It’s been two decades since he first broke out as the comically sweet George Michael Bluth on television in Development stopped and 16 years since becoming the cinematic face of hilariously awkward teenagers as Evan in the high school comedy super bad.
Although these are often two of his most talked about roles – with perhaps Juno And Scott Pilgrim vs the World — Michael Cera has quietly accumulated an impressive eclectic body of work over the years, appearing in Molly’s Game And It is the end (as Rihanna’s cokehead), voicing Robin in The Lego Batman Movieearning a Tony Award nomination for his lead role in Kenneth Lonergan’s Broadway revival of his own play Lobby Heroes and even land one of the craziest cameos on David Lynch’s already wild twin peaks the comeback. More recently he has been seen regularly alongside Amy Schumer in her famous series of romantic comedies. Life and Beth on Hulu, while upcoming projects include Greta Gerwig’s highly publicized Barbie and comedy A24 Dream scenario with Nick Cage.
In Berlin, he brings something a little different. Dustin Guy Defa’s Quiet Drama The adults – premiering in the Encounters section and backed by Universal Pictures Content Group – sees Cera playing a man returning to his hometown and struggling to reconnect with his two sisters as the divide between his playful, imaginative childhood and the more serious and moderate it has now become clear. Like much of Cera’s output, it’s a pleasingly understated performance, though he denies any suggestion of being typecast by the directors.
Talk to The Hollywood Reporter while taking a break from filming the second season of Life and BethCera explains his rejection of social media, smartphones and – if possible – the limelight, explains why he spent most of his time on the set of Barbie talks about Mike Leigh, and reveals his plans to get behind the camera and direct his feature debut.
You come to Berlin with The adults?
I am! But I shoot Life and Beth at the moment, which means I have to take a 24-hour trip. It’s gonna be crazy, but I’m gonna come for the screening and see everyone, then turn around and get back on a plane.
So no wild rides in Berghain while you’re there?
Well, maybe we could cram it. I could do this instead of sleeping.
Congratulations on the movie. It really made me think about returning to my hometown as an adult and the struggles of trying to reconnect with your childhood. As someone in your thirties, did you find any personal connections to the story?
Yeah, just the aspect of what you’ve described of growing up and coming home and being this different version of yourself. You go back to where you came from and you remember where you came from, but you feel the chasm between where you started and where you are now and how that changes the whole constellation of your family balance. I can understand that.
In The adults, you play a poker addict. You also played a professional poker player in Molly’s Game. Do you have a secret – or not so secret – about poker?
It’s no secret. In fact, during the pandemic, Director Dustin and I had a group of poker tournaments that all played together on Zoom and it was very healthy. We had a lot of friends and family playing, and I think that’s where a lot of the poker ideas for this movie came from.
So did you already know he was working on The adults?
Yeah, Dustin and I worked on a movie about seven years ago called person to person, and we’ve been friends ever since. And during the pandemic, we spent a lot of time together. The film was preparing before the pandemic and has actually changed a lot. I feel like Dustin got a completely new inspiration after working on it for a year or two, and it completely changed course. It was really impressive for me, actually, and I felt really good.
You are a very reserved person and attempts to find you on social media for this interview have been completely unsuccessful. Was it a very conscious decision or just something you never did?
He doesn’t feel conscious. I guess it’s just something I didn’t choose to do. Because everyone is doing it, it’s starting to look like a big choice. But that’s just not interesting to me. But I don’t have a smartphone either. And it’s a conscious choice, because I feel a little scared about it, honestly, like I’m really losing control of my waking life. Just when people started getting smartphones, when it was Blackberries, I had lunch with a friend of mine who was my best friend at the time, and he had just gotten a Blackberry, and during the whole meal, he was writing e-mails, and I was sitting there, alone and bored. So I had an early dislike for them.
I’m actually incredibly envious…
A lot of people say that. For many years, people blamed me for this life choice. But now people say they envy him.
Do you think social media has had an impact on your career, especially now that so many producers are looking for stars with big online followings to help promote?
Yeah, I really can’t know the answer to that. But it is very possible. I mean, I definitely have no control over this category. So if it’s an important thing, I think I wouldn’t be considered.
Has the limelight in general made you uncomfortable for years?
Yeah. I’m just a very sensitive person, and very sensitive to the people I meet and the energies of other people. So I like people a lot and I really like people who are meaningful to me, that my brain can understand as human beings. But there are so many people on planet Earth who confuse me. And I think when you get really famous, you’re like a magnet for people. And all kinds of people come to you, and I just can’t stand it. I’m not really cut out for that level of interaction with so many different guys. I don’t have a strong enough personality for that.
Was there a point where it came to a head and you thought, I just don’t agree?
I think I was sort of probably my most famous or recognizable, or just on display, when I was around 20, which is a very young age to be a developed human being. So it came to mind at that time. It was kind of a mixed emotion for me, because I really like to work, and I obviously like what I do for a living, but a lot of it comes with other things that you have to be good at . For example, to be really good as an actor, you have to somehow be an amazing public figure. I worked with Jack Black in 2008 and saw the way he handled people coming up to him, and I was just like, ‘Okay, I just don’t have the makeup. Because he’s amazing at it. He’s so generous with everyone, and it’s really nice that he can let himself go like this. It’s a personality type.
It’s been said that you’re often pigeonholed as the adorably goofy, geeky guy, especially when you watch some of your most famous roles in films such as super bad, Juno And Scott Pilgrim vs the world. Is this something you have ever felt?
I guess I don’t really know what cast actually means. I think it could mean either the work you do or the way people perceive you. And these are two different things. When you think about the big roles that people know me for, then I guess it’s pretty easy for people to categorize me in their brains. And I understand that. But I’ve never found it to really affect the kind of work I’m able to do. I felt very lucky to work with great directors who want to use me in different ways. There’s no shortage of it and it’s fun. I feel that’s what I’m looking for, interesting things.
Speaking of which, you appeared in a lonely David Lynch scene. twin peaks revival, playing Wally Brando, a kind of Marlon Brando in The wild character. How did it happen?
The full story is that I took a Transcendental Meditation class with some friends, and a woman there said she was from the David Lynch Foundation and invited us to meditate with David Lynch. So about a month later we went to David’s house, which is the house of lost highway, and at first it was me and David. He was so kind and welcoming, but I was still so confused as to why he was having us, why we were allowed to be there and meet him. I was so excited. So we meditated with him for about 20 minutes. And then a few years later I was asked to do this twin peaks stage. And my friend Eric Edelstein, who also mediated with us, got a role. I only worked with David for about two hours when we shot that scene, but it was so much fun.
And this year you’re playing in Barbieone of the most publicized films of the year.
It’s really crazy. I’ve never been part of a movie that already had fans before we even made it. When I was going through customs in the UK they asked me why I was coming and I said I was working on the Barbie movie, and one of the customs officers said, “Who’s in there?” and the customs officer next to him was like “Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie are in!”
There isn’t much information about your character, but can you wear some of the DayGlo outfits we’ve seen before?
The costume department in this film was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. [Costume designer] Jacqueline Durran is a genius, and I spent almost every moment I had with her thinking about Mike Leigh, because she’s been working with him for Upside down. I’m Mike Leigh’s biggest fan.
Have you ever considered writing or producing your own projects?
Actually, I’m trying to do a few things and I hope something happens this year, and they would come true. One of them is an adaptation of a novel, Masters of Atlantis of Charles Portis, and I pushed it with some friends of mine, Vernon Chatman and Antonio Campos. The other is a feature film I wrote with two friends, which is an original story.
I understand that you and your wife had a baby boy. Has becoming a father affected your approach to work?
I think the only thing it affects is that you just want to spend as much time with them as possible. So when I was 20, I would have been much happier to go to some weird town and live in a hotel for three months. And when you have children, you want to be with your family. And you miss them a lot.
Which of your own movies or TV shows do you think could be the first you introduce your son to?
Oh man, that’s a good question. He’s only a year and a half old, so he hasn’t seen anything yet. But I have some animated films.
Not sausage party?
Yeah, no portion of sausagey. This one a bit later.