Up until now, Michael Cera has been best known as George Michael. Not any more.
Michael Cera is the coolest uncool kid in Hollywood, and he wants to move to New York. As we walk through the Lower East Side in search of breakfast, he appears so thrilled with his surroundings—vintage clothing stores, still-sleeping bars, and mini-mountains of garbage—that I half expect him to peer into a mailbox and shout “This is so awesome!” Cera, who for the time being is living back home in Toronto, has spent a lot of his time recently in L.A., and has little love for it. “It’s just that everyone is in the same industry,” he says, “and if you talk to someone, it’s almost like a formality. It doesn’t feel like people genuinely want to talk. It might be in my head. Maybe it’s a lot of personal issues coming out.” Maybe it is, because these days, people definitely do want to talk to Michael Cera.
Cera’s first major role was as George Michael, the unfortunately-monikered teenager with a crush on his cousin, on Arrested Development. Produced by Ron Howard, Arrested Development was lauded by critics but famously canceled after just three seasons: The humor was too obtuse and the plots were too absurd to capture a mainstream audience and win ratings. It was, quite simply, too intelligent for its own good. The fans who did watch the show, however, didn’t just like it, they loved it, and George Michael inspired especially rabid devotion. He was a put-upon straight arrow in the midst of a family of lunatics, and Cera’s performance frequently and unassumingly stole the show, even when surrounded by the likes of David Cross, Portia de Rossi, and Will Arnett.
Since the show’s demise, Cera’s fans have had to resort to the Internet to get their fix, primarily on the CBS-sponsored web series Clark and Michael. Cera co-wrote the 10-minute episodes with real-life friend Clark Duke, and the show follows the duo, playing exaggeratedly ignorant versions of themselves, as they blindly shop a script around Hollywood. The show has been well-received, but is really just whetting appetites for what comes next: his first starring movie role, in Superbad, which is set to be released this month. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and produced by Judd Apatow, the genius behind comedies like Anchorman, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, and Knocked Up, Superbad is a coming of age tale with a surplus of dick jokes. As Cera himself points out “I’m sure more people will see Superbad in its opening weekend than ever saw Arrested Development.” He plays Evan, another well-meaning nice and nerdy guy, albeit an R-rated one: The night Evan anticipates losing his virginity, he packs not just a condom, but a mini bottle of lube.
Cera possesses the comic timing of Jerry Seinfeld or Larry David—both practiced comedians twice, if not three times, his age—and seems entirely comfortable with characters, like George Michael and Evan, that are uncomfortable with themselves. In Superbad, when a push in the hallway causes Evan to accidentally grab the breast of his crush, he painfully stammers apologies while trying to act cool—turning an awkward situation into an unbearable one. “I don’t want people to think I’m trying to convince them that I’m cooler than I am,” he says. “It’s easier to play myself, definitely, than it is for me to play a cool guy. I mean, if it’s a good script and a good part, that’s all I really care about.” And the scripts for Arrested, Superbad, and Juno, an upcoming dark comedy about teen pregnancy that pairs Cera with Ellen Page, herself one of the most exciting actors of her generation, have been good—sometimes, he worries, almost too good. “Since the show [Arrested Development], I’ve been kind of spoiled,” he says. “I’ve been scared of doing things that I think might not be great.”
As exhibited by Clark and Michael, Cera can always just write his own great parts—he admits to working on a screenplay, but says, “I’ve written the first scene for my movie and I like it a lot and I don’t want to go any further”—if his offers dry up, but this is unlikely. After a recent press screening of Superbad, Apatow told me that Cera’s name came up “very early in the process” of casting, “because he is the funniest young guy that anyone knows. It was harder to find actors who would work well with him, and a lot of the reason it was hard was because Michael is so strong he makes everyone else look awful. He’s just one of those guys that you wish you could buy stock in. You so believe that he’s going to do incredible things for the next 45 years.”
After our interview, Cera says goodbye and heads back down the street, still wide-eyed, and I’m tempted to follow: He just seems like one of those people who you know is going to do incredible things in the next 45 minutes, too.