Jay Baruchel: Canada’s proudest son

When I meet Jay Baruchel for our interview, on the terrace of the Studio Juste pour rire, he’s coming back from across the street, where he was posing for a photographer who asked him to get into all kind of odd positions while lying atop a bunch of old cardboard boxes.

That guy had you do some pretty crazy stuff, eh?
“Oh my God… They had me doing the Ferris Bueller poster on a pile of garbage!”

So you still live here in Montreal?
“In NDG, yeah, where I grew up. I live a block away from my mother and my sister, I live with two of my friends from high school that I’ve known since I was 15… It’s the best city in the world, I’ve never been anywhere else I’d rather live. Maybe Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

Around where you shot Just Buried?
“Yeah, that’s it.”

Was that the first time you went there?
“It was, although my mother’s family comes from there. So all of a sudden, it put my family into context: I understood why they talked the way the talked, pourquoi ils mangent les choses qu’ils mangent, pourquoi ils fument les marques de cigarettes qu’ils fument…[Ed. note: like every good Montrealer, Baruchel sometimes casually switches back and forth between English and French.] It was like coming chez-moi and I’d never been there before, it was beautiful.”

So it’s important for you to keep shooting films in Canada, in this county you seem to love?
“Oh, it’s my favourite. I have a tattoo of a maple leaf over my heart!”

I saw that in Knocked Up, but I thought it was a joke for the film!
“Everybody does! But it’s fucking real, I got it done in California, on a particularly homesick trip.”

It’s a bit ironic, but fitting that you had to go to California to get Canada tattooed on your heart!
“No kidding, right? It speaks volumes about the English Canadian actor, who has to go to America before he can get work in Canada. It’s weird, I would be the lead in an American TV series, on an American network, but Canadian casting directors in Toronto or Vancouver would have no idea who I was, it just made no sense to me. Finally, I was on the radar enough that they started hiring me again up here, which is good.”

It’s true that you didn’t star in Canadian films at the beginning of your career, not even after you got your break in Undeclared.
“Well, when I was a little kid, I started when I was 12 and I did a bunch of Canadian children’s TV here. Then I stopped, and I got another career basically down south, and I had to make enough of my name in L.A. before I started getting work in Hamilton, Toronto, Vancouver… And now, my next job is in Montreal, I’m doing a movie here in August. It’s called The Trotsky, Kevin Tierney is producing it, and his son Jacob wrote and will be directing it. I’ve known that family since I was a little kid… I play this kid who’s convinced he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, it’s awesome, really really funny.”

You often go towards projects that have twisted premises like that or Just Buried, or Fetching Cody
“Oh, you saw that?”

Yeah, I liked it a lot.
“Thank you, man, it’s one of my favorites!”

I thought it was kinda like Back to the Future
“But on heroin!”

That was shot in Vancouver, right?
“Yes, in East Hastings.”

So you’ve shot films through the whole country, basically.
“Yeah man, everywhere, East Coast to West Coast!”

So, as I was saying, you often go towards twisted projects.
“For me, I try as best as I can to be in movies that I would go see, movies that I would be excited about when I saw the trailer. I guess, especially in the independent world, with movies like Fetching Cody or Just Buried, or this movie that will show at the Toronto Film Festival called Real Time, that I did with Randy Quaid… They’re all a bit dark, they’re dark comedies. That’s just always been my taste, and the happiest part about my career so far, is having a résumé that reflects my tastes, my opinions, what I find funny, what I find interesting… I guess I am a bit dark, maybe it’s because my parents showed me Monty Python when I was 9 years old, but the stuff I find funny has always been a bit weird.”

Just Buried, in particular–
“It’s pretty fucking dark! I love that fucking bit, the tug of war in front of the unicycle with the seat off… I shot the fucking movie, and the first time I watched it, I went like, “Oh my… Fuck!” There are a few moments like that in the film.”

Especially since the setup is almost…
“Cute”

Yeah, you got this nervous kid, he inherits the funeral home, he meets this girl…
“And then you see the evolution of his character. There’s a subtle thing, that not everybody will notice, where by the end of Just Buried, he dresses different, his hair is a bit different, he’s a bit more confident, he becomes a man and, most importantly, his nose isn’t bleeding anymore, he’s not nervous. And that’s the scary part, how somebody goes from that to a coldblooded killer!”

The way Chaz Thorne directs the film, too, you see this shift where, at first, it feels a bit like Six Feet Under or something and, by the end, it’s almost like something out of Sweeney Todd!
“It also reminded me of those old Warner Brothers cartoons, or Tom & Jerry, it’s very cartoon. It starts off like, I hate this word, they use it too much in English, but quirky… And then it becomes this fucking dark, violent cartoon… I really love that movie, I can’t wait to see it with an audience.”

Is it premiering in Montreal?
“No, it showed at the Toronto Film Festival, but I was in Hawaii working, so this will be my first time seeing it with an audience, and it’s really fucking cool that it’ll happen in Montreal. This is my city, this is where I sleep at night, this is where I pay taxes, it would mean a lot to me to have a movie that people from Montreal go see.”

Most people here have seen you in Million Dollar Baby, no?
“You’d be surprised, a lot of people have no idea that I’m in Million Dollar Baby, they still recognize me from, like, Popular Mechanics for Kids! Even if they’ve seen Million Dollar Baby and I say, “You know, I was in that”, they’ll be like, “Who were you?” “The retarded boxer from Texas that gets his ass kicked.” And then they’re like, “Ooooh!”

But isn’t that a good thing for an actor? It means that you were good enough that they forgot about you and they just saw–
“They only saw the kid, yeah. I have to say, as much as I complain, those are the happiest moments as an actors, that’s a testament to the character.”

As opposed to Knocked Up, where you’re basically playing yourself?
“Essentially, a crazier version of myself.”

I actually only noticed the second time I saw the movie that all the actors playing the roommates keep their own names in the film.
“Jonah [Hill], Jason [Segel], Martin [Starr] and me, yeah…. It’s ridiculous, at a certain point during rehearsals, I think it was Judd [Apatow] and Seth [Rogen] that both said, like, “That’d be kind of funny if you guys’ names were literally your names?” I don’t know what that joke is, but it’s a joke, it’s a weird little joke.”

You’ve known those guys for a long time, since Undeclared, I guess?
“I’ve known Jason, Martin and Seth for 8 years, I met Jonah a little bit before Knocked Up… Seth, I lived with him for a while, he’s one of my best friends in the whole world. When I got Undeclared, I didn’t know anybody in Los Angeles at all, those were the first people I met in L.A. And Seth being exactly my age or, actually, five days younger than me, and him being another Canadian in L.A., I guess I just gravitated towards him… And to see all the stuff that’s happened to him, I’m so proud of him, it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

And you’re gonna work together again soon, in Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse, right?
“Yeah, we’re gonna shoot next summer. It’s basically based on our real lives, when we were roommates, but set during the apocalypse!”

It’s great how, even though Seth is this big star now, he’s still loyal to his friends, he’s not like “Oh, I’m only gonna do movies with Jim Carrey or Eddie Murphy now!”
“It’s just because, when we were coming up, we always said that, if we make it, it’s gonna mean so much more if we all make it, to come up as a gang, to come up as a posse. So for Seth and I to both go off and do things on our own, then to reconvene next year and do Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse, it’s pretty fucking special.”

And I think it relates to how you still have this attachment to Canada and keep making movies here, even though you’re quite in demand in Hollywood now, it’s about not forgetting where you came from.
“Because this is the best country in the world, and this is the best city in the world. The way of life in Montreal, there’s nothing like it anywhere else. A lot of people grow up here and leave, I never will. Really, the only things I give a shit about in my life are my family, my friends, my country, my city and my heart.”

And hockey?
“And hockey, that’s the other thing! [At this point, Jay pulls out his wallet, which has the Montreal Canadiens logo on it] I was a season ticketholder at the Bell Center for 2 years, but not this last year which, of course, is the season we start winning. That’s the year I don’t have my fucking tickets!”

You speak French, would you like to star in a Québécois movie?
“I would love to, it would be the greatest honor to work on Québécois stuff, I can’t tell you what that would mean. Colm Feore [who works in both French and English Canadian movies] is one of my heroes. If I got the chance to do what he does, that would be the greatest. You know, I actually worked with Érik Canuel [who directed Feore in the bilingual smash hit Bon Cop Bad Cop] when I was 16 or 17 years old, he directed me in a TV movie called Matthew Blackheart Monster Smasher

Really? I haven’t seen that.
“Of course not, nobody has! It was before Érik was Érik… I got along with him so well, he’s a big horror movie nerd, like me. I still have his copy of Hellraiser 2: Hellbound that he gave to me when we were shooting, he was like, “Watch this, it’s better than Hellraiser 1” And it is!”

It’s funny how you mention Canuel because his latest, Cadavres, looks like it would fit well on a double-bill with Just Buried, as it’s another dark comedy involving lots of corpses!
“No kidding, it comes from the same place! That’s Érik, that’s awesome.”

You should give him a call, he’ll show it to you!
“I’ll show him Just Buried, see what he thinks!”

You also have Tropic Thunder coming out this summer, right?
“August 15th, yes. Man, this was the biggest dichotomy I ever had on a job: it was the single most difficult job, yet the most fun I’ve ever had, ever. To get to have an M-16 in my hands every day for 5 months, running around in the jungle, jumping in the water, and then to be able to make jokes while you’re doing it… And then to be on screen with Jack Black and fucking Robert Downey Jr. and Nick Nolte and Ben Stiller… I had such an amazing time! I saw in that movie by far the coolest shit I’ve ever seen in any movie. I’ll just give you this as an example: when were shooting in Hawaii, the new Indiana Jones was shooting on one of the other islands, and they had 25 stuntmen. We had 50! When you have twice as many stuntguys as Indiana Jones, what does that tell you about the movie? I just showed up every day to work, and there was fucking 50 extras and 50 stuntguys and 3 helicopters, and they napalmed the treeline, and they did it old-school, like Apocalypse Now, no CGI, it’s 1200 gallons of fuel, man. As funny as it is, it also kicks you in the fucking teeth! Between that and Pineapple Express, it’s a great summer for action comedy.”

JUST BURIED will have its Montreal premiere at the Just For Laughs Film Festival on Saturday, July 12th at 9:30 PM, at the Imperial, before coming out in theatres on July 25th. Don’t miss it, it’s bloody good fun!