NEW YORK – Paul Rudd has played his share of shaggy, every-guy heroes, and more recently a reluctant one in Marvel movies. Now you can see two sides of the comic actor in Netflix comedy "Living With Yourself."
In his first starring role in a TV series, Rudd, 50, plays Miles Elliott, who's plagued by marriage woes, fertility issues and malaise at his marketing job. A co-worker recommends a rejuvenating visit to a mini-mall spa, and through a series of odd events that involve sedation, a shallow grave and Tom Brady, he staggers home to find an idealized clone that he didn't know existed, cozying up to his wife, Kate (Aisling Bea).
"I thought the idea of getting to play two parts would be challenging and fun," he says. "I haven't done that before."
It's a breezy, four-hour binge, but when "old Miles" employs his newer clone to solve his woes, "new Miles" is not always the better person. Rudd especially warmed to the underlying existential themes that lead you to "really kind of think about all our complexities as human beings," he says. "Why is it that on some days we feel like we really have it together," while other times we're in a funk when nothing's really changed? "Who lives their life thinking they've made all the right moves every second of the day?"
Creator Timothy Greenberg, a writer for "The Daily Show," came up with the idea in 2015, just as Jon Stewart announced plans to retire, and "worked out half the season while standing in the shower." (The series was initially developed for cable's IFC network before Rudd came aboard.)
Its central premise: "Why can't we be the better versions of ourselves more often?" he says, which is a special challenge around family members, for whom the "stakes of acting kindly and morally and ethically are raised. So often the ones we love are ones we are our worst selves with."
To play "Old Miles," Rudd wore no makeup, looked disheveled with messy bangs and a missed belt loop. The coiffed "New Miles" practically glowed, with better posture and vocal energy.
"The differences had to be subtle," he says. "Essentially, I'm playing someone who's just born, in a way. He has all of these memories, but he's truly experiencing things for the first time. So there's a level of optimism or wide-eyed approach to everything," whereas "old Miles" has "the weight of the world on my shoulders. ... I kind of realized that after the fact, but I would feel different playing each part and I was more optimistic playing the newer version but still enjoying playing the beleaguered version, too."
The role was a production challenge: Rather than using a body double in scenes where both appeared together, Rudd says, he'd rehearse by acting out both roles, then record the audio for each character. "And then whatever character was driving the scene, that's the one I would film first," while listening to the other character's lines in an earpiece. "I would go back and watch it and memorize what I did. And then I'd change over to the other character."
To most fans, Rudd is more like "new Miles" anyway. "He hasn't really played a wet blanket," Greenberg says.
From "Clueless" to "Anchorman," Rudd says, "I've really enjoyed all these different chapters I've had along the way. The Judd Apatow comedies, you know, they're very creatively fulfilling in that they are collaborative efforts. And I love the people involved. And I feel that way about Marvel, too, although I don't understand how they do all the visual effects and everything else."
Rudd is skittish about discussing the upcoming "Ghostbusters" remake, due next year, and Marvel's "Ant-Man 3," in which he again stars as the title hero, aka Scott Lang.
He wrapped "Ghostbusters" earlier this month, and admired the "family business" aspect of the latest reboot: Jason Reitman, whose dad Ivan directed the 1984 original, is behind this one.
"There's a lot of connective tissue" between them, he allows. "It respects the original and it exists in the same world."
And "Ant-Man," a favorite of his son Jack, 14, and daughter Darby, 9, wasn't too much of a stretch. "Scott Lang is different than some of the other Avengers in that he wasn't born with any kind of super power, and if anything he tried to take a very humanistic approach to playing a character like that where he's suffering from the same things that some of the other characters that I've played are suffering from, which is just trying to be a decent person and keep their head above water and, you know, be a good parent."
His role as Phoebe's boyfriend (and future husband) in the final season of NBC's "Friends" was "surreal," he says, "a fun experience to be part of something that was so watched worldwide. And like Brady, "it's a little bit like being an undrafted free agent joining the Patriots' Super Bowl run."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paul Rudd: 'Living With Yourself' is a double-edged dream role