Pitch your TV show as Dostoyevsky’s “The Double’’ in suburbia, done as a midlife-crisis comedy, and you might get some sideways glances. For “Living With Yourself’’ (now streaming on Netflix), the key to the whole series lies in the presence of its supremely affable star, Paul Rudd, playing two versions of the same character.
Rudd’s Miles visits a cutting-edge spa and winds up, through a glitch in its system, competing with his own clone for dominance at work and the affection of his wife (Aisling Bea). It’s a surreal setup – and a showcase for Rudd, who’s often acting against himself, leaning on technical wizardry and shooting multiple takes of every scene the two Miles share.
The actor, at 50, has never had a starring TV role – though after leading popular film comedies Rudd explained by phone that he was up for a new kind of challenge.
Q. How’s your day going?
A. In two cups of coffee, it’s going to be going spectacularly.
Q. The series gives you two characters on distinct emotional journeys. What was that like?
A. There were a few different things, one of them being the different emotional ranges I got to play, the extremes of two different characters. The convention of acting against myself, I’d never done anything like that. That seemed like it would be a fun thing to do, or at least attempt to do. But the show itself, ultimately, was what sold me. The scripts were just so well-written… It read like a great book. As soon as I finished one, I wanted to go to the next.
Q. With these characters both looking exactly like, well, Paul Rudd, how did you distinguish them?
A. We weren’t going to go with a Jekyll and Hyde version, where one’s completely unrecognizable from the other. People would be confused by that, in the show’s world; they had to seem like the same person, so the details had to be nuanced, yet still distinct enough. We thought about hair, one easy place to have a physical difference be more subtle. We thought about posture, smaller differences an audience might not see but that I certainly felt.
Q. What helped you to keep the characters straight?
A. The first scene I shot, I was playing the old version of Miles. As I was getting dressed, I thought, “I’m going to miss a belt loop.’’ It’s the kind of thing that would happen to the old version. The new one would never miss a belt loop. So, throughout the whole show, when I’m the old version, I’ve missed a belt loop… There was always someone on crew alerting the wardrobe department.
Q. We meet Miles at this crossroads in life, asleep at the wheel in this existential way. Did you connect to that at all, personally?
A. You bring in whatever you have – experiences and insecurities, questions about life, failings – in an effort to illuminate them. Oh, god. I was about to say something so pretentious that I actually gagged in my mouth as the sentence was coming up. I’m not going to say what it was, only that it had something to do with “shining a light on the human condition.’’
Q. Thank you, for sparing me.
A. I would never say that! I just won’t.
Q. While there’s dramatic heft to “Living With Yourself,’’ it is a comedy, so there’s some legitimacy in not taking yourself too seriously here.
A. We’re in the tricky position of having to talk about something we made, you’re in the position of having to talk to me about it, and there’s a natural reflex in me to just make jokes. Even though I believe in everything about the show, if I start talking about myself in any way, and how I approach anything, I can’t do it without feeling self-conscious. I’m not good at deconstructing what I did in a carefree way. I’m not wired like that.
Q. It’s not a natural state for you.
A. None of this is natural!
Q. You’ve anchored some seminal comedies, toplined Marvel movies, and hosted “Saturday Night Live.’’ What do you look for in a project at this point?
A. It’s always about challenges, trying new things, doing what’s interesting to me. This checked every one of those boxes.