For his latest surprising career move, indie-film icon Michael Cera has teamed up with indie-music icon Sharon Van Etten on a new song. The 29-year-old talks Luke Morgan Britton through his ongoing reinvention.
You probably feel like you know Michael Cera by now, but the person you’re most likely thinking of is the old Michael Cera. The one from the indie-film holy trinity of Juno, Superbad and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. The one with the Charlie Brown walk whose name became shorthand for likeable, post-pubescent world-weariness.
But that was a decade or so ago, and since then the 29-year-old actor and sometime musician has been low-key reinventing himself. The new Michael Cera isn’t an artiste of James Franco or Shia LaBeouf proportions, but his roll call of recent film roles and extracurricular activities has been unexpected. He travelled around Chile taking mescaline for 2013’s Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, got slapped by Rihanna in This Is The End, voiced a deformed phallic wiener in Sausage Party and delivered a so-bad-it’s-kinda-good impression of Marlon Brando in the new Twin Peaks.
He also wrote a piece for The New Yorker about a man called Michael Cera who befriends a stranger only to hook up with his girlfriend. OK, so that last one is Franco-esque. He’s also found time to release an album, 2014’s ‘True That’, a collection of lo-fi piano ballads that sounds like Daniel Johnston for the Bandcamp era. He followed this by touring Europe with The Unicorns’ Alden Penner in 2015. Now he’s teamed up with Sharon Van Etten on ‘Best I Can’, a one-off Casio-pop track penned for new documentary film Dina. Another thing you might not know about Michael Cera is he does his own PR, and recently got in touch with NME to talk about his Van Etten collaboration, Arrested Development, Twin Peaks and drumming like no one’s watching at 4am…
How did the Sharon Van Etten collaboration come about?
“Sharon and I share a music rehearsal space in New York. I met her one night and she mentioned that she was looking for someone to split the rent. It’s the kind of place where you can go and play music all night. There’s no noise concerns. It’s great to have a place where you can play drums really loudly at 4am and not care at all.”
The song was written for a film soundtrack. How did you approach that?
“I knew I wanted a female vocal for the song so I asked Sharon. There was this one part in the movie where they had ‘Only You’ by Yazoo but didn’t know if they were going to be ableto clear it. So I basically tried to go after that sound. That song was my compass and then it kind of found its own way. They ended up clearing the rights but I like that the song was born because of that.”
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How did being a touring musician compare to the life of an actor?
“The hardest thing about it was that you only spend one per cent of the time actually performing. The rest of the time is feeling anxious about it, just waiting and anticipating. That can be wearing in a weird way. I’ve always found the downtime to be the strangest thing of being on set as an actor. How do you stay mentally sharp in that time and not exhaust yourself?”
Should we expect another Michael Cera album?
“I’m always working on music but it’s more of a hobby. I don’t have any ambition to have a ‘music career’. There’s no pressure behind it. But hopefully it will yield another collection that I feel is good enough to share.”
Arrested Development started filming season five recently. Is it like a family reunion?
“We’re in the middle of it actually. It’s strange to be around everyone again because we first met when I was 14. Then years go by and we get back together again. It’s confusing but fun. There’s a lot of moments when we’re all just laughing and having a good time.”
Have things changed since you’ve been apart?
“I had a one-on-one scene with Jason Bateman again recently and it was strange how comfortable it was. We know each other’s rhythms. There’s a common approach between us. I’ve definitely learned a lot from Jason. Since being a kid, I’ve developed my acting based on him.”
Do you think season five will be the last one?
“I really don’t know. Netflix seem to be behind the show so I’d imagine they’d be open to doing more. I think everyone else would be game.”
Will we ever see that long-rumoured movie?
“I haven’t heard any discussions. When the show was first cancelled, there was talk. But I think the problem was that so much time had gone by that the first 40 minutes would been catching up on where the characters had been.”
How did your Twin Peaks cameo come about?
“I don’t really know. I had met David Lynch once before but I have no idea if he specifically thought of me for the part. I was – and still am – an enormous fan. My agent just told me about it and it was something that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. Whatever I needed to move around or do to make that happen, I would have. It was just a few hours of work but it was a great experience.”
Your recent roles have been quite against type – is this intentional?
“I think it’s more of a natural thing. I’m 29 now so obviously the roles I’m suited for now are going to change.”
How was it filming your slap scene with Rihanna in This Is The End?
“It was a very brutal hit but I encouraged her to slap me as hard as she could. I hate watching fake slaps and having to pretend to get hit. So I kept encouraging her to go harder and harder. She hit me right on the ear. It really made my head spin.”
Your New Yorker piece, ‘My Man Jeremy’ – was that real or fictionalised?
“It was fiction, but it’s funny because a lot of people ask me that. My mother even asked me. I don’t understand how she can ask me that but I love that it’s even questionable.”
‘Best I Can’ by Michael Cera, featuring Sharon Van Etten, is out now