Camp comedy spoof Wet Hot American Summer opened on July 27, 2001, garnering a lot of hostile reviews and tepid audience interest. A decade on, David Wain’s debut movie is a widely beloved cult classic while several members of its then-mostly unknown cast have emerged as major stars, including Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Poehler. To mark the film’s 10th anniversary, we asked the film’s stars to recall their time at Camp Firewood.
First up? Paul Rudd, who played the lazy, womanizing, and dangerously incompetent counselor, Andy. Below, the actor talks about getting the role, slobbering over Elizabeth Banks, and why a sequel would need to be even weirder.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So I’m going to shoot you some questions about the 2001 blockbuster comedy Wet Hot American Summer.
PAUL RUDD: [Laughs] Absolutely! You know what’s so crazy? I am literally walking in front of the HERE Theater space as I talk to you and that is the theater where I saw SEX, a.k.a Weiners and Boobs (which starred Wain and Wet Hot actors Michael Showalter, Joe Lo Truglio, and Zak Orth) and where I met David Wain for the first time and we talked about Wet Hot. I’m looking at it right now.
He had written the script at that point?
He had. He didn’t give it to me at that show. But he gave it to me not that long afterwards.
What did you think when you read it?
There were so many ridiculous jokes in it. I just thought, “This is so absurd.” More often than not, I had read scripts that didn’t seem to jibe with my own sensibility in the way that that one did. I was a fan of The State and just thought, “Oh my god, I’d love to work on something that really feels like it’s my scene.” I remember Zak Orth saying, “I don’t know if this will ever come out, I just want a video tape of it.”
Were you always going to play Andy?
David just said, “Read it and tell me what you think.” And when I read it, I talked about Andy. I think one time he had suggested maybe the part Ken Marino played. But early on I was like, “Oh yeah, Andy. Let’s play that.” I always thought about Matt Dillon in Little Darlings, that kind of guy.
Andy is just an awful person. He’s a douche towards women and is basically a child killer. In real life, he would be up on multiple child manslaughter charges.
Yeah, yeah, sure.
Did your agent have any thoughts about you taking the role?
One thing in the script I do remember that he questioned was, “The girl turns down Showalter’s character at the end? That doesn’t make any sense! She should be with him!” I just knew, “Well, no. You clearly don’t get it.” When my agent saw it, when it was finally finished, he hated it.
I’m not someone who bandies around the phrase “stud muffin” very often. But you are definitely the stud muffin of Wet Hot.
[Laughs] If that’s the case, I attribute it to the cutoff jean shorts. And the bandana in the back pocket. That was always the uniform of “that guy.” I lifted the bandana right from Matt Dillon in Little Darlings.
You spend a lot of your screen time slobbering over Elizabeth Banks. What was it like filming that?
Those slobbering scenes?
[Laughs] Well, funny, because we knew that it was just gross! It just added to the whole lunacy of the thing. We all found it funny that we were playing teenagers, but we’re all late 20s, 30, around that age. It was so ridiculous that we were playing these kids and making out, that it was like, “Let’s really make out and make it just stupid.”
What was the shoot like?
We lived at the camp. We slept there. It was like being in summer camp and everybody hung out with everybody. It was the only thing I ever worked on where people would just go to watch scenes being shot, not so much to support, but because it was just really fun. So there was a very communal feel to the whole thing. And if somebody wasn’t working, they would make the run into town, which was about half an hour away, and get all of the beer and stuff for that night. Whenever we were done filming, it was always just a big party. It was a really fun experience. We all knew it at the time. It was like, “Wow, this doesn’t happen a lot.”
Did you realize the cast was full of these people who would go on to do big things?
I had a sense. Most people didn’t know a lot of those people, but I did. Elizabeth Banks, I didn’t know. But I knew how talented Amy Poehler was, from being a fan of Upright Citizens Brigade, which was on Comedy Central. And clearly anyone who was in it that was in The State I was a fan of. Zak Orth I’d met before, and Zak is an incredible actor. I didn’t know A.D. Miles. But after meeting him I remember thinking, “This is one of the funniest guys ever.” Even down to the voice of the vegetables, which is H. Jon Benjamin, who I was a huge fan of from Dr. Katz. So I knew that there were really funny people in it. It wasn’t a success at the time, but I remember thinking, “Kids my age and maybe younger are going to dig it.” I heard the people who ran the studio, the main guys, didn’t like it and a lot of critics didn’t like it. But then there were other critics who loved it. And all of the kids that were working at the desks of the guys who were working at the studio, they all loved it. It did seem like a very generational kind of thing.
Would be up for doing a sequel?
Absolutely. I think we all would. It’s been discussed over the last decade in various forms and incarnations. My main concern in doing it would just be that it was absolutely true to the spirit of the first one, and it maybe was even a little more just ridiculous. Because, why do another one if you’re not going to make it weirder?
To read more about Wet Hot American Summer, check out the 10th anniversary retrospective feature in this week’s Entertainment Weekly.