The Verge: Paul Rust
Ever watched a film and wondered, "Who's that?" Now you'll know before you even have to ask. Welcome to The Verge, Movieline's weekly interview with up-and-coming actors on the verge of a serious career boost.
You may not know Paul Rust by his face, but he's definitely got some notable aliases. You've heard, perhaps, of Quentin Tarantino's upcoming World War II film Inglourious Basterds? He's one of 'em. Maybe you've seen the trailer for the Hayden Panettiere high school comedy I Love You, Beth Cooper? Yup: he's the "I." Paul Rust's profile may still be percolating, but at least he's two for two with title roles.
We spoke to the 27-year-old actor about his unlikely trajectory from Los Angeles sketch comic to leading man--and the unlikely weapons training he received to play one of Tarantino's avenging Jews.
In Inglourious Basterds, you play a character named Andy Kagan, who isn't in the draft that made its way around on the internet. Was it a new character, or a renamed character?
Yeah, it's a new character. It wasn't in the draft that I think a lot of people read, but he is an Inglourious Basterd, he's part of the team, and he was added after I met with Quentin.
What was it like auditioning for that movie? Was every young Jewish comic in Hollywood in the waiting room?
[laughs] You know, it was really funny, actually. I met with Quentin once, then the second time I met with him I was with some actors, and right before we were called in with Quentin, an earthquake hit. The entire lounge, like, shook, and then after the earthquake was done, Cloris Leachman stepped out of the office and walked by. [laughs] It was an incredibly surreal showbiz moment, I guess. But yeah, everybody who was in the room was a young Jewish actor.
So what was that first meeting with Tarantino like?
I mean, I went in being a huge Tarantino fan. I was a fan of his since I was in junior high, and I remember that I really wanted to see Pulp Fiction and my mom wouldn't let me because she thought it was too violent or there were too many naughty words. She had seen the movie herself and loved it, but she just didn't think it was appropriate. But then she did something really awesome: when it came out on video, she made, like, a "mommy" edit where she got two VCRs and then dubbed Pulp Fiction to a tape and then took out all the parts she thought were inappropriate for me.
Was there even anything left?
You need to see it, it's hilarious. Like, John Travolta's driving in the car to the date with Uma Thurman, you see him pull out a syringe, and then it comes like right next to his arm, and then it just cuts to him looking blissed out. It wasn't the cleanest of edits. [laughs]
Were you intimidated by Tarantino when you met him?
I wasn't so much intimidated, I was just really excited. Quentin's actually such a sweet guy--he listens, likes to talk to you, likes to hear what you have to say. But it was just a really easy first conversation, and we just talked for, like, 20 minutes when we first met. We talked about Inglourious Basterds, but we also talked about movies we liked, like Italian horror movies, and it was funny, because I told him that the movie that really got me into Italian horror movies was The Beyond, and as I'm telling him that I realized that, "Oh, he re-released The Beyond," and that's why I originally saw it, because of him.
And did you tell him about your mom's edit of Pulp Fiction?
I did when we got to Berlin to shoot. I told him once in a restaurant, and he got a big kick out of it.
What was your most surreal moment once you were finally there shooting it?
When we were shooting in a forest in Berlin, I was standing on a hill and on another hill above me was [The Office star] BJ Novak, and BJ and I are old friends from the LA comedy scene. He was one of the first guys who was nice to me in that scene--I was doing an open mic, and he came up to me after the show and encouraged me to continue to do what I was doing. BJ was already very established by that point, so him being complimentary was actually very flattering. So, the surreal part was being on a set with a bunch of cameras and a bunch of actors in Nazi uniforms, make-up effects all over, a huge crew and a crane, and then I'm standing there right next to BJ who I've known for so long. We even talked about how it's so weird to go from the mic in Los Angeles to being on a WWII movie set in Berlin.
Did you have any real-life experience with guns before you became a Basterd?
I grew up in Iowa, so I would go hunting. I took a hunter's safety course in eighth grade to get extra credit in school.
Your school actually encouraged you to do that? Like, "Go fire some guns, eight graders!"
Yeah, I was like, "I don't really know how this applies to science, but your class is tough, and extra credit plays a part sometimes." [laughs] So yeah, I had fired guns and stuff, but it was exciting to get to shoot guns and be in action sequences because I know that just given who I am and what kind of actor I am and what sort of roles I'll be offered, this will probably be the last time I'm firing a gun in a movie. So I just took it for all it was worth.
While we're talking about being offered roles, tell me about being offered the lead in I Love You, Beth Cooper. You're basically an unknown--what was it like to be offered the main role in a big, Chris Columbus-directed studio movie?
It was interesting because when I moved out to Los Angeles, you have goals, and my goal was to do sketch comedy or be a comic, and it was never really part of my goal to, like, have a lead in a movie. And so when it came, it was very exciting, but at the same time, I was kinda like, "Well, I didn't plan for this," so it was actually kind of a weird moment. But obviously a very exciting one, and the three months that we were shooting up in Vancouver, it was a strange thing where I actually wasn't scared or intimidated. I think if I had thought about it more, I'd have thought, "If I screw this up, that could mean bad things for me and this movie." I didn't really think about it, I just thought about how exciting it was.
Did it mean a lot to you to work with Chris Columbus?
Oh totally, I mean after that first audition with Chris, I left it thinking, "Well, even if I don't get a part, at least I got to meet the guy who wrote Gremlins." And I like, geeked out on the set all the time asking multiple questions about Gremlins. He also told me what their process was for writing The Goonies. Chris had an office next to Spielberg, and he would write a few pages every day, then go in at the end of the day and Spielberg would give notes, and I was thinking how exciting and cool that would be for Chris to get to sit in the Amblin offices. The Amblin offices, by the way, are where all my dreams take place. Like, I just get lost staring at the ET doorknobs.
They have those?
They really have ET doorknobs. I'm fascinated by them. I'm contemplating how I could get them and put them in my own home.
[Photo Credit: Seth Olenick]