You would be hard-pressed to find a more thoughtful, sensitive and all-around charming actor in Hollywood than Jay Baruchel. Even after a blistering gauntlet of press Saturday afternoon at San Francisco's Wondercon for his new film The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Baruchel was generous and in good spirits when Cinematical sat down with him for an impromptu chat at the St. Regis hotel, where he and his cast-mate Nicolas Cage were conducting interviews after previewing some of the film's first completed footage.
After admitting that he too was only privy for the first time to the scenes shown at Wondercon when they were screened for the public in Moscone Center's Esplanade Hall, Baruchel offered a few insights about his experiences making the film, which required more than a bit of magic both on-camera and behind the scenes. In addition to talking about his own process as an actor and his collaboration with co-star Nicolas Cage, Baruchel, he discussed how the film challenged him to combine different acting impulses, and revealed what he believes may be in store for him in Hollywood in the future.
Cinematical: How much of a 'throwing you in the deep end' kind of situation was The Sorcerer's Apprentice for you? It seems like Tropic Thunder might have been a good transitional film between this and what you'd done before.
Jay Baruchel: Oh no, yeah, totally. Tropic Thunder was my introduction to sort of megabudget action movies, you know, and I was like a pig in sh*t on that one, man. Because usually when you're going to be in a movie where you get to shoot an M16 for six months, usually you have to do some kind of serious thing, you know? It was awesome to be able to do that but crack jokes at the same time. [But] for every American movie I've done, I've done an equal number of Canadian ones back home which are independents, and usually under $5 million Canadian. So I constantly in my life have this juxtaposition of, say, movies that cost $3 million and movies that cost $160 million, and the only difference is the amount of time – the fringe benefits and the amount of time, because it takes way longer to make these movies.
Cinematical: In Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, I really liked the character you played specifically because it was markedly different from some of the other ones you've done. How careful do you have to be to play characters that aren't too consistently in your wheelhouse so that you don't end up being typecast?
Baruchel: Unfortunately, I'm only half of that equation - people's preconceptions and notions about me make up the other half. And I mentioned the work I've done in Canada because that rule has applied less back home; I've gotten to do a bunch of different parts, different types of movies, so it's weird. It's a strange thing – I am always happier and more invested when I have to, I don't want to say push or challenge myself, but when I have to figure out what I'm supposed to do as opposed to just showing up and talking. That being said, what people hire me for in your country is a complete different story, and people like a box and a label. But regardless, to complain about the danger of typecasting is to me tantamount to complaining about boredom; like if you've ever grown up poor, you would never complain about being bored. It's the least of your f*cking concerns. I grew up pretty working class, and there was a time in my life when, yeah, we were in the poor house. This is not to say that I'm doing it for the money, because I wouldn't make the movies in Canada that I'd done if that was the case, but it's more just like I'm just happy to be working, man. Less than a quarter of actors can feed themselves from acting, and the fact that I've been able to work fairly consistently since I was 12, and I'll be 28 next week, that's a blessing. So anything else is gravy.
But the other reason I don't worry so much about it is because as much as I love and respect acting, and I like making people laugh and like moving people and it's afforded me and my mother and my sister a pretty great life, it was never my life's ambition. It was always like an amazing job. My raison d'etre is to direct horror movies, so whether or not I'm typecast is not that big a deal to me. I'd rather not, but there's worse fates than that; I could be on the dole.
Cinematical: In the press conference, Nicolas Cage mentioned he looks to Miles Davis as his muse – the inspiration for his unexpected creative choices. When you're working with him, what sort of adjustments do you have to make, or how aware do you have to be so you're not thrown off by something he does?
Baruchel: That kind of stuff never throws me off. I'm a chronic ad-libber, and I guess it's like the pedigree I have from working with Ben [Stiller] and Judd [Apatow], so there's nothing you can do, no curveball you can throw me that I won't be able to deal with. I love that sh*t. That's when it's the most interesting. And he uses the jazz analogy, and that's just him riffing, man; it's like when rappers are together, they're just constantly freestyling, and it doesn't always work. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and when some musicians are playing, they're just jamming, and sometimes they'll find a sweet riff and sometimes they won't, and that's all it is. And for whatever reason, if it's not used, it doesn't mean it's bad or good, you know? It's just a different thing. But I wish more people did stuff like he did, where they just try all sorts of sh*t.
Cinematical: Perhaps not unlike in Tropic Thunder where you're an actor playing a soldier, you're not supposed to be good at magic in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Does that give you liberty to do less preparation, or does it change the preparation you do?
Baruchel: No, it's weird. It's like all of the preparation I do for any part is before the movie starts. Ideally if I've done my work, I should be able to show up and whatever scene they put me in, I should be able to do it. It's why I never need to know what we're doing the next day, because if I know the character, I know the character in every situation. In terms of me being bad at sorcery, all of that was an excuse for me to do my favorite sh*t, which was physical comedy, and it was a means of bridging two loves of mine. I've been ripping off Rowan Atkinson and Michael Richards since I was 12, so it was a chance to do that stuff whilst getting to do the cool stuff of like killing bad guys and shooting energy out of my hands and being a hero. So those two things don't come along very often, so it was like a dream part for me because I got to be the action hero I always wanted to be whilst doing the stuff I love doing that I'm maybe better known for.
Cinematical: For you as a comedic actor or comedian, how much do you intellectualize your material? I'm reminded of Aziz Ansari in Funny People where he jokes that six spins is funnier than five – is there a temptation to do that, or do you shy away from it?
Baruchel: There's a little bit; I'd like to consider myself a student of a few arts, and comedy's one of them. So there are a few things like that, and there will be times when I'll go, no, this word will be better than that word, or there are certain sounds that are funnier, so I do intellectualize a fair bit of it. But also I like to, well, I want to quote Stiller; he was trying to compliment me, but he called me a "comedic savant," and I think that's more what it is and closer to maybe what Nic was saying about his drama, where he just kind of riffs and his acting is jazz. It comes from way more of that place; it's way riffier, even the physical stuff, it's kind of more hard to articulate. It's more just instinctual. I will, yeah, intellectualize words, certain things, certain jokes, but in terms of like falling down or being dorky or gawky or something like that, I just kind of let it come out of me.