Don’t sleep on Paul Rudd. People magazine’s 2021 Sexiest Man Alive may not have been as talked-about this past year as other contenders like “You” star Penn Badgley or “Ted Lasso” lead Jason Sudeikis, but there’s a reason the 52-year-old actor has quietly become one of Hollywood’s most adored leading men.
He’s attractive, yes, but also undeniably likable, talented and so universally entertaining that he counts both boomers and toddlers among his fans.
He’s attractive, yes, but also undeniably likable, talented and so universally entertaining that he counts both boomers and toddlers among his fans. Unlike many of his peers, Rudd has never had a down period. Since 1995, and his scene-stealing role as Cher’s love interest in “Clueless,” the actor hasn’t had a single real miss. Yes, he’s made some bad movies (if you don’t remember the 2008 rom-com “Over Her Dead Body,” that’s for the best) but nothing so awful or disappointing that he’s had to carry the blame for its failure. The worst thing you could call some of Rudd’s films is forgettable — which, over a 25-plus-year career, is pretty impressive. Combine that with his many, many hits, from “Ant-Man” to “Friends,” and you’ve got yourself an actor that both studios and audiences can reliably feel great about.
Then there’s the universality of Rudd’s appeal. Gen Xers and older millennials who grew up in the ‘90s love him for “Clueless,” “Romeo + Juliet” and “The Object of My Affection,” while today’s teens are discovering him for the first time during binges of “Friends” or “Parks and Recreation.” Action obsessives know him as Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, and comedy fans appreciate his roles in genre classics like “Anchorman” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Rudd’s done plenty of drama, too, in highly acclaimed projects like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Cider House Rules,” as well as animation, with kid-friendly fare like “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “The Little Prince.”
The fact that many of the star’s movies and shows are considered comfort entertainment only adds to his specific appeal. Feeling down? Put on an old episode of “Friends” to see Rudd’s Mike goofing around with Phoebe. Home alone and missing your pals? Throw on “I Love You, Man” and be reminded of the power of friendship. Just want to watch pretty yet approachable people solve problems and work for a happy ending? Check out “Wanderlust” or “Admission” or “This Is 40.” Rudd is the human equivalent of a cup of hot chocolate, providing comfort and warmth whenever you need it most.
And yes, there are his looks. Despite all the claims that Rudd has a vampire-like inability to age, his appearance has changed over the years. He is, unmistakably, a middle-aged man, albeit a very attractive one. That said, he does still strongly resemble the young guy audiences first met back in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, and that familiarity is one of his most endearing qualities. When we see him, we see not just the Rudd of today, but the Rudd we grew up with, and had crushes on, and watched (very) slowly mature.
Above all, though, is the fact that Rudd has always come across as a truly decent guy. From his delightfully candid interviews, to his work with the Stuttering Association for the Young, to his efforts (alongside fellow actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to save a New York candy store from closing, the remarkably scandal-free actor seems to truly have his heart in the right place. And with an apparently stable, relatable personal life — he’s been married to the same woman, Julie Yaeger, since 2003, and the duo and their two kids live in Rhinebeck, New York — Rudd comes off as the ultimate everyman, a good-natured guy with strong values who doesn’t buy into the Hollywood machine. Whether this is actually true is up for debate; Rudd, of course, wouldn’t be the first celebrity to have a personal life vastly different from his brand. But this far into his career, that seems unlikely, and in any event, fans can always hope.
Being named Sexiest Man Alive doesn’t have a huge effect on stars’ careers, other than providing a bit of publicity for their new projects. (In Rudd’s case, those would be the upcoming “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” and miniseries “The Shrink Next Door.”) But for Rudd, it further solidifies his status as one of America’s low-key favorite celebrities, a goofy, lovable nice guy who we actually want to root for and who (we’d like to think) is also rooting for us.