Thanks to his work in TV (Arrested Development) and movies (Superbad), Michael Cera has built a reputation as a shy, sly and superb comic actor. Now, he’s teaming up to play another not-so-smooth teen in This Is Our Youth alongside Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson. The trio, who are all making their debuts in the first Broadway mounting of Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 dark comedy, plays a group of misguided Upper East Siders who grapple with growing up over a turbulent March weekend in 1982. Cera, who barely leaves the stage and is constantly fidgeting and knocking things over in This Is Our Youth, seemed much more composed and focused during a recent interview with Broadway.com. Below, Cera talks about growing out of his “uncomfortable” phase, what he’d like to go back and tell his teenage self and the one love he can’t pursue in New York.
Warren is a troubled kid trying to find himself, but at his age, you were already a movie star. What do you draw upon to play this character?
I don’t I draw upon anything personally from my life, just an understanding of the character: Who he is, some traits of his that I recognize in myself. There’s a huge amount in the script to draw from. Just spending time with Kenny [Lonergan, playwright] and talking to him about the roles. I think the main thing I kind of didn’t take from it the first time I read it, about Warren, was that he is really a survivor, a fighter.
So you’re a fan of Kenny’s work—when did you first read the play?
I read it a few years ago. Kieran [Culkin] handed it to me, actually.
What drew you to it?
Aside from Kenny’s writing, how fun it is to play the scenes. There’s something about the feeling of his writing that resonates in a way that nothing else does for me. It’s not something that you come by often or ever.
What is it about Kenneth Lonergan’s writing that resonates with you?
I think he can make you feel something that is very specific and very nuanced and can be felt a lot of different ways by a lot of different people. It lands even if it’s not your situation. The truth of the characters and their situations and their feelings, all of that really comes through I think in his writing and that’s a very unusual thing to come across.
Speaking of your co-star Kieran Culkin, he’s a veteran of Lonergan's plays and movies. Has he been helpful?
Kieran’s approach is really helpful to the overall process for me. It’s very alive. He likes to be reactive, and that’s a really nice thing when you’re doing a scene. Especially when you’re doing a play for a long time you get to learn new things every night if you know your character and are able to forget about it and focus on the person that you’re supposedly interacting with, you know? That’s what comes alive, hopefully.
You’ve lived in Brooklyn for a year now, do you consider yourself a New Yorker?
Not really. I don’t feel like I’m from here.
What will it take for you to feel like you’re a New Yorker?
I guess living here long enough to forget that you’ve lived anywhere else, and that’s a long way away.
That’s understandable, especially when you’re working as much as you are.
I know what you mean, with never being around all the time. It’s a weird nomadic lifestyle.
I know that you love driving—you drove to Chicago when the play was there. How are you adjusting to New York City driving?
Oh, man. I don’t do any driving in the city, really, except in Brooklyn. If I’m going to see a friend and they’re on the other side of Brooklyn, it’s easier to get in the car. But otherwise all I do is get up at 9:00 in the morning once during the week and move my car to the other side of the street. [Laughs.] That’s basically it.
What do you like about driving?
It’s a real feeling of freedom and relaxation for me, when you have a very simple goal of arriving somewhere. And everything you do on the road, you’re in service to that goal.
You sang “These Eyes” in Superbad and sounded pretty good. I’d pay to see you sing a few tunes, have you ever thought of doing a musical?
I think that would be a strange production.
You could even do a ‘70s jukebox musical, I don’t think they’ve done that before.
They did a Queen musical.
Maybe you could do a K-Tel records musical.
Like a mash-up. There's an audience for that.
You've said you didn't always enjoy being an actor. Do you feel more comfortable now?
Yeah, basically we're talking about the difference between being 19 and being 26. It’s probably just like anything, you change all the time as a person. A few years go by and your feelings change. What I was referring to was a really uncomfortable period for me, where a lot of stuff was coming at me that I had no equipment to deal with.
If you could go back and tell your younger self something, what would it be?
See Michael Cera in This Is Our Youth at the Cort Theatre.