FEATURE: Young actor makes for an unconventional hero in Universal's new flick

Michael Cera Discusses 'Scott Pilgrim'

on August 08, 2010 by Amy Nicholson
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scottpilgriminterview.pngWhat's the dumbest thing you've ever done for love?

Oh boy. Maybe destroy a lot of friendships and burn a lot of bridges. Cut all my ties and get rid of everything.

A slash and burn approach.

Yeah, I would just kind of destroy my life.

To make the other person feel guilty?

Desperation, I think. I don't know if guilt is the word--maybe lighting a fire under them.

For Scott Pilgrim, you got to return to Toronto to shoot. What was it like being on set but knowing you could see your family and friends that night if you wanted?

My parents live about an hour away, so I went home to an apartment that the movie rented for me. But I haven't gotten to film there since I was a kid, so it was really great.

Is your celebrity different there? Are you the hometown hero?

I don't know? That's an interesting question. I guess I don't really think about it, or I avoid thinking about it.

Are the girls different in Toronto versus LA?

Yes. They're different in the guys they want to be around. It's a completely different world. LA is different from a lot of places, though. It's its own weird bubble, don't you think? Did you grow up here?

Michigan and Texas, but now that I'm here, I agree--and it's a bubble that seems impossible to leave. My family is right by the Canadian border in Michigan and we used to cross the lake to go to a theme park called Storybook Gardens in London, Ontario. It's two hours from Toronto--ever go?

No! What happens there?

It's all about nursery rhymes. There's Humpty Dumpty and Three Men in a Tub--a giant spiderweb, a giant shoe. Sometimes, I convince myself I imagined it. I was hoping for confirmation. Alas. You're outspoken about your love for Los Angeles, which I understand. You can do anything here--last night, we ate live octopus.

Whoa-how did it feel?

Primal. Like you're on the top of the food chain looking down at your plate.

I believe it. For Scott Pilgrim, I had to tear off a cat's arm with my teeth. It was kind of the same thing. I felt so...human. More myself than I'd ever felt. We had to do three takes. That's three cats.

That's one of the things I love about the comic--Scott's the hero, but he's not really that great of a guy.

When we started the film, Edgar gave us each a sheet with ten things we had to know about our character. Like a study guide to make sure we were all on the right path. And the top thing on my list was that Scott thinks he's the hero of his own imaginary movie.

Even before he has to fight for Ramona's heart, as a rock star he's the hero of the stage.

Exactly. It's like that scene in MacGruber when you realize that he's not the good guy. Val Kilmer's the villain, but that's because MacGruber stole his pregnant fiancee and made her get an abortion. That's why he hates MacGruber.

That movie was really underrated. I kept trying to get people to see it, but it was like bashing my head against a wall.

My friends all really liked it.

It's anti-comedy. Where there's supposed to be a joke, they pull it back.

You have to know comedy really well to do that.

You don't strike me as a professional fighter, and as someone who's never been in a fight myself, I'm curious about the training you had to do for Scott Pilgrim?

The kind of fighting I was doing isn't much like fighting. It's more like dance. It's a rhythm that you get into with another person-finding their rhythm, blocking their punches. I did get kicked in the throat while we were training, full force, by a man who was a Mandarin fighting champion. It knocked me down backwards onto my back. He was supposed to kick my chest-I had a big chest guard shield on, but he went too high and kicked me square in the throat.

What did that feel like?

You know, it was shockingly...not so painful? All these guys helped me up. They were really freaked out because since I was the main actor, they would have been in deep, deep trouble if I had gotten hurt. So they quickly picked me up and asked if I was okay. I didn't really feel anything. I think my adrenaline might have stopped me from feeling the pain-or maybe it just didn't hurt that much. Maybe getting kicked in the throat isn't that painful.

Maybe that's the secret ultimate fighters know. We're super-impressed, but they're so amped up on passion and energy that they don't feel a thing.

Right. I also got kicked in my hand while we were training. I was doing the thing where I throw my hand down and block a kick and these guys--who are amazing at stopping their foot at the exact same point in the air, however many times, they kick the precise spot--maybe my hand went too low, or his foot went too high, but he hit the base of my pinkie finger in between my pinkie and ring finger. It felt like it sprained whatever muscle is right there. And it felt like a train had hit my hand. It hurt so much.

And you need your hands to be nimble for all of your guitar scenes.

Luckily, it was a month before during training. It went away.

Obviously, you're now an awesome fighter. If you weren't held back--crippled, even, by having to follow stunt choreography--which of your opponents could you take in a fight?

I could easily kill Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I would just hit her straight in the face and see how she reacts.

The kind of move where if she worries that she'll never be pretty again, she'll quit. It's all about knowing your opponent's weakness.

I'd just break her nose in an instant. It's the perfect level. Her nose lines up to my upward palm thrust.

Jason Schwartzman?

I think me and Jason probably have a similar fighting technique. I can't speak on his fighting history, but I feel like he and I would just throw sporadic, flailing arm blows. They wouldn't even be specific enough to be named "punches" or "slaps," just us hoping that the weight of our arm connects to the other person.

Like the final fight in Kick-Ass.

Like that. I saw a fight like that in real life. Growing up, these two guys were talking about fighting after school in the woods and it turned into this thing where everyone knew they were going to do it--they couldn't get out of it. So we went in the woods with fifty kids and we climbed on this big mound of dirt that some kids had built to ride their dirt bikes on. They're standing on this mound with a circle of kids watching and they're so afraid. Neither of them would throw a punch. They both had their fists up and they're just looking at each other, moving their feet a little bit, for such a long time. Five minutes. Both terrified. Then one of them went for a punch and it landed on the other kid's nose. It started bleeding profusely. The first kid backed off and freaked out. They ended up both getting suspended because when one of their moms saw them, he said he'd been in a fight. She reported it and got them both suspended.

It's funny hearing you describe a real fight because all most people ever see is movie violence. It's rare that there's a physical fight right in front of you--I think I've only ever seen two. And both times, it was weirder and messier and clumsier and worse than any movie I'd ever seen.

Have you seen some vicious fights?

Once--it was outside of a music club when I was in high school. It was so bad that this guy I didn't know who just happened to be in the parking lot with me, from then on, we were friends. We'd both seen this thing that we didn't want to see. Every time we saw each other, we shared a look and a head nod. Like we'd been in a war together, even though neither of us had thrown a punch--we were 15 feet away.

That must have been really disturbing to make such an impression.

I'm a Catholic school girl. I hadn't seen a lot of that. But what I find interesting about the violence in Scott Pilgrim is it's so inspired by videogames. Even when you throw a punch, it says, "Whoosh!" It's comic violence.

There's no blood in this movie at all, which is interesting because there's so much extreme violence. It doesn't feel gory ever, or gratuitous or disturbing. It's always a cartoon. You feel safe while watching it. You don't think anyone's going to be disfigured. There's something about that that makes it more of a comedy and less of a violent, bloody murder movie.

And the style of the comedy itself is really unique. It's set in this blasé Toronto where people have dishwashing jobs and crash on other people's couches. It's all very, very mundane. But when somebody gets punched, they burst apart into gold coins. I'm curious about that balance.

I haven't seen the film yet myself, but the first half hour is like what you just described: it's these kids living in Toronto and there are these relationship dynamics. You're getting a sense of what their lives are like, what this group of friends is like. And then 30 minutes into it, madness starts happening. It's so fast and you just have to go with it--you're caught up in it and all of a sudden, people are fighting and they know how to fight, even though there's no reason for them to. People are exploding into coins and people are flying and shooting fireballs. To me, it's not very different from what Edgar was doing in Spaced or in Shaun of the Dead. He has a way of getting away with that stuff. There's a scene in Spaced where they have a big shootout with finger guns.

Like the way he handles the cop genre in Hot Fuzz. I heard to prepare for the film, you read The Art of War.

Did I say that? [Laughs] I listened to a little bit, but not the whole tape. I need to finish it.

So what's next?

I don't have any other job lined up right now. We're going to be promoting this probably all the way until September. There's other little things here and there that I'm working on, but I don't have anything big lined up. Which is nice, actually.

That will give you time to keep writing for McSweeney's.

Yeah, I've been doing that, actually. And walking around. Reading and writing. It's very relaxing.

I'll be killed if I don't ask about the Arrested Development movie.

The last I heard, it was happening. But that was a long time ago, now. I had lunch with Mitch [Hurwitz, creator] sometime over a year and a half ago. We talked about doing it. But I don't think he's written the script because he's working on a show now with Jim Vallely and Will Arnett [Wilde Kingdom, whose pilot was just picked up by Fox]. I'm pretty sure they're going to be doing that for a little while. I can't really tell if it's something where we need to strike while the iron is hot, or if more time will go by and it will still be fine to do it. I'd like to.

It doesn't seem like interest has abated and the show's been off the air for what, three years? Four?

Four, yeah. It's nice that people still want to see it. I think it could be good. Really fun.

That's also got to be a little intimidating that everyone expects it to be the best movie of all time.

That's true. It's never good to start an endeavor with high expectations right off the bat.

If it comes together, you should give interviews telling people how bad it's going to be.

That's a great idea. I'm sure that whoever's giving us money will love that.

Or you could do public debates with Tony Hale. He'll say it's bad, you'll say it's good. At least you'll be on the producers' good side.

 

Tags: Michael Cera, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Arrested Development
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