Interview: Scott Pilgrim's Michael Cera And Jason Schwartzman
Sitting in a room with Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman, you never get the sense that they would ever get into a fight with each other. Playfully riffing off one another and talking about how much fun they had working together, they act like best friends who couldn’t stay mad at each other for more than an hour. That dynamic somewhat changes, however, when you see them sword fighting in the epic climax of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Excluding a strange moment where the two kept trying to build on to the name of music producer Rick Rubin (read below to find out what that means), the two actors stayed fairly on topic as they discussed their new film, from working with director Edgar Wright to the warmth and embrace of Comic Con.
This is like a new image thing for you, and you don’t do a lot of buttkicking in movies, so you did that last scene. So how much fun was that and how horribly uncomfortable was any of the fighting.
MC: Some of the harder stuff was horribly uncomfortable to the point where I was like “It shouldn’t feel like this, right? Something is very wrong.” That means it’s working. But so much fun, all of it was so much fun. It was amazing. All the guys, there was such a camaraderie amongst that culture of guys and stuntmen. And there’s stuntmen and then there’s also gymnasts that were all involved in this. It’s amazing just the way that they all relate to each other and how seriously they take their craft.
Were there two different teams that worked together?
MC: There were several, yeah. They had, like, battle of the teams. Well, they all formed one big team. They all came from different backgrounds, you know, like gymnastics. There was an incredible gymnast named Chris Mark who did a lot of my stunts. He does all the crazy, flipping around stuff in the movie. And there were stunt coordinators who worked with Jackie Chan and they were all incredibly talented.
If you’ve seen any of Edgar Wright’s previous work he obviously has a very particular vision. What was it like working with him?
JS: I didn’t want to watch any of the stuff he did because I didn’t want to be influence by it. I wanted this to be its own thing. I’m just kidding. Working with Edgar, it was insane. What was the exact question?
He has such a specific vision and a unique way of filming, what was it like working with him?
JS: For me it was amazing just because I’ve always wanted to work with him and I never though it’d be possible cause most everything he’s done is U.K. based. So it was a weird situation, it was like, man…
MC: United Kingdom.
JS: Yeah. Well, I’ve always thought it would be great to work with him, but, you know, maybe he would never have an American part or something in one of his movies. So to work with him it was a real dream come true. It was so cool because he’s so communicative as a director, and articulate, and enthusiastic. You walk on the set and he’s has nothing else he wants to do more than make that movie. He’s smiling all the time with enthusiasm, and wanting to come up with new ways to try things. But my favorite aspect of working with him, it never felt like a huge movie. The set was kind of big, it was in a room the size of this studio set, but he was always just, like, five feet from us. And you never had to yell, “Edgar, where are you? I have a question!” There could be lots of people around and you could just say, “Edgar,” and he would say, “Yeah?”
MC: “Edgar where are you, I have a question.”
JS: You just felt so close to him, and that was such a great, awesome thing coming from this guy working on this big, kind of overwhelmingly scary movie. You always felt like he was close and focused on you and what you needed.
MC: Yeah, all through the shoot. Edgar would have this little hand-held monitor that he would hold and just sit right behind the camera instead of being over sitting at his chair. So he was always right there, on the ground. It was really nice.
Did he give each of you the 10 things, the list that’s secret and that’s your motivations that nobody’s supposed to know? How did that help you and can you tell us some of them.
MC: It was very helpful. He gave me mine the night before shooting. So instead of something to develop it was something to just get you ready to jump in and inspire you.
So you didn’t know any of them before hand?
MC: No. The night before, it was just to get into the spirit the night before. It was great. There were really great things on there. I wish I had remembered all of them for the sake of these interviews, but the one that really stays in my head is that Scott, in his mind, is the star of his own movie. This movie is, in a way, existing in his own mind. This is his weird perception of the world around him.
And what about you [Jason]? Do you remember one of yours?
JS: One that I really liked was just that Gideon is very passive aggressive, and so he’s not overtly evil. He smiles a lot, just kind of “kill ‘em with kindness,” but you can feel that it’s not sincere almost instantly.
The screening at Comic Con can either make a film or break a film, and obviously, I was at the screening, people loved it so much that I have to see it again because I could barely hear some of the lines. It was such an amazing experience. How did that feel to feel that kind of love and acceptance for your film?
MC: Amazing. I was a little worried, you know, that’s a very scary frying pan to jump into. People who loved the books and were instantly…well, they have expectations and they want to be wowed. But, you know, they were on our side right from the beginning. Edgar really got them on our side in a really good way. He gave a really good panel where he didn’t disappoint. He was very in control and funny and that immediately got them on our side. And then he surprised them with the treat of seeing the movie and then, you know, he had Dan The Automator and Kid Koala DJing while they were sitting in their seats, which was amazing. So it was a real event, it was more than just a movie. The theater was a big, beautiful theater, a 1,300 seat theater, and pretty full, and they were just ready for a fun movie experience. They were right in the right place. He’s smart. He made them happy and they were on our side.
JS: I feel like if Edgar hadn’t directed this movie he’d be the first person in line at it and he would have been at that Comic Con screening. He’s a member of his own audience. He wanted to make them like this movie.
JS: So is Michael.
So did you [Jason] help him [Michael] or did you know your stuff on the guitar?
MC: Well, we had a guy named Chris Murphy who was kind of our musical coach. He’s from Sloane, a Canadian band. And he spent a lot of time with me, Mark [Webber] and Alison [Pill], Johnny Simmons, just making us feel confident playing because we had to play in front of the crew and in front of the big audience Mark had never played guitar, Alison had never played drums, I had never performed music.
I’d only seen you singing with your acoustic guitar in Juno. No electric guitar.
MC: Yeah, that was really helpful. It was also really nice for us all to get to know each other. Spend that time together, learn those songs, which were great. It was fun.
Did you’re experience in the music industry give you any insight to basing Gideon on anyone you’d met along the course of your ride through that business?
JS: No, I racked my brain, I racked my brain.
MC: I racked…my brain.
JS: Maybe I wasn’t creative enough with my thinking but I kind of just scanned my memory for anyone who was exactly like Gideon and I didn’t find anybody.
MC: It took five hours to do the scan.
JS: Yeah, I scanned every single person and I’ve never met anyone like Gideon. As in any industry you meet some people who don’t mean what they say, but we always had older A&R [Artists and repertoire] guys. We never had a young whippersnapper-type guy, so not really. I was basing him more like on, I’m going to say this, and then don’t just like judge it, “you totally failed.” But like Swan in Phantom of the Paradise, and like Z-Man in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, kind of more like a 70s kind of like Phil Spector-y…those kind of producer stars. You know what I mean? Not really many of them now. Maybe like Mark Robson is one.
MC: Rick Reubens.
JS: Rick Rubin, yeah.
MC: Rubin. Reubens.
JS: Rubin, yeah.
JS: Yeah. Rick Paul Reubens. Slick Rick Paul Reubens. Grace Slick Paul Reubens. Amazing Grace Slick Paul Reubens. The Amazing Grace Slick Paul Reubens.
A lot of people…
JS: The Amazing Grace Slick Paul Ruben’s Place. The Amazing Grace Slick Paul Ruben’s Place…
Okay! A lot of people are saying that this is very much the first of it’s [Michael looks like he is about to add] No! A lot of people are saying that this is the first of its kind. In a world of things people have seen before, or not that many original ideas, especially within comic books, this is completely new. Are you going to be pissed if people start ripping you off or are you going to find it endearing or sweet when you see people trying to do what was just done.
MC: I wouldn’t be surprised if people are inspired by Edgar as a filmmaker, but it would be the same. He’s got his own voice, I think. So I’d be surprised if people tried to imitate him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he inspired people to make movies and find their own voice.
JS: Bill Hader said right after the screening that this is the kind of film a 13-year-old kid sees and then they get a camera and they make a bunch of movies in their backyard.
MC: It kind of fell in my lap, really. I was just in the right place at the right time. I had a meeting with Mark Platt about it, I met with Edgar, and Edgar was really enthusiastic about me being in it, which was amazing. It’s so nice to hear that from a director you respect, that they want to work with you. It’s so nice, and to have an opportunity to work with a director that you love. And I loved the graphic novel too, so it just presented itself and was just an amazing opportunity.
Were you familiar with the book before?
MC: Yeah, before I had heard they were making a movie.
And you, Jason?
JS: Edgar Wright was in Los Angeles, we had the opportunity to meet with him, which was really exciting for me. During that meeting he talked about that he was adapting these books. He never said, “and I’m thinking of you,” he just told me he was doing it. And I said, “Oh, that sounds great.” So I bought the books, and I read them and I just liked them, and I was really excited for Edgar, “he’s going to be great when he directs these.” And then I heard you [Michael Cera] were involved, and I was like, “that’s going to be so great!” I was just excited about it, Michael, Edgar, so cool! And then, like six months later, Edgar called me and said, “Hey, would you like to meet for coffee?” and I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” And while we were there he reached in his bag and took out Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
MC: The script.
JS: Slid it over to me and said, “Would you be Gideon Graves?” and it was so exciting. And, honestly, I just put my hand on it and said, “Yes.”
MC: You didn’t even read the script.
JS: It was all I needed. Michael, Edgar, Scott Pilgrim – there’s like three people I would do that for.
Can you guys talk about doing the whole climactic fight scene? Mary and Ellen were saying it was almost like filming a separate movie from the rest of the movie because you were on the set for so long and it was such a long process to get that scene.
MC: It was a long time. There was that big pyramid which they kept deconstructing and we had to get up on top of, and just a lot to figure out. A lot for Bill Pope, the cinematographer, and Edgar and Marcus Roland, the production designer, just so many things to figure out, and I’m glad it wasn’t my job. We just had to show up and do these moves that we would learn sometimes on the spot, on the day.
JS: I kept thinking I would do these scenes and then be driving home and be like, “I’m doing this, this is great. Michael has done six of these before I had even arrived in Toronto.” So it’s like, “How’s he doing it?” It took a long time to shoot, I’ve done whole movies in the time it took us to do this fight scene, you know what I mean? You do a low budget movie and the amount of time is like three-and-a-half weeks. It’s a long period of time to focus on one scene. It was amazing, it was such an awesome experience.
Michael, you’re in almost every scene, you have so much work. Is this more work than you’ve done in any film? How did you keep it together?
MC: Absolutely. We just had to cram. We had already shooting for so long we couldn’t take any time. There was no hiatus or anything. So, you know, try and get sleep, watch a lot of movies with Michael Bacall late at night in my apartment. Played a lot of Nintendo together. I had friends around, it was fun. They had a physio-therapy masseuse that came to set that would work people’s backs. They treated us pretty decently. They took care of us. It was grueling but it was always fun and I was always happy to be there. I was sad to leave.
Can you talk about, without the honesty of your relationship for how crazy everything gets it’s so important that we actually believe your relationship with everybody else. Can you talk about establishing those and the importance of that for your character?
MC: I think that’s very important. I was so amazed when I saw the movie how well that worked, how well Edgar pulls that off. He does that so well in all of his films. In Shaun of the Dead you totally get hit by the emotion of it, and it really grounds the movie, it’s what makes him special. There are a lot of people who are capable of making really funny comedies, which I think he does incredibly, but he’ll always leave you feeling something afterwards. They always really resonate because there was something in there that was really true, whether it be a story about friendship, like Shaun of the Dead with the two friends, Nick Frost at the end. Or even his step-father, the thing with Bill Nighy, I think he realizes the value of that in cinema and does it really, really beautifully. It was in good hands.
MC: I haven’t. Have you?
JS: I haven’t.
MC: I’ve signed a few copies and I was flipping through them at Comic Con and it looks amazing. There’s just a page where it’s just two blank pages in the book.
Mary [Elizabeth Winstead] and Ellen [Wong] have read it so you’ve have to catch up.
JS: Well, girls tend to read things quicker than us. That’s my experience from high school. “Have you done summer reading?” “Yeah, I did it in June.” “Oh.”
MC: “I started in June.”
What is it about the two of you that works so well together? What do you like about each other as human beings?
JS: I just like being around Michael. He’s a great guy. I don’t want to say too much, it’s too embarrassing. Next question.
MC: I like Jason a lot. We’re getting to travel together.
What do you guys have coming up next?
MC: The only thing I know that I’m going to be doing is promoting this movie for the next little while and then hopefully find a job that I feel as much love for as this one, hopefully.
JS: I’m going to promote this movie for a little while and then I’m going off to promote this show Bored to Death, and then kind of wait to see. You have to wait a little while to see if it gets picked up again.
What can you tell people that aren’t into videogames or comics to go see it?
MC: If you love movies and you love really fun movie-going experiences this is a really fun one. It’s fun to see with a crowd and I think it’s really satisfying. Afterwards you feel really good. I couldn’t wait to see it again.
JS: Yeah, I think it’s just a really unique movie. There aren’t a lot of movies with this kind of tone where it’s really funny, and really awkward, and you’re like “did someone just say what I think they just said?” and then there’s romance, and then there’s a musical number. It’s just so exuberant and it’s got a spirit of total freedom and it’s just like a giant, fun time. It’s like running through a crowd of people trying to hug you all the time.
MC: Like taking a people bath. Taking a youcuzzi.
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