TORONTO – Let’s just call it as it is: Jay Baruchel is a freakin’ cool dude. The self-described movie nerd took the train into Toronto Tuesday to help promote “The Art of the Steal,” a new heist comedy that premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. And, thankfully, the 31-year-old Montreal resident is still as blunt and friendly as ever when talking to the press.
Written and directed by Jonathan Sobol (“A Beginner’s Guide to Endings”), “Steal” features an impressive cast including Baruchel, Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon, underrated comedy chameleon Chris Diamantopoulos, Jason Jones (“The Daily Show”), Katheryn Winnick and the legendary Terrence Stamp. It’s familiar territory, but Sobol has a quick wit as a screenwriter and knows how to put together a Hollywood studio-looking production. RADiUS-TWC has rights to the picture in the United States and it’s a film you’ll likely catch on a plane or on cable over the next year or two and go, “Hey, that was actually pretty good.”
Baruchel, on the other hand, has been quite busy on his own. “This is the End” turned out to be one of the surprise smash hits of the summer, he appears alongside another group of well-respected actors in the new “Robocop” remake, he’ll voice Hiccup once more in “How To Train Your Dragon 2” (he says it doesn’t disappoint) and, speaking of sequels, he revealed in our interview that he’s just turned in the script for the highly anticipated follow-up to “Goon.” Wait, you don’t know about “Goon?” Well, prepare to become informed during this highly entertaining chat with Baruchel that even touches on the always-sensitive topic of the City of Angels and much, much more.
Q: So, I actually just finished watching the movie on a screener and it was very fun.
Jay Baruchel: Oh, cool.
Q: I’m assuming Jonathan sent you the script to try and get you on board?
Yeah. I mean I got sent the script and then I was in Italy with my ex and she was working and I did a Skype call with Jonathan. I was miserable in Rome. I actually fucking hate it there. I was like so happy to hear a Canadian voice and was just happy to be able to talk hockey in the middle of fucking 40°C Roman heat. And so yeah, I just kind of dug him, man. He’s really a lovely guy and I just loved his ideas and kind of what he was interested in and, you know, what types of movies he wanted to make and then this one. It was a fun part and it was in Toronto. It was a five-hour train ride away from where I live and I would get to be with some pretty fucking cool people. It was very, very easy; I was never on the fence.
Q: So, really quickly, you don’t like Italy? You don’t like Rome?
Well, I shouldn’t say I don’t like Italy. I don’t like Rome. At least I don’t like Rome in August.
Q: Okay. Have you been to France and Spain?
I’ve been to Spain and France yeah.
Q: Which do you like better?
Well, Barcelona is one of the world’s great towns.
I could be there for months. I love that. See, I’ve been there in the summer and had no problem. I fucking love it there.
Q: I love Barcelona. I love Spain. I could move there in a second.
Yeah, they’re good people.
Q: You’d have to pay me to move to France.
Yeah. You and me both, bud. I’m with you. No, I’m with you.
Q: So, back to the movie. The cast is pretty great.
Q: Any improv on this or is the script just so tight that you guys couldn’t do it?
Well, the script is incredibly mathematic, right? There’s a lot of moving parts and so it’s a very, very specific, measured thing. That being said, within that context, Jonathan was always like, if we have a sexier, more interesting, more direct way of doing anything, he gave us the freedom to kind of play around. And I think a large part of that, why he was okay with us doing that, was all of Kurt’s input throughout that movie. All the questions he asks Jonathan were about the script and the story and the movie as a work. It was not about really, “How should I play this?” or “How much of me are you seeing?” It was always like, “OK, but Jonathan, we established this three scenes ago. So that means we need to track this, this and that.” Kurt was reading the script I think almost every night.
And so it’s kind of like systemic. So when a guy like that gives that much of a shit, it’s incredibly inspirational. And so like there was a lot of eyes on the script to make sure that it all made sense. And so Jonathan was like, “All right, cool boys. You can try to, like, mess around a bit, too.”
Q: And what was it like working with Kurt? Had you met him before?
Oh, never. He’s been one of my favorite actors since I was a kid. And he’s been in so many of my literally favorite top 10 all-time movies. I never know when I work with guys that established, and who have been around as long as he has, if they’re going to be interested and cool with me picking their brain and asking them shit. He couldn’t have been any more like a making-of documentary in a DVD if he tried. It was the fucking coolest. Like I got super interesting [stuff]. Everything from like candid gossip to super technical [details] to “how we did that shot” or “who was supposed to be there that day and wasn’t.” So I just got film journal anecdotes about “Tombstone,” about “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” about “Big Trouble in Little China,” “Tango and Cash.” Oh my God, man, it was like really the fucking coolest.
I think, you know, the more he talked to me the more he saw that I wasn’t bullshitting. Like I have seen “The Thing” and “Big Trouble” and “Tombstone” easily a dozen times apiece. And so I would be able to ask, “What about this moment, this line of dialogue?” And it was just like I got to nerd out and pick the brain of one of the great actors of my life, of my time.
Q: Have you had that chance on any other film?
Yeah. I’ve been lucky. Not everybody was super interested in talking about that stuff. And that’s kind of like, not a sad thing, but it’s just a bit of a downer, you know? But I got to work on the remake of “Robocop” with Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman. And pretty much all my scenes were with Keaton. Oldman was in most of ’em and Jennifer Ehle and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. And so here I am with Commissioner Gordon and Batman from two different generations together and I was there privy to the moment where that penny dropped and they realized that. It was like, “Wait a second, you’re in the new one? Who you playing, Gordon?” “Yeah, Batman.” It was like, “Oh my God!” But then to hear production stories about “The Dream Team,” about “Johnny Dangerously” and fucking “Batman,” “Beetlejuice,” I mean — and then from Oldman I got to pick his brain about “State of Grace,” about “The Professional,” the Nolan Batmans. And that’s the thing, it’s like it’s like a bit of an agreement. I think they’re fine talking about it if I’m actually interested. And they saw that I am [really] a movie nerd. That’s the one thing I’ll be super fucking arrogant about and say I know my shit. And so when they talk to me they can see that. And it was just like it’s a movie nerd’s dream to get to be with fucking Keaton and Oldman every day.
Q: Since you proclaim yourself a movie nerd, should we take that as a stamp of approval that before you made “Robocop,” you thought it would be good?
Q: Because I was at Comic-Con this summer and they showed the footage for the first time. And a lot of us went in very skeptical.
I know, yeah, as well you should, as well you should.
Q: And I was like, “Huh. This looks a lot better than I thought it would.”
Yeah. Because it’s all pros and cons when you have an opportunity like this. And I had to weigh, sort of, getting the chance to be alongside Oldman and Keaton, five-hour train ride away from where I live every day [and] working with a director who I was a fan of before. I was a fan of José years before this movie ever came about because I had sought out “Elite Squad” and “Elite Squad 2.” And I love “City of God.” He was a guy who I’d been checking myself as a film fan. And so when they said he’s directing, he’s finally doing a movie in English and it’s with these guys and it’s a remake of “Robocop” and it’s in Toronto, like it was pretty obvious to me that I had to do it.
Q: You keep saying the five hours from Toronto.
I live in Montreal.
Q: Right, but you’re not like taking the train every morning?
Not every morning, no. But when I come here I take the train usually. I took the train in yesterday.
Q: But, you’re not going home like every night are you?
Fuck no. I stay here. [Laughs.]
Q: Like you love your home so much you…
No, I’ll stay here when I’m shooting but I just mean like as opposed to fucking having to leave the continent or something or, you know, or across the continent even.
Q: Well, that’s my next question. “This Is the End.” Great movie. You’re playing a version of yourself that most people think you are really like in person. And that raise the question, honestly: do you really hate L.A. that much?
I can’t – I don’t like shitting on people’s homes.
Q: No, no, it’s okay. I had to ask. [Laughs.]
It’s just like cup of tea, right? And you were just talking about what places we don’t, you know, you’d have to be paid to be in France. But for some people it’s the greatest place on Earth. L.A.’s just not for me. It never has been. Never once did I have that moment where I am like, “I’m home.” I was always fucking square peg there. There’s a lot about it that I like because it’s a city of square pegs and it’s a city where no one gives a shit what you look like because everyone’s so high on themselves. So, like, you can walk around in fucking athletic gray sweatpants and no one gives a shit. And that’s nice and that’s liberating and I have a lot of friends there and there’s, like, some great restaurants, but it’s just not my fucking city. It never felt like it. And unfortunately, when I’m there, I am exposed to a very narrow aspect of Los Angeles. Like I’m not working at Northrop Grumman or something like that. So I’m seeing a part of L.A. that fucking grates on me.
Q: But don’t you have friends who say, “Oh, but if you lived in this part of town or if you…”
Oh, a ton. Constantly. Since I’m 18. And I tried and I listen to them and I’ve given them the fucking chance. ‘Cause honestly…
Q: But the Kings, the Kings are doing, I mean there’s hockey…
Honest to God, when the nicest thing people say to me is, “You find something you like.” I’m like “Yeah, OK, fine.” I imagine that same truth would apply to Kandahar. I’m sure if I was there long enough I’d find something I like. Like that’s, you know, fuck sakes that’s…
Q: Pittsburgh. I’m sure I’d find something I love too.
By the way, Pittsburgh, if the film industry was based in Pittsburgh, “This Is the End” would be a completely different movie because I adore that town.
Q: All right, so it’s your cup of tea.
That’s all it is man. It’s just taste, yeah.
Q: Now I totally get it. Speaking of hockey, let’s talk “Goon.” Is there a sequel coming?
We’re literally writing it right now. We hand it in in about a week, week-and-a-half, sometime in the next week.
Q: And the idea is to shoot in the Winter or next?
Hopefully. Not this year.
Q: You have to do it off-season, right?
It would be next year. Ideally we would shoot it like around now-ish so we would be able to get some NHLers before they go back to work and to do some cool parts, little cameos. But we also, it can’t be in the middle of summer because…
Q: It’s too hot.
Yeah and we have exteriors. But ideally we would get it going for next year, yeah
Q: You’re probably like, “I hate to hear this,” but I heard it was good, but I’m a basketball guy, I’m not a hockey guy. And I finally saw it on a plane and I was like, “It’s great.” I thought it was awesome.
Q: I know that there’s a lot of people who are fans of it. Do you find when you come to the States or go outside Canada that people are discovering it in different ways?
Well, up here, when we opened up here, we were number one. We beat the American pictures, which never happens. A Canadian-English movie never beats an American movie. And so we were number one, so that was massive. Up here it’s just like it’s Canada’s movie and they’ve taken ownership of it. I won’t say it’s an institution but it’s a fucking movie people give a shit about. Down in the States it’s either hockey fans, who are already the black sheep of American sports, the fourth-tier fans. So they feel sort of like their own kind of – they wear that as a badge of honor that they don’t watch sports.
Q: Oh, no. Soccer fans are worse now.
Oh, without a doubt.
Q: In the U.S. they’re much worse.
Oh no, I know, the Seattle Sounders and the Houston guys. Without a doubt, but, you know, when the movie came — and it wasn’t well-publicized in the States and so that added to the sort of, like, “Fuck.” And so hockey fans in America love it as much as Canadians do. The average American reaction is akin to yours of people being like, “It was actually good.” People thinking that it was going to be two hours of us filming a pile of dog shit and people being surprised that it had a merit. [Laughs]
Q: It’s more like you see so many sports movie and you’re like…
Well, yeah. I would go one further. Most movies are terrible. Period. Most of anything is terrible. Most music is terrible. Most food is terrible. There is a slim minority of anything that’s really good in anything, I think.
Q: That’s true.
And I didn’t make our trailer. But that’s none of my goddamn business. They pick how they want to sell it and they sell the sizzle not the steak, whatever. The problem with that is, like, so many people walk out of it being like, “I didn’t expect to give a shit. I didn’t expect to cry.” And I have people crying for different reasons. Like, I have people equal parts telling me that they cried. I have really fucking hard men telling me that they cried when Doug stands up at the end after he breaks his fucking ankle and he keeps fighting. And then I have girls, you know, crying for some of the more lovey stuff. And so I just think more than anything we ninja’d in some sort of substance and merit and I think, like, it’s been a — I did not expect to like that movie. There was a friend of mine at our L.A. screening who said, “I have no notes.”
Q: What a friend! “I have no notes.” I think a lot of it is “Goon” is a term most Americans don’t know, but when they watched it they went, “Oh, it’s Bill Laimbeer. It’s that guy.”
Yeah, because sports are universal and those characters are universal.
Q: Now that you’ve talked about this massive fanbase for the original how much pressure is there for you to deliver for the sequel?
Oh, so much more. So much more. The first one we had a pressure on ourselves because we gave ourselves a pretty lofty goal of what we wanted this movie to be, what we wanted it to be in terms of, like, cultural ramifications. We wanted [it to be a hockey] “Hoosiers.” We wanted to give Canadians the movie that we thought they’d been wanting for a while. And it was proof positive and we can still, at 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and we won the Golden Box Office Award here for the highest grossing comedy film last year. All that shit, so – and it’s becoming referenced. People are quoting it; hockey players are quoting it in locker rooms and wearing gear and shit. So it’s, like, becoming a thing. And it means a lot to a lot of people. So that means that one misstep and we all button the gate and undo all that goodwill. So, like, there’s a degree of importance to it.
“The Art of the Steal” should be released in the U.S. sometime in 2014.