Jay Baruchel interview: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, moviemaking, 80s action stars and more

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice star Jay Baruchel talks about acting in mainstream and indie movies, comedy and creating his own film, Goon…

With Kick Ass showing Iron Man 2 how to do comic book movies right, an 80s remake appearing on screens seemingly every other week, and Scott Pilgrim and The Social Network still to come, 2010 is fast emerging as the year that the geek inherited the Earth. And in Jay Baruchel, we may well have our poster boy.

Having spent the last decade turning in great work in small roles (Danger in Million Dollar Baby, the imaginatively named Jay in Knocked Up, a young charge in Tropic Thunder), 2010 has seen him step up to bigger things. He lent his vocal stylings to Hiccup in How To Train Your Dragon, won over Alice Eve in She’s Out of My League, and has now landed a top job with Nicolas Cage in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Ten minutes in his company and he had Den Of Geek under his spell (sorry, that’s the only one, promise). He’s unendingly polite, laid back, but enthusiastic as hell, knows his 80s Swayze movies, and can sell a Canadian hockey film better than anyone.

Here’s what he had to say …

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I enjoyed the film. I think I was laughing more than the kids in the audience.

Thanks, man.

It felt refreshing to have a blockbuster, a big fantasy adventure at that, where the humour was pitched more towards the Superbad kind of crowd than young children. Was that in the script when you got it?

A little bit. But kind of my goal – aside from to try to figure out the arc of going from nerd to the Prime Merlinian who saves the world – was trying to make it as funny as possible. Just looking for moments where there were jokes.

It was a real great script to start from, but the director Jon Turtletaub, to his credit, always gave Nic and I time to try to find our own way as well. So, I was surprised how many friggin’ adlibs got in that movie.

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When you read the script, is that the stuff you looked forward to, the comedy? Like the mugging scene, which is a really funny scene, rather than the big action set pieces?

No, it’s the opposite. Because in the States… I live in Canada… but in the States, I am traditionally hired for more or less one thing: to be funny-ish, you know? But I grew up in the golden age of action movies, as far as I am concerned, and I’m an avid comic book reader as well, have been my whole life. So, all I’ve ever wanted to do is to, like, shoot energy out of my hands and save the world! No joke, man.

So, when I read the script, I saw I had the chance to kind of marry what I love doing, which is kind of physical comedy. Because I knew that what we were doing would really lend itself to sort of prat falls ‘n’ all. That’s really my favourite shit. My heroes are Rowan Atkinson and Michael Richards and, if I’ve ever been funny to anyone, it is purely because of the two of them.

But I also got to bridge the gap between that and being a superhero, which is all I always wanted to do. Man, it was just like, jobs like that don’t come along very often.

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Do you feel there’s been a bit of a change in that respect? Because, in the past, there might have been a comedy sidekick, and you may have been the comic relief. But now you’re the guy getting the girl in She’s Out Of My League, you’re saving the world in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Do you feel it’s a better time now than it was ten years ago?

It has to be. It’s something that Seth [Rogen] and I were talking about a lot when we were both… not unemployed, but we weren’t in demand. We would drive around L.A. and see billboards and watch movies. And we’d always be like, “How come there’s not guys like us in movies?” We feel we are more representative of the populace than a lot of people. [laughs]

And, you know, most people look like models. We were always like, “How come you don’t see guys like us in the movies, really?” In American movies, anyway. And so, I think that, yes, something has happened and there has been a pendulum shift, or a paradigm shift, I should say. And it is definitely like, I don’t know that I would have been able to be in this movie ten years ago.

Talking about ten years ago, I was talking to Alfred Molina last week and he mentioned one of the things you guys did on set to pass the time was think about who could have played your role ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Who did you come up with for yourself?

I guess if it was like twenty, thirty years ago it might be… I would like to think it would be either Broderick, or maybe Cusack, or even Cryer.

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Did you play that with Nic Cage as well? Did you think, “Who would I play opposite if it wasn’t Nic Cage?”

It hadn’t really occurred to me, but I guess if I was back then it would have been, like, Swayze. Steel Dawn-era Swayze. He did two, Steel Dawn and Red Dawn. So, either Swayze, or even Scott Glenn, it might have been. [laughs]

Scott Glen would be interesting. Is that the case, that there’s a lot of downtime on set and you have to find ways to amuse yourselves?

Oh, yeah. It took us half a year to make this movie, man, and we would be lucky if we did five or six shots a day.

I come from Canadian independent films and television where you have to shoot on average six to seven pages a day, and we’d do maybe a page and a half, two pages a day on this one.

It takes a long time to do something this effects-laden, so there was a lot of down time. And yeah, I read a bunch of books, but we also had a bunch of nerdy conversations.

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You mentioned the shift that’s seen you appearing in these types of films. And you and Seth are writing your own now, which must help. You’re writing your own script, Goon, is that right?

That is exactly it. Yeah, when I go home I’ll have to do another pass at it. For me, it’s weird. It’s like, as much as I love what I do and, what is more to the point, I truly respect the craft that I have and I know that I have the best job in the world, or at least one of the best jobs in the world. But even before I started, I’ve known since I was nine that all I wanted to do is write and direct horror in Montreal and the odd shoot ‘em up as well.

And so, I’ve always written. Even when I started at twelve, my mum said to me, “You know, this is a good way for you to learn how to make movies.” So, I started as a kid knowing that I wasn’t going to do it forever and I was just trying to learn as much as I could, because movies are my religion, my life.

The greatest thing in my life is that what I do for a living and how I unwind are one and the same. I watch movies every fucking night, every week. That’s how I relax. Movies are it for me. So, to be able to work in them … I just love them, man.

And so, yeah, however I get the chance to make it happen, I’ll take it. Truth be told, when I was eighteen and I hadn’t started like the second half of my career, which is sort of when I started working down in the States. I was just kind of a child actor in Canada. I figured whatever money I could save, I’d go to film school. So, I was literally getting prospectuses from film school when I got the audition for the show, Undeclared, and that kind of started everything, and so, I have been in film school, in my opinion, for sixteen years.

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So, when you’re on set, do you look at what Jon Turteltaub is doing and kind of sponge it up?

I sponge everything on set constantly, constantly, constantly. My favourite shit to do on set is to see how they’re doing what they are doing, what they’re trying to do, what motivates this shot and so forth, you know?

And I have had a bunch of, in my mind, a bunch of mini apprenticeships. I’ve gotten to watch Clint Eastwood. I’ve gotten to watch Ben Stiller. I’ve gotten to watch Roger Avery. I’ve gotten to watch Cameron Crowe. I’ve gotten to watch a bunch of incredible directors. You can’t help but learn, if only by osmosis.

And where did Goon come from? I’ve been trying to read about it and it sounds like a kind of Youngblood. Or is that a bit off the mark?

No, I mean, it’s about hockey, so, yeah. But that’s where the similarities would end. Because, to me, it‘s kind of closer in tone to Slapshot. Because Slapshot is the greatest hockey movie of all time. But the term we were using is “Raging Bull with jokes”, because it is quite dark and it’s real heavy. It’s going to be a fucking hard R when it comes out, if it comes out in the States. It’s a bona fide Canadian movie. And if we get an audience in the States, fine, but hockey is bigger in Canada than in the States, anyway.

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But hockey is one of my religions, man, truly. That’s one of my reasons for getting up in the morning. My team plays eighty-two games a year and I probably watch at least seventy-eight of them. And that’s a lot of hockey. I inherited that from my dad and it’s a love letter, well, to violence, but also to the most unique position in professional sports: that of the Goon, the enforcer in the hockey team. No other sport on earth has a guy on the team whose job is only to fucking punch someone.

These guys would play maybe two minutes, three minutes a game. Their goal is just to protect their star players, to send a message and to fight, to drop their gloves and to fight when they need to. That can be the difference. If a game’s tied and each team sends out their Goon to fight each other, whoever wins, that will spur on their team to score. It is the most unique position in professional sports.  

And my dad, when he was playing hockey when he was a teenager, that was what he did. He was the guy who kicked ass, man.

In the eighties, in Canada, you’re either raised to think ‘Gretsky is the man’ or ‘Gretsky is a pussy’. And I was raised in a ‘Gretsky is a pussy’ house, because the guys my dad always liked were all the tough guys. So, I always grew up with a respect for them, because they’re often maligned.

They’re not the most proficient at scoring or skating or whatever, but what they do is just as intrinsic a part of hockey as anything else. And no movie has talked about or been devoted to them specifically, so it is a very, very crass, ultra-violent hockey flick, man.

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So, who’s playing the Goon?

I guess I can kind of probably say it now … it’s going to be Sean William Scott. 

And you’re in it as well?

Yeah. I’ll play the Ratso Rizzo to his Midnight Cowboy.

Mr Jay Baruchel, thank you very much.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is released on August 11th.

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