I was nervous about interviewing Michael Cera. He’s known to be… not difficult, but he’s not always forthcoming in interviews. He seems to not like the process, and I can’t blame him. On the day I interviewed him, he had been sitting on a soundstage on the Universal lot for hours, answering the same set of questions again and again in TV interviews. Each interview would last about four minutes, and he would sit in a chair and have a rotating cast of goofy reporters ushered in. Over and over.
I got to him at the end of the day. Any fears I had about him being reticent were blown away when he and HitFix’s Drew McWeeny got into a golf cart and disappeared on the lot. It turns out they drove up to the Psycho house to do the interview, and it made the PR handlers frantic, but it was a good sign to me: Michael Cera is having some fun.
The publicists wouldn’t let us get near the golf cart, so we sat on a bench outside the Hitchcock Theater and had a nice, chill conversation. It began with me commiserating about his day under the glaring TV interview lights.
You’re not a big fan of doing press anyway.
This stuff I love, actually. These conversations are nice. That stuff… am I supposed to match that person’s weird energy or am I going to look like I have no energy because I’m being myself and they’re on 1000 percent. It’s strange.
Scott has his own weird energy. When you first got cast people were saying they didn’t see you as that character. When I first saw the film a few months ago -
When did you see it last?
Oh cool. At Comic Con?
No, here at the junket screening.
How was it last night? How did the screening play?
It was the junket crowd, so it’s these jaded celebrity reporters –
Were there like 50 people?
No, it was a full theater. Those reporters are often the most cynical, but they had big reactions.
They were into it? Good! That’s fun.
Scott’s energy – how would you describe his thing?
It’s very over the top and very cartoony. It feels to me like an Edgar Wright film. If you’ve seen those films and like those it feels to me like it’s consistent with his quality. In the graphic novel the drawings will have such big expressions –
The eyes get huge.
So big. That’s what we tried to do. When it came time to start rehearsing, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how big to go, so rehearsing really helped for me. I got to see how other people got there, and having Edgar sending us in a direction was really helpful.
How big is too big? In something as large as this, where is the ‘too big’ line? Did you ever hit it?
I don’t know. I wasn’t afraid of hitting it because I trusted him. It’s nice when you have a director you can see is so obsessed with their movie, cares so much, works so hard, never stops thinking about it. You know you’re in good hands and you don’t have to be self-conscious. You don’t have to watch yourself in the same way you might on other jobs. That was nice. There wasn’t really a ‘too big’ line.
When he’s working I don’t know where the energy comes from.
I don’t either. I know he drinks a lot of espresso. But that doesn’t quite explain it!
Does he have a Breaking Bad-style meth lab behind the stage or something?
I think so! He just shoots up reels of film into his blood.
I’ve talked to Nick Frost and Simon Pegg about working with him, and they’ve said that he’s very technical. He knows exactly what he wants out of his actors. Is that a weird adjustment?
It was new. It was interesting seeing him making this and seeing his process. I had never worked with him on anything, but I loved his movies, so it was interesting to watch how he goes about it. It is like that – it’s beat by beat. There’s a single moment he knows he needs to get, and we’ll get that moment and then we’ll go on to the next one. Especially with a film like this, where each moment is a new set-up pretty much.
That’s what I was wondering – especially early on there’s a sequence where you and Knives are wandering around and you have one line of a conversation in a store, one line in a street… are you just doing that line or are you doing the whole scene in each of those locations?
Just doing that line.
Is that hard for you as an actor to find that one line?
Not really. We rehearsed for months. It was hard at first, but it was great that we rehearsed for months. We had a plan. We could sometimes stray from the plan but you didn’t feel like you were jumping in and figuring it out.
The action was something else that I assume was new for you. How much training goes in? The stories you always hear is that it was months of training.
Yeah, it was months.
Can you fight now?
I can’t fight worth a damn. That’s a fear of mine, that people are going to want to fight after seeing this movie. They’ll see me in a bar and beat the shit out of me.
It looks like you doing the fighting. How much of that is you?
A lot of it is me. But that’s not fighting. That’s dancing! ‘I have to put my right foot forward, pivot, loosen my shoulder.’ It has nothing to do with fighting.
So you could do some really aggressive dancing.
I could… probably not. It hasn’t stuck with me. I couldn’t do anything impressive now. Your main focus is to not hurt the person you’re throwing punches at.
With this film you have a continuously rotating cast that you’re working with. What’s that like on set?
It makes it feel like a series. Chris Evans would be in for two weeks and would be gone and we would never see him again. It was strange. It kept it fresh. There were just a handful of people who were there for the whole time, like Mark [Webber] and Alison [Pill] and Johnny [Simmons] and Ellen [Wong] and Mary [Elizabeth Winstead]. Kieran [Culkin] was there for a while too. We were always seeing people go, and we as a group really liked each other and didn’t get to spend enough time together as we would have liked.
Toronto is like the other character in this. You’re a Toronto boy. How important is that? Did you show Edgar around?
I don’t really know the city that well. I grew up outside the city. I’m a suburban kid. But I got to know the city while working on this film, and that was nice. It’s an amazing city. But I think Bryan [Lee O’Malley] showed Edgar around and showed him all the original locations.
There’s a weird reaction to the movie I’ve seen, that’s it’s hipster. And Scott seems to me to be the farthest thing possible from hipster.
I don’t know what that is really. When I think of that word I think of an indifference towards life. That’s what the word means to me, people who are indifferent.
There’s a lot of irony, I feel like. The hipster thing is being ironic.
I thought you said ironing.
Their clothes are immaculate. Those skinny jeans, you have to iron those all the time.
They wear really ironic pants [points to his green cords.]
Are those ironic pants?
I don’t wear these ironically. They’re the nicest pants I have.
Scott’s a slacker -
He’s a nitwit. He’s a Homer Simpson, I feel like. That’s the closest thing I think the character can be likened to. There are times when he has no idea what’s going on. There are a lot of really Simpsons moments, like the spinning wheel [in his head] of what I’m going to say – that feels like directly from Homer Simpson to me. But I guess people use [hipster] loosely these days, so it’s a blanket term.
I feel like it means ‘someone younger than me who is having fun.’
That makes sense. He’s having fun.
Nobody’s ironic in the film, and everybody is emotionally honest. That emotional honesty is interesting because, having seen it a couple of times over the last few months, I know that the emotional center has changed drastically with the new ending. I’m curious about your thoughts on the ending.
That’s interesting that you’ve seen a few cuts. Because I haven’t! I’ve only seen the one cut. A few nights ago [at Comic Con] was my first time seeing it. But I know what you mean. The way it ends to me feels cinematically correct. It’s cinematically satisfying. The other one is philosophically very satisfying in certain ways. But this one, I think, just feels right. It feels right for everybody. The other ending always felt good, but once [Edgar] had time to just focus on the ending for a while – to think about it as much as he would think about an entire film – it ended up feeling like the right thing.
You’re at a point in your career where you’re still a young actor, but you have a persona. Does that persona – playing to it or shedding it – impact what you choose next?
Not hugely. The way that I approach what comes next is basically whatever director that wants to work with me that I love I’ll jump at the chance to work with. I think that’s the only way to work. As an actor you have so little control over your performance, in a weird way. Theater’s different.
In movies you give them all this stuff and they come back from the editing room with whatever they come back with.
Yeah, it could be a million different things. That’s the only way to really choose how to work. And it’s the most amazing way to work – if you’re lucky enough to work with directors you love it’s incredible. I don’t think anything would really effect the way I go about work. That’s the most important thing, I think.