In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Jay Baruchel came to prominence as part of Judd Apatow’s crew of young Hollywood upstarts. After appearing in smaller parts in a number of movies and TV series, the Canadian actor received his first starring role in the producer’s short-lived college-life series Undeclared. From there, it was on to a number of high-profile performances in everything from Knocked Up and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to series like Man Seeking Woman. Baruchel’s latest project is Goon: Last Of The Enforcers, sequel to the charming hockey comedy Goon, which Baruchel wrote and co-starred in alongside Seann William Scott. This time around, the actor is making his feature-film directorial debut.
When he spoke to us, Baruchel was more than happy to take a break from promotional duties in order to discuss Dylan Thomas, good manners, and wishing he could tell his younger self to fucking chill.
Jay Baruchel: Oh, that’s dope. It’d have to be—this is going to sound so fucking crazy—the old Warner Brothers cartoons because I always liked the backgrounds. The backgrounds always looked cozy and I always wanted to go for a walk in them. [Laughs.] I would say Looney Tunes.
AVC: You’re talking about the static trees, canyons, and stuff?
JB: All that stuff. And the ’40s or ’50s backgrounds. Random beaches. I was a weird kid and I would just stare at the windows in apartments and backgrounds in cartoons. I would love to just go hang out in there. Honestly, I’ve asked myself this question, that’s why I know—I’d wander about the backgrounds of Looney Tunes.
AVC: So you would see Porky Pig doing something in front of you, and you’d be like, “Sorry, Porky, I’ve got to go check out whatever this gently swaying thing is.”
JB: Yes. That’s exactly right. Because I know what he’s doing. I’ve grown up seeing what they’re all doing. But what I haven’t seen is the minutiae, the day-to-day of what Friz Freleng’s backgrounds would be like.
AVC: That makes total sense, actually, now that you explain it.
JB: It’s because I’m a crazy person, but thank you.
2. Do you have a favorite swear word or phrase, and how often do you use it and in what circumstances?
JB: Yeah. I say “holy fuck” about 1,400 times a day. And that can be—the circumstances range from positive to abject horror. [Laughs.] It’s what I say when I’m, like, pleasantly surprised and it’s what I say when I’m blown away by the weight and import of something. It’s what I say when someone cuts off the car that I’m in, whether I’m driving it or not. It’d have to be “holy fuck.”
AVC: “Fuck” is very satisfying by itself, but there’s something about prefacing it with “holy” that sort of pushes it to this almost transcendent level.
JB: It’s the setup to the punchline, that’s exactly right. You’ve got the “k” sound in “fuck” which is satisfying and hilarious and all these things, but it’s giving yourself a little salad before the steak shows up. What a stupid thing I just said. But, yes, I agree. It definitely helps.
JB: Oh, fuck. How did I spend my last birthday? Oh! That’s right. I spent my last birthday—I went for Chinese food. Yeah, that’s it. I went for Chinese food and smoked a bunch of weed. [Laughs.] That was before and after the Chinese food. I also went home and my mother and stepfather greeted me at the airport with “Jay’s 35th Birthday” T-shirts. Because they’re—well, they’re very respectful, quiet people and know that I’m the same way. They had their jackets zipped all the way up indoors, waited until we were near the car, and said, “Hey, psst! Look!” Then they quietly unzipped their jackets for a second. It was so fucked. It was possibly the most Canadian fucking version of that moment in a movie ever.
AVC: They were worried that other people would see it and think that they were making a big deal of you.
JB: That’s exactly right. They know I don’t like to be made a fuss of—they don’t want to be seen making a fuss about someone. [Laughs.] We don’t want to cause a fuss. It’s a very anti-fuss culture I come from.
AVC: But also, that means you were on a plane on your 35th birthday.
JB: I think I was. I must have been. I know it was a lot of days there—one of them was the actual day, one of them was the day before. But, yeah. Sadly, I think my 35th was actually just the Chinese restaurant in the morning and then smoking weed with my friends. Yeah. You thought the question was prosaic; you had no idea how shitty the answer is. How banal and boring the answer was going to be, utterly devoid of color.
AVC: Did the Chinese leftovers last? Because surely you would be hungry again by nightfall if you were smoking weed all day.
JB: No, we did a hard pivot into candy and chips. [Laughs.] We were also—we were at a buffet and it’s a bad look to ask for the doggy bags at the buffet personally.
AVC: No, that’s very true. You can’t ask for doggy bags at the buffet.
JB: Not at an all-you-can-eat place. “I’ve already eaten more food than I’m paying you for, can I take some more of it home?”
JB: Oh, that’s good. I would say, “Be yourself.” No. [Laughs.] I think it was—oh, fuck. The worst—technically the worst advice has to do with a movie that I was offered and didn’t do. But that’s super disrespectful to the person that did do it. So I’m not going to say anything—the reason why it was bad advice is I was offered the movie, and my agent was like, “Trust me, this is the big one.” I was like, “I think you’re wrong.” And then it came out and not only was she wrong, history has judged this movie fairly harshly for whatever it remembers of it.
Yeah, I don’t—I’ll say this. I’m almost certain I was told to change my name or asked to change my name at one point. But [the worst advice] would probably be my uncle who yelled at me once and said the outgoing message on my voicemail was unprofessional and that any producer calling my answering machine to hire me might be offended and turned off by how unprofessional it was. I had to explain to him that not only did I not solicit his advice, but no producers called me at home—that’s not how it works. [Laughs.] So your outgoing messages—in acting, fairly irrelevant at this point to your career. So it was probably the voicemail thing. I can’t give the real, fun answer because I don’t want to—but, yeah. That happened three times—three of these fucking glaring, massive, Howitzer shells that I avoided over the 20 years that I’ve been acting. One of them happens to be the live-action version of Marmaduke. And I’m very, very happy that I’m not Marmaduke. [Laughs.] I thank God every day that I wasn’t Marmaduke.
AVC: At the end of your life, you won’t have to have that Bill Murray in Zombieland moment where he regrets—“Well, maybe Garfield.”
JB: [Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. How much time do you have?
JB: That’s an interesting one. If was a medical doctor, I would be probably—oh, yeah, I’d probably—not the one that’s, like, gross. [Laughs.] Not the one where I open people up and shit. You know, I’d probably just be the friendly, neighborhood general practitioner dispensing commonsense advice, I guess. You’re going to notice a trend of—it’s called real normality—that I grew up in. I have to say whatever doctor Norman Rockwell painted—that’s the type of doctor I’d be. Just give a lollipop to a kid after, even though they’re sick and have cavities or something.
AVC: Would you want to be the general practitioner with his little shingle at his house, or would you want to be the real old school G.P. who went around to people’s homes when they got sick?
JB: Oh, holy fuck! Yeah, I didn’t even think that’s an option. Yes. House calls all day long. House calls, because I also love people-watching. And I can be quite the gossip. So I’d get all sorts of [Laughs.]—all sorts of great details about how everyone lives. So yeah, house calls, little black bag kind of guy. Yeah, totally.
AVC: Were you the kind of kid where, when you’d go play over at other kids’ houses, you’d come home and report to your parents what you heard their parents saying?
JB: Oh, every single time without fail. Yeah. And I would always go for a wander in the house. [Laughs.] I would never do anything untoward. Well, that’s not true—one time there was a crayon graffiti. I still don’t have the memory of doing it, but I’m almost certain it was me. And where I grew up in Montreal was a very sort of old-school, urban, all red brick kind of duplexes—row houses—and they had these classic Rear Window-type alleys where, on a summer night, you don’t have A.C., you just had your window open and you could see and hear, you know, just 20 different lives at any given point. Yeah, it’s a cliché to say it, but it really was better than fucking TV a lot of the time, man. My friends would come over and we’d turn the light off and just sit by the window and be like, “Yeah, all right, what’s this fucking disaster up to today?” [Laughs.] Obviously, people are fascinating.
JB: Pajamas all day. Drink about a gallon of tea and watch—Sundays, I like to read, and watch documentaries. That’s what Sunday’s good for. Usually historical documentaries on British television. Try to keep it cozy.
AVC: What kind of tea?
JB: Just standard, what they call “builder’s tea”—English breakfast, orange pekoe, milk, and sugar. I grew up in a big tea house with that shit. And then go do my impression of an 80-year-old Scottish immigrant for eight hours and then call it a day, I guess.
AVC: Would the reading or the documentaries come first?
JB: I always tell myself I’m going to read early because that’s when I’ll have the best attention span and I won’t fall asleep when I’m reading. But usually it doesn’t work out like that. Usually, I’ll end up watching shit and then probably play video games and then I’ll read usually in the evening. But I’ve been forcing daytime reading on myself lately and I’m very pleased with the results. [Laughs.] Retaining a lot of info and I’m putting much more of a dent into things. I’m not just reading in little five to 10 page intervals anymore, so.
AVC: What’s the current read?
JB: I have two right now, actually—or three. That’s just bad form. I’m reading The Game by Ken Dryden, which is one of the most important sports books ever written and definitely the best hockey book of all time. And then I’m also reading Crucible Of War: The Seven Years’ War And The Fate Of Empire In British North America, 1754-1766 by Fred Anderson. And then I’m reading something called A Very Brilliant Affair about the Battle Of Queenston Heights in the War Of 1812.
AVC: So really you’re transferring what you would be doing if you were watching documentaries into book form.
JB: Yep. Pretty much. Not to put too fine a point on it.
JB: Oh, shit. Oh, god. Morals and comedy.
AVC: How so? Like, with morals…
JB: I think I’m better than most people. [Laughs.] No. I mean, I was raised with a very—for whatever combination of reasons, not like a particularly strict house or anything like that—just very vivid sense of right and wrong and also of manners and how one should kind of carry oneself and treat other people and how they are in public. Yeah, it’s manners and morals. I’ve been accused of thinking I’m better than everyone more than once. I’ve been accused of being holier-than-thou. I try to keep my opinions to myself the older I get so I rarely do. But, yeah, if someone does something that I think is shitty or weak or opportunistic or any of the kind of—any of that stuff—yeah, I can’t help but react negatively to it. And also when people talk with food in their mouth and have their elbows on the table and all that shit—that, I keep to myself, obviously. But, yeah, I was raised to think that’s, like, awful.
And I was—there’s a motto in my family from my grandmother that survived to my mother and then on to me and that was, “Just because you’re working class, that doesn’t mean you have no class.” So we were always having a fucking clean yard and always carried ourselves well and always spoke when spoken to and never talked with our mouths full and put our fork down when we weren’t using it. A lot of people think that shit’s quaint and silly, but I can’t help it—I don’t. So I am quite snobby about that stuff, I have to say.
JB: I don’t do a ton of rereading. I just don’t. For whatever reason, if something’s in me, it’s in me. There’s books I’ve wanted to reread, but no—I don’t know. The book I’ve read the most—I forget what it’s called but I’ve got a collection of Dylan Thomas poems and I’ve read through that shit tons and tons of times, so I guess... there’s no one book that I’ve read straight through and gone back a bunch of times again. So, yeah, it’d have to be that one. Or The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich, just because of how long it is, so technically the one I’ve read the most. [Laughs.] That book’s like a thousand pages. It’s so long. I’ve read that the most. It’d probably have to be the Dylan Thomas poems or, sadly, the Bible. Really earnest answers.
AVC: I really hadn’t thought of this question in that form before, with The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich or the Bible—just the physical act of picking it up and turning the pages the most.
JB: Yeah. There’s that, and also, like, what’s the book I’ve been around my life and I’ve gone back to the most? I don’t know that there’s one single book. And I’m not religious, I don’t come from a religious family, but it would be the Bible. That would be the book I would spend—it would be the only book that I’ve consistently been aware of and looked at in different ways since I was little. There’s no other book like that, so it would have to be the fucking Bible. I’m going to sound like a fucking nut-bar. But that’s the case, I guess.
AVC: Don’t worry, you’ve balanced it out with The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich, so I think you’re okay.
JB: [Laughs.] Good, good.
JB: I guess space and roller coasters. I fucking hate roller coasters—can’t stand them, don’t like the look of them, don’t like being on them, have never had a positive experience on one, I hate the sound of them. I fucking—I have, like, PTSD. I get these little flashbacks in my head of being on them—so roller coasters and, yes, space. I find space horrifying. I have no wanderlust to go to the stars and... no. Fuck that. Fuck that. Even after they figure out space or whatever—even after they figure out all this and they get commercial space travel going and it’s standard and it’ll be able to be safe to going to space—no way that’s true, number one. Number two, they can have it. I don’t want to know what’s up there. God knows what’s up there. Fucking hell. And I’m almost certain, whatever is up there is actually smarter than me and more dangerous than I am, so I will be on the wrong side of history, space-wise. I will be the embarrassing granddad that—I won’t let my granddaughter bring an alien into my house. [Laughs.] I won’t have an android at my dinner table, either. Not a massive A.I. fan. Space. Space and roller coasters.
AVC: That was a very definitive answer.
JB: That’s a good question. That’s a fucking hard thing. I don’t know what people assume about me—or I try not to, anyway. Dylan Thomas, I guess. I don’t fucking know. Yeah, I guess him, or I guess one of the people you wouldn’t expect is Gaspar Noé, the director of Irreversible. I guess I have to go Dylan Thomas. Everything else is probably very apparent.
AVC: What age were you when you discovered Dylan Thomas and sort of fell in love?
JB: I was in high school. I went to a fine arts high school called FACE, which stood for Fine Arts Core Education. In addition to the fact that our school day was only over at 4:30 because we all had to do three more courses in addition to the normal courses schools do, we’d also always be there until 6 for film studies or debate or philosophy or whatever the fuck. So anyway, we’d have a pretty cultured education in a lot of ways, and the teacher introduced me—my English teacher in grade nine read “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” the one about his dad dying. That was pretty strong, heady stuff. Yeah. Even if I didn’t understand 75 percent of what the poems were about, I just loved the words. I always loved the words.
JB: How do I put this—I know exactly what it is, I’m just trying to—“Relax, bud.” [Laughs.] Relax a sec. You’re good. It’s all going to get sorted out. Everything that seems confusing or everything that seems like it doesn’t have an answer, seems ambiguous—it won’t be. You’re good. Just relax, because you’re stressed a lot. So just fucking chill. You got a bit of wiggle room. You’re good.
AVC: That seems like good advice for most people’s younger selves.
JB: I know—I was thinking about it last night—I wish I could go back and say, “It’s all good. Hey, hey. Can we just talk a second? [Laughs.] You’re good, you’re good. Relax. It’s all good. You wear a fucking tapestry of anxiety floating above your head. Just chill a second.”
JB: Because somebody fucking has to. That’s my answer. Because somebody fucking has to. Someone’s still got to give a shit.
AVC: Just not your younger self.
JB: Yeah, no. [Laughs.] No, no, no! Exactly right. The younger self, who was worried about 10,000 more things daily than I am, needs to just get his shit sorted out. He needs to just do him. But, no, I think grown-up people—you take life seriously because what the fuck else is there? [Laughs.] That’s life. If not that, then what? Yeah. That’s my answer.
AVC: What would you would like us to ask the next person that we interview, not knowing who you’re asking?
JB: What do you hate most about yourself? And you’re not allowed to say “I’m too nice.”
AVC: So you’re already preempting the “get out of jail free” answer.
JB: Yeah. It occurred to me lately I hate that when someone claims to want to be analytical and work on themselves and better themselves and the only thing—the only criticism they can come up with is they’re too good. Fuck off. [Laughs.] That’s nuts. And you can ask that question without beating yourself up. You can ask that question in a peaceful, healthy way that’s good for everyone. But you’re not allowed to cop out and say, “I’m too nice.”