He was a Sixth-Grade Alien: A Q&A with Michael Cera

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The most surprising thing about meeting Michael Cera isn’t that he’s so skinny or that he seems so young. (Now 20 years old, Cera looks like he could play teenagers awhile longer.) It’s that he’s every bit as down-to-earth as his characters. Paste caught up with the Canadian-born actor in Toronto for the premiere of his new film, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Paste : From Arrested Development toSuperbad toJuno and now Nick and Norah, your roles are getting progressively larger. Is that a conscious decision?
Michael Cera: No, it’s just whatever comes around. It’s just like a gut [feeling]. If you read something and the people feel right—you know, it’s important to click, because sometimes you could really love people but it just doesn’t feel right, and you’re together every day for a long time. I really had a good feeling about this, and I met with Peter [Sollett, the director], and really liked him and wanted to do it and was allowed to.

Paste: Had you seen his film Raising Victor Vargas?
Cera: Yeah, I loved that movie and was a big fan of his, and I was really excited to work with him. And I rehearsed with Pete and Kat [Dennings, who plays Norah], just to get comfortable with each other. She and I had a lot of scenes, so it was helpful that we could talk to each other. We hung out a bit. And I read the book, and we went over the script. It was pretty simple.

Paste: You’ve been acting for a long time now. What was your first role?
Cera: I did a commercial when I was nine. But my first real part was—well, I did this Robert Greenwald movie Steal This Movie! But then I was in a children’s show here in Canada called I Was a Sixth Grade Alien that ran for two seasons. But before that I went on a lot of commercial auditions and never got them, which is really disheartening.

Paste: People change a lot between the ages of nine and 20. Is this business something you want to be involved in for a long time?
Cera: I think so. There’s pros and cons, I guess. I’m overwhelmed by being recognized. Not that it happens [often], but when it does happen, I don’t know. I get really tense. It’s strange, you know? That’s something that’s making me consider whether I can do this forever, so I don’t know. But I love acting and I love working. I love being on set and working with people. You meet a lot of cool people, ?really talented people. And that’s fun.

Paste: The characters you play often seem very realistic even when they’re surrounded by absurdity.
Cera: Yeah, I guess so. In Nick and Norah, nothing really dramatic happens, I mean, not to give away the non-twist, but it’s more grounded. It’s a pretty grounded movie, and it feels authentic, but I think it’s still funny and, you know, not too serious.

Paste: OK, we have to confirm or dispel a rumor. Do you know if there are plans for a sequel to the Arrested Development movie?
Cera: Oh, is there one already? [laughs] People always ask about a movie, but actually I don’t know any more than anyone else does.

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