TORONTO — With his thrift-shop threads and soft-spoken manner, Michael Cera became the quintessential screen geek of the 2000s with roles in the hit comedies Juno and Superbad.
It may be a new decade, but the actor — who grew up in Brampton, Ont. — continues to embody the movie misfit with the comedy Youth in Revolt, which hits theatres Friday.
In the film he plays Nick Twisp, a sex-crazed teenaged outcast who is hell-bent on reuniting with a girl he meets on summer vacation.
Cera has high praise for the source material, a raunchy 1993 cult novel by C.D. Payne.
“The book is so funny and so unique and I hope that sales for the book skyrocket and C.D. Payne becomes rich,” Cera said during an interview last September at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“He came to set, he came and hung out . . . . He’s been a big inspiration to me. It was nice to get to be around him.”
In person, Cera comes across much like the nerdy personality he has so often nailed onscreen. Shy and unfailingly polite (and dressed in clothes that look as though they could have been pulled off the rack at Value Village), his responses to questions can be maddeningly brief, a trait that has earned him a reputation as a challenging interview subject.
The actor seems infinitely more comfortable when he is able to steer the conversation away from himself to discuss Payne, or Youth in Revolt director Miguel Arteta, whose previous directing credits include the film The Good Girl as well as TV shows including Ugly Betty, The Office and Freaks and Geeks.
Cera says he and Arteta worked on the Youth in Revolt script together and that the director even sought his input on casting (the film co-stars Ray Liotta, Jean Smart, Fred Willard and Steve Buscemi).
“He’s amazing. He’s an amazing collaborator,” said Cera.
“It’s so important for a director to make people feel like they can speak their minds and say whatever they want. If that’s established right away I just think the whole process goes a lot smoother.”
For his part, Arteta says he was completely taken with Payne’s novel and felt Cera would make an ideal Twisp.
“I thought it was one of the most intelligent books about teenagers,” he said.
“It never condescends. The kids are the smartest people in the book. The adults are all idiots and it’s so creative and funny. It’s like a great picaresque novel … I just knew Michael Cera was pretty perfect for the part and I had faith that we could do it.
“I talked to Michael on the phone and I could tell he loved the book and that this was going to be a real passion project for him.”
While Cera may indeed be “perfect” to play the teenaged Twisp, movie fans can perhaps be forgiven for wondering how Cera, 21, seems to remain forever young.
“Youth in Revolt” was shot two years ago but the release date was reportedly delayed because of the Hollywood writers strike. Cera is also due on the big screen this year in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” which was shot more recently.
While “Youth in Revolt” is not a vast departure from Cera’s previous work, the Twisp character does have an evil alter ego named Francois. The actor enjoyed exploring his sinister side, particularly alongside Liotta, who is known for his tough-guy roles.
“It’s fun when you’re doing a character that’s kind of confrontational with Ray Liotta staring you in the eye,” said Cera.
“It was so exciting to watch him work.”