In his latest project, the meditative Prince Avalance (out Aug. 9), Paul Rudd stars as a man—paired with his girlfriend’s boorish brother (played by Emile Hirsch)—whose job is painting lines on isolated stretches of highway. The movie, directed by David Gordon Green, is based on an Icelandic story, but was filmed in Texas‘ Bastrop State Park (which had been devastated by a wildfire in 2011). Spending time in the woods, Rudd says he expected to see snakes, but the reality was far different. Here, he tells TIME about the experience:
TIME: You spend a lot of time alone in this movie. Is that weird?
Paul Rudd: Just in that you have less to react to. I like doing that kind of stuff, where there’s no dialogue, and it’s certainly something I’m familiar with. Being by myself and not saying anything. We all have those moments.
Were those scenes scripted?
Not really. There are placeholders. Like, “we’ll film you doing something here.”
What’s your philosophy as far as balancing big comedies and more serious or smaller movies?
I always want, if at all possible, to work on things I like. In what order those show up in, I have no control. And if they do at all, I have no control. This Is 40 came about because Judd [Apatow] wanted to do it. And he called me up and, next thing I knew, it was ready to shoot. Prince Avalanche happened quickly and very much in the spirit of independent filmmaking: ‘Let’s go out to the woods with some cameras and make this story and we’ll take just a few people we’ve worked with before and reconnect to what it is that we like about doing this in the first place.’ I always hear little sayings from people, actors or agents, to do ‘one for them,and one for you.’ I don’t know what that means, exactly.
Does your preference for comedy versus drama change as that goes along?
I’ve been doing primarily comedies for the last several years, but in the last several years, there were a few dramas that I wanted to do. But either, (1) I didn’t get the part, (2) I wasn’t able to do the part because of timing, or (3) the thing never actually came together. There’s no master plan. That being said, I am feeling a bit of a pull to do something outside of the straight-up comedy world, because I feel like it has been maybe a little while since I’ve done something like that.
(MORE: Paul Rudd: Everybody’s Buddy)
You mentioned that making this movie was very much ‘let’s go out to the woods.’ What was it like being isolated like that?
It wasn’t like we put up tents. We were in a hotel. So it wasn’t total isolation. But it was still kind of great to be in a small town, away from everything, and in this forest. It’s easier to just get into the world [of the movie].
Are you a nature person?
I mean, I live in New York City. But I grew up next to a farm. I like nature.
Were there any unexpected wildlife encounters during filming?
I don’t think so. I figured for sure I’d see some snakes, but no. There were some ostriches that were running around.
There was an emu or something.
Are you serious?
Yeah. There are farms and people live up there. Maybe some had gotten loose and now they just live in the forest. It was a little strange to see an emu, but we did see one.
That’s insane. I was expecting you would say you saw a deer.
We probably did. But you see deer all the time. You want to see something really strange—and it made total sense to see, in this burned out forest, like, an ostrich running across. I don’t know why it did. It’s a bit like the peacock landing in the snow in Amarcord. For some reason it’s startling to see in that setting but it kind of makes sense.
And the movie takes place in the ‘80s. Was there a reason for that?
The real reason to do that is because there were no cell phones. It isn’t like, we’re going to have fun with ‘80s fashion. It’s that these guys are in the middle of nowhere and they’re isolated and they only have each other. You can’t tell that same story if you have iPhones with you.
That’s true. It’s hard to make a contemporary story about isolation.
We live in a world that’s dependent on cell phones and everything has cell phones in it. But I still read scripts where people still have answering machines, and I just think that’s lazy. Nobody has answering machines anymore. They have voicemail on their phones. I know that putting in answering machines in a movie is a dramatic device, but we’ve moved past that, so…
And having a movie in the ‘80s does mean you get to wear a cool mustache. Do you have a preference between this movie’s ‘stache and the one in Anchorman?
They were both kind of fun to have. I’ve never been a mustache guy, but I liked having them. I got accustomed to them pretty quickly, to the point that when I shaved, my face felt weird.
Speaking of your older movies, Clueless just turned 18 and has been getting some press for being a “grown-up.” What does that feel like for you?
I hear that and I go, ‘Oh my God, that was 18 years ago’ and that’s shocking because it doesn’t seem like that—but other times I’m like, ‘Yeah, that seems like we shot that about 18 years ago.’ What’s weird is when you meet somebody you think is one of your peers, who says, ‘I saw that movie when I was 5.’ That’s the only time where it’s like, wow. But I’m even used to that now.