Last time we met, you were just about to star in “The Trotsky”, and you seemed really happy that you were gonna get to shoot a movie in Montreal again.
“Very much so, very much so. It’s the first time I got to work at home in 10 years, man. It’s been a long long long time. And it was such a neat way for me to return, being directed by Jacob [Tierney], I’ve known him and his family since I was 5 years old. And to play the part that I got to play, it’s the coolest part I ever got to play! And then my friend Ricky Mabe, who I’ve known since I was 12, he’s in it, and all the crew is people I’ve worked with since I was a little kid. So for a myriad of different reasons, it was a really important film for me.”
Having seen the film now, I was pleased by how it’s not just shot in Montreal, it’s a very Montreal film in many ways, like how there’s both French and English in it.
“That’s it, that’s the thing I’m most proud of about this movie: it’s authentically Montreal, it doesn’t pretend to not be. And it’s a way of life you haven’t really seen in movies before. And now the fact that I’ve gotten to make two movies with Jacob in two years [Ed. note: Tierney also directed Baruchel in the upcoming ” Notre-Dame-de-Grâce”], both of which take place in NDG in Montreal West… It’s the happiest point in my career.
If it were up to me, every job I have would be here. But for whatever reason, when I started working in the States, I couldn’t get hired up here to save my life, nobody would hire me in French or English or anything. It’s weird, I had a fair bit of success down in the States, I had Clint Eastwood thank me at the Oscars! But a lot of people here had no idea who I was. It was just amazing to me because I live here and I’ve always lived here, I never left! Hopefully, with this movie, they’ll have no choice but to acknowledge me.”
In “The Trotsky”, you share the screen with many great Canadian actors like Anne-Marie Cadieux, Saul Rubinek, Colm Feore, Geneviève Bujold…
“For me personally, the thing that got me the most excited and nervous was working with Colm Feore. He’s been one of my heroes for a long time, I remember that after I got to do one scene with him, I told him that it felt like I just got to go 5 rounds with Tyson! So yeah, it was a huge honor to get to be on screen with Colm Feore and also Anne-Marie Cadieux, Saul Rubinek, Geneviève Bujold… It was pretty special.”
You said this was the coolest part you ever got to play, and it’s true that this Leon Bronstein quite an incredible character.
“It’s very specific, it’s very definitive. Jacob had in his mind a very clear idea of who this guy is, and that’s the stuff I respond to the best. When I read the script, I also got scared kinda, because the character was written in such a specific way that there was obviously a right way to do him and a wrong way to do him. I had to figure out with Jacob my way in, to figure out who that character is, because it’s as different a guy from me personally than I ever got to play in my life. I just wish every job was like that, that’s when it’s the most fun as an actor.”
What’s interesting is that, beyond the crazy stuff about how this kid thinks he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, he’s actually a smart guy, who’s very driven and determined to make things better for people around him.
“He’s very passionate, he really gives a shit about what’s happening. He’s kinda meant to be a love letter to that period in your teenage years when you care about things stronger than you’ll ever care about them ever again. The first time that you start to have your own causes and your own beliefs, the first time you start thinking about politics, about stuff that isn’t just food and hockey and homework… In that time, your heart beats louder than it ever will, you go on these rants, you care about things more than you ever will… So Leon is that in a character and for me, I remembered very clearly what it was to be that age and to be doing that stuff.
At the same time, he’s a crazy, very unique individual. He wouldn’t have fit in any more in the 1920s or the 1910s. People think he’s a relic from a different era: no! Leon is in his own universe. There’s no world in which he seems normal or fits in.”
Did you do research about Trotsky? Did you play the character as if you were truly playing the reincarnation of Trotsky?
“Yeah, I played him like I knew I was Trotsky. But in terms of knowing about Trotsky and Trotsky data and all that stuff, Jacob himself is a walking encyclopaedia about all things Trotsky and all things Bolshevik Revolution, so I could just ask him, I had him as a reference point. The bulk of my research consisted of going on YouTube and watching speeches from him in Russian, to see what gestures he would use, where he would use them and how he would use them. So in my speech scenes in the movie, I’m doing a very specific reference to the late Trotsky, that’s as close to me doing an impersonation of the real Trotsky that there is the movie.”
Are you now looking for the next part that’s as complex and interesting to play?
“I am, but I’m not holding my breath! Parts like that don’t come along every day. I’ve been super lucky that I got to make two movies with Jacob in the past two years, and my character in “Notre-Dame-de-Grâce” is pretty awesome as well. I just got to wait for Jacob to hire me to get to do some cool stuff!”
You’ve also got “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” coming out this summer, which looks like it might be the biggest movie you’ve been in so far.
“Yeah, that and “Tropic Thunder”. It’s a crazy, thundering 60 million dollar special effects movie… That movie is the epitome of a mid-summer event flick: you go in, you pay your 12 bucks, you sit and you go on a ride.”
How was it to act with Nicolas Cage?
“So cool! He’s a guy like me that made a career of it. Guys like us, we’re character actors that get to be movie stars. Also, he’s someone I got along with really well, he’s a really great guy that I learned a lot from.”