Michael Cera – "I have no perspective on myself whatsoever"

He’s cornered the market in geek, but this summer Michael Cera is cracking open a can of whoop-ass with comic book hero Scott Pilgrim. Total Film finds out where he’s been and where he’s going…

Michael Cera is a quiet chap. Big Hollywood parties? He won’t be there. In-depth career discussions? He’s not fussed. Dating? “I have no idea. I’m still trying to figure it out.” According to Juno co-star Ellen Page he’s also “an incredibly sweet guy – honest, non-judgmental, and every good adjective I can think of”.

Yet despite the soft-toned bashfulness with which Cera has approached many of his on-screen roles, the 22 year old Canadian is heading up the loudest, brashest, most retina-sizzling super-movie of the year with comic book adap Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Word is that this leap from geek to chic – with Cera bringing the action as a fist-bruising Manga fighter – could represent a new phase in the young whippersnapper’s flourishing career. But is the nerd shtick really about to be given the kiss of death?

Chatting to Total Film last year midway through shooting Scott Pilgrim, Cera is evidently having a blast (literally, figuratively) embracing a character who’s, shall we say, a little more Luke Skywalker than Jar Jar. “There’s an amazing fight between Mae Whitman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead where they’re using these weapons, and it’s really amazingly done,” the actor reveals. “And there are some other things, like battles with music in them and sword fighting. There’s all sorts of different things.”

Filming in Toronto with Hot Fuzz helmer Edgar Wright, the Pilgrim shoot is a return to the Ontario-hailing actor’s Canada roots. Born in 1988 to a Sicilian, Xerox technician father and a Canadian mother (his surname, pronounced ‘Seh-ra’, apparently translates from the Spanish word for ‘Wax’), Cera’s first post-commercials gig had him voicing a Noddy character in 1999. That same year, having lost an audition to star in The Sixth Sense and in a sign of Hollywood’s cyclical nature, Cera made his first on-screen appearance alongside future Pilgrim co-star Allison Pill in TV movie What Kady Did.

Years of small screen jobs followed, with a baby-faced Cera appearing in episodes of I Was A Sixth Grade Alien and La Femme Nikita, while a brief appearance in Frequency marked his first mainstream movie. By all accounts the youngling was what you’d called a ‘normal teen’, making prank phone calls with his high school buddy and citing The Big Lebowski and Spaceballs as big influences. Did he ever rebel in any way? “I didn’t, too much,” Cera deliberates. “I was working since I was nine years old.”

He’s the kind of guy everybody loves: unassuming, unimposing, quietly droll. “He’s awesome,” gushes Pilgrim co-star-cum-love interest Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays multi-coloured lovely Ramona Flowers. “He’s like the coolest guy ever. I feel so lucky to be able to work with him because he’s so sweet and such a hard working actor. He’s really one of a kind.”

Clearly, Edgar Wright and original Pilgrim comic author Bryan Lee O’Malley feel the same. “Edgar and I were both big fans,” O’Malley tells us, having first caught sight of Cera on smash hit TV series Arrested Development. “When we were first talking about the Pilgrim film Michael was too young, but by the time we actually got to production it was a different story.”

As Scott, Cera takes the lead in a lush, POW!-packed comic book adap that draws on everything from video games and Manga lore to Skins-style twentysomething drama. In the ‘out there’ plot, Scott plays in a band (alongside Pill and Mark Webber), has a gay roommate who is frequently trouser-less (a phenomenal Kieran Culkin)… and must battle the seven evil ex-beaus of new love Ramona if he wants to date her (Chris Evans and Brandon Routh are among them). The ensuing scenes of sword-clashing conflict posed a fresh challenge that Cera whole-armedly embraced.

“I think Michael takes a pummelling in every single fight, which is just funny,” laughs director Wright. Confirms Cera: “I guess the only things we don’t do are like falling from the scaffolding and going through walls and stuff.”

The film’s been tagged by Juno director Jason Reitman (who caught an early screening) as “The Matrix for love”, with Scott having to fight all manner of fiends for the right to claim Ramona’s heart. What does love mean to Cera? “Pure grain alcohol,” the actor deadpans. “I really don’t know. Would anyone have a good answer to that?”

Scott Pilgrim is a change of pace for the twentysomething. Set to introduce him to a whole new audience of movie-goers, the film will also give his existing fans something new to gawp and giggle at. Cera’s perfect for the role. Aside from having his own band (The Long Goodbye), which helped with the flick’s music-heavy leanings, Cera encapsulates the original comic’s dry humour while also bringing the kind of physicality and quirky, pure-hearted warmth that the character demands. (“I don’t want to make the Zac Efron version of Scott Pilgrim,” Wright argued against naysayers, “I mean, shouldn’t he be like an underdog, physically?”)

Pilgrim is also a significant change for the actor, who primed himself as king of the geeks opposite Jonah Hill in the riotous Superbad (as the romantically challenged Evan) and in pregnancy drama Juno. Lanky and awkward but big-eyed and endearing – like a half-grown puppy still attempting to internally order the world – Cera’s popularity and profile hit the jackpot with those megabuck roles.

He doesn’t think he’s responsible for branding his own breed of comedy, though. “No. I don’t feel like that,” the actor asserts. “I’ve just had scripts that I really like come my way that I was lucky to be attached to.” Surely he recognises that he does something different to his peers, though? “I guess. It’s really hard for me to think about it like that. I have no perspective on that, whatsoever.”

By all accounts, Pilgrim could herald the dawn of a new Cera, one who rebuffs laurel-resting in favour of new opportunities. The actor’s appearance in this year’s darkly comic Youth In Revolt (in which he was deliciously funny as his character’s filthy imaginary alter-ego), and now Pilgrim certainly nod in that direction.

So what does the future hold? A re-team with Jonah Hill seems likely. “We’re figuring it out,” Hill said recently. “I imagine that we’ll work together again at some point.” There’s also the Arrested Development movie, and a potential role in the big screen Gilligan’s Island. Looks like the quiet life is officially over for Cera. “For the most part, you just have to let go and go with it,” the actor notes.

Via Total Film