Few would have pegged Michael Cera for a future cinematic superstar when he won the hearts of television audiences as the adorably awkward son of Jason Bateman in the beloved sitcom Arrested Development. But Cera has proven to be a dependable box-office attraction, with key roles in smash hits like 2007’s Juno and Superbad. Now he’s conquering a pair of huge parts based on beloved cult phenomena: later this year he’ll star in Edgar Wright’s feverishly anticipated Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, an adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comics. And currently, he can be seen in Miguel Arteta’s adaptation of C.D. Payne’s Youth In Revolt, playing a challenging dual role as Nick Twisp—a horny, lovestruck teen willing to move heaven and earth to win the girl of his dreams (Portia Doubleday)—and his mustached, much more confident alter ego Francois Dillinger. Oh, and there’s also that long-gestating Arrested Development film. The A.V. Club recently sat down with Cera and Doubleday to talk about promiscuous prepubescent Canadians, why explicit gay rape is box-office gold, and why Cera hates Arrested Development fans.
The A.V. Club: How did you each become involved in Youth In Revolt?
Michael Cera: I got attached to it about two years ago about this time. It was at Dimension, and I’d been trying to get attached to it for a long time. And they finally attached me to it.
AVC: So you’d been lobbying hard for it?
MC: Yeah, I’d been lobbying hard for it. I was a big fan of the book, and I really wanted to be part of the movie. I think they just finally made the offer, and then Miguel was attached a month later. Then it finally started to feel like it was going to get made.
Portia Doubleday: I had been auditioning for a year. I remember reading the script and just thinking “Wow, the writing’s amazing,” and being excited about the book, and buying it and seeing how huge it was. It was like, “Whoa.” A couple of my friends in high school had read it, so that was awesome, and my sister. I always forget it’s one of her favorites. I just kept going back. It was over a couple of weeks, and then I worked with Michael, auditioning again, I think, with scenes like the diner scene.
AVC: In the book, the lead character is 14 years old, and in the film, he’s 16. How do you feel that changed the fundamental dynamic of the story?
MC: I guess because they’re both new to being in relationships, except she’s had a little more experience than he has. But yeah, you feel a lot more trapped when you’re that age. When you’re 18, you escape if you want to. Sixteen, you’re still really depending on the people around you. You can’t drive, and you can’t support yourself. You can’t legally be responsible for yourself. Yeah, I think that probably changes the story.
AVC: It also feels like it would be a lot more transgressive if he were still 14, because you’re still in that weird halfway place between being a child and being an adolescent.
PD: It transcends well, though. Because, like you said, that age is… It’s interesting that he’s 14 in the book, because for me, if I went through any of the experiences that are in the book, it would be when I was around 16. You’re not a kid anymore, at all. That’s like it. Sixteen is…
MC: You’re an adult. [Laughs.]
PD: That’s an important age.
MC: Although most of the 16-year-olds I know are still snotty brats that I wish I didn’t know.
AVC: But it also seems that 14 is when you become really interested in sex.
MC: More like 11, I think.
AVC: Maybe in Canada. I don’t know what kind of depraved things the Canadians are up to.
MC: It’s definitely more around 11 in Canada.
PD: I think that’s a boy thing.
MC: No, it’s not a boy thing.
PD: At 14, I was not raring to go.
MC: There are a lot of slutty girls in Canada. Eleven-year-old sluts.
PD: That are wearing trendy clothes and stuff.
AVC: They say that women mature faster than men, which is one of the reasons why in Judaism, women have their bat mitzvah at 12, and then boys at 13. You think Canadians mature faster?
MC: Yeah, Canadianism is a lot like Judaism. [Laughs.] I know that around 12, I felt like the girls around me were way too advanced for me. When I was 12, the 12-year-old girls I knew were interested in 14- and 15-year-old guys.
PD: I do remember that aspect of it.
MC: When you’re 12, a 12-year-old girl is so out of your league, because they have no interest in you. You’re like 10 years younger. You’re 2 to them.
PD: They like high school. High-school crushes.
MC: Yeah. High school’s right around the corner. They’re ready for it.
AVC: You have to cut a fair amount to turn a 500-hundred-page book into a film. Was there anything in particular that you were sorry didn’t make it into the film?
MC: So many things, so many characters. There are so many more characters in the book. There’s Apurva, Vijay’s sister, who Trent has a thing with, and then Nick has a thing with. There’s Millie Filbert, who’s this girl. She’s kind of mentioned in the movie, but she’s this girl Lefty’s crazy about. I have the extended version of the book, which you can’t really find. It’s hardbound.
PD: Did [Youth In Revolt author] C.D. give you it?
MC: Yeah, I got it from C.D. Payne.
PD: Yeah, he gave me one, too.
MC: Under the table. You can buy this thing that’s called “Cut To The Twisp,” and it’s all the stuff he cut out of the book. And it’s just the stuff that’s been cut out. You can read along with the one that’s published and fill in the blanks. Like in “Cut To The Twisp,” it tells you where in the book it would have gone. But then you could buy the uncut version, and in the uncut version, Nick has a full-on relationship with this girl Millie, and Lefty has an operation on his penis that makes it four inches shorter.
PD: [Laughs.] There’s a number of Alberts in it.
MC: Oh yeah, a number of Alberts.
PD: Oh my gosh. One of them dies, doesn’t he?
MC: There’s Bruno.
PD: And has to be replaced. I’m trying to remember.
MC: There’s that guy, there’s Dwayne Crampton and his mom, who lived with George and Nick. She’s like a live-in maid and her son who’s a pervert and rapes Nick in the middle of the night.
AVC: There’s a lot more explicit gay sex in the book. Were you angry that got cut?
MC: I don’t think it was cut because of its explicitness. I think it was cut for time. Gay rape is huge in teen comedies. It would have been huge. We would have busted the block.
AVC: C.D. Payne is something of a mysterious figure.
MC: Yeah, he was going to be here, but he’s going to meet up with us in Seattle and San Francisco and do some interviews with us.
AVC: So he’s not going to be such a mysterious figure anymore?
MC: No. He became less mysterious on set. He showed up on set and hung out a bit. But yeah, he was really nice. Really interesting.
PD: Yeah, I was picturing what he looked like, and who he was, but he was super-sweet, and a laid-back, really cool person.
MC: Very funny, too.
AVC: Portia, this is one of your first movies. Was it daunting playing such a large, central part?
PD: I don’t think I would have been able to do it without Miguel. I’m just so happy that I’ve met him just as a person, even if I didn’t work with him, because he’s super-talented and so not egotistical about it, and super-intelligent, and kind of collaborative on your level, and hands-on. Just really a warm, amazing person. I remember e-mailing him and sending him “I don’t know how to do this part. What should I do?” Basically I had a few freak-outs. It was intimidating. I mean, this cast is ridiculous.
MC: That one freak-out you had—
PD: No, don’t!
MC: I’m kidding. [Laughs.]
PD: He just said to trust your instincts, and honestly, as a rookie, I think that’s the best thing he could have said, because it just put me in a state where I could give it everything I had, without the pressure of feeling like I had to input so much, especially after reading the book. She’s so complex. It was hard being manipulative and nice and likeable at the same time. So he really, really helped me through the process, definitely.
AVC: Part of it also is the language.
PD: Extremely articulate.
AVC: Also writerly in a good way.
PD: Definitely. I think that’s what was so amazing about the book. I don’t really know anybody that speaks this way.
MC: It’s really interesting, the language in the book.
AVC: Juno also had some very writerly dialogue.
MC: Well, it’s very stylized, yeah. But this has its own tone. And we tried to take a lot of the dialogue from the book. A lot of the dialogue was just written in the same spirit as the book. He’s really amazing with language. It’s kind of what makes the book really stand out, because there’s this 14-year-old kid who—you know, it’s his journals, and it’s really clear that he’s just showing off all the words he knows and kind of stretching his legs.
AVC: It seems like they’re also at the age where you want to show off. You want to dazzle the world with your intellect.
MC: Yeah, and that’s really the only thing he has going for him. That he reads a lot and knows a lot of words and is really good with language. And he wants to be a writer.
AVC: It’s a form of power when you’re feeling powerless at that age. In this, you play Nick and also his alter ego Francois; which was more fun to play?
MC: I think they were both equally fun to play. What drew me to the movie was the character of Nick, and how much fun he is. It’s a great character in the book, and the Francois stuff was so much fun to do, too. There was a lot of fun stuff to do.
AVC: Francois is probably the biggest deviation from the parts you’ve played in the past. You got to be a bit of a badass.
MC: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah.
AVC: Did the moustache help?
MC: It did. Yeah, definitely, because it’s glued on, and it tightens your mouth up, and it really changes the way you use your face normally.
AVC: How tired are you of answering questions about the Arrested Development movie?
MC: No, I’m not tired. I never give a different answer, though. I don’t know anything different yet. I think it’s just in development.
AVC: It seems like it’s been this whole big drama, because it’s been in development for a while.
MC: I guess so. I mean, not really. It’s all kind of pretend drama, I think. It seems like movies normally take a long time to get made. When you focus on it, and you’re waiting for something, it seems to take longer. But I think most movies go through this really arduous process.
AVC: I guess there was this idea, online at least, that you were the lone holdout, that you were depriving the world of an Arrested Development movie. Was that strange?
MC: A little bit, yeah. I get it, though. People like to do that. It’s fine.
AVC: Is there any basis of truth in that? Is it that everyone else has signed a contract, and you are angrily shaking your fist at the world?
MC: No, no. I was hesitant, but I’m allowed to be hesitant, I think.
AVC: Why were you hesitant?
MC: I just want to be really careful with decisions I make. When you make a decision about your career, it changes your life in a really big way. Every choice you make as an actor ends up being really influential on your life, because you’re spending a lot of time working on this project, and you want to make sure you’re making good choices and you’re not making them for the wrong reasons. I just wanted to be careful and not jump into anything.
AVC: Why do you hate Arrested Development fans? Why do you want to rob them of this movie?
MC: No, I want to be in the movie. I do. I don’t want to rob anyone. But I love the show. It’s difficult to just say yes to something when… I just had a fear of it taking away from the show. But I got past that, and I’m glad I did, because I really do want to be a part of the movie. I was just afraid. I think that’s okay.