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Posted at 11:40 AM ET, 02/25/2011

Paul Rudd declares 'I am humbled and I'm Irish' at Oscar Wilde party, where Julia Roberts pays tribute

By Jen Chaney

Oscar Wilde emcee Donal Logue, honoree Paul Rudd and presenter Julia Roberts.
(Getty Image courtesy of U.S.-Ireland Alliance)

At last year's Oscar Wilde event, a major movie star (Tom Cruise) showed up to pay tribute to a talented but admittedly non-Irish individual (J.J. Abrams) and declare him an honorary Irishman.

This year's Oscar Wilde celebration -- the annual pre-Academy Awards party hosted last night by the Arlington, Va.-based U.S.-Ireland Alliance -- followed that same template. But this time the major movie star was Julia Roberts, whose appearance came as a surprise; the media was not alerted in advance, as they had been re: Cruise the year before. And the admittedly talented non-Irish guy who transformed into an honorary Irishman was Paul Rudd, a Jewish dude from Kansas who has charmed movie audiences with his use of Sex Panther cologne and his tendency to say things like "jobin."

"I love that if you people want to make it happen, it's just going to happen," Roberts cracked as she presented the honor to her friend and former co-star in Broadway's "Three Days of Rain." "He's Jewish, [but] he's just going to be Irish."

Yes, there's a temptation to call bull-blarney when an Irish organization makes a big fuss over someone who doesn't come from anywhere remotely near Dublin. (For the record, the event also honored casting agents Ros and Jon Hubbard ("The Commitments," "The Lord of the Rings") and young Irish actress Sarah Bolger.) But Rudd's acceptance speech -- in which he spoke movingly about his father's love of Ireland and its influence on Rudd's life -- made the choice seem pretty sensible.

Keep reading to find out why Rudd decided to build an Irish pub in the basement of his upstate New York home and which other bold-faced names -- Orlando Bloom, Jon Hamm -- attended last night's Emerald Isle event.

During a nearly 15-minute speech, Rudd explained how, at age 17, he became interested in Irish culture after seeing a Pogues video on MTV's "I.R.S. The Cutting Edge." That interest was further cultivated by his father, who frequently traveled to Ireland in his role as a Titanic historian and tour guide. (Yes, that actually was his job after retiring from TWA.)

"I noticed that whenever he was around anybody from Ireland, he just immediately morphed into Brendan Gleeson," Rudd said of his dad. The two traveled through Ireland together. And, later, as Rudd has noted in previous interviews, his father decided to convert the basement of his Kansas City home into an Irish pub and name it Sullivan's, after Rudd's son, Jack Sullivan Rudd. Rudd decided to do the same thing, creating a pub in the basement of his upstate New York home and calling it Sullivan's East.

Then, seeming to choke up a couple of times, Rudd told the crowd about how after his father died of cancer, the family decided the only logical thing to do was cremate him and spread portions of his ashes at different beloved spots in Ireland.

"I know it sounds crazy, but it did feel as if we were kind of bringing him home," he said.

"What this would have meant to my dad is very important to me because it would have made him Irish, too," he continued. "It would have meant -- it seems to make sense. Today is actually his birthday. He would have turned 69 years old today, so it seems particularly fitting that I'm here and able to collect this. And I know a pub in upstate New York where it's going to look really, really nice.

"I am so grateful, I am honored, I am humbled," he said. "And I'm Irish."

During a conversation afterward with Rudd, this reporter noted that after that speech, it was hard to make light of the decision to give him the award because--

"It seems legit," he said, finishing the sentence. Then he smiled.

In addition to Rudd, several other celebrities were in attendance, including Orlando Bloom (a longtime friend of the Hubbards), J.J. Abrams (who said he's in the midst of finishing the first cut of "Super 8"), Rudd pals David Wain and Joe Lo Truglio, emcee Donal Logue, Molly Ringwald and Jon Hamm, another friend of Rudd's who happened to sit smack in front of this reporter. See? Here's the ridiculously blurry pic of the back of his head as proof:

Unfortunately, Roberts dashed off right after honoring Rudd. And none of the truly bold-faced names walked the "green" carpet before the event, except for Rudd, who got yanked off of it (time constraints, allegedly) before he could complete his interviews. Apparently most preferred to make at least one of the week's pre-Oscar nights a little more low-key. And we totally understand that.

Toes McGoats.

By Jen Chaney  | February 25, 2011; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  Awards Season, Movies, Oscars  
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