JAY BARUCHEL from The Trotsky Exclusive Interview
I recently got a chance to speak to JAY BARUCHEL about his new movie, The Trotsky, which is is in the Special Presentations lineup at the Toronto International Film Festival. (You can also read my interview with director Jacob Tierney here).
Some of you might know Jay Baruchel from movies such as Tropic Thunder, Knocked Up, and Million Dollar Baby. In The Trotsky, Jay Baruchel plays a character named Leon Bronstein who thinks he is the reincarnation of early 20th century Soviet iconoclast and Red Army hero, Leon Trotsky.
During the interview Jay Baruchel talked about his preparation for the part, his experience on set, some of his future projects, his willingness to do Tropic Thunder 2, and more. So enjoy the interview below and don’t forget to go see The Trotsky at the Festival on September 11.
Can you talk a little bit about your character in the film?
Jay Baruchel: How can I describe him? He’s convinced that he’s destined for great things. He’s a love letter to the period in everyone’s life when they’re incredibly impassioned about any one specific thing. I can remember stuff that used to upset me and piss me off and keep me up at nights when I was sixteen. It’s so life or death during that era. He’s pure teenage activism, if that makes any sense. He’s also got a great deal of self-awareness given his background and that he is affluent and grew up around his father’s factories. If everyone rebels against their surroundings it stands to reason that Leon rebelled against his and that whole thing just ends up being on steroids and eventually produced him thinking that he’s a possible reincarnation of Leon Trotsky.
How do you prepare for a part like that?
Jay Baruchel: That’s a good question. Well, the key, because he’s so dire and speaks so hyperbolically, the key is to make him sympathetic because there’s a version of him where no one likes having him around. You want to love the weirdo, and so I just tried to keep him –without sound cliché – as human as I could. Then I watched old film reels of Leon Trotsky to try and get the physicality and the cadence and the gestures down. The cadence would change because he was speaking in fucking Russian, but basically I took people that I knew from school. I took some of my own heartfelt beliefs from high school and I coupled it with images of Trotsky that I had seen in newsreels. Then I just sort of kept my eyes and ears open for jokes any time that there might be some.
How did you first get involved in the project?
Jay Baruchel: As an actor, it’s the situation that you hope and wish every fucking movie could be, which is just that Jacob [Tierney] called me. I’ve known his family basically since I was essentially five years old. We used to live on the same street when I was a little kid and Jacob was starting out as a child actor when he was nine or ten and then when I started, quite young myself, I was twelve and I’m twenty seven now. Jacob’s sister was in my acting class and his mother would often drive me home and I had his mother as a substitute teacher plenty of times in high school. So we knew each other from around.
The Montreal anglo community is fairly small so that everyone knows who everyone is which is one of the reasons that I love the movie, because it’s a part of Montreal that never gets portrayed. If you watched Anglo movies from the rest of Canada you would never know that there are English speaking people in Montreal. If you watch French movies from Quebec you would think there are no English speaking in Montreal. We are not getting represented at all and so this movie was really exciting. Jacob just gave me the script and said, ‘I think you’d be cool as this character. Is this something that you’d want to do? We’d be shooting in our neighborhood in the summertime.’ I loved it. Then flash forward to a year afterwards and I can say that without hesitation that Jacob is the best director that I’ve ever worked with.
It sounds like the experience on set then was pretty nice.
Jay Baruchel: It was incredible. If I have a criteria for choosing jobs it can’t be, like, ‘Will people like this –’ and it can’t be, ‘Will this make money –’ because I have no control over those two things. So all it can be is, ‘Will this be something I’d pay money to see and am I going to have fun showing up there everyday for two to four months –’ or whatever it was. I can say that ‘The Trotksy’ wasn’t work. Showing up there everyday and being on set everyday and getting to make a movie with Jacob in my neighborhood, my friend Ricky Mabe who’s my oldest friend in the world, who I’ve known since I was twelve and he was eleven is in the movie, too. My sister is in the movie. Most of it was shot within ten minutes of my house and where I grew up. Jacob is one of my best friends and so it was an absolutely beautiful experience. They can’t all be that. They’re not all this fun, lets just say that.
It’s like a family movie.
Jay Baruchel: That’s exactly what it was, yeah.
Is there any French spoken in the film at all?
Jay Baruchel: For sure, yeah. My character’s stepmother is French and there are these two cop characters that are French. There’s French throughout the movie and there’s also sort of broken Anglo French which is very true to the neighborhoods in Montreal that we come from. But it is very unique and specific to our way of life. It’s neighborhoods that never get shown in movies or TV, ways of life and turns of phrase. We’re a very unique breed, Montreal Anglos. There’s no point of reference anywhere else on earth. So the fact that we finally got to make a movie about us is a huge deal. The fact that Jacob and I are making another one in the same neighborhood in a couple of months is pretty huge, as well. It’s going to be cool.
Can you talk about the new movie you two are doing together?
Jay Baruchel: Yeah. I don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say. I don’t know how public it is, but basically the Tierney’s and my family, we come from a neighborhood in Montreal called NDG which stands for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. So Jacob has written this essentially Hitchcockian thriller that takes place in a small apartment building in NDG and he’s adapted a French novel, this sort of crime thriller. He’s just sort of set it against the 1995 Referendum. It’s about these three tenants living on top of each other and this game of cat and mouse ensues. There’s a serial killer in the neighborhood. I don’t want to give anything else away but ‘The Trotsky’ was a teen comedy and this one is a thriller. It’s going to be badass.
You speak French, right?
Jay Baruchel: I do, yes, of course.
Would you ever consider doing a French movie?
Jay Baruchel: I would be honored. I would love to. I haven’t really had the opportunity presented to me. I would love to though. It’s a strange truth in my life and my career that I’ve worked pretty much every year since I’ve started. In the past almost ten years I’ve been working in the states and doing fairly big movies there every year, and then I would get no recognition from French press up here whatsoever. One of the things that I’m psyched is that maybe ‘The Trotsky’ puts me on their radar because this is my home. This is where I’ve lived my whole life. This is where I just bought a house and this is where I’ll live for the rest of my life. It would be lovely to work in French. It would be an absolute honor and a pleasure.
Can you talk about working on ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’?
Jay Baruchel: That was the sort of craziest movie I’ve ever been a part of. My character is effectively the audience. I’m just a regular Joe with my own regular Joe problems and ambitions and Nicolas Cage finds me and tells me that I’m meant to be a great sorcerer one day and that I’ll have to be his apprentice. So I’m the audiences point of view, being introduced to this crazy world of magical warfare. It was $160 million shot in Manhattan. All the craziness which that entails came along with it. It’s going to be such a cool movie. These are the kind of movies that got me going to the movies when I was a kid. It’s a big, old school, summer event movie. When it hits next summer it’s going to go off like a fucking atom bomb. It’s incredible. It’s got action. It’s got comedy. It’s got special FX. It’s got romance. It’s got all sorts of stuff. I’d be lying if I said it was the easiest or most fun job I’ve ever had because the last two months of it were all nights which was not the most fun. By now everyone has heard about our stunt that went awry, when we drove a Ferrari into the front window of a restaurant in Times Square. So we’ve become slightly notorious as well. It’s going to be fucking so cool, that movie.
But now everyone will want to see it because of that stunt.
Jay Baruchel: That’s exactly it, yeah [laughs].
You also worked on ‘How To Train Your Dragon’, doing voice work. How is that different from being in front of the camera?
Jay Baruchel: It’s so much easier. I don’t have to put on makeup or shave or look like anything. I don’t have to wear clothes that other people want me to wear and stuff. They always have hamburgers, McDonald’s and stuff waiting for me. I just show up and get to sit down for whatever, two hours, say some stuff. I’ve been doing it for about three years and I finally got to see some sequences from the movie. The movie is all 3-D and it’s going to be so fucking cool, that movie. There’s never been a cartoon like it. They got Roger Deakins who’s a very famous director of photography and has shot every Coen Brothers movie, they hired him as a consultant so that the cartoon is kind of lit like a feature film. The whole thing is also in 3-D. I’ve never seen anything like it. Between that and ‘Sorcerer’s’ I think the imaginations of the kids of the world will be captured next year.
And I think you have a few projects of your own coming out. Can you talk about those?
Jay Baruchel: I suppose I can. The movie I wrote, or I co-wrote called ‘The Goon’ which I wrote with my good friend Evan Goldberg who’s Seth Rogen’s writing partner and co-wrote ‘Pineapple Express’, ‘Superbad’ and ‘Green Hornet’ that they’re working on right now. He and I wrote this thing that’s essentially my love letter to hockey. It’s about a minor league goon, a minor league enforcer and one season in his career. We go big or go home. We always swing for the fences, and so our goal was to make a funnier ‘Raging Bull’ and I’m really excited about it.
We’ve paired up with one of the coolest directors out there right now, this cat named Michael Dowse who did ‘It’s All Gone Pete Fong’ and ‘Fubar’ and just filmed an amazing TV show here last year called ‘The Foundation’ that’ll be coming out this month on Showcase. He’s directing it and we’ve got our lead and I can’t give that away, but we’re just going about casting the other roles right now. That’s taking up a fair bit of my time and then I’m in the process with my writing partner of writing this graphic novel, a comic book that’ll hopefully be published in the next year.
What’s the name of the graphic novel?
Jay Baruchel: It’s called ‘Pig’. We’re in the process of writing right now and all the deals are being hammered home right now, hammered out, but it’s really, really fucking cool. I’m just a huge comic book nerd and so the chance to get to write one is a huge deal for me.
Will you try to bring it to Comic Con?
Jay Baruchel: Oh, yeah, a hundred percent and ideally turn it into a movie eventually.
I think you also directed a short film a while back, too, right?
Jay Baruchel: I did, yeah, years ago and if ‘Pig’ comes to fruition, if it gets turned into a comic book and then we get to make it as a movie hopefully that’ll be my return to that job.
So you would obviously like to direct again?
Jay Baruchel: That is all I want to do. In a perfect world I would eventually quit acting and just write and direct. I’m the world’s biggest movie nerd. I watch more movies a week than anyone. Movies are the only thing that truly makes me happy. If everything goes according to plan I’ll quit acting and just direct low budget horror movies and action movies in Montreal for the rest of my life.
Is there a director that you’d love to work with that you haven’t had an opportunity to work with yet?
Jay Baruchel: For sure, yeah. David Cronenberg is one of my absolute heroes and so is Brian De Palma for that matter. Cronenberg, his career, his work, his movies, where he’s made his movies; everything is so important to me. I’m also just a huge fucking fan of all his flicks. Cronenberg is kind of it. Then Brian De Palma. Those are the two guys around right now that I would do absolutely whatever I could to be in one of their movies. And probably Michael Mann as well. That’s the dream.
Would you be willing to do ‘Tropic Thunder 2’ if the opportunity arose?
Jay Baruchel: Yeah, of course. That was one of the hardest movies that I’ve ever had to do but also the most fun I’ve ever had. So in a heartbeat, in a New York minute. While we were shooting it I came up with the plot for the sequel and the name which Jack Black started describing in interviews, but I claim ownership over the title ‘Arctic Lightening’ which is what I thought if we did the sequel to ‘Tropic Thunder’ that it should be called. ‘Arctic Lightening’. We’ll see what happens.