In person, Michael Cera comes across as more innocent than his characters.
NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST directed by Peter Sollett, written by Lorene Scafaria from the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, with Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Aaron Yoo and Ari Graynor. A Sony Pictures release. 90 minutes. Opens Friday (October 3). For venues and times, see Movies.
Michael Cera wears a tiny red knapsack and walks with his arms clamped to his sides as though in a crowded hallway. The rest of his outfit is standard-issue Urban Outfitter apparel - yellow tennis shirt, blue pants pulled up too high.
He's 20 but barely looks old enough to drive, and I wouldn't be surprised if he'd biked from his parents' Brampton home to the Four Seasons for our interview during the Film Festival.
Summing up a celebrity's personality in just a few words can be tricky. What do any of us really know about them that we didn't learn on Access Hollywood or TMZ.com?
Even so, Cera appears to be a lot like his characters - Juno's baby daddy, Superbad's less-than-smooth party boy, Arrested Development's awkward son George-Michael Bluth - bashful, embarrassed, a little dumbstruck and even more innocent and vulnerable, if that's possible.
"Whenever I read something that's about me, I don't associate it with myself at all," he says. "Because they can't be talking about me, since they don't know me."
Twenty minutes later, though, I'm no closer to separating Cera from his onscreen persona.
"You can read what I like or what I do, but that's not the same as knowing me," he says. "I'm working. I'm here for the movie. It has nothing to do with me or my life."
That movie is Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist, an emo rom-com based on the teen lit hit about high schoolers who meet and fall in love during one crazy club-hopping New York night. Cera's Nick, the straight bassist in a post-punk-queercore band known alternately as the Jerk-offs and Balls Deep, is recently dumped, still pining furiously for his cheating ex and full of angst and self-pity. Your basic Lloyd Dobler-by-way-of-Woody Allen type.
"He's kind of pathetic, really," admits Cera, laconic as a Clint Eastwood cowboy.
"In a lot of ways, Michael is Nick," says director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas). "He's a little hesitant, very thoughtful. As an actor, he's very much a reactor, someone who keys into the other actors and plays really well off of them."
Kat Dennings, who plays Norah, the Catholic-school-attending hipster Jew who falls for Nick through the mix CDs he makes for his ex, agrees.
"Michael listens to the person he's acting with, which is rarer than you think," says Dennings, who's best-known for her roles in Charlie Bartlett and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. "He's not just waiting for you to stop talking so he can say his lines."
That quality comes across in the interview. While his answers are considered, they are clipped and hardly revealing.
Pressed about his personal life - Sollett says that to play Nick, it was important Cera know what it's like to be dumped and suggests I ask him about it - he reacts exactly as I expected.
"Yeah, I've been broken up with," he says. "Everyone has at some point.: But it wasn't like Nick's torturous experience, "It was different."
While the meek might inherit the earth, at least one of them is taking over Hollywood. Cera's become an unlikely teen heartthrob - "Girls just go crazy for Michael, wanting to smooch him," says Dennings - with a slew of starring roles on the horizon.
Next up is Youth In Revolt, based on one of Cera's favourite books.
"I play another guy named Nick, who meets a girl on a family vacation and becomes obsessed with her," he says. "But this Nick is bit more unlikeable. He does some pretty treacherous things."
After that he'll bumble through ancient Rome with Jack Black in the Harold Ramis historical comedy Year One before returning to Toronto to shoot Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World for Shaun Of The Dead director Edgar Wright.
It's based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, about a young guy who must battle his new girlfriend's seven deadly exes all over Toronto.
"I'm looking forward to the kung fu fights," he says.
As for the oft-rumoured Arrested Development feature, don't hold your breath.
"I haven't seen a script or anything."
In the meantime, he's enjoying being an actor - even if he's uncomfortable being a movie star.
"I really like working, being on sets. It's nice, being able to do that."
On a possible Juno sequel:
On whether the Nick & Nora soundtrack is on Cera and Kat Dennings personal playlist:
On what attracted Michael and Kat to the story: