Michael Cera on Falling in Love With Amy Schumer and Finding Fame ‘Embarrassing’
After bursting onto the comedy scene at just 14 years old nearly two decades ago as George Michael Bluth on Arrested Development—followed by the box office hit Superbad and Best Picture nominee Juno in quick succession—Michael Cera has been laying pretty low of late. So his latest gig as Amy Schumer’s love interest in the comedian’s new semi-autobiographical Hulu series Life & Beth is kind of a big deal.
In this episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Cera explains why he said yes to his first regular TV role since Arrested Development and opens up about how he “freaked out” when he suddenly became super-famous at such a young age.
Cera had only met Schumer once before she offered him the romantic lead role opposite her in Life & Beth. She asked for his number when they crossed paths at a Hollywood event but he neglected to save hers in his phone so when she texted him later that night to go sing karaoke with her friends, he ignored the unknown number.
“So I just never answered her,” he tells me. “And then when this show came about, she reached out to me for it and was like, how come you never responded to me before?”
That first exchange inadvertently mirrored the strained communication that defines their budding romance in Life & Beth. The 33-year-old actor plays John, a thinly veiled version of Schumer’s husband, Chris Fischer, who only discovered he was on the autism spectrum after he started dating the comedian.
“I don’t think it’s a one-to-one stamp of him, by any means,” Cera says of Fischer, with whom he became close friends as he prepared for the show. “Just like Amy’s character is not Amy, although a lot of it is.
“The character was very alive on the page already,” he continues. “I could completely see the guy just based on the writing. Because there are aspects of Chris in the character, Amy knew the character inside out and had so much love for the character too. So anytime I had any kind of question, Amy had a ready answer that was full of love.”
Cera describes the fictional John as “socially unfiltered,” constantly throwing out what Schumer has described as “red flags” she chose to ignore when she first met her husband. “He is perfectly comfortable reacting in a way that will set off a little social bomb,” he adds. “And that’s the aspect of him that’s a challenge for Beth. It reminded me of several people in my life—and aspects of myself in certain moments.”
Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation. You can listen to the whole thing—including stories about auditioning for ‘Arrested Development,’ meeting Jonah Hill for the first time, slapping Rihanna’s ass in ‘This Is the End,’ and more—by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.
Arrested Development must have been very foundational for you in terms of forming your sense of humor and what you wanted to do. Did you feel at the time like you knew how big of an impact it would have, both on you and in general, considering where everyone from the show has gone?
Well, when we were making the show, nobody was watching it. I really felt, and we all felt, that the show was really funny, and I was so proud to be a part of it. And anybody who did see it was really complimentary. But the show had a big challenge built into it, which is that it’s sort of semi-serialized. So anybody who’s jumping into the first season of the show like 10 episodes in is kind of lost.
There are almost inside jokes or things that you need to know.
Yeah, it kind of builds on itself. So it was kind of a show meant to be discovered like on DVD, where people could kind of treat it like a book and start at the beginning. But I thought that everybody was so brilliant and Mitch [Hurwitz] was the most brilliant guy we could have leading the show. I knew that it was a great thing to be a part of, no matter what happened with it. And there was a lot of pride working on it.
It was always kind of on the bubble of cancellation. And then of course after the third season, it did go away. How did you take that at the time?
It was sad when it happened. It was very sad and it had been a slow murder, in a way. It kind of felt like the writing had been on the wall for a while. The first season was 22 episodes and the second season was 18 episodes, which was already kind of like we’re on probation or something. And then I think they only ordered another 11 or something after that. So it felt like it had been going that way. We were just struggling in the water all the time with ratings. And then after that, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was wondering if I was going to go to school, which I didn’t do. And Jeffrey Tambor actually said, “Don’t do that. Don’t go to school.”
Hulu’s ‘Life & Beth’ Is Amy Schumer at Her Most Raw—and at Her Best
Was that good advice?
Well, it was good advice for me. He just said, just keep working, which I did do. I think that was the right advice for me. I don’t regret not having that school experience, and it was good to keep working at that time.
You had some incredible success right after Arrested Development, starting in 2007, when you had these two huge movies in Superbad and then Juno. And you couldn’t have known how big they both would be, and then they both come out in the same year.
That was crazy.
It must have really changed your profile in the industry, compared to Arrested Development, which was more of a cult hit that a lot of people loved but maybe wasn’t as widely seen. How did you deal with all of a sudden being that famous at such a young age?
Well, the famous part was so weird. I didn’t deal with that well. The famous part was really intense. Especially because I was shooting a movie in New York by the time those movies came out. I was shooting this movie, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which came out the next year. And that was my first time ever living in New York. I was living in the East Village. It was a very intense place to live with that new level of exposure, actually.
How did it affect everyday life when you were living there?
It was embarrassing. More than anything, it was embarrassing because I would be hanging out with friends, walking down the street, and people were constantly shouting things at me and recognizing me and wanting something. And I just felt embarrassed. It kind of made hanging out with friends difficult and not that much fun for me or for them. I really bristled at it. I mean, obviously it was great, those movies were successful and everything. So there was a great feeling with it, but all of the social challenges that suddenly arose were challenging. And especially living in New York, in the East Village, that’s kind of like the most insane place to be with suddenly that level of recognizability. So I kind of freaked out a little bit.
Yeah, it seems like you maybe weren’t that into being a celebrity or that was not your goal.
No, it wasn’t. I always really enjoyed that when Arrested Development was on, on the very rare occasion that someone would come up and say something to you, it was kind of great because they were really into the show. You already had a certain shared language with them, because they really appreciated that show, which made them a very specific group with a very specific sensibility. But these movies had such a bigger net cast that it could be anybody. And the thing, to be honest, [is] not all people are great.
[Laughs] And suddenly you have all kinds of people just coming up to you with no boundaries, especially because I was 19. I think if you kind of get famous and you’re my age now or you’re 40 or something, you have your own sense of personal boundaries that you’re able to uphold. But I was just 19 and I felt so confused about how to be graceful in those situations with those people, especially when you feel very imposed upon and very encroached upon, even physically. It took me a long time to kind of get my hands around that whole aspect of my life and figure it out.
Did it impact the types of projects that you wanted to do and the direction that you wanted to go in your career?
Maybe. I’ve definitely said no to a couple things because I thought, ‘That’s going to change my life.’ And I like my life. I’ve gotten my life to a place that I like. I don’t really want to invite a whole world of weirdness. And if I do, I want to have a really good reason why I’m inviting that or allowing that world of weirdness in.
What kind things did you say no to?
A couple of movies that would be big franchises. I never really consciously thought of this, but I have, on reflection, realized that one thing that’s very stressful when you’re really famous is teenagers. Like, if you walk by a high school just getting out and there’s a pack of kids, it’s crazy.
They really don’t have boundaries.
Yeah, I mean, it’s insane. They’re screaming and you’re in the jungle suddenly. I mean, those Harry Potter people, I don’t know how they walk down the street. Or the Twilight people. I was actually on a plane with the cast of Twilight right before that movie blew up. We were all, for some reason, on the same flight. I was sitting next to Robert Pattinson and it was right before their lives changed. And you could feel that they sensed it was coming, that it was in the air that this was going to be a life-altering event for them. And they all seemed really nervous about it.
Listen to the episode now and subscribe to ‘The Last Laugh’ on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.
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