[HEADLINE CORRECTED*] Last week, Vulture broke the news that Paul Rudd was headed to Pawnee to play Leslie Knope’s city council opponent on Parks and Recreation. Nobody associated with the show or NBC would confirm or deny the casting, but now that the episode has aired, the cat’s completely out of the bag — and series co-creator and showrunner Mike Schur was nice enough to hop on the phone and talk to us about the backstory surrounding tonight’s big development. He also confirmed what we suspected: Rudd will be back. “He’s going to be in a minimum of three episodes, and hopefully more,” Schur says. “It depends on his schedule, and whether we can grab him and hold him down until he does more.”
So just how did Parks land Rudd? According to Schur, when he and his writers were discussing who should play Leslie’s main rival, they quickly opted to follow a lesson they learned from series star Amy Poehler. “A few seasons back when we were looking for someone to play Amy’s love interest, the role was initially intended for a hunky but not very smart guy,” Schur says. “But Amy said we should try to get Louis C.K. I said to her, ‘He’s great, but he doesn’t really fit the character description.’ Amy just said, ‘It doesn’t matter. He’s funny.’ And it worked out amazingly. So I’ve since decided to follow the Poehler Doctrine with all casting: It doesn’t matter what the situation is, just get the funniest people you can find and put them on your show. And for this character, we all decided that if we could somehow get Paul Rudd, we’d be set.”
In fact, Schur says there was no Bobby Newport before Rudd agreed; instead, producers went after the actor and then created the character once Rudd said yes to appearing on Parks. Rather than go through the usual casting process, Schur relied on his regular cast to help lure Rudd, since so many of them had worked with the actor before, including Poehler (Wet Hot American Summer), Adam Scott (Our Idiot Brother) and Rashida Jones (I Love You, Man). “A bunch of people just e-mailed him and asked if he had time,” Schur explains. “That’s sort of the way we prefer to do it here.”
As for the character of Bobby Newport, one of the heirs to the Sweetums fortune, Schur calls him “another dimension of the Newport” family (at least three other Newports have appeared on the show in the past). “He’s basically a dilettante,” he says. “He’s not mean at all; he’s actually a very sweet, nice guy. He’s basically running to make his dad proud of him… And he has all the money in the world.” Rudd shot Thursday’s episode in early December, but didn’t have much time for the production. “So we broke the episode so we could do a ton of stuff in a short amount of time,” Schur says. “We did two big scenes and then got him in a room to shoot, like, 50 campaign ads.” Several aired tonight, while more will end up on NBC.com and in future episodes.
Schur isn’t sure when Rudd will next be back, but he indicated it’ll be toward the end of the season. The producer wouldn’t say, however, whether or not the results of Knope vs. Newport will be known by season’s end. And while we’ve always figured Knope was a shoo-in to win because of her Superwoman-like ability to do just about anything, having a lovable actor like Rudd player her opponent might tempt producers to let Newport win — if only so Rudd has reason to return. “Part of the fun of casting someone who’s so likable is that hopefully there will be some people [in the audience] who think, ‘Hey, maybe he’ll be back’,” Schur says. “It keeps people guessing, in a good way.”
* The headline originally said “at least three more episodes,” not factoring in that Schur was counting the one that just aired.