Michael Cera has seemingly become a favorite of Oscar-winning writer
Kenneth Lonergan. While the 29-year-old actor has yet to appear in a film by the Manchester by the Sea screenwriter, Cera is currently starring in his second Lonergan revival on Broadway. He first appeared in a 2014 revival of Lonergan’s 1996 play This Is Our Youth, opposite
Tavi Gevinson and
Kieran Culkin; and he now currently appears in a revival of Lonergan’s Lobby Hero alongside Captain America himself,
Chris Evans, Atlanta’s
Brian Tyree Henry, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl’s
Bel Powley. (He will make it a Lonergan revival trifecta when he stars in The Waverly Gallery, with
Elaine May and
Lucas Hedges, on Broadway later this year).
Lobby Hero, which was first performed in 2001, centers on an amiable security guard, played by Cera; nearly the entire play takes place, yes, in the lobby of the apartment building where he works. Evans, making his Broadway debut (with a prominent mustache), co-stars as a brash police officer, but Cera is the closest thing to a protagonist in the show, as he grapples with a moral dilemma related to his boss (played by Henry) and his crush on a rookie cop (Powley). Though written some time ago, the play’s central themes are surprisingly relevant in this political and cultural moment, as the issues of police brutality and workplace sexual harassment loom large throughout.
Vanity Fair caught up with Cera about why he connects so much with Lonergan’s material, what he makes of Evans’s mustache, and how he feels about the interest in his outings with Superbad co-star
Vanity Fair: Have you and Lonergan become friends? Do you guys have a sort of relationship at this point where he can call you up and you can chat through things?
Michael Cera: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was really lucky . . . I did two productions of This Is Our Youth actually, and on both of them Kenny was very involved, which is really a major privilege. I don’t think he gets involved in every single production of his plays; I mean, his plays are produced all over the world all the time. So it’s really a huge advantage and a huge privilege for a cast to get to have him around during that process. But, yeah, so, in those times, we became friends.
What is it about his writing that either you’re drawn to, or that you think connects with so many people?
I don’t know. I don’t know if it could be as simple as to say in a word, because . . . I don’t know—it’s hard to describe any piece of writing because, like a novel, or a play, I mean—if you could really describe it, it would kind of not need to exist. The texture of it that just really makes it special and identifiable and very specific to him. But I don’t know, I mean, there’s a lot of things . . . I guess everyone has their own experiences of it, but for me personally, I really enjoy it: I think he has a really good ear for not only language, but also for human feeling and experience.
Did you talk to any doormen or security guards, or anyone like that?
No, I didn’t. No, I mean, I kind of checked some of them out, and checked out kind of their station and what they do for all the downtime and all the filler. But aside from that, no, I didn’t really look to those guys for the character because the character is pretty fleshed out on the page. The fact that he’s a security guard is sort of incidental for him, it’s sort of like a passing station for him in his life. He’s not like a lifer security guard like the cop. . . . My guy sort of doesn’t belong in that world.
I always imagine it must be a very intimate experience when you’re doing a play like this every night with these people and getting to know them.
I only knew Chris previously, I didn’t know Brian, or Bel. . . . It is, I mean, I don’t know what other kind of job you could compare it to, I mean, other than . . . it’s similar to a film or something where you come together and you're all thrown into this shared task, which is a very strange thing that you all see it your own way, and you’re all trying to will this thing into existence together through your combined efforts. So it’s a very intensive thing. But I think you kind of get used to that when you do this for a living. My living exists in going from job to job and doing that and then moving on. I mean, it just kind of becomes normal after [a while] even though it’s very strange.
I know this is Chris’s first experience doing Broadway. How’s that been getting to see him get to try this out for the first time?
I think he’s having a really good time. I think he really has a lot of fun with the character. I mean, I think he has a lot of fun with the audience, too. He seems to really be able to work the audience. Yeah, especially moments when he is sort of like almost tongue-in-cheek lampooning his character. I mean, he’s very completely aware of [what’s amusing] about this character, and he has a lot of fun showing the audience.
I also was happy I got to see the glory of the mustache in real life. I had seen the photos of it obviously, but it’s a whole thing to experience live.
It’s weird; he could be a totally different kind of guy.
It’s true. It gives you this portal of like this whole other Chris Evans persona that could be existing.
He’s pretty believable, weirdly, seeing him as this sort of like Texas ranger look.
Obviously the themes are extremely relevant, with the #MeToo movement, as it relates to some of the stuff that goes on with Bel’s character, and then also the police-brutality aspects, and it’s kind of interesting that this play wasn’t written a year or two ago . . . but is that something that you guys talked a lot about?
I don’t know, if anything, I think that just tells you how slowly the needle moves on things. I’m sure this play would’ve been more or less pretty relevant and spot-on in 1977, or 20 years from now. Those things are kind of like a part of the fabric of this country. Yeah, it doesn’t feel like specially a period piece from 2001. Oh, man, remember 2001 when those things were happening? . . . I mean, I guess the difference today is that those things are really maybe talked about more, which is already a good thought, I guess.
When you’re thinking through career choices, do you kind of strategize at all about theater versus film projects, or is it more about what speaks to you at the moment and kind of just taking each decision as it comes?
I don’t strategize so much, which I think maybe shows a little because I think people who . . . I think every actor kind of handles their career differently or approaches it differently. It’s a big part of gaming your career a little bit. I don’t know, thinking strategically and critically and having a real path or a plan or something, I know a lot of actors who are very dialed in about that, very specific, and I’m kind of not. I sort of just go with the flow, and I don’t know, maybe one day I’ll have a different gear about it, but I can’t get that into it, I don’t know, really trying to build a career image or something. . . . I also have a luxury of not really having to worry too much about anything because I don’t have to provide for a family. I think if I’m at a different stage in my life where things are different, it kind of affects the way you have to approach your work and things might change, but for now I can just kind of see what comes.
People get very excited when there are photos of you and Jonah Hill walking around. Is that funny to you guys that people kind of freak out when they see photos of you or in person, or are you used to that kind of thing?
Well, I get it. I mean, I get why that is fun for people, but I think the thing is, [getting paparazzi-ed] doesn’t happen to me too often. Me and Jonah were hanging out in Tribeca the other day and it only happens to me when I’m hanging out with someone very famous that suddenly you see a person with a big camera [jump out]. I never know how these guys [find you], it’s very weird.