Interview: Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman power up for ‘Scott Pilgrim’
By Todd Gilchrist
hollywoodnews.com: Although they can often be tedious, sometimes roundtable interviews can be great simply because of who you’re talking to. Others become memorable for what the people you’re talking to actually say. And still others end up working out because of who you are doing them with. At the recent junket for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I enjoyed a remarkable afternoon of great conversations with great people while sharing the table with some great journalists.
In particular, Chud.com’s Devin Faraci is not just a good friend or junket wingman, he’s a great interviewer – sharp as a tack, funny, insightful, and gets into territory that most roundtables don’t even flirt with. And thanks to a comparatively modest number of questions asked by other reporters in our room, Devin and I dove into chats with different members of the cast and crew, including Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman, who provided plenty of real information about Scott Pilgrim, and yet they managed to be incredibly entertaining at the same time.
[Note: Although “Hollywood News” is used to distinguish questions from answers in the text below, our journalist was just one of many reporters asking questions of the filmmakers.]
Hollywood News: How likeable is Scott? Because the thing that’s really effective about the movie is not just that he’s trying to win Ramona’s love, but that he learns to take responsibility for himself. And especially early in the movie he makes some decisions that aren’t particularly sympathetic.
Michael Cera: I agree. It’s interesting – watching the movie I realized that, yeah, he’s doing some really selfish things. But for some reason, I don’t know, maybe you feel sympathetic because he’s being constantly attacked (laughs). That kind of makes you feel sorry for him. But yeah, he doesn’t really consider Knives in the beginning when he breaks up with her. She’s just kind of written off and he moves on, so he’s an idiot. He just doesn’t think of other people, but he’s kind of a doofus, you know. And by the end he realizes a very simple truth that you need to care about people’s feeling and the people around you. You need to be responsible for your actions, and yeah – that’s sort of his growth in the film, I guess.
Hollywood News: As an actor do you yourself have to sort of be oblivious in those scenes, or do you have to know so well that he’s oblivious that you can play it that way?
Cera: Yeah, I mean, it’s in the writing. Really stupid things are coming out of his mouth, so it’s pretty obvious. Homer Simpson was a big inspiration for this, because he could just say really stupid things and it’s so cartoony, the movie, that it works. It doesn’t seem out of place. So you could just really be an idiot.
Hollywood News: What was it like seeing this film for the first time after it was finished, since it seems like you are more used to productions where you can see what things look like on set?
Cera: Amazing. I thought they did an amazing job with it. We kind of knew – I mean, Edgar kept us so informed throughout the shoot of what was going to be happening as best as he could describe it, but seeing it was overwhelming. It’s just so visual and so dense that you’re trying to take in so much at once.
Jason Schwartzman: It was so exciting, and I’ve never worked on a movie with too many special effects. Actually, there weren’t a ton, by the way, like for instance in our fight scene. But little things, and yeah, it’s nice to see them for real, to see them fully realized. I was just thinking while you were talking, it’s kind of like have you ever been to one of those restaurants where there’s like a picture menu? And you’re like, oh, that looks good. You order it, so you know what you’re getting, but then it comes and it’s just so incredible and much better than you ever imagined it could be. That’s kind of like what watching the movie was like.
Cera: Where do you go where there are restaurants with picture menus?
Schwartzman: Japan (laughs).
Hollywood News: There are Thai restaurants.
Schwartzman: Yeah, Thai restaurants. Because Edgar was showing us references constantly, like Michael was saying. Edgar was so articulate not only with words but with visual references, and of course we have this comic to go on, so we’re really abreast of what’s going on. But still, even despite that, it’s so exciting to watch it and seeing all of this cool stuff. For me it was cool just selfishly because I didn’t see all of the stuff they shot. I only saw all of the stuff that I shot with Michael, so I’m watching the movie and watching all of these really cool effects, like you getting thrown into a castle, and it’s incredible. It’s really thrilling.
Hollywood News: How was it to watch the film for the first time with an audience? In my screening Edgar hooked the audience from the studio logo.
Cera: Yeah, that’s true. We could feel that. I could feel that right away. They were cheering when the logo came up and were totally on board all of the way through the movie. It was a special audience.
Schwartzman: A great audience. There’s a chance that exact logo comes up somewhere and someone’s like, “is it broken? What’s happening?”
Cera: “What’s going on? I’m out of here!”
Hollywood News: Jason, is Gideon more or less-
Hollywood News: He’s kind of casually insensitive, and seems almost like a companion to the character you played in Funny People.
Schwartzman: Absolutely, absolutely, I would definitely agree with that. In this movie, one of Edgar’s main things that he would talk about in talking about Gideon is that he’s passive-aggressive. He’s really just a kind of “kill them with kindness” kind of a person. And what I kept saying to him was, how passive-aggressive do you want him? Because there are passive-aggressive people that you don’t ever realize that they’re passive-aggressive until they do something later that’s very aggressive, or there are people that are passive-aggressive and you know instantly that this guy’s lying to me. Edgar wasn’t really sure what he needed, so we had like this scale of one to ten, ten being very overt and one being just no evilness, no duplicity, nothing, just totally nice, and we would just do different takes of it, you know what I mean, and experiment. So he had it all there and when we went into the editing room he could pick and choose. And I can see sort of when I watch it, oh, there’s one take where I’m pretty nice, and there’s one where I’m really mean, and it makes Gideon seem kind of insane – which I like. But there’s no real continuity; it’s like a bunch of sharp mirrors.
Hollywood News: Do you think he’s really calculating or does he really believe he’s a nice guy even when he seems to be twisting the knife a little bit?
Schwartzman: Well, for instance, when he says “I’m really sorry about the League and please, no hard feelings,” I think he means it. I mean, I hope he means it.
Cera: Really? (laughs)
Schwartzman: Yeah, but at the same time I don’t think he really cares, because he’s got his girlfriend back, and I don’t think he ever thinks of Scott Pilgrim as a real threat. So he’s going to throw out this apology because it’s the right thing to say, he means it as much as he can in the moment, but three seconds later, he gets in the car and he’s just like, “do you think that the lounge at the hotel is still open?” He’s just kind of in the moment and he’s just thinking about himself. I listened to the book while I was doing this part, this book called The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene. It’s just 48 laws of how to obtain true power, and I listened to a chapter every morning and a chapter every night, and I used it completely as like Gideon’s whole thing.
Cera: Like what?
Schwartzman: Like one of the things, one of the ideas is to be like an iron fist in a velvet glove. So be kind, show your insecurities, say you’re sorry, “you’re always better,” “you’re right,” and then get them.
Cera: Walk softly.
Schwartzman: Yeah, exactly. But there’s so many amazing ones. Like if you’re with someone, never try to impress them with how much you know because they won’t find it impressive – they find it intimidating. So even if you know the answer to something, let them have the answer.
Cera: Did you use that on set? Those principles?
Schwartzman: Oh, off-camera? No, never.
Hollywood News: This is the velvet glove right here.
Schwartzman: No, but I was shocked at how much of it seemed obvious to me. It was like, yeah, duh! (laughs)
Cera: I heard Donald Trump one time said, or I think he wrote this somewhere, where in a meeting if he just wants to have some upper hand in a very easy way, he’ll be talking to a person and he’ll just say, “I’m sorry – you have really bad breath.”
Cera: Just get inside their head and be like, “sorry, just continue, continue.”
Schwartzman: Oh my God. Really? Oh my God!
Cera: And then the person’s just cut down.
Schwartzman: That is incredible. That’s amazing. Wow. I had something do something to me that was like very weird where this person came up to me, another actor, I can’t say who it was-
Cera: Brandon Routh? (laughs)
Schwartzman: He complimented me and he was overcomplimenting me for about five minutes, and I was just shocked that this person even knew who I was. It was at a party, and then for the next hour he ignored me. Any time I’d walk up he would just walk away and like treated me like sh*t. It was so weird! I left feeling like – I didn’t sleep for like two days. I was like, what was that? Why?
Cera: This is a funny story. It’s not my story, it’s my friend’s. My friend Max knows Dustin Hoffman’s kids and he was hanging out at Dustin Hoffman’s house. Dustin Hoffman came over to him and was like, “hey! How are you.” He was like, “I’m good, I’m good.” He was just amazed he was talking to him and he goes, “why haven’t we worked together?” Dustin Hoffman said that and he goes, “I don’t know – I would love to!” My friend Max is a director. So Dustin Hoffman’s like, “I’m going to tell you what. I’m going to go upstairs and get my shoes on and we’re going to take a drive together.” So Max is wracking his brain, like, oh my God, I have to think of a project for me and Dustin Hoffman, and his son, Max Hoffman, comes down and said to Max, “are you going for a drive with my dad?” And he goes, “yeah, he said we were going.” He goes, “oh my God, that’s hilarious. He’s upstairs and he just said, ‘me and Spike Jonze are going to take a drive together’.” (laughs) His ego was just deflated after he just like built up his ego.
Schwartzman: No way! Oh my God – that is amazing!
Cera: He looks like him, right?
Schwartzman: (nods) That might be the best story I’ve ever heard. Oh my God. Insane.
Hollywood News: Michael, your character isn’t supposed to be strong or tough, necessarily, so did you still have to do a lot of physical preparation to perform the stunts and action in the movie?
Cera: Yeah. Just to build up stamina, too, because it’s so exhausting. You do a take with this high exertion and then you’re sitting around and then you have to go again and it wears you out, so we had to just run every morning for a few months so that we could not pass out doing that stuff.
Schwartzman: We did the majority of our sword fight.
Hollywood News: You don’t seem like fighters.
Schwartzman: But that’s the cooler way to be.
Cera: That’s the angle!
Schwartzman: You don’t look at Charlie Chaplin and say hey, there’s a silent movie star. (laughs)
Hollywood News: I don’t know what that means.
Schwartzman: No, I don’t either. Halfway through it was like the moment when you bounce on the diving board and you’re like, “I can’t stop – cannonball!” Or “terrible!”
Cera: “This is the shallow end!”
Schwartzman: We had to train for all of our fights and do them all, and when Edgar first approached each of us, he said I want you to really learn how to do these. Because he wanted to shoot it in the style that wasn’t like a close-up of an actor’s face and then pull back and there’s stunt doubles doing the fights. He wanted shots where you can clearly see Michael and I fighting with one another. So like a typical day during the training process would be from the morning until about midday would be these conditioning exercises like sit-ups and running – stuff just to build up overall body strength. And then we would eat and then we would all branch off with our own kind of specialists, like Mary had someone who helped her work with a staff, because her weapon was like a long hammer. So my particular trainer, they were teaching me how to work with swords, and every night I would go home and like I had piano scales, I had like sword scales just so I could get comfortable with the fake plastic sword. We had to learn these moves and it was extremely intense, because if you take your mind off of it just for a second, you can’t just be doing it and they say, “sorry, sorry!” Because if you just stop right there you can get hit; there’s fights going on all around you. And he was saying yesterday, people were getting beat up take after take, and every time you mess up, that’s another take another stunt man’s got to get yanked across a room. So it’s very intense, and even though everything is safe, nothing is real metal, you still are attacking each other with a certain force that if you take your mind off of it for a second or you step too far in a certain direction, you could get hit or hit somebody, so it was really intense, but so fun the whole time – and so surreal.
Hollywood News: Did you ever feel silly while you were doing all of this?
Schwartzman: Yeah, constantly. The whole time, we felt silly.
Hollywood News: How did your bodies change?
Cera: After the first day of training-
Hollywood News: Now Jason’s got that moustache.
Schwartzman: I can’t get rid of this (laughs). I shave it and it just comes right back. But our bodies changed. I gained weight. Fat. I kept eating, and I got chubbier than I’ve ever been. It’s terrible. I got a little belly, it’s crazy.
Hollywood News: If someone attacked you now, would you fight him or run away?
Cera: Run away.
Schwartzman: Run away with him. We run away.
Cera: We would have a foot race (laughs).
Schwartzman: Quick, get in my car and lock it! Go away!
Hollywood News: Did it boost your ego to have these women fighting over you?
Cera: I mean, I knew it was not real (laughs). I wasn’t ever confused about that.
Hollywood News: You don’t walk around now thinking, “everybody wants me.”
Cera: A little bit, but not too much.
Hollywood News: Well, you have become a movie star and a teen hot guy.
Cera: (laughs) A teen hot guy!
Schwartzman: He definitely thought his charm went into the real world. We would go to a market together and he would go and pick up some blueberries and he would go, “I’m just going to take these, okay?” (laughs) And then just walk out. I was like, “Michael!”
Cera: Put them on my tab.
Schwartzman: (tasting the blueberries) I’m not going to buy these. I don’t like them. They’re sour. These aren’t ripe! I’m leaving them. “Michael, you can’t do that!”
Cera: I’m Scott Pilgrim.
Schwartzman: “The movie’s not for another year!”
Hollywood News: You guys were adapting books that weren’t published yet, but you had the craziest part, Jason, because Book Six was really not done. So how much did you work with Bryan Lee O’Malley to figure out who Gideon was, and how much of you ended up in the Gideon that is in Book Six, do you think?
Schwartzman: I don’t know about that. Who knows – you would have to ask Bryan that question. But the Gideon that’s in the movie, a lot of it is Bryan and Edgar. I think Edgar knew a lot about where Bryan was going with the character, so he put it in the script, and the script was really my kind of bible, my blueprint, because Edgar worked for so long constructing the script, and although you can have all of this other source material, that’s the thing you’re shooting. So I learned that Gideon, and then I talked to Bryan about where he thought the character was going and who he thought he was, and he was so awesome and available to me, it was so nice. Because I was really insecure about so many things, but he gave me all kinds of tips, and one thing he said that I thought was kind of interesting, but he wasn’t sure, was that maybe Gideon just got drunk and sent out a mass email to all of these evil exes. “Hey, let’s form this thing. No one should be with Ramona if we can’t” and just sent it out.
Cera: A lot of typos.
Schwartzman: (laughs) Yeah, a lot of typos! But maybe he’s not purely evil, maybe he’s just drunk evil. It says a lot about who he really is, but maybe he’s not Dr. Evil petting a cat. Maybe he’s just a record producer who is in New York who hears about this girl is dating someone and get super jealous, gets drunk and tries to stop it. So he gave me all kinds of great notes and bizarre pointers, and it was so nice to be so collaborative with these two guys, with Edgar and Bryan.
Hollywood News: Would you ever fight for a girl?
Cera: I never really have, but I would. I would, if it was what had to be done. Sure.
Image Courtesy Universal Pictures