Before the disappointing “She’s Out of Your League.” Before the crowd-pleasing and critically acclaimed “How To Train Your Dragon,” Jay Baruchel stood in a downtown New York City park late in the evening on the set of the upcoming feature “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”
Smoking a cigarette while his co-stars Nic Cage and Alfred Molina shot a scene only a few feet away, Baruchel talked to the few members of the press assembled to check out the latest Jerry Bruckheimer production. Unlike some of his contemporaries from the Judd Apatow Factory, Baruchel hasn’t lost his blunt honesty and down to earth persona. Having interviewed him only last month — a year later — (in a video you can find embedded below) his persona and enthusiasm is still quite refreshing. In this Q&A, Baruchel talks about the learning curve of starring in a Disney movie, his love of Viking sagas and being a “huge nerd.”
Q: How does it feel to actually be the title character of a movie as opposed to just the fourth guy?
Its fun. Its daunting, terrifying, it”s a lot to live up to. It gives me bragging rights, when the Happy Meal comes out. I am in fact, the Sorcerer Apprentice in question. Its fun as hell, especially something as iconic as this.
Q: So Nic is really adamant that he did not hire a voodoo doctor, so we can only assume that you did, right?
Q: There was a National Enquirer story going around that he had hired a voodoo doctor, so –
Oh yes, I hired a Santeria practitioner who lives in my bathroom. No, nothing like that, its all quite boring.
Q: Tell us about working alongside Nicolas Cage. What is he like? Off-set, on-set.
He’s a good man, I enjoy his company, I get along with him real, real well. He’s smart as hell, I think he’s really talented, he’s incredibly kind, he’s funny. I assume we have no choice but to get along, given how much of the movie is just he and I in a car or a room or something, for weeks on end. But I love him, I get such a kick out of him. He has such a iconic, distinct way of speaking, such a unique cadence that I grew up hearing in movies. And so to be in conversations with that unique way of speaking is a trip and a half. It”s a pinch-me moment. I’m pleased as punch.
Q: You’ve been in a bunch of R-rated movies, this is probably going to be PG-13. Do you have to tone it down, is it hard to improv?
This is my main cross to bear. This is the hardest thing for me to do on a day-to-day basis, is to not say “balls” or “[expletive]” or something, something random. I can’t even say “damn,” they don’t like me saying “damn” on or off camera. But as my mother always said, when I was a little kid, “Swearing is an eager man’s refuge” so it makes me have to stay on my toes and try to come up with hopefully funny things that don’t involve the F-word.
Q: Have you ever said something, thought it was okay, and then they were like “no”?
Yes. Oh, constantly. Apparently you can’t say “balls” ever.
Q: You play a physicist student, did you have to do any kind of research about that?
I suppose I could have. (laughs)
Q: Well you have to make it believable.
Eh, acting. To paraphrase one of my favorite actors, from the set of “Marathon Man” when Dustin Hoffman is being interrogated by Lawrence Olivier, and Hoffman was running, doing laps around the block, didn’t sleep the whole night before, just to get in that really intense head space, and he asked Lawrence Olivier, “What do you do?” and Olivier said “try acting.” And we had technical advisers on set to make sure you don’t sound like a [expletive], but I have obsessive interests of my own, so I just substitute that in my mind with physics for the movie. That’s basically what it is.
Q: Obsessive interests like?
Oh, cats. Martial arts weapons. Hockey. I really love Viking sagas.
Q: Can we assume that you’ve been tasked to provide a lot of the improv, a lot of the comic relief?
I have certainly tasked myself with it. Much to the chagrin of anyone hires me, I’ll ad-lib like its going out of style. They’ve been incredibly kind to me about that. They let me do the Disney version of whatever my things is here. Nic’s the same way, Nic likes to riff a lot. His riffs are completely different, he’ll just yell stuff or say random words. Its fun, we like to keep things interesting. They let me ad-lib. Every once in awhile, I’ll say something that they yell “Cut” as I say that. “We can’t say that! You can’t do that in this movie!” But for the most part, I’d like to think I have a pretty good average, but I haven’t seen the [expletive] thing. So we’ll see what happens.
Q: What’s it like shooting in New York, on location, having all these people around, watching? How’s that feel as far as being to do what you want to do?
Its weird. I love it here. I love this city ever since the first time I came here, and I live only about a 45 minute flight away, so I’ve been able to go home a lot, and the city – I’m just like everyone – it”s the capital of the world, you don’t need one more schmuck to tell you how great New York is, everyone knows how great New York is. It”s a bit insane, shooting in the middle of it sometimes, especially when you’re driving around in a very visible car like a Mercedes or a vintage Rolls Royce, and you’re sitting next to the most famous human on the face of the planet. Nicolas Cage in midtown on a Friday is a very interesting thing. So that stuff’s been interesting to contend with. I just like to be making a movie here, period.
Q: Why did you want to make it? Was it because of Bruckheimer? Was it because it could be a franchise?
I have far more naïve ambitions. It just seemed like a fun thing to do. I’m a huge nerd. I love any movies with sorcerers and wizards and monsters and people shooting energy out of their hands at monsters. I never get to be the lead in those movies. I’m a fan of those movies, but they never cast me for those movies. They get Milo Ventimiglia or something. So for me, to get my chance to do what I do, whilst flying around and shooting energy out of my hands, that was the main reason. The first mention of plasma bolts is when I decided I wanted to be in the movie.
Q: do you spend most of your downtime when you’re on set?
When I’m not shooting, its been a crazy hectic workload, so I haven’t the energy to do anything but play X-Box or computer, watch movies, listen to music. I’m a homebody, I read a lot. Its embarrassing how most Friday nights you can find me in my apartment, sitting cross-legged eating a can of tangerines or reading a comic book. That’s most likely what I’m up to.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve enough studio things or independent things, or do you like going back and forth?
Yeah, I live in Montreal, you don’t want to be away from your friends and your family and your way of life, so I love working in Canada. But also I love independent movies because there’s less money involved, a kind of “free-er” people feel. That being said, I get to contribute, put my two cents in on a lot of this. There are truly benefits to both. I’m going to be a cliché and say I probably dig indies a little bit more, but this is fun as hell. I get to stuff I would never get to do in any of those, so…
Q: Do you have any updates on “Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse”?
Its just Seth and Evan are working on “Green Hornet” right now so that’s a big massive undertaking that’s taking all of their time and effort. But the minute that is finished, we go into production of either one of two things, we’ll either do “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse” or we’ll do this hockey movie that Evan and I wrote called “The Goon” that we’re putting the cast together as we speak. I’m not going to screw myself and say who, but needless to say, they’re famous. But it”s a Canadian hockey movie. Whichever one is closer to going we’ll do, but “Jay and Seth” will at the very least happen in the next year and a half for sure.
Q: Do you guys have a finished script or you still working on it?
They’re working on the script right now, but all the concepts are there. And all the beats are there, the treatment is there. A movie with us in it, we’ll improvise half the thing anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
[Note: A year later, there’s been no movement on “Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse”]
Q: Did anything change for you after “Tropic Thunder”? that’s probably your biggest, most high-profile role, did you notice any difference?
I wish I could say yes. I’m a guy that’s been on the cusp since I started acting in the states. When I was 18, I was the lead on a TV show that everyone loved but got canceled. Then I was in a movie that won Best Picture at the Oscars, then I was in “Knocked Up” and “Tropic Thunder.” I’m not trying to brag – far from it – point being, every time one of those things happened, somebody asked me that question. “Has anything changed for you?” Not fucking really, I keep working, beats a poke in the face, I can buy cat food, pay my mother’s rent, all that’s good. But no, you know? Also I’ve been on TV in Montreal since I was 12 so its been a long time since I’ve known a life where people didn’t look at me on the street anyway. All I can do is be in movies that I dig, so I’m psyched I’m in “Tropic Thunder” – that’s for damn sure.
Q: What’s the most exciting thing that you’ve done on-set, or that you have coming up that you’re looking forward to doing?
I have to say, the whole nucleus of this movie is that one sequence from ‘Fantasia’ where all the mops come to life – and we do that sequence, we do our modern day, big budget, Bruckheimer version of that sequence. That’s as happy as I’ve been during the shoot because that’s going to be absolutely incredible. Whatever words I would use would be a disservice to it, but I was really psyched and it wasn’t lost on me that I was involved in film history as we were doing it. It was a huge, huge deal. So that was really cool.
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opens nationwide on July 14. Look for more from the set over the next few days on HitFix.