`Paddle' stars set for more mature assignments

August 18, 2004|By Joe Neumaier | Joe Neumaier,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

When thirtysomething actors known for adolescent humor want to appeal to their own generation, are they up a creek in Hollywood?

Seth Green, Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard - the stars of Without a Paddle, opening Friday - are betting that the new film will put their goofy years behind them. The trio play childhood pals on the cusp of 30 who, after the funeral of a friend, embark on a Northwest canoe trip (think Deliverance with a laugh track).

The comedy has its outrageous moments - including sex-crazed female tree-huggers, wild hillbillies and Burt Reynolds as a hirsute mountain man - but the actors say it was the movie's heart and Stand by Me-like style that got them.

Sitting down for lunch in New York's Central Park, Green, 30 (Austin Powers, TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Lillard, 34 (Scream, Scooby-Doo), and Shepard, 29 (one of the outrageous provocateurs of MTV's Punk'd!), were feeling the ill effects of a night partying at the club Suede.

But that doesn't mean they couldn't pick at each other like apes for a photo shoot atop a rock or talk seriously about this transitional time in their careers.

"This movie is a big move for me," says Lillard. "It's a move from teen-oriented movies and out of characters like Shaggy in Scooby-Doo. I have a wife and daughter, and another kid on the way, for God's sake - it's time to be a man!"

Green, a former child actor who graduated from commercials to such movies as Woody Allen's Radio Days, Can't Hardly Wait and Rat Race, says his character, an uptight doctor, is a turning point for him as well.

"When I started, I was a precocious, verbose kid with bright red hair; casting agents knew me," he says. "As I grew up, I was lucky no one tried to put me in a specific acting box. I'm now the age a lot of my favorite actors were when they did their best work."

But for all three actors - who knew each other only casually before filming Without a Paddle - roles beyond teen comedies have their own challenges.

"When you hit a certain age, a smaller group of people can relate to your movies," says Green. "When you're younger, you play characters who fall in love for the first time. Then the movies become about your relatives visiting."

"It's a perspective thing," says Shepard. "When you're young, you're still cynical about everything. As you grow up and buy nicer things, all of a sudden you're in."

Shepard, in fact, had to leave Punk'd! when he became too well known to pull off the show's pranks on celebrities.

Lillard - a graduate of New York's Circle in the Square whose first film, Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go to College, was released in 1991 - says the distinction between "Us" and "Them" blurs as time goes on.

Filming in New Zealand, the trio bonded during some of the movie's physically demanding scenes. But they also empathized with the movie's idea of one last youthful adventure.

"A few years ago, I went to Europe with a childhood pal," says Green. "It was possibly the worst vacation I ever had, but it's a story I always tell, because it was hilarious."

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