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It’s been two decades since he first broke out as the comically meek George Michael Bluth on TV in Arrested Development and 16 years since he became the cinematic face of hilariously awkward teens as Evan in high-school comedy smash Superbad.
While these are often two of his most talked about roles — together with perhaps Juno and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — Michael Cera has been quietly amassing an impressively eclectic body of work over the years, appearing in Molly’s Game and This Is the End (as a Rihanna ass-slapping cokehead), voicing Robin in The Lego Batman Movie, earning a Tony nomination for his leading part in Kenneth Lonergan’s Broadway revival of his own play Lobby Hero and even landing one of the wildest cameos on David Lynch’s already wild Twin Peaks revival. Most recently he’s been seen regularly alongside Amy Schumer in her acclaimed rom-com series Life & Beth on Hulu, while upcoming projects include Greta Gerwig’s much-hyped Barbie and A24 comedy Dream Scenario with Nic Cage.
To Berlin, he brings something a little different. Dustin Guy Defa’s quiet drama The Adults — premiering in the Encounters section and backed by Universal Pictures Content Group — sees Cera play a man returning to his hometown and struggling to reconnect with his two sisters as the division between his playful and imaginative childhood self and the more serious, subdued grown-up he is now becomes clear. Like much of Cera’s output, it’s an enjoyably understated performance, although he denies any suggestion of being typecast by directors.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter while taking a break from shooting the second season of Life & Beth, Cera explains his rejection of social media, smartphones and — if possible — the limelight, discusses why he spent most of his time on the set of Barbie talking about Mike Leigh, plus reveals his plans to get behind the camera and direct his first feature.
Are you coming to Berlin with The Adults?
I am! But I’m shooting Life & Beth at the moment, which means I have to do a 24-hour trip. It’s gonna be insane, but I am going to come in for the screening and see everyone and then turn around and head back on a plane.
So no wild trips to Berghain while you are there?
Well, maybe we could squeeze it in. I could do that instead of sleeping.
Congratulations on the film. It really made me think about returning to my home city as a grown-up and the difficulties of trying to reconnect with your childhood. As someone in your 30s, did you find any personal connections to the story?
Yes, just the aspect of what you described of growing up and going home and being this different version of yourself. You’re going back to where you came from and remember where you came from, but feeling the gulf between where you started and where you are and how that changes the whole constellation of your family balance. I can relate to that.
In The Adults, you play a poker addict. You also played a professional poker player in Molly’s Game. Do you have a secret — or not so secret — poker thing going on?
It’s not secret. Actually, during the pandemic, the director Dustin and I had a poker tournament group that would play on Zoom all together and it was very wholesome. We had a lot of friends and family members playing, and I think this is where a lot of poker ideas came from for this movie.
So did you already know then that he was working on The Adults?
Yeah, Dustin and I worked on a movie about seven years ago called Person to Person, and we’ve been friends since then. And during the pandemic, we would spend a lot of time together. The film was coming together before the pandemic and actually changed enormously. I feel like Dustin had some completely new input of inspiration after working on it for a year or two, and it completely changed course. It was really impressive to me, actually, and felt very right.
You’re a very private person and attempts to track you down on social media for this interview have proved utterly fruitless. Was this a very conscious decision or just something you never got around to?
It doesn’t feel conscious. I guess it’s just something that I didn’t elect to do. Because everybody does it, it starts to feel like a big choice. But it’s just not interesting to me. But I also don’t have a smartphone. And that is a conscious choice, because I feel a bit of fear about it honestly like I’d really lose control of my waking life. Right when people started having smartphones, when it was Blackberries, I had lunch with a friend of mine who was my best friend at the time, and he’d just gotten a Blackberry, and for the whole meal he was typing emails, and I was sat there lonely and bored. So I had an early aversion to them.
I’m actually incredibly envious…
A lot of people say that. For many years, people resented me for this lifestyle choice. But now people say that they envy it.
Do you think that the social media thing has had any impact on your career, especially now when so many producers are looking for stars with big online followings to help with promotion?
Yeah, I really can’t know the answer to that. But it’s very possible. I mean, I’m definitely not holding any sway in that category. So if that’s an important thing I think I wouldn’t be considered.
Is the limelight in general something that you’ve been uncomfortable with over the years?
Yeah. I’m just a very sensitive person, and very sensitive to the people that I meet and to other people’s energies. So I love people a lot and really love the people that make sense to me, that my brain can understand as human beings. But there’s just so many people on planet Earth that are confusing to me. And I think when you get really famous, you’re just like a magnet to people. And all kinds of people come up to you, and I just can’t handle it. I’m not really cut out for that level of interaction with so many different types. I don’t have a strong enough personality for that.
Was there a moment when it came to a head and you thought, I’m just not into this?
I think I was kind of probably my most famous or recognizable, or just exposed, when I was about 20 or so, which is a really young age as far as being a developed human being. So it came to a head for me at that point. It was kind of a mixed emotion for me, because I really love working, and I love what I get to do for a living obviously, but a lot of it comes with other things you have to be good at. Like, to be really good at being an actor, you kind of have to be an amazing public figure. I worked with Jack Black in 2008 and saw the way that he would handle people coming up to him, and I just thought, “Okay, I actually just don’t have the makeup.” Because he’s amazing at it. He’s so generous with everyone, and it’s really beautiful that he can give up himself in that way. It’s a personality type.
It’s been said that you’re often typecast as the loveably awkward, geeky guy, especially when you look at some of your most famous roles in films such as Superbad, Juno and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Is that something you’ve ever felt?
I guess I don’t really know what typecast actually means. I think it could either mean the work that you do or the way that people perceive you. And those are two different things. When you think about the big roles people know me for, then I guess it’s kind of easy to people to categorize me in their brains. And I understand that. But I’ve never found that it actually affects what kind of work I’m able to do. I’ve felt very lucky to work with great directors who want to use me in different ways. There’s no shortage of those and that’s fun. I feel that’s what I seek, things that are interesting.
Speaking of which, you appeared in one solitary scene in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks revival, playing Wally Brando, a sort of Marlon Brando in The Wild One character. How did that come about?
The full story is that I did a transcendental meditation course with some friends, and a woman there said she was from the David Lynch Foundation and invited us to meditate with David Lynch. So about a month later, we went to David’s house, which is the house from Lost Highway, and at first it was me and David. He was so sweet and welcoming, but I was still just so confused about why he was having us, why we were allowed to be there and meet him. I was so excited. So we meditated with him for about 20 minutes. And then a couple of years later, I got invited to do this Twin Peaks scene. And my friend Eric Edelstein, who also mediated with us, got a part. I only worked with David for about two hours when we shot that scene, but it was so much fun.
And this year you’re starring in Barbie, one of the most hyped films of the year.
It’s really crazy. I’ve never been part of a movie that already had fans before we even made it. When I was going through customs in the U.K., they asked what I was coming in for, and I said I was working on the Barbie movie, and one of the customs officers said, “Who’s in that?” and the customs officer next to him was like “Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie are in it!”
There’s not much info out there about your character, but do you get to wear some of the DayGlo outfits we’ve already seen?
The costume department in this movie was one of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever seen. [Costume designer] Jacqueline Durran is a genius, and I spent almost every moment I had with her picking her brain about Mike Leigh, because she’s been working with him since Topsy-Turvy. I’m the biggest Mike Leigh fan.
Have you ever considered writing or producing your own projects?
Actually, I am trying to get a couple of things made and hopefully get something going this year, and they would be to direct. One of them is an adaptation of a novel, Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis, and I’ve been pushing it along with a couple of friends of mine, Vernon Chatman and Antonio Campos. The other is a feature film I’ve written with two friends, which is an original story.
I understand you and your wife have had a little boy. Has becoming a father affected your approach to work at all?
I think the only thing that it affects is that you just want to spend as much time with them as possible. So when I was 20, I would have been way happier to go off to some weird city and live in a hotel for three months. And when you have kids, you want to be with your family. And you miss them a lot.
Which of your own films or TV shows do you think could be the first you introduce your son to?
Oh man, that’s a good question. He’s only a year and a half old, so he hasn’t seen anything yet. But I have a couple of animated movies.
Not Sausage Party?
Yeah, not Sausage Party. That one a little later.
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