, leaving Rudd to deal with having free will for the first time. The film has had a lengthy development process, switching studios last year. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay were brought on to produce with Little Miss Sunshine husband-and-wife directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris planning on directing, but there hasn’t been an update on the film’s status since last year and everyone involved is very busy with other projects. While there’s a possibility this one could  still make it into production, it won’t be anytime soon.
  • Oh, God! (in development 2010) – Producer Jerry Weintraub, who’s been going a little remake-crazy lately with his work on last summer’s Karate Kid and a prospective Police Academy update, pitched a remake of the Carl Reiner-directed 1977 spiritual comedy Oh, Go! to Warner Brothers last year. Weintraub wanted Betty White to portray God, with Paul Rudd taking over the role John Denver played in the original. No movement has been made on the project since then, and it doesn’t seem like Rudd has ever been involved, despite Weintraub’s intentions of casting him.
  • Better Living Through Chemistry (in development 2010-present) – Paul Rudd was considering taking on this project, a dark dramedy from writers David Posamentier and Geoff Moore, back in 2010, but he backed off and booked other movies. Jeremy Renner was briefly attached to star but has since dropped out, with Sam Rockwell being the latest name in talks for the lead role. Chemistry follows a pharmacist in a loveless marriage who has an affair with a woman who introduces him to prescription drugs and convinces him to help her plan her husband’s murder.
  • Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

    The Lost Roles of Paul Rudd