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Maui Film Festival honors Paul Rudd on opening night

Actor ‘so happy to be back on Maui’ with wife and kids

Maui Film Festival Nova Award winner Paul Rudd talks about his wide-ranging career Wednesday afternoon at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

WAILEA — Paul Rudd is riding the elevator at the Four Seasons Resort Maui when the doors slide open and a man’s face lights up.

“Hey, I know you!” he shouts to Rudd.

“I know you!” Rudd shouts back.

“No, I really do know him,” the actor insists as the crowd in the elevator laughs.

Whether they’ve met him in person or only seen him on the big screen, everyone feels like they know Rudd — the likable, relatable everyman who can lighten the mood of any film or elevator he’s in.

Actress Gina Rodriguez converses with Maui Film Festival co-director Ben Goodman on Wednesday evening during the Taste of Summer Opening Night Twilight Reception at the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort. Rodriguez is scheduled to receive the festival’s Navigator Award tonight at the Celestial Cinema at the Wailea Golf Course Amphitheater.

On opening night of the Maui Film Festival on Wednesday, the 50-year-old actor was honored with the 2019 Nova Award, given to a film artist “for their astonishingly original and seamless performances, and the way they consistently infuse each character that they embody with insight, humanity and wisdom.”

“I’ve never done an interview in Hawaii before. I’ve never been honored at a film festival. So this is all new for me,” Rudd said Wednesday afternoon before the ceremony.

The “Clueless” actor and his wife, Julie Yaeger, were just dating the last time they came to Maui about 15 years ago. Now, they’re back with their two children, Jack and Darby, taking them to do and see all the things they love — Haleakala, the road to Hana, hiking, the beach.

“The first time we were here, we’d say that was probably the best vacation we’ve ever had, best trip we ever took,” Rudd said. “I’ve never been able to kind of get it out of my system.”

Rudd is scuba certified and said one of the first dives he ever took might have actually been on Maui. He recalled a previous trip to Hawaii during which he saw a whale breach right in front of him, calling it “one of the most spiritual, incredible moments” he’s ever had in the islands.

Festival founder Barry Rivers talks with Visionary Award winner Louie Schwartzberg and Maui County Film Commissioner Tracy Bennett at the Taste of Summer Opening Night Twilight Reception at the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort.

Rudd made an appearance at last year’s festival, but only on the big screen, where he starred alongside Steve Coogan in the film “Ideal Home,” which won the audience award as best comedy feature. Rudd plays the producer of his chef/husband Coogan’s cooking show.

But perhaps his most famous role in the islands has been as quirky surf instructor Chuck, or “Kunu,” who helps brokenhearted composer Peter (Jason Segel) get over his ex-girlfriend in the 2008 rom-com “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

Like the odd string of jobs he worked to save up for acting school — including glazing hams — Rudd has taken on just about every type of role, seamlessly and with his signature blend of humor. In “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” he’s the cocky, mustachioed TV reporter Brian Fantana. In “The Fundamentals of Caring,” he’s a modest and good-hearted caregiver for a cynical kid with muscular dystrophy. And in “Ant-Man,” he’s a down-on-his-luck dad turned diminutive superhero.

“I always like to see things and be moved in some way,” Rudd said. “I also like to laugh. . . . If I’m playing a part, what’s important to me is that the characters be relatable in some way. Usually they’re going through some sort of crisis, and I want those crises to be ones in which people can empathize with. And I think that the parts that I’m going to get cast in are more just the average Joe kind of guys than, you know, Thor.”

When asked if he sees himself the same way as fans do, Rudd replied that he wasn’t sure how the public perceives him but that he’s “always kind of been drawn to actors that seem like they’re more like me than superhuman.”

Ant-Man’s last visit to Maui was about 15 years ago, when he was dating his now wife Julie Yaeger. “The first time we were here, we’d say that was probably the best vacation we’ve ever had, best trip we ever took,” Paul Rudd said. “I’ve never been able to kind of get it out of my system.” This year, they’re enjoying the sights as a married couple with two children, Jack and Darby.

“Even as a kid, I always wanted to watch people on the screen and (have them) seem like kind of regular people,” he said. “I view myself as a regular person. So I don’t feel any different than anybody else, for sure.”

One of Rudd’s most recent and high-profile roles was that of Scott Lang in Marvel’s “Ant-Man” (2015), “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018) and this year’s “Avengers: Endgame,” which at $2.73 billion is currently second to “Avatar’s” $2.78 billion as the highest-grossing film of all time.

“We do this stuff, and we don’t want to just feel like we’re spitting in the wind,” Rudd said. “And when you’re in something that’s playing in every theater, and that many people are talking about it, and they wear shirts, and kids relate to the superheroes, it’s the coolest thing.”

Rudd said he “loved playing the part of Scott Lang. It’s been fulfilling in many ways.” He noted that the technology definitely improved between the first and second film, recalling how he had to sit on a barrel while people pulled it around with ropes to simulate him riding on the back of an ant.

“It looked like I was riding a mechanical bull,” Rudd said. “I didn’t have to do that in the second one.”

Rudd downplayed recent articles stating that he wants fans to campaign for a third installment.

“If I said that, I might’ve been been joking on some throwaway thing, but then that turns into a story,” he said. “Today people are like texting me saying, ‘So you really want people to write to the Disney brass?’ They don’t. No. It’s fine. I feel good about where we might go in the future. Hopefully, something will happen, but if not, that’s their business.”

In the meantime, he’ll be starring in Netflix’s “Living With Yourself,” out this fall. The comedy series is about how “a man who’s burned out on life and love undergoes a mysterious treatment, only to find out that he’s been replaced by a better version of himself.”

“I liked what the show was saying and the themes of it,” Rudd said. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever filmed. It was equal parts funny and dramatic and strange and existential.”

Wednesday night’s ceremonies also honored director, producer and time-lapse cinematographer Louie Schwartz-berg with the 2019 Visionary Award, which is given to a film artist “for their long-standing commitment to inspire and nurture the endlessly evolving tapestry of global cultures into an ever more compassionate and life-affirming planetary community.”

Schwartzberg’s award was followed by a screening of his film “Fantastic Fungi . . . The Magic Beneath Us.”

The festival runs through Sunday at the Wailea Resort and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. For tickets or information, visit mauifilmfestival.com.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.