SPLICED interviewed Paul Rudnick September 3, 1997 at the Ritz Hotel in San Francisco.

Link to: "In & Out" review

Not enough Rudnick?
Link to: The full, unedited Q&A session where he discusses Hollywood satire, the movie's lack of paranoid homophobia and why he insists that "Joan Cusack is god."

"Out" with it!
Screenwriter Paul Rudnick talks about The Kiss from "In & Out"

Paul Rudnick has a huge mouth, almost like a Muppet. This condition probably comes from laughing too much, something he seems wont to do.

A playwright and script doctor with an sweetly acidic sense of humor, he makes a living on scripts like "Addams Family Values," with subtle, snapping dark humor and oddball story lines that somehow feel familiar and common.

But his latest project, the is-he-or-isn't-he homophobia farce "In & Out," has Rudnick in the spotlight himself over the movie's pivotal gag.

Starring Kevin Kline as a sexually ambiguous school teacher outed on national TV and suddenly besieged by his town, his fiancée and the media, the film is unrelentingly funny. But in what is arguably the most comical scene in the film, an "Entertainment Tonight"-type reporter played by Tom Selleck makes an enormous pass at Kline.

This kiss goes on and on -- it must be a good 20 seconds -- with Kline clawing to get away at first, but then suddenly wrapping a leg around Selleck.

While Rudnick says Paramount Pictures meddled very little in what might have been a risky film to target at a mainstream audience, he admits the smooch made the studio suits nervous. But so far no gag in the movie has gotten bigger laughs from audiences.

"I think the length is completely the secret of that kiss," Rudnick says of the big scene. "It's a way of saying, 'We mean this. Get over it.' And it's why it's so funny.

"If that kiss were some brief peck on the cheek, the audience might be offended, they might be turned off, they might feel the movie was cowardly. There'd be a whole range of equally unpleasant and deserved responses. But because the kiss won't let go, and it gets funnier and sexier as it goes, the audience gets into it, and their initial shock just turns into tears (of laughter)."

Rudnick knows from laughter. Besides playing script doctor on "The First Wives Club," and pounding out a monthly humor column for Premiere magazine (under an assumed identity), he writes plays like the AIDS scare comedy "Jeffrey" (made into a film in 1995), which tend to address social issues, tongue firmly in cheek.

In San Francisco this month to promote "In & Out," Rudnick did not address the issue of tongues in the big kiss, but he did say the scene wouldn't have been the same without the ingeniously ironic casting of Selleck as a charming, masculine, gay reporter.

"Oh, he's terrific!" Rudnick chirped. "You could have another great actor in that part and it wouldn't have that extra dimension because it's not Tom Selleck.

"He's a sexy hunk. So when he grabs the guy, or the girl, you want that to happen. (It's like) if Cary Grant, instead of grabbing Katherine Hepburn, went after Randolph Scott."

This isn't the first gay screen kiss Rudnick has written to get a laugh. In "Jeffrey," the shock of a surprisingly passionate male-male lip-lock is defused by a seemingly random cut-away to two teenage couples, serving as a surrogate audience and reacting to the kiss in a movie theater. The boys recoil in terror, while the girls fawn romantically. The narrative then resumes with the rest of the kiss.

Rudnick smiles broadly at the comparison. "It's fascinating because same sex kisses are kind of the final frontier in a way. There have been a lot of movies that have dealt only with gay sexuality, and sometimes an audience will be fine with that. But gay romance is seen as oddly more threatening. I think because (romance) is when movie stars really enter the national fantasy system -- you know, the swoon bank."

He voices a theory that it is part of a movie star's job to go on great dates and share great kisses for the rest of us. Those kisses, he says, do not have to be discomforting just because they are not between a man and a woman, especially if they're played for laughs.

"I think the audience, even the mass audience, is so yearning for romantic comedy, but because people are sophisticated and we're living in an age of such overwhelming divorce, people are very wary of buying into a love story. They're cynical or they'll feel foolish if they invest themselves in a couple, gay or straight. Which is why the movie makers have to keep finding new angles to keep romance possible on some level.

"An audience will accept all sorts of fantasy if it's action-adventure -- you know, if they're being given total license to not believe what they're seeing.

"But they take romance in a weird way more seriously. They have personal experience in that area. Maybe they've never been to another planet. Maybe they've never fought with Colombian drug lords or Arab terrorists. But they've been on a date, so don't try to fool them. And (this) is a romantic comedy first and foremost."

"In & Out" eschews any kind of threateningly homophobic reaction on the part of the townspeople, which reeks of the feel-good studio script machine, but Rudnick explains that he wanted the film to have "a demented Frank Capra feeling."

He says he toyed with creating "an evil school board" or some other kind of homophobic villain, but "it kept drifting into movie-of-the-week territory. It made the politics of the movie so elemental and preachy, and I never wanted it to feel like a lecture."

"When you're dealing with gay issues in a movie, there is a certain tightrope there in terms (whether) you make a political document that reflects (your) personal beliefs. This movie does. But you know, political movies tend not to be very funny.

"I'm a big laugh whore," he says. "So when I write anything, I just always think, is this going to be funny?"

The movie doesn't suffer any from the lack of community confrontation, but one late scene goes a little far in the other direction, with much of the town rallying to Howard's support in sort of an "I am Spartacus" moment.

It feels like a reluctant re-write, but Rudnick insists he intended the ending to be traditionally uplifting.

"There's certainly a strong element of fantasy in that moment, where you've got this whole small town coming to the support of the little guy. It's a Frank Capra moment."

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