Paul Rudd is beside himself — literally. On his Netflix series "Living With Yourself," premiering Friday, Oct. 18, with all eight episodes, marketing executive Miles Elliott faces existential questions of memory and identity when he finds himself sharing his life with his new-and-improved clone. "New Miles" is optimistic, thoughtful and excited about everything — especially Miles' architect wife (Aisling Bea).
There are comedic moments, but it's more a half-hour dramatic fable in which Rudd, 50 — best known for such comedies as "Clueless" (1995), "Knocked Up" (2007) and "This Is 40" (2012), 18 episodes of "Friends" (2002-04), and the lighthearted Marvel Studios superhero Ant-Man — portrays a beaten soul barely clinging to his marriage and career. While Rudd has done dramas, including the films "The Catcher Was a Spy" (2018) and the Long Island-set "Diggers" (2006) and Broadway's "Three Days of Rain" (2006), his work here is Miles away.
Born in Passaic, New Jersey, and raised primarily in Kansas, Rudd trained at drama academies in Los Angeles and Oxford, England. His first major gig was a recurring role on the NBC family drama "Sisters" starting in 1992, and he hasn't had a lull since. He spoke by phone with Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.
"Living with Yourself" felt to me like one of those classic fantasy sitcoms such as "Bewitched" or "I Dream of Jeannie," except as a drama.
Well, I think that it's a bit more existential than that. I think there's something more "Black Mirror" about it to me than almost anything. And the subject matter was deep enough and universal enough that I found its themes interesting ones to tackle. Not to disparage "Bewitched" or "I Dream of Jeannie." (chuckles) Those absolutely are classics in their own right!
One theory of identity says we're simply the sum of our accumulated memories. New Miles has the same memories as Miles, but his personality is much more positive. Did you and the producers talk about this, to get a handle on your characters?
We had conversations that veered into that territory, the very basic one being if we had the same memories, why is our outlook not the same? And we [say in the show] it's all fresh, new DNA and that explains why he might be more fresh-faced and optimistic. But then we started veering into this idea that New Miles has all the same memories but he doesn't have the actual experiences. And so if you don't have the actual experiences, do you retain the same kind of [mental and emotional] scar tissue? I don't think you do. That was ultimately where we landed, about what makes Old Miles a bit more weathered and beaten in the way he approaches everything.
I know a good actor can play almost any type of emotion, but you've been highly successful from the start. What did you draw on to create the downtrodden Miles, who is this portrait of angry despair?
I've lived a life! (laughs). It doesn't matter how successful you might be in your career, you can't live a life without taking shots. And I haven't advertised my shots, but I've experienced loss and I've experienced pain and I've experienced anything that anybody else experiences. … I think we all know that regardless of where we're at in our jobs or where we're at in our lives, there's always more to the story. And so it's very easy for all of us to look at somebody's life and say, "God, they've got it made in the shade." But you know —
On another subject, let me ask about a movie set in 1970s Long Island and shot here: "Diggers." Any memories of that?
Absolutely. East Moriches. I had a great time doing it. We shot some things in Staten Island as well but, y'know, I love living in New York and I love going to other places in New York [State] and here was the chance to get out to East Moriches, spend some time and actually learn how to dig clams and learn also about the bay, about how those waters were overfished. It was like school but in such a great way because I was there doing it … and I'm actually out in those waters, in the state that is my home with guys that are my friends. It wasn't a long shoot, but such a great way to spend a month or so, just kind of truly living in that time as somebody who was doing that.
How about a memory from "Ant-Man" (2015) [which Rudd starred in and co-wrote]?
Adam McKay and I [who were two of the four screenwriters] worked on it pretty heavily, and I remember one thing we were both very excited about was this idea of thinking of it in terms of a heist movie … [in which] there's always a test run that doesn't really go according to plan. And so we had this idea that, "What if he had to go steal some part and winds up fighting an Avenger?" And then we got to this scene of [Ant-Man fighting] the Falcon and we're very excited at this idea and thinking, 'Wow, this is very cool … that'll be so unexpected — an Avenger fighting an Avenger!" And lo and behold, (laughs) in the films that came out after that, it became a little more familiar — everybody's fighting everybody!