You can take the boy out of Canada but you can’t take Canada out of the boy.
When I meet with Brampton, Ont.-born Michael Cera to chat about his new project, The Lego Batman Movie, he’s having lunch, eating a Waldorf salad.
The 28-year-old began his career in Canada with a Tim Hortons summer camp commercial before decamping to the United States, finding fame with Arrested Development and a string of successful movies like Superbad and Juno, but has retained his disarming Canadian politeness.
I walk in, he jumps up, “Do you want anything? Cheese? A coffee? How are you doing?”
Declining the snacks and coffee I ask him about the two-year process of recording vocal tracks to play half of the Dynamic Duo, Batman’s ward Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin.
“You are only focussed on your voice,” he says on the difference between live action and animation. “That gives you a certain amount of freedom to experiment in ways that you wouldn’t normally. And there’s nobody around. All self-consciousness that exists on a set where there is all this infrastructure put in place to set the camera up and point it at you and then you have to deliver. All that pressure is not there when you’re in the studio. They just press record. They’re not even recording on tape, it’s digital. You just go and experiment and fail as many times as you want.
“As far as improvisation goes, it was very loose on this. The script is good and he jokes at work and everything … you feel encouraged and take chances.”
The Lego Batman Movie is part parody, part homage to the Batman origin story. When we meet Batman, played by Cera’s former Arrested Development co-star Will Arnett, he may have outlived his usefulness as Gotham’s main do-gooder. What does a Caped Crusader do when the city no longer needs a vigilante crime fighter? Alfred Pennyworth, the superhero’s loyal butler and legal guardian suggests, “It’s time to face your greatest fear, being part of a family again.” Enter Dick Grayson.
“There’s a great foundation there,” Cera says about Batman’s backstory. “I think the reason Batman keeps getting rehashed is because it is a great core story with this great character and the world around him. There is a lot to play off of in that.”
It sounds heavy, but this isn’t Christopher Nolan’s long dark night of the superhero soul. “The best thing I can say about the tone is that it is a little like Chuck Jones,” Cera says. “Joke. Joke. Joke. It has that kind of rhythm.”
Cera’s willingness to be irreverent with the Batman mythology isn’t a lapse of manners — he is Canadian after all — it’s because, “I’m not an overly enthusiastic Batman fan. I didn’t grow up with the comics. Comics just didn’t land with me. I was really into cartoons and Nintendo. That was where my head was at. I loved watching the Batman movies but I don’t live and breathe it for some reason.”