IT FEELS GOOD TO BE
A CHAT WITH THE THREE STARS OF
THE FUNNIEST COMEDY IN YEARS
Mintz-Plasse, Hill, and Cera in Superbad
Rarely do critics find themselves at a loss for words, but few of us can come up with the right ones to convey just how funny Superbad is. People should have a pretty good idea when they consider that it is the latest production from Judd Apatow and his comedic stock company, which has already brought us the two funniest movies of the past year or so, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. But if they have any lingering doubts, let me put them to rest right now: Superbad is their funniest movie yet, and every person I know who has seen it has come away ‘McLovin’ it. (See it and you’ll get it.)
So why do I feel a need to speak out on behalf of Superbad? Because, according to tracking statistics, the general public’s “awareness” of Superbad remains quite low, which is not good news with just one week to go before its nationwide release on August 17. As someone who reviews movies, I have always seen it as my job to let readers know when it would be a waste of their time and money to see a movie. In this case, I believe it would be a terrible mistake not to.
Superbad is truly one-of-a-kind and brilliant in its own way. For what it’s worth, it gets my vote as the funniest teen sex comedy of all time—and yes, I have seen Animal House, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Porky’s, Diner, Risky Business, and all the other usual suspects. They are great. This is better. (Like all movies of this sub-genre, Superbad is not for the easily-offended, but rather for people who can take it for what it is—a slice of reality with a topping of hilarity.)
For this reason, it was particularly gratifying for me to have the opportunity to interview the film’s three stars—Michael Cera (Arrested Development), Jonah Hill (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (big screen debut)—over lunch on July 25. The night before, I attended a screening of the film, which provided plenty of laughs, and questions, for me and my colleagues/fellow questioners, John Black of BostonNOW and Ed Symkus of The Cambridge Tab. Over the course of our conversation with the actors, a wide variety of subjects were addressed. Below, in red, are the questions we posed to the young actors. (Some have been reworded for clarity and brevity.) Their answers may surprise you…
What sets this film apart from other teen sex comedies?
Mintz-Plasse: It’s rated-R. Usually teen movies are, like, PG-13, you know?
Cera: Plus, I think the focus of this is the friendship of the two main guys.
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah. Normally teen movies are about a guy and a girl.
Cera: The thing that’s gonna drive [this] movie is the friendship, and the fact that these guys are just really afraid of being, you know, separate. It’s like separation anxiety. If you don’t feel like you were these guys in high school, you at least knew them. It’s something everyone can identify with. And not just the three main guys, too; all the other high school characters in the movie, too.
Mintz-Plasse: The girls, the mean dude.
Cera: It’s not any kind of exaggeration, you know? It’s not like a cartoon version of high school.
Hill: There was a lack of reality in movies about teenagers… Young people hate being talked down to and lied to, I think, and so I think they respond to things that they recognize. That’s why Seinfeld was always so funny, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, because everyone always goes, “That happened to me!”
Who is going to like this movie?
Hill: Our theory is that if we like it, you know, there’s probably a lot of people out there like us that’ll like it. And I think it’s reached far beyond what we’ve ever thought… like, my parents liked it! That, to me, was so amazing, hearing my parents say that they related to the movie.
Mintz-Plasse: My mom saw it and loved it, and my dad saw the preview, and he was talking about, like, the scene where you guys are in the car and you’re like, “Well, that’s a nice looking dick.” You know that scene? He’s like, “That’s exactly how me and my friends talked.” [laughs]
Cera: I actually said that every day. [laughs]
Hill: If I had a quarter for every time…
Cera: I think the first few minutes are probably a bit jarring. It’s like stepping into a hot tub. Like, you dip your toe, and you feel like someone’s attacking you. But once you soak in, you can relax, and turn the jets on.
Hill: There were, like, sixty-five, seventy year old people in Miami wearing McLovin shirts who stayed for the whole Q&A.
Judd Apatow seems to almost work with a stock company. What’s it like to be a part of that?
Cera: I think there’s just probably something nice about the familiarity of working with the same people. ‘Cause it’s always the same crew, too—I mean wardrobe, and even the craft people. It makes it feel so much more—it’s just more fun, and you feel more comfortable.
Hill: And you get much better and more work done that way. That’s what I feel is the main thing that Judd’s figured out. For him to talk to somebody he’s never worked with, it would take him, like, you know, a long time to say what he can convey [to us] in five words… We all say, like, the greatest thing is that he really trusts the people that he hires.
Cera: It’s a very thorough casting process. I auditioned maybe ten times for this with different people every time, you know, so they see how you are together, and they see what you’re capable of. And, you know, I did, like, the same scene several times so, you know, they see you having to struggle with that same scene and find new ways to do it. So, by the time it comes time to make the movie, they feel really confident with their whole cast, and they can just kinda trust them, you know?
Jonah and Michael are established actors, but Chris, you came out of nowhere. How did you get the part?
Mintz-Plasse: The description of it was just a senior who looks like he’s thirteen and he’s kinda nerdy looking. That’s, like, all the description really was.
Cera: How many times did you audition?
Mintz-Plasse: Three times, three times.
Hill: He honestly came in and, like, did exactly what he does in the movie. It was the most impressive thing. We had auditioned so many—Mike and I read with so many kids who were all really talented, but Chris had a confidence to him that, like, none of the other people that came in had.
Cera: They did a massive search.
Hill: It was incredible.
How much of the film was improvised?
Hill: There was a lot of improvisation.
Cera: The language was pretty established in the script, I think. You know, how these guys talked to each other.
Hill: Yeah, an extraordinarily well-written script. And then, just to make things sound more natural and maybe include new jokes that we liked more, or something, we were able to be pretty free with how we wanted to say things. It was more about the intentions of the scene, and the emotional beats, and stuff like that, that were important than the actual words themselves… and once you find the groove of the character, then you’re not ad-libbing as yourself, you’re ad-libbing as the character.
The opening credits are pretty memorable…
Cera: The assistant editor, Scott—
Hill: Like, rookie assistant editor, twenty years old—
Cera: Just, like, randomly made this segment of me, in a silhouette, dancing with the credits over it. And then they wanted to use it for the start of the movie, so they got Jonah to do it in front of a blue screen.
Hill: Yeah. And that guy was just awesome. Just pulled the old Columbia logo from YouTube—
Cera: It looks so cool. That’s my favorite part. That’s my favorite part of the movie. [laughs] That old Columbia thing is the best part of the movie.
Hill: It really sets you up that it’s a cool, throwback kind of movie.
Cera: And that song is really cool.
Hill: Yeah, the Bar-Kays.
Cera: Yeah, “Too Hot to Stop.”
Hill: “Part One.”
Cera: “Part One.” [laughs]
Hill: I’ve heard “Part Two.” [laughs]
Michael, you not only had to shoot a scene dancing, but also singing…
Cera: Yeah. There were three—I did one version where I sang “These Eyes,” one where I sang “The Thong Song,” and one where I just danced. And they went with “These Eyes.”
Hill: I thought the dancing one was pretty fun. [laughs]
Cera: Yeah, I kinda secretly wish [they used] the dancing one.
You had to just sit there and belt it out…
Cera: Yeah, but I was supposed to be bad. You know, that’s reassuring. You can kind of hide under that. That’s like a security blanket.
Hill: Michael actually has a really good voice.
Cera: Yeah, that’s true. Most people don’t know that. I’ve been trying to tell people. [laughs]
Mintz-Plasse: I tell them that.
Hill: That’s a testament to your acting, I think. Because you have a good voice, and it’s hard to sound like you have a not-great voice, but without it sounding, like, purposefully bad. You know what I’m saying?
Any other interesting factoids?
Cera: Well, I danced for an hour one night for the DVD menu. It was this idea that Evan Goldberg had, ‘cause there was going to be a scene in the movie where I dance instead of sing for those guys doing cocaine. So I danced for a full hour, ‘cause we wanted, you know, if it was possible, to have the menu be an hour of dancing without looping so that people would be like, “Oh, my God! He danced for an hour?” And they would never see it loop.
Hill: You could actually watch it for an hour.
Jonah, your character is the crass guy. Michael, your character is the voice of reason. Chris, what is McLovin?
Cera: Yeah, why are you in the movie? [laughs]
Mintz-Plasse: He’s McLovin, dude!
Hill: There’s always a friend in a group of friends that is the guy who you kinda give a lot of shit—you give a lot of anguish—to. You know what I mean? Sorry, I curse a lot, as you might have gathered. Sh-anguish. [laughs] Those guys, really, are the guys that end up the most normal, I feel, ‘cause he doesn’t care—like, you give him crap and he doesn’t care.
Cera: Like, he’s made of rubber and we’re made of glue, or something.
Chris, are you worried that you will be typecast?
Mintz-Plasse: I mean, if people, like, won’t cast me because I’m McLovin, then that will be a problem. But, I mean, like, if I get other movies and stuff, then, I mean, that won’t really be a problem at all. I mean, like, right now, I love being McLovin. [laughs] We’ll see what happens later, but it’s all good right now.
Do you guys have a scene or line that you thought was the funniest in the movie?
Cera: I know my favorite line in the movie. It’s the one that get’s the loudest—Chris’s line. I probably can’t say it… when he goes, “I got a boner!” [laughs]
Mintz-Plasse: Thank you.
Cera: And every time he says it, the audience, like, erupts, like, they go crazy, and people, like, can’t believe it.
Hill: I love the scene with Michael and I.
Do you mean the scene in the sleeping bags when you “Boop” him on the nose?
Hill: Yeah. Like, that was something I just did, and I remember thinking it was really funny. Yeah, like all that stuff was improvised in that scene, you know? And then, also, in Home-Ec class, when I’m, like, behind her doing all these really crude gestures—that was just, like, us messing around. We didn’t think that was gonna be in the movie. Like, we were just, like, if we have time, let’s just shoot this thing. And I was like, “Just put on, like, a Hall & Oats song, or something.” And then I just started doing stuff behind her, and she didn’t know. Like, she just had no idea what I was doing. And she just thought it was, like, a cooking montage, or whatever—Emma, the smoking actress. And when I saw it in the cut, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this movie’s crazy!”
Is there anything autobiographical in the movie?
Hill: Maybe how I would react to getting hit by a car—maybe. I imagine it’s pretty close.
What about your own high school experiences?
Cera: I don’t know. I only went to high school for the first year, and then I did the rest of it on the Internet.
Mintz-Plasse: I was kinda just, like, a boring drama kid. I just did lots of plays and, like, lots of festival scenes and stuff in my drama class. Nothing too crazy.
Cera: I only had two pairs of pants in high school for the one year I spent there. [laughs] And one of them was, like, a weird pair of this grey, almost parachute pants thing—it was like wearing trash bags, and they cinched off at the bottom. I had those and, like, a pair of jeans that were too big for me. And I never went and got new pants, for some reason, for the whole year. And everyone noticed. Like, people notice your pants! You never think people look at your pants, but, like, “You’re wearing those pants again?”
Hill: I think it was my least happy time, high school.
Hill: I think, like, the main thing I drew upon in the movie was the anger that I actually felt about feeling like no one thought you were good at anything. You know what I mean? Like, for me, I was always just at least attempting to be funny all the time. I was always writing, and thought I was talented, but there was no voice being like, “You are talented! You can do something with this one day.” It was more like, “You’re not getting good grades. You’re not gonna get into a great college. And, like, everyone else is doing more important things than you.” And I feel like that anger always made me feel underappreciated. And I feel like that’s what this character was feeling a lot—no one finds anything extraordinarily special in him besides Evan, basically—besides Michael’s character. You know what I mean? That was a lot of what I drew upon. And now I feel, like, just happy, because, at least in some regard, people are like, “Hey, you’re being creative, and I like it, and it’s interesting.”
Special thanks to my friend Dana Etra for her assistance with this report.