Michael Cera & Youth in Revolt

youth- intA friend asked his 14-year-old daughter’s pals who their favorite male actors were. Surprisingly enough, the answers ranged from Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg to Alan Rickman (!) to Sean Bean (!?).  Not surprisingly, another name mentioned was Michael Cera.

The last name was not a stunning revelation, because Cera has won a spot with young audiences for his portrayals of befuddled teenagers trying to find their way to adulthood—and discovering romance in the process—in such films as Superbad, Juno and Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. Before he scored with those efforts in theaters, he was admired by a small but devoted cult of followers for his portrayal of George Michael Bluth, a frozen banana stand manager obsessed with his female cousin, in the Ron Howard-produced dysfunctional family TV sitcom Arrested Development.  Additionally, the Canadian-born actor has been writing, directing and starring in the Internet-based series “Clark and Michael,” a “fictional reality” inside-Hollywood show in which he stars with pal and fellow actor Clark Duke (Sex Drive).

Cera is back on the big screen again with Youth in Revolt, a winning and appropriately quirky adaptation of the first of a series of six popular stories penned by C.D. Payne. Cera plays Nick Twisp, a virginal 16- year-old (although the character was 12 in the book) obsessed with Sheeni Saunders (newcomer Portia Doubleday), the daughter of religious fanatics (Mary Kay Place, M. Emmet Walsh). He first meets Sheeni while moving with his divorced mother (Jean Smart) to a trailer park, and after discovering his crush object is a Francophile, Nick adapts the alter-ego of a Jean-Paul Belmondo-type French stud to win her over.

After moving around the release schedule of Weinstein Films for nearly a year, Youth in Revolt finally arrives in theaters this week. Directed by indie stalwart Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl), the film showcases a top-notch supporting cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Justin Long, Zach Galifianakis, Fred Willard and Ray Liotta and features some inventive animation sequences. The project could score as  another fan favorite for Cera after the disappointment of last summer’s caveman comedy Year One with Jack Black, and Paper Heart, the experimental romantic meditation the actor worked on for a week with (now ex-girlfriend) Charlene Yi.

“I was a big fan of the book,” says Cera, during a brief stop in Philadelphia to promote the film. “I went back to re-read it for inspiration for the part and to get into the act.”

The film was mostly shot in Michigan, and, although the schedule was tight, Cera and Doubleday had time to establish the chemistry necessary for their parts.

“The rehearsal helped to find the rhythm of ‘us,’” relates the 21-year-old Cera. “In the beginning of the film, we’re really guarded around each other, so it was nice we didn’t flow. Later on, the characters get more comfortable with one another. It was nice to figure out, and see the rhythm kind of change, as we went along.”

Since Cera, Arteta and others in the crew were fans of the source material, “we wanted it to be true to the book and maintain the same voice as the book and be as funny as the book. The book is really, really funny. There’s pressure when the source material is really good and you want it to be as good as the source material. But it’s nice because it’s always there to refer to when you make the movie and take something from it.”

In Youth in Revolt, the Nick Twisp character has lots of quirky idiosyncrasies, some of which mirrored Cera’s own personal experiences when he was a teenager. “I listened to a lot of Sinatra, which is what Nick listens to in the movie. But when I was 16, I was into Mr. Show and Monty Python, but not Truffaut or Godard (like the film’s character) until later.”

Cera has had an aspiration to perform since he was very young, growing up in Brampton, Ontario. “I always wanted to be an actor since I was very young. I loved Bill Murray and Ghostbusters, and What About Bob? I took these classes where I played games with other kids, improv games. So I liked it a lot and started to audition for roles.”

The auditions led to role in several Canadian-produced TV series and, eventually, a small part in 2000’s Frequency, with Dennis Quaid, in which Cera was cast as the ten-year old incarnation of the adult character played by Noah Emmerich, and a younger version of Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.  Other TV roles and voice assignments in animated shows, like The Berenstain Bears and Rolie Polie Olie, preceded Cera’s stint in Arrested Development, which ran from 2003 to 2006.

From the get-go, Arrested Development won critical raves and a solid cult following, but always had trouble scoring in the ratings. Today, it is revered as something of an under-seen classic; in fact, there is a feature film being developed, which Cera believes will start shooting later in 2010.

Why the continued popularity of Arrested Development?

“People are getting more into it now because it is on DVD,” says Cera, who recently completed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, an adaptation of the graphic novel series directed by Edgar Wright. “You have to keep up with it and it’s easier on DVD, so lots of people missed it on TV. This makes sense because the show makes you feel rewarded for watching it because there are things set up that pay off later.”

Cera is perfectly comfortable doing what has become the patented “Michael Cera part.” In fact, in person, he doesn’t appear too far removed from the on-screen characters he’s played.  He believes Nick Twisp in Youth in Revolt has given him an opportunity to stretch himself a little further.  “Wearing a mustache and doing the technical stuff, like talking to yourself and figuring out how to do it was great,” says Cera. “I love the book, and I just wanted to be part of the movie in any way because of that.”

In the book, Nick Twisp also has a female alter-ego, but that aspect was not included in the movie. “Not enough time,” notes Cera.

Nick’s rebelliousness was something the actor was not accustomed to growing up, either. His parents—his mother was a Quebec native, and his father a Xerox technician originally from Italy—“were cool.”

Says Cera: “I didn’t have that much to rebel against.  My friend and I used to get in trouble for stupid things. I was afraid of my whole world crashing down if I got in trouble for something. I couldn’t handle my whole world crashing down.”

According to the actor, Youth in Revolt has a simple but important message to offer audiences, something that Nick Twisp learns while trying to win over Sheeni Saunders.

“I think the movie tells us to be yourself and not try to be someone else to get others to like you. You’re better off being yourself… for better or worse.”

BONUS: Here’s Irv’s Raw Review of the film: