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

Who the hell is Scott Pilgrim?

He’ll be everywhere this summer and Edgar Wright loves him. Total Film asks Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley what the fuss is all about…

“Scott Pilgrim is dating a high schooler!” He’s also 23 years old or something. Terminal layabout. Chronic forgetaholic. Will have to defeat seven evil ex-boyfriends if he wants to date Ramona Flowers. Shares a bed with a gay guy who can’t keep his trousers on for much longer than a Toronto minute. And in a turbo-powered new movie directed by Edgar Wright, he’s played by geek god of the moment Michael Cera.

Come this August, everybody will know who Scott Pilgrim is. He already boasts over 5,000 friends on MySpace, a further 100,000 (and counting) on Facebook, fans in Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino – oh, and a six-book comic series that charts the life and times of his down-and-out chums. Pilgrim’s popularity is rising faster than the price of sugar during wartime. But where did this unusually-monikered young man spring from? And why are comic book devotees and movie buffs alike starry-eyed and stuff about his upcoming big screen debut?

It all began with another twenty-something, this one called Bryan Lee O’Malley. Vital Stats: Canadian, Manga-lover, musician, video game fanatic. A professional cartoonist who previously worked lettering comics and illustrating Manga mini-series Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero, O’Malley’s first graphic novel – Lost At Sea, about a shy young girl who believes she has no soul – made waves in 2003. But he was itching to try something new.

“I wanted to take on something big,” the author explains. “I’d never really done a story that long, and many of the comics in Manga are in longer series’.” Sketching ideas in 2002, O’Malley dreamed up a multi-tome serial that fused all of his passions (see above) with the frequently stupid but entertaining existence of real-life twentysomethings. “When I started out it was very much just for me and my friends,” he says. “We were in that age range and we were going through that experience, but I wanted to do something that was kind of a fun, alternate take on our world.”

The result? The head-spinning, richly textured and laugh-out-loud funny (“If bad was a boot, you’d fit it!”) world of Scott Pilgrim, a coup for outside the (x)box creativity. Citing as influences everything from Mangas Beck and Nana to TV’s The Office and Arrested Development, O’Malley forged a giddy brew of reality, fantasy and video game fancy in which characters battle each other in duels that earn them points and extra lives… then go out and eat pizza or whatever.

Named after a song by now defunct Nova Scotia-based girlband Plumtree (“The band had broken up and I wanted to do a little tribute to them”), Pilgrim is the lazy but endearing lounger we all have the potential to be. Think a cooler, cleaner Rhys Ifans in Notting Hill. “He’s definitely got aspects of me,” O’Malley admits, “I often feel like an idiot in the way that I present him. He is a construct, but there’s definitely a large part of my personality in there.”

Having dated green teen Knives Chau, Scott meets Ramona Flowers – “the ultimate girl, the unattainable girl.” To win her heart, Scott has to defeat the manic pixie dream girl’s seven deadly ex-boyfriends. One of the ex-boyfriends is a girl. “The exes are pretty much pure fantasy,” O’Malley laughs. “They’re based on different kinds of inadequacies that you might have when you’re in a relationship. One of them’s a rock star. They’re the worst people you can imagine your lover having been with before you.”

Set in Toronto, the series nimbly ducks and weaves its way through this collision of hyper-reality and the everyday. Many of the settings are real deals, while things like band names (The Clash At Demonhead, Pilgrim’s own Sex Bob-omb), snippets of dialogue and even hidden Easter Eggs contain gamey, fanboy winks.

Hollywood soon came a-knocking. With Pilgrim showing promise, in 2004 publisher Oni Press slipped producer Marc Platt – of earlier comic book movie adap Josie And The Pussycats – a copy of Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1. In a flash Edgar Shaun Of The Dead Wright had signed on to translate the comic to cinema. “Everybody was interested immediately,” O’Malley remembers. “We’ve been talking about it ever since, so it’s been several years of discussions and drafts of the film.” And Wright himself? “He’s always full of espresso. He’s kind of unstoppable.”

Handing over his world to the spirited moviemaker was made easier by Wright’s clear affection for the material – no Alan Moore hissy fits here. “I’ve always felt like it’s in safe hands,” O’Malley says. “I feel like they’ve been much more dedicated to preserving the aesthetic of my work than I would have been if I was in their position.” The author has also enjoyed almost unprecedented involvement in the comic-to-canvas process, having been sent drafts as they were worked on (“It’s kind of unofficial but yeah I did write bits”), while actor audition tapes were also shipped his way.

For the role of Scott, there was only ever one geek for the job – Superbad and Juno’s gawky charmer Michael Cera. “I saw a verbatim scene taken from Volume 2 where Scott and Ramona are on a date in his apartment eating garlic bread,” O’Malley recalls. “And Michael Cera delivered [this line]… it’s so pitch perfect and so funny that it completely changed my view of my own work. I was blown away.”

With Cera cast alongside hot tickets Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin and Allison Pill, a gruelling six month shoot followed – “Edgar always knows exactly what he wants.” The film is finally set for release this August, mere weeks after the sixth and final Pilgrim novel is unleashed into hordes of salivating fans. O’Malley, who’s seen a rough director’s cut, is in no doubt of its total excellence. “It’s just so energetic,” he burbles. “It’s more amped up than anything Edgar’s done before. It’s strange for me, being the one who wrote so much of it and, you know, visualised it in my own way. But it’s amazing.”

Now all O’Malley has to do is relinquish that sixth book, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour. Written during the making of the movie, O’Malley has even incorporated moments he witnessed on set into the comic panels. And the screen and book endings are apparently entirely different – yeah, anything could happen. Does O’Malley feel the pressure to deliver? “Yeah, yes I do. Especially with the film, it’s a lot to live up to.”

Still, Pilgrim’s popularity is ever on the climb (in the books, a Pilgrim popu-graph would no doubt resemble a fit-to-burst thermometer), something the author attributes to the comic’s inherent relatability. “There aren’t a whole lot of comics about nerdy twentysomethings,” he muses. “Comics are always about fighting, so even if it’s a comic about 23 year olds living in regular circumstances, there still has to be some crazy fighting. But anyone who lives in a big city and shares a house with roommates understands immediately what Scott Pilgrim’s about.”

Six books, one movie and almost a decade of his life later, it’s surely a poignant time for O’Malley having to bid Pilgrim farewell? “It’s gonna be weird, it’s cutting loose from a whole chapter of my life,” he reflects. “It’s hard to extract my… it’s all intertwined for me. I would say Scott Pilgrim’s certainly changed my life.”

Via Total Film