If you’re a movie lover like myself, you’ve probably found yourself asking this question at some point in your life, “What was [insert big shot movie star] doing before he/she made [insert Hollywood blockbuster]?” I’ve spent an immeasurable amount of time scouring through IMDB pages of actors/actresses from a film I am currently watching to see the many others they have appeared in. Connecting the dots so to speak.
In the days before IMDB, Wikipedia, and Google, my friends and I used to play movie games with this information to pass the time. Similar to the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, you would take two actors and try to connect them with a chain that was as short as possible. All of this was done from memory of course so the trick was to find the deep pull. That weird obscure movie that your opponent had never heard of. What IMDB has taught me is that the river of films to pull from runs deep.
IMDB showed the world that filmographies are extensive and complicated. Between TV appearances, cameos, and uncredited walk-ons, a particular actor/actress could be in hundreds of media appearances. Voice actors are the worst, with filmographies that span several hundred credits. For example, at the time this was written Robert Paulsen (a favorite of mine) has 443 credits. Who could possible see all of those?! I wonder if Rob has seen ‘em all.
This is the origin of the Paul Rudd Project.
The project itself came from a simple idea: What would it take to see every movie that one particular actor has made? At first, the task seemed easy enough, but this is assuming that you are not seeking to accomplish this for the aforementioned Robert Paulsen. If it could be done, I wanted to do it. So my wife and I sought to find an actor with a large enough filmography to make the project worth the effort and yet refrain from being impossible. We had recently watched Captain America: Civil War and I was on a Paul Rudd kick anyway. Thus, the Paul Rudd Project was born. We were going to watch Mr. Rudd’s entire filmography.
My history with Paul Rudd starts with the TV series Friends. That’s the first time I remember seeing him on screen. He played Mike Flannigan (or “Crapbag” if you prefer), the boyfriend who (spoiler) eventually marries Lisa Kudrow’s character. After that, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman made him a household name. In my household at least. Of course, he’s been around for much longer than that, most people catching him in 1995’s Clueless, a film I missed due to not being a teenage girl at the time of its release. Now, of course, Paul Rudd literally is a household name thanks to big Hollywood releases such as 2015’s Ant-Man.
The question can still be asked, “Why Paul Rudd?” Quite frankly, I just really like the guy. Rudd is incredibly charming on screen and a delight to watch. The story goes that he was not meant to be Phoebe’s true love in Friends and that she would go back to her old boyfriend played by Hank Azaria. But the producers found Paul too great to cut from the show. Many off Rudd’s characters are insecure with a lovable personality. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t how I viewed myself at times. People often use movies as an escape from reality or as a type of wish fulfillment. Imagining yourself as the main protagonist of a story is very common. So yes, there might be just a little bit of Peter Klaven or Scott Lang deep down inside of me. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
Compiling the list turned out to be quite complicated. IMDB, in all its glory, is not infallible. It provided an excellent baseline for the films we needed to watch out for, but ultimately did not prove to be a master list. The information was muddied down by TV shows, archive footage, and other useless entries to sift through. Wikipedia was even less helpful, leaving off some major films like Year One and Reno 911!: Miami presumably due to Paul’s smaller roles in these films. Letterboxd was helpful in organizing much of the information with a more visually appealing list.
Then came the problem of what would qualify as needing to be watched. Feature films were obviously chosen, even if Paul’s role was insignificant to the movie as a whole. TV movies were chosen for their length but TV appearances, both roles in fictional shows and guest appearances as himself, were not. Documentary style films where Paul was interviewed as himself were included. The most difficult to narrow down were short films. Some were very easy to define as stand-alone units. But these were mixed in with shorts shot as DVD special features and others that were meant as segments on variety sketch shows. At the end of the day, most of these films were short enough to watch even if the line was a bit grey.
When the dust settled, we began with a list of 65 released films and 7 short films. Of the 65, we had each seen 16 leaving 49 movies to see. 5 more are listed as being released in 2016 and 2017 (after the creation of the list). Some of these films are very easily accessible but many are not. Needless to say, there is still a lot of work to be done.
I’m a glutton for this kind of punishment but I’m very excited that my wife, Alyson, is joining me on this adventure. Hopefully it will prove to be an interesting study in what a filmography really looks like. But, if nothing else, we will probably discover some of those hidden gems along the way.
Eventually I’ll probably write a book. Who knows. If it happens, I will see you there or I will see you at another time.