Chris Evans and Paul Rudd stepped out of the Marvel universe and into the world of streaming television this year. On the Apple TV Plus limited series “Defending Jacob,” Evans inhabits the guilt and fear of a suburban district attorney who will stop at nothing to save his teenage son from what he believes to be a wrongful murder charge. And Rudd goes much bigger than Ant-Man in Netflix’s “Living With Yourself,” playing both a dour copywriter and his charming clone. They talked to each other over video chat for Variety’s Actors on Actors issue.
Paul Rudd: What was that like, playing a dad?
Chris Evans: Yeah, I don’t have a kid, but it was a really enjoyable role to play. I had a wonderful relationship with my father. If you have to find parallels in your own life to draw from, what a lovely avenue to stroll down to try and remember all the sweet moments I had.
It’s a darker subject matter in the show, because obviously that love leads him to bend his ethics. But even down to the posture of poking your head in your kid’s bedroom door and saying, “Good night.” The physicality of that and the cadence of that is something I remember so well, and contributes to such a healthy, secure part of my childhood.
Rudd: How do you play a DA?
Evans: The writer of the book, William Landay, was on set quite a bit. We actually had a nice group of people on set to keep us in balance. It’s like when you do a movie where you play military or something like that. You need someone in there who’s military, otherwise you’re going to look like a fool.
What about you? Did you get the pilot, or did you get the whole series?
Rudd: All eight of the episodes were written. I know it’s rare. It was one writer, eight episodes. It is a little scary when you’re starting off because you don’t know where it’s going to go, but when you’re working with good people, which you clearly were, it’s easier to take that leap. Did you know them before?
Evans: I had seen “Imitation Game,” which Morten [Tyldum] directed. I had seen some of the “Planet of the Apes” films that Mark Bomback had been a part of writing. Both of them had a 14-year-old son, or children around that age. You can feel the personal connection; it translates. Did you have the same thing?
Rudd: Exact same thing. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, husband-and-wife directing team that did “Little Miss Sunshine” and a lot of great movies and documentaries. We sought them out, and they directed all eight of ours, so we were very lucky.
Evans: I was going to ask you the thing everyone wants to know. Did you get paid double?
Evans: That’s bulls–t. What was the process? Would you shoot one whole side and then —
Rudd: The idea of playing two parts and having scenes with myself was something I’d never done before. We would have to do the same scene in different episodes in different ways and then have to do them again twice, because it was two characters. It was a very strange thing to try and keep it all in order.
Evans: Obviously, this is a real pretentious platitude, but acting is listening and reacting, so would you remember? Would you actually have to make mental notes of the choices you made from take
Rudd: I did. Whatever character was driving the scene was the character that I would film first. I would rehearse the scene for the camera and the crew as we felt the blocking. I would then act it, imagining I was opposite, and I had an earwig in my ear, and when I would say my line I would hear myself respond. We had somebody off camera hitting the cue on the iPad that played the other character’s response. Once we kind of settled on the take, I would change over, and I would then watch what we had recorded.
If I was moving and I was reaching for something, I’d remember, so my eyeline would have to follow. It became choreography.
Evans: Why don’t you age? Are you drinking baby blood?
Rudd: I most certainly age.
Evans: Oh, you know what? It’s not a question so much as it’s just an attaboy. In terms of Hollywood, you are a part of Marvel, you’re a part of “Friends” and you’re in the [Judd] Apatow crew. Those are three real clubby, cliquey, benchmark-y things. I can’t think of anybody else that has such a kind of wide-spread affiliation with so many different genres and groups. Basically, what does it feel like to be awesome?
Rudd: They do seem like kind of pockets and chapters in life. In something like “Friends,” the show was about them, but it’s an interesting thing to be a part of. I was only in it for just a blip. I felt, “I’m like a prop on this show. It’s not about Mike Hannigan.” But there’s a very interesting feeling to be a part of something that has that kind of profound impact on pop culture.
Evans: Even in the “Avengers” world, it was kind of like welcoming you into the fold, but very quickly. I can’t imagine you not gelling with the group. You’re like sorbet, just a palate cleanser. It’s an always welcome addition.
Rudd: When I was working with you on “Civil War,” for that first scene that we had where we were in the car parked —
Evans: That was the first day I met you.
Rudd: Yeah. And there was a real kind of nervousness about Scott Lang, and I just really kind of played into that because that was part of what I was feeling anyway. I’d look around and think, “Whoa, there’s Chris Evans and there’s Sebastian Stan, and wow — and there’s the suits.” Do you remember there was like a little makeshift locker room? We’re all kind of changing into things, and I saw the suits on the racks. It felt like being in a locker room of a Super Bowl-winning football team.
Evans: I don’t know if you remember this. On that day, it was literally the day I met you, [Anthony] Mackie and I and Scarlett [Johansson] got in our head that we were going to shoot — this is so hilarious — a little video just for the Marvel gang, like a little culmination, like a yearbook video, set to that song from “Grease.” “We go together, like rama lama,” whatever that song is. We were just going to go around, take little clips of videos of people dancing and cut it all together. The first day I was like, “All right, I’ll start collecting some of this footage.” I have the footage.
I was like, “Hi, nice to meet you. You don’t know me, but can I get this?” It was you, Mackie, I think [Jeremy] Renner, Sebastian, and I just said, “Look, everyone, just dance for 30 seconds,” and you did it. You were a great sport. You willingly danced with little explanation from me, and then I never completed the video. I just abandoned it. But I got that footage of our first day of meeting of you dancing.
Rudd: I must’ve blocked it out. I don’t remember it at all. While we’re on the topic of “Avengers,” what is it like for you to play such an iconic character?
Evans: I’m sorry, I found it. It’s unbelievable. I can’t show it — it’s way too embarrassing.
Rudd: Is it bad?
Evans: Oh, it’s so bad. Anyway, it was intimidating at first. Everyone has expectations. You know what it’s like working at Marvel — they make you feel so comfortable. It feels like such a group effort. It’s a real landscape of competing ideas and the best idea wins, and that’s how they end up with so many good movies. Very quickly you kind of put down your fear and recline a little bit and recognize that you’re in good hands.
Rudd: What is it like for you when you go outside if there’s just a bunch of kids around? Do they just freak out?
Evans: A little bit. But that’s so nice, because I grew up with “Star Wars” and I had certain characters that just meant the world to me. We live in a much different time now. Back when I was young, celebrity was far away. And actors were only accessible through their work. Now, you have this other channel where you can actually offer a little bit more of who you are, which is a tricky tightrope to walk. But it is nice to be able to share a little bit extra, especially playing a character that I respect so much, and trying to create this nexus between the work you do and the impact you might want to have on kids.
We were big into Boggle during the Marvel movies —
Rudd: Oh, yes.
Evans: This is without fail: You could be playing with a group of 20 people. The person who is going to win is Paul Rudd. The person who’s going to come in nail-biting second is Don Cheadle, and [Mark] Ruffalo will be way at the end. Although one day Ruffalo found “asbestos” on the Boggle board. It’s a real anomaly.
Rudd: That is pretty impressive, but that’s because Mark fights the valiant fight. He’s probably out right now marching for asbestos reform.
Evans: I didn’t know Ant-Man as well. Is there pressure trying to bring a character that isn’t one of the names?
Rudd: There’s pressure at every single movie you’re making in the Marvel world. You don’t want to be the weak link. A character like Ant-Man, yeah, very few people knew. They’d say, “Well, what does Ant-Man do?” And I’d say, “He can shrink to the size of an ant, but he also retains strength, and he can control ants and talk to ants.” And people would just laugh.
Evans: There is a third, right? Are there plans on shooting anytime soon?
Rudd: I’m not going to be able to say anything, Chris. You know the world.
Evans: I might as well ask you what your paychecks are. I don’t know. Paul, what’s your penis size?
Rudd: It’s even bigger than my paycheck. Put in your own Ant-Man joke there.