A Fun Conversation With ‘Mute’ Stars Paul Rudd And Justin Theroux About ‘M*A*S*H,’ Atari, And A Host Of Other Things


Sometimes, in situations like being in the same room as Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux at the same time, things are going to get, let’s say, disorderly. There’s really no way around this: Rudd and Theroux are both funny and were in a playful mood, which means kind of anything could happen. By the end, after topics that ranged from the Atari 2600 game Yars’ Revenge, Theroux’s cameo in The Last Jedi, and fake Sundance movies about Julianne Moore opening a refrigerator (long story), I just tried to think of a question that would be kind of shocking and would make Rudd and Theroux laugh. Which is what led me to ask Rudd, bluntly and stone-faced (at least at first), “How does Avengers: Infinity War end?” Anyway, it was just that kind of afternoon. (And, no, he didn’t tell me the answer, unless Avengers: Infinity War has a very similar ending to Titanic.)

We were also there to talk about Duncan Jones’ Mute (which will be on Netflix on February 22). Rudd and Theroux plays Cactus and Duck, two wisecracking American doctors who do black market surgeries and the occasional torture in a futuristic Berlin’s underground. These characters are based on Hawkeye and Trapper from Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, so they are funny and smart and it’s hard not to like them at first. But there’s where Mute starts messing with its viewer, as we learn more and more about Cactus and Duck, we feel worse and worse about ourselves for ever liking them in the first place.

But, first, we discuss the Atari 2600 game Pitfall, because, sure, why not?

Paul Rudd: Is that a Pitfall t-shirt?

It is.

Rudd: Pitfall was always the best one, I thought.

Justin Theroux: I played it. They were selling them at Christmas and I forgot how frustrating and unresponsive those videogames are.

I could just sit here and listen to you guys talk about Pitfall, honestly.

Rudd: Well, I always thought it was the best.

Theroux: It was the best at the time. I remember also being very frustrated that our games could not look like the packaging that was on the cartridge.

Rudd: Yeah. Like, wait a minute, my Yars’ Revenge doesn’t look like my box!

Yars’ Revenge isn’t bad.

Rudd: Yeah, it’s like, God, I don’t have to sit here and play Combat one more time.

Combat was fun when you could bounce the missiles off the wall.

Rudd: Yeah, but Combat, they all came with Combat.

Do you want to hear a quick Paul Rudd story?

Theroux: Sure! Yeah!

My friend is the beat writer for Mizzou sports and Jon Hamm was participating in a charity golf tournament at the University of Missouri…

Theroux: The first reference I got was Mizzou and then sports and all of it just went right over my head. And then Jon Hamm, so I’m back in.

My friend interviews Hamm, but the photographer has no idea who Jon Hamm is and asks his name for the caption. Without missing a beat Hamm replies, “Paul Rudd.”

Theroux: [Laughs] Did it wind up saying Paul Rudd?

Sadly, no.

Rudd: God, I wish that it was not stopped. But Jon and I have been friends since high school.

Theroux: Is that true? Oh, wow.

I just saw his Sundance movie, Beirut.

Rudd: Oh, for the Tony Gilroy thing. How is it?

It was a strange movie for Sundance because it’s an action movie…

Theroux: [Sarcastically.] It’s nice when you can see a real movie at Sundance, you know?

Rudd: Yeah, with guns and shit.

Theroux: Not Julianne Moore opening a refrigerator.

Rudd: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I want to see some fights. I want to see some explosions!

To be fair, the Julianne Moore opening a refrigerator movie did very well this year. A lot of raves.

Theroux: Exactly.

Rudd:Ohhhh, Julianne Moore opening a refrigerator.”

Mute is insane. What’s it like reading the script and getting to the part where you figure out what Duck has going on in his life?

Theroux: What his sexual preferences are?


Theroux: I definitely had a moment where I thought, oh, that’s dark. But yeah, I mean it’s one of the things that I like about these characters, because they’re kind of a Frick and Frack or whatever…

They’re Hawkeye and Trapper from Altman’s M*A*S*H.

Theroux: Yeah, exactly. And Duncan Jones kind of makes no bones about saying that’s the influence that he wanted. But, unlike Hawkeye and Trapper, they’re way darker than those two characters, eventually. So I think there’s a magic trick to his writing of those characters: that you start off with these incredibly likable guys and then your stomach sort of turns.

As it slowly starts turning, you just feel awful about yourself. Why did I like these people?

Rudd: Well, I think that was what Duncan wanted. I mean that was actually one of the things that he told us early on. He’s like, I think these are the kind of characters that you might be drawn to them because they seem funny or smarter than most of the people in the room and they’re joking. And you’re like, oh, I don’t want these guys making jokes about me, I like them. And then slowly but surely you realize, oh, they’re psychopaths. If there’s one thing that seems admirable about the character I’m playing, it’s just clearly the love he has for his daughter and that he wants to protect her. But everything else is awful.

Theroux: And he also loves Duck as well. The bond is real. In the scene you were talking about, as Paul was saying earlier, it’s like he wants to help him. Like, you haven’t crossed this line yet, or I’m going to willfully believe that you haven’t crossed this line, and you can’t do that. So yeah, he’s loyal to his friend and to his family, obviously.

Is that the appeal of playing characters like this? We don’t see either of you play evil very often.

Rudd: Well, I think that was the appeal. I mean, there a lot of things that were appealing. Well, the first thing for me was just Duncan. I loved Moon when it came out. And so, yeah I was reading it and I haven’t read a script like this. And as far as the appeal, yes, a character like this was appealing for sure. I mean, even down to the name. How do you pass on playing a guy named Cactus Bill? I can’t do it.

So that’s a hint to other filmmakers? If you come up with a name like Cactus Bill, Paul Rudd will do it.

Rudd: Exactly. That’s the most important thing to me. People say, how do you choose your roles?

Theroux: I have a script that I’ve written for Paul, which I haven’t told him about yet, so he can’t read it. But I’m going to try and get a yes. His name is Magnolia Johnson.

Rudd: I’m in.

So if there is a part in the Julianne Moore opens a refrigerator movie and the character’s name is Cactus Bill…

Rudd: First of all, I don’t even have to have a name. If a Julianne Moore opening a refrigerator movie part comes my way, just yes.

When I saw The Last Jedi in a regular theater, when you show up there was some guy like three rows behind me that just yells, “Aw, yeah!”

Theroux: [Laughs.] Oh, really?

I’d already seen it, so I knew this guy was in for a disappointment. And then like a minute later I hear, “Aw, man. What the hell?”

Theroux: Well, that’s nice to know that my fan was at the screening that you happened to see.

He was so excited.

Theroux: That’s so funny. I was excited, too.

But we don’t get to see his adventure.

Theroux: I know. We don’t get to see his adventure. I knew obviously going in it was going to be sort of a MacGuffin part and a cameo, but I was just excited to be in the Star Wars universe for second.

Well, you disappointed some people by disappearing so quickly.

Theroux: Well, I’m sorry.

Avengers: Infinity War comes out in May.

Rudd: Yeah.

So… how does that end?

Rudd: How does it end?

How does the movie end?

Rudd: Oh, God. Marvel won’t care if I say. They don’t mind.

Was that too much of a spoilery question?

Rudd: “How does the movie end?” That’s really good. Not even, “What can you tell us about the next Marvel movie?” No, “So, this next Marvel movie, how does it end?” That’s the best question.

Theroux: That should have been your first question.

It seems like most people who ask are hoping you’ll mess up and say something, so I just thought I’d cut to the chase.

Rudd: The ship hits an iceberg in space.

I think I almost had you. I think you almost flipped.

Rudd: I was. I was about to tell you.

I think I almost had the scoop.

Rudd: You almost had it when I said that the ship hit the iceberg.

Theroux: But why did Thor crash into it on purpose?

Rudd: Dammit!

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.