Wednesday 23 October 2019

Taking the Michael

Michael Cera.
Michael Cera.
Michael Cera.

Ed Power

Actor Michael Cera tells Ed Power about fame, failure and Rihanna's behind

Michael Cera is discussing Rihanna's rear end and his publicist has just about had enough. "Can we bring it back to Netflix please," she says, in a tone that suggests she is about to biff the nearest journalist over the head with her clipboard.

Michael Cera is discussing Rihanna's rear end and his publicist has just about had enough. "Can we bring it back to Netflix please," she says, in a tone that suggests she is about to biff the nearest journalist over the head with her clipboard.

You feel like shouting at her. In a few weeks Cera's latest movie, This Is The End, will premiere. It's a broad ensemble comedy in which Hollywood's leading yuck-meisters – Seth Rogen, Jason Siegel, James Franco, etc – play exaggerated versions of themselves. Cera's big scene involves him grabbing Rihanna by the rump, eliciting a punch on the nose for his troubles. You want us to NOT mention that? Really??

In the PR's defence, she has a product to sell. Movie streaming site Netflix is about to launch the brand new fourth season of Arrested Development, the cult single camera sitcom in which Cera honed his screen persona of extreme dweebdom. Of course, Arrested Development went off the air seven years ago and, whether Netflix likes it or not, Cera is nowadays known for a lot more than a quirky, short-lived TV comedy.

It's a shame things have turned frosty. Cera and Day & Night have been getting on fabulously. And we hadn't expected this. Look up interviews of him online and he comes off as one of THOSE actors – the type who twinkles on screen but prove oh-so-lustreless when the cameras are off. Add to the equation his very Canadian reserve – undiluted by the five or so years in Los Angeles – and you fear half an hour of polite yammerings about nothing in particular.

Actually, he's sort of a delight. Not nearly as geeky and awkward as the characters he plays (most famously the chronically wan Bleeker in 2007's Juno), he is chatty and seems genuinely self-deprecating. Not being American, he doesn't speak fluent Hollywood guff either. Confront him with his greatest professional failure, the straight up flop that was 2010's Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and he takes it on the jaw.

"Nobody went to see it, basically," he says of the graphic novel adaptation, the first major setback of his career. "I wouldn't say it was a strange experience as such. It's part of the deal in terms of what happens if you shoot a movie – there is always that question of whether people will go to see it or not. And [Sylvester Stallone retro shoot-'em-up] The Expendables kicked the living shit out of us."

Did it destroy his confidence? Some actors never come back from a big flop. "You know, it wasn't so bad. The studio wouldn't feel that way maybe. I don't mind that the film is appreciated by a small group of people. My confidence was never in a place where I thought I could entertain people for two hours as the lead in a movie to begin with."

Incredibly, he doesn't believe he has a recognisable screen persona. It has apparently escaped his attention that, starting with Arrested Development in 2003, he's riffed off the same character: the socially maladjusted, softly spoken every-dork. Now 24, as an actor he is perpetually stuck in early adolescence. He embodies the archetypal bumbling, mumbling 14-year-old locked in a struggle with his own dweebiness.

"The parts I have gotten are the ones that make sense for me," he says, asked if he feels like he's playing glorified variations on a theme. "I do think a lot of the opportunities I have received came from Arrested Development."

He doesn't particularly enjoy fame, you sense. It certainly stuck him as a curious phenomenon after Juno became a success and he woke one morning to discover he couldn't walk down the street unrecognised.

"Nobody thought that movie was going to be as big as it was," he says. "We were in Vancouver making a picture. My memories were of having fun and of it being very small, very, very humble. It was not expected to be widely popular. It wasn't even something that the studio was paying that much attention to."

And then it was a smash and his world changed forever.

"In terms of my own life, the differences were tangible," he says. "In the context of recognisability and walking around – I felt that pretty immediately. It was an overnight thing and was the biggest change I saw."

Cera has a bittersweet relationship with Arrested Development, in which he played George Michael, klutzy son of Jason Bateman's angry businessman Michael Bluth (with whom he reunited for Juno). As he says, he feels it set up him on the path he is on now. That said, the show was not a success in its original incarnation. By season three, it was an open secret that its parent network, Fox, wanted it killed off.

"I wouldn't characterise the experience as bitter sweet," he says. "It was simply bitter. Not in the sense that we were angry over how it was treated. Just sad. I would love to have kept doing Arrested Development for years. We were struggling to get people to watch and it was expensive to produce. It seemed like it was fated not to have a long life."

Did he suspect that Fox wanted to dispatch it at first opportunity?

"I'm not sure if they didn't get it or not. I do think they wanted it to go away. It was a bit of a virus for them.

"The critics liked it and then it won a couple of awards, which put them in a position of not being able to cancel it, as that would have looked like a confused step. Arrested Development was like this weird cousin the network had to bring to all their parties."

As with its other original content, Netflix is releasing all 15 episodes of the new season at once, so that fans can digest the series at their own pace. Some have hailed Netflix's approach as revolutionary. Cera is of the opinion that the company is merely reflecting the way in which people watch TV nowadays. "It's a reaction to the way we consume television. People tend to watch in these big spurts. I personally understand that model. I have watched a lot of shows where you burn through them. You know, you can sit in amidst the filth of your own house and vegetate and watch TV for five hours."

Our time together grows short, but there is one question that really does require answering. Not to repeat ourselves but, reading the script for This Is The End, what was his response when he came upon the bit where he smacked Rihanna on the behind? "That wasn't my idea," he deadpans. "I was just right for the part."

Arrested Development Season 4 debuts on Netflix on Sunday night.

Irish Independent

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