LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comic actor Paul Rudd has worked at many dead-end jobs including one glazing hams, but after years of toiling away in Hollywood's background several recent leading film roles have sent his star rising.
For his new comedy "I Love You, Man," which debuts in U.S. theaters on Friday, Rudd sees his name and likeness plastered across billboards and other ads promoting the film, and more than ever, his talent for making people laugh is expected to sell theater tickets.
Rudd, 39, is edging closer to the career of a leading comic actor like Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Jack Black or Vince Vaughn, charter members of Hollywood's "Frat Pack" and Rudd's fellow actors in the 2004 movie "Anchorman."
For years, those four have outshone Rudd, but this month finds him on the cover of April's Vanity Fair -- a spot reserved for Hollywood A-listers -- along with his "I Love You Man" co-star Jason Segel, "Pineapple Express" lead Seth Rogen and "Superbad" standout Jonah Hill.
"I'm thrilled to be kind of labeled with those guys, because I think they're all talented and funny," Rudd told Reuters. "I'm honored to be a pledge in the 'Frat Pack'."
In "I Love You, Man," Rudd plays a recently engaged real estate agent named Peter with no close friend to serve as "best man" at his wedding. Peter sets out to find a friend, meeting the brash but always fun Sydney Fife (Segel).
But as Peter and Sydney spend more and more of their time together, his fiancee begins feeling left out.
The movie exposes how pop culture words "bromance" and "mandate" can be when describing male friendships because nothing truly compares to a love relationship.
Unlike his awkward realtor in the film, Rudd has no problem making friends. But he joked that in recent months his buddies have tired of seeing him on so many billboards for "I Love You, Man." For Rudd, that exposure is relatively new.
Last November, for the first time, he began to win top billing in movies with his buddy comedy "Role Models," which co-starred Seann William Scott of "American Pie" fame.
That film raked in about $91 million at global box offices, a good sum for a relatively low-budget comedy, and tipped Hollywood to the fact that his rising popularity can help lure audiences. That put Rudd in greater demand.
He is now a long way from Kansas City, where his father settled after an itinerant airline career and Rudd once glazed hams for a living. Later, he worked as a DJ at bar mitzvahs, and put in time as a record store clerk.
Still, he is no overnight sensation in Hollywood. His first major film role came in 1995 comedy "Clueless," playing a college student and the infatuation of a high school girl who happens to be his former step sister.
Rudd has boosted his image in recent years in a series of supporting roles in movies from producer and Hollywood comedy guru Judd Apatow, including "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."
Vanity Fair compared him to the late comedian Jack Lemmon, and said he has "enviable range" as an actor.
Rudd, who lives in New York City, now finds himself getting recognized on the street, and said he welcomes his new fame.
"I understand how fortunate I am, man. I really do."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)
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