The late 2000s brought with it the debut of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Dark Knight, films which set the bar immensely high for what could be accomplished with comic book adaptations, as they all created a massive spectacle with larger-than-life characters. At the same time, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright was developing an adaptation of the indie comic book series from Bryan Lee O'Malley, focusing on the love life of the Canadian slacker Scott Pilgrim. While the 2010 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World might not have earned the same blockbuster numbers as other comic book films, Wright's kinetic film was jam-packed with pop culture references and sight gags, making it one of the most beloved comic book films in history, thanks in large part to Michael Cera's performance as the titular "hero."
While the protagonists of other superhero films might be envied for their immense power, Pilgrim's charm comes from how relatable he is to the audience and how most of his troubles are his own fault. He has no job and no apartment, with his biggest points of stress being due to his pursuit of Ramona Flowers instead of Knives Chau, forcing him to battle her seven exes in hopes of capturing her heart. Few projects manage to capture Cera's skills at evoking sympathy from viewers as effectively as his performance as Scott Pilgrim, with each scene making you both irritated and endeared by Scott's actions.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Cera in honor of the film's 10th anniversary to discuss his involvement in the project, its growing following, and what the future could hold for the character.
Comic Book Love Letter
ComicBook.com: I know we're here to talk about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but I need to take a moment and say that, while This Is the End has one of the funniest ensembles of the past decade, your performance as "Michael Cera" still manages to be one of the best things in it.
Michael Cera: That's so nice of you. Yeah. That's a funny movie.
I recently watched Magic Magic and it's funny how your character in that film is just a slightly toned-down version of "Michael Cera" from This Is the End, so he's super irritating and aggravating, but the much more extreme version of your character is so much funnier.
Well those were made back to back, actually. My hair is dark in This Is the End still because we dyed it black in Magic Magic. So it was really, I think just coming right off of that, it's true that that was just a direct flow from one weirdness into another.
While comic book movies are currently some of the biggest things in pop culture, Scott Pilgrim isn't the same spectacle as Marvel films, but I feel like it's so much more of a love letter to the medium than bigger-budget productions.
I think it set out to be something like a love letter to the book, or to comic books in general. I feel like that was definitely a mission statement of Edgar when he wanted to make it.
And Bryan was even collaborating with Edgar on the project.
Yeah, Bryan was very involved.
I know Edgar wrote the film with you in mind for the part, so I was curious how that collaboration originally kicked off. Did you know he was writing it for you?
I was familiar with the books, actually, before it was ever going to be a movie, which is odd because I'm not a big comic book guy at all, but a friend of mine was very into the books and turned me on to them. It was an advantage that, when I spoke with Edgar for the first time, I knew what it was, but what I remember is that I was quite young. I think I was probably 19 or something when I first met Edgar and I was a little young for the part. We talked about that and he was like, "But you're getting older and, I don't know, we might not make it right away, so maybe it will work out." And that's how it shook out.
I was a huge fan of Edgar and just excited to meet him. I met him and Nick Frost and Simon Pegg all in Toronto, all on the same night. I think they were up there doing something with Hot Fuzz, some promotional thing, and I went out with all of them. They all were, like, giving a lot of praise for Arrested Development, which was nice to hear because it was not that known over here and I didn't really know that people in England had found it. Apparently a couple of people in England already knew about that show, and so that was nice, but they knew who I was and I was a big fan of theirs. That's how we first met and then I guess a couple of years passed and we just kept talking about it and it kept getting more and more real until it happened.
Practice Makes Pilgrim
Following your roles in Arrested Development and Superbad, I know most fans thought you were the perfect fit to play Scott, but were you apprehensive to take the part, since it was similar to what you had done previously?
No, I couldn't have missed the opportunity to work with Edgar and everybody else that was involved. I know I would've regretted that forever. And it was shot in Toronto, which is where my family is, and it just felt very much like the whole universe was pointing towards this. It was unlike any other job I've ever done in so many ways, it just was a big adventure that seemed very exciting and impossible to pass up.
One question I hate hearing at Q&As is when someone asks how much of a film was improvised, because, who really cares? However, with Edgar Wright films, the final product has such tight editing and so many gags packed into every single moment, everything just feels so precise.
The eyeball moves were choreographed.
Exactly. So with such a precise director, were there opportunities to play with alternate lines or discover moments on set or were you and the cast mostly just bringing what was in Edgar's head to life?
No, Edgar is really collaborative and really laughs a lot and likes actors. A lot of that stuff, though, was developing and allowed to grow and allowed to be experimental when we were rehearsing. We had a lot of rehearsal time because we had to do this big training period for all of the fight stuff and none of us had any ... well, maybe some of the other guys had had some experience doing that stuff, but a lot of us were completely unfamiliar with that world. So we had a month devoted to, or even maybe longer than that, devoted to shaping us all up. And in that time we were doing rehearsals every day. And in the rehearsals, we could fool around. Some stuff did get invented in those rehearsals, but then, when it comes time to shooting, I think Edgar really likes to have a plan. It's also just very practical when you're shooting something for that long that you have to know what you're doing and make use of the time that you have and all the resources that we had.
So when we did show up and shoot, it was all pretty much mapped out. I honestly felt like I had already seen the movie by the time we went to shoot because Edgar does so much gathering and discussing. We would all talk about the movie and just talk about what music he was going to be playing and we would all hear the original songs and be working on them and learning them. The whole thing, the whole tone in the whole world was all really fleshed out and very clear, which I think is a good way to work because it makes everybody feel like they're making the same movie and everybody's on the same page and working towards the same goal. And that brings the world to life as you're making the movie.
Every time I watch the movie, there are new gags I discover or forget from the last viewing. One of my favorites is when the refrigerator magnets spell out "SUX" and when Wallace asks you what sucks, you say, "Everything," and turn an "8" into the infinity symbol underneath "SUX."
I think Edgar probably must have come up with that on the set. That's too hard to pre-conceptualize.
I know this is going back more than a decade, but do you remember any moments or lines that were created in that rehearsal period that weren't in the script?
I think there's a lot of stuff like that. I do remember one exchange that came from the rehearsals. I'm sure there's more, but I remember the thing with Mae Whitman where she's like, "I just cashed my last rain check," and I say, "What's that from?" and she goes, "My brain." That exchange happened when we were rehearsing. I think there were more things like that.
And Edgar was coming up with his... Well, Edgar and [co-wrter] Michael Bacall were fully still working on the scripts all the way through the shoot. It was very fluid and they were playing off of the dynamic from the actors. I remember also this line where I say, "Young Neil, you will from now on, you'll be known as...'Neil.'" That came up kind of late, too. But there's just a million... I mean, the whole shoot was almost a year, so it's an enormous memory for me. It took a whole year of my life that is completely filled out in my memory by all of the things that were happening in life during that time, too. It was a very rich time for me. Honestly ... since I'm just rambling here now, I don't know if I'm answering your question anymore, but when we were finished shooting the movie, I was really depressed, because it was like being ripped out of ... It felt like that was just normal life for a while. It's like, "Oh, these are all my friends, this is our world, this is what we do." And then suddenly it was over. Which happens on shoots, but this film is so involving and so long, that it was really sad when it ended.
And especially if you're shooting it near your family, to think, "Not only do I have my family nearby, but my new friend Edgar and everybody. This is just where we live."
Right, yeah. It was a really wonderful time. And when I watch the movie, all of the memories of that whole time come back to me.
I know on the home video release, we see the scene where you have to throw a package over your shoulder and have it land in this precise spot and it takes you dozens of tries. Was something that small and specific one of the more difficult things to shoot or were the big action pieces a lot more difficult?
No, that was fairly easy by comparison. Even though it's deeply humiliating and everything to have to do something one time successfully and it's just not happening. But the other stuff was actually really challenging and grueling, but very fun. They were exhilarating and kind of like entering into the world of stunt man culture. And not just stunt man, but like these acrobatics and these incredible artists. That was really special.
When Edgar was shooting the film, the plan was for you to end up with Knives, but when Bryan released the final book and Scott ended up with Ramona, the end of the movie was changed. Is there a preferred ending for you between the two?
I don't know. I mean, I really don't know what the right ending is, you know what I mean? Maybe he should have been alone. The women should have started a co-op together, and Scott's just there and they're done with him. That would be good, too.
Like, that was Scott's punishment for being so hung up on Ramona's past.
Yeah. Like, "Chill."
Getting the Gang Back Together
Earlier this year, Mary Elizabeth Winstead said she'd like to do a sequel following the characters 10 years later, would you want to make a sequel or would you be nervous to return to that well and potentially make a movie that didn't live up to the original?
Well, for me that "well" would just mean being around that group again. And it's such a great group. Fortunately, we all do get together and it really was like a great band or something. We all love being around each other. That happens, obviously, less and less, but when the movie was coming out and even a few years after that, we were all hanging out quite a lot. And Bill Pope, who was the cinematographer, was doing brunches quite regularly. Him and his wife, Sharon. It really felt like an extended family. We've all kind of moved apart and people have... I mean, it's 10 years later, so obviously everybody has kids and is doing their own thing, but I would love to just, if it meant getting everyone to hang out for a while again, I would love that. But hopefully, this being the 10th anniversary this year, it'll generate some excuse for us all to get together.
That's what I was also wondering, if there were any major plans to get together for screenings or anything or panels where you might be getting together to celebrate the film.
I hadn't heard anything like that, but yeah, hopefully something will happen. If it's not that, hopefully some kind of thing where we can all have a party.
Well and with the pandemic going on, it's depressing to think of how you all can't even get together for a screening at a movie theater.
And gatherings of more than five people are a thing of the past.
It'll just be a 10th-anniversary Zoom party.
It'll be one person talking at a time with a poor connection.
And you'll just make sure to personally email all of the fans to invite them.
10th-anniversary group email sounds great.
You touched on this a bit earlier, and obviously you have a personal connection to all of the projects you pursue, but what does your experience on Scott Pilgrim represent to you?
Based on the things I've worked on, there's always, really, a good sense of fun and collaboration and of team spirit. But this one was just, like I said, it really was a nine- or 10 month-chunk of time for me. It was so immersive and so involving and so much happened. And Michael Bacall and Edgar lived across the hallway from me. We were all staying in the same building and we would spend nights just all hanging out. Everybody would come over to my place or to Mike's place and we would watch movies and play games and eat and laugh until very late. We were all in amazing shape because we were exercising every day, so the lobes were humming and the endorphins were flowing. And it was just so nourishing in every way. And just so much fun. It was such a great group of people. Everybody is so sweet and funny.
I made some really amazing friends on it. And then, also I think, the other thing is that we all really loved the movie. We were all really excited about what we were making, and I think everybody on it, you know when you're working with a really great director and how rare that is to work with someone that's in Edgar's class as director. That's very thrilling, clearly, to be involved in something like that. It was just a really good feeling all around. I guess I didn't have an end to that sentence, really. It's a hard sentence to wrap up. I'm just sort of free-associating now, but it was all of that.
And a great reason to get the gang back together would just be to get into shape, if for no other reason. "Hey guys, I'm feeling a little lazy quarantined in my house."
"Guys, I look like sh-t can we make a movie?"
"Can we do, I don't know, 'Scott Pilgrim vs the Galaxy' or something? I don't care."
Yeah, so then we got even more in shape. The bigger the enemy, the more in shape you have to be.
Obviously you have a ton of fans from all of your various projects, but how do the fans of Scott Pilgrim differ from those of Arrested Development or Superbad?
People really love it. It sort of tends to be people from the world of comic books and people who like to dress up as the characters. I've met some people who have Scott Pilgrim tattoos, and people who are just very... I've never met someone who had a Superbad tattoo. I don't even know what that would be?
A dick. One of the drawings of dicks.
All of the dicks, maybe?
Less reason to get those. People are very fervent about it, but I have to say it's also kind of rare that people come up to me about Scott Pilgrim. I feel like it's still not that widely known. And the people who do know it are very, very enthusiastic and all of the screenings we've ever gone to, people love it, which is great, that there are people that love it as much as we did when we were making it. But I hope people keep finding it too.
And it's crazy to look back at the cast to see that it stars Captain America [Chris Evans], Captain Marvel [Brie Larson], Huntress [Mary Elizabeth Winstead], a Superman [Brandon Routh], a Punisher [Thomas Jane] ... since comic book movies are bigger than ever, do you have much interest in joining one of those massive live-action blockbusters? Like an Avengers or something?
I don't know. I don't personally have itches, in that way. If something had great people involved, then it would be fantastic, I think, to do that. But, it's true, this was such a good assembly of people from all these different worlds. And when Edgar cast [Arrested Development co-star] Mae Whitman, I got really excited about how he was casting.
He was bringing really funny people into it. It was fun seeing that come together. I can talk all day about pretty much everyone in this movie. I love them all.
Again, recently watching it, I forget that Jason Schwartzman is in it because he doesn't even show up until closer to the end and we already see so many amazing people in it.
I was so grateful they put Jason in this. We got to know each other actually just through the training process, he and I and Mary all did a bit of kind of pre-training in Los Angeles before we all were training together in Toronto. And that's how the three of us got to know each other. The first time I ever met Jason was when we both pulled our cars into this little gym in Pasadena that they were sending us to. And then we were like, having to stand in front of a big mirror and throw punches and see how terrible we looked doing it and it was a great way to get to know each other. It's a deeply humbling experience.
This is a very specific question, but since you're a musician yourself, did you get to keep the bass you play in the movie?
I should have. And I'm sure that I could have probably made that happen if I had pulled the right strings and I'm so sad that I didn't. I'm still sad that I don't have that bass. I really wish I had it. It's really nice bass.
Batman and Robin
You might not have much interest in doing a live-action superhero movie, but some people think The LEGO Batman Movie is the best movie version of Batman.
You voiced Robin in that movie and the director [Chris McKay] said back in 2018 that he was developing a sequel and I wondered if there were any updates on that or if you'd be interested in returning to that world.
I'd be so interested in it. I haven't heard anything about it, but I would love that. It was such a great process working on that, and I'm such a fan of those LEGO movies in general. I was so excited to be in that, because I really loved the first LEGO Movie. I would jump at that, but I haven't heard anything. Who knows, every project going forward will probably be an animated one, so maybe it will happen.
Everything will just be something that you can just do over FaceTime. Did you get to record with [Batman actor] Will Arnett for that, or did you record separately?
I don't think we ever did. No, we never did together. Which is a shame.
He's a funny guy. You'd love him.
Oh, he's the funniest guy ever. He's an enormous person in my life because I met him when I was 12 and I was like, "Oh my God, this guy." I mean all of us were really constantly in awe of Will, and David [Cross], and Jason [Bateman], especially the three of them going together [in Arrested Development], it's pretty unbelievable.
I was recently watching that show and getting to Season Three where there are jokes about potentially getting cancelled, since you weren't getting renewed by Fox, and it's just interesting now to see all of that knowing the following the series now has.
There's even an episode called "Save Our Bluths," which is actually, maybe you know this, is named after an online forum that was writing about the show. The show was very interactive with this very small group of people who were like message boarding about it when it was airing. [Creator] Mitch [Hurwitz] was reading those and putting in nuggets for those 20 users who were f-cking around on a message board.
No, I didn't know the message board thing. I knew the more obvious ones about getting renewed and being saved and stuff, but I didn't know it was that specific.
Yeah, there were things that probably don't age because there's probably no evidence of those message boards, but they were really dialed in, very specific, like little waves to those people.
Even though everything in the world is on hold right now, are there any projects you're working on that hopefully fans will get to see down the line?
There are things that are in the works, but it's a question of whether things will be, whether productions will be, or the production engine will be, gearing up again. But there is a thing that I am developing for myself to make, which is an adaptation of a Charles Portis novel Masters of Atlantis. It's one of the great novels. It's one of the funniest American novels ever, I think. And Charles Portis, sadly, just passed away about a month ago. I've been working on that with a friend of mine, Vernon Chapman, and I'm trying to get that going, so maybe one day that will be more than just a script. Who knows? When you're working on a script, it always just feels like a pet project until anyone else ever reads it and gets interested in it. So it's kind of a very humble thing to mention, but maybe one day it'll be real.0comments
Stay tuned for details on the possible future of the Scott Pilgrim series.