Exploring Paul Rudd's Journey From Immortal Teen Heartthrob To Immortal Leading Man

Finding a picture of Paul Rudd with a shaved head offers a bit of a challenge, so you'll have to imagine it.

Harder than it seems. Yet it's instrumental in displaying one of the actor's fundamentally likable qualities. Back in the early 1990s, Rudd get his big break as a young actor with a role in Amy Heckerling's Clueless, but it almost didn't happen. Since he didn't think he'd gotten the role, he shaved his head, which almost cost him the role.

Heckerling and company tried wigs on him because they thought Josh – the budding environmental lawyer – should have long hair. Thankfully, nothing worked, and Rudd ended up rocking profoundly conservative, slightly fluffy hair.

This examination of his public persona as an artist won't fixate on something as small as hair, but you've got to admit that it can play an outsized role when you consider the consistency of a man who makes collective eyes pop because he grows a beard.

His Early Role: Josh in Clueless

Oh, Josh. He and Cher (Alicia Silverstone) fall in love almost exclusively through bickering like cut scenes from It Happened One Night got spliced into Mean Girls. It's a rare rom-com feat that the love interest is both immediately obvious from their water-and-oil personalities and a complete surprise until late in the game.

What's striking is how seriously Rudd portrays the character. Impressively, he delivers the most annoying guy in your college philosophy class as a sincere, relatively deep young man who has enough of a life plan to feel grounded but admits to not knowing it all. He has to lighten up to be completely right for Cher, and she has to engage below the surface level of life to be completely right for him, but they're a knock out pair from their first shared scenes because they have nothing in common except quality bantering skills.

The Persona: Teen Heartthrob

It's absolutely wild that Rudd garnered heartthrob status by playing a stuffy, tragically unhip dweeb who has so many thoughts to think. His character is designed to be the boring, stable voice of reason that Cher needs to shake her out of her self-centered fun, and he's somehow super hot doing it.

A handsome, approachable puppy. There are obviously more complicated layers to him as an actor and writer, but there's no use denying that his persona back then was as a gorgeous-yet-non-threatening boy next door who says funny things without really hurting anyone.

Also, I'm using the term "heartthrob" despite almost every review of Clueless name-checking him as a "hunk."

His Latest Role: Miles Elliot in Living With Yourself

Yes, Avengers: Endgame. He's out there, same hair cut, same elfin grin. He's also in a new Netflix series that delivers both sides of his acting skill: the benign loser who glides through life with a wink and the haunted loser who simmers with horrifying guilt and rage.

It's in there, but most people haven't seen it, and the path Rudd has chosen to blaze has largely kept him away from roles that would show that range. Granted, it's also potentially difficult to get that performance out of him, considering that he went for gruff asshole in Mute and the entire thing felt like a Labrador puppy threatening to chew your leg off.

In Living With Yourself, Rudd plays a familiar character: unmotivated, depressed, bad at every aspect of his life, and ready to turn to science fiction to turn it all around. A strip mall company swaps his DNA (like magic!) and he finds his bliss. Or one of him does. The other wakes up in plastic wrap at the bottom of a grave.

Even with the series firmly couched in comedy, it's still an absolutely delight to see Rudd stretch his legs on the border of Walter White territory for a while. It will also not put a single dent in the acting persona he's spent a quarter-century building.

The Persona: Teen Heartthrob

As the memes have proven, Rudd doesn't age, a fact that would make a revival of Clueless deeply unsettling.

Rudd's career has three distinct eras. Early Supporting Actor Success, which allowed him some room to experiment with what kind of performer he wanted to be. That includes co-starring in Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things as a sad sack molded viciously into a hunk — his most interesting work to date.

Then came Judd Apatow Team Member, which has kept him consistently working from starring roles to cameos with the usual suspects. Finally, there's Marvel Blockbuster and Beyond. We still have to see where that kind of fame takes him, but it's likely that he'll continue to be the consistent version of himself on screen we've always seen.

It's worth mentioning that Scott Lang is Paul Rudd. The actor plays him no differently than he does most of his roles. Other than Apatow scripts that allow for some outrageousness and the Wet Hot world where he's lovably cruel, he's got a lane.

That's not a knock. Rudd is a human pop song. His performances are the rare sweet spot of movie star power that you could see yourself borrowing a cup of sugar from. He's wildly untouchable and effortlessly approachable. At least on screen. That takes a severe talent.