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March 16, 2010

Jay Baruchel and Nate Torrence take the transition from TV to the silver screen

If you ever saw that creepy episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? with the orange pool monster, then you also saw Jay Baruchel get killed at the very beginning. Baruchel kicked off his acting career in Canada with Are You Afraid of the Dark?, but has gone on to appear as memorably awkward geeks in Almost Famous and Million Dollar Baby, in addition to nerdy nice guys in Knocked Up, Fanboys, and most recently, She’s Out of My League. Baruchel sat down for a conference call with a lot of college students on the other end and talked about what it’s like to be a nerd, his love of improv comedy, and told the Chicago Maroon whether the 2000s will ever be a memorable decade for pop culture like the '70s and '80s. Joining Baruchel for the call was his co-star Nate Torrence, mostly known for his TV work, including a recurrent role on the defunct Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, along with his recent supporting parts in features like Get Smart and My Best Friend’s Girl. Chicago audiences might also recognize him from his work with Second City. In the call, Nate talks relationships and improv comedy.

Cal State Fullerton: Do you think that this film has the potential to be a classic of this generation?

Jay Baruchel: I think that it could hit a nerve. I’ll just be psyched if kids dig it at all. But I definitely think that there is the potential that it’s the kind of movie that will, people will tell their friends that they should maybe watch it. And I think it might be the DVD kind of thing that gets passed around a lot. So, maybe a cult classic.

Santa Monica College: This was director Jim Field Smith's first big feature film, so how does that sort of directing experience (stretch) over to working on this particular movie?

JB: Well he was also a sketch performer himself in his own right, so...his mind is kind of just wired comedically and so he kind of always knew what was funny and I think he had pretty good instincts. [to Nate] What about you?

Nate Torrence: Yes I know, totally. I think he did a great job as far as not only letting us play but just being able to control the tone of it all. And yes, I don’t know I think he did an amazing job for a first timer. I was never worried really. He’s a funny guy.

University of Illinois: I was wondering what personal touches you’ve added to your character to make them seem more, I want to say, not just a caricature , but maybe a guy people can relate to?

NT:I think all of us really tried as hard as we can, not just even with characters but the whole movie...I think a great testament to what we were trying to do is even with our lunch, we all got to choose what we thought our character would eat. And that was one of the funniest things. And we’re like T.J., if you look on his knees he has a plate of pizza and a plate of chicken McNuggets. And then I have everything Ziplocked in a little bag.

JB: And I was the smart one, and I chose to eat nothing because I know how gross it is to eat on camera. But I think you’ve got to make them sympathetic and accessible and so it’s, I guess it’s a question of just inserting yourself a bit more into it at certain points.

Northwestern University: All right, so I know you both have a background in comedy acting and with April Fool's Day coming up, what’s the best April Fool's Day joke you’ve played or that has been played on you?

Nate: You know, I guess it’s not even about the joke as much as it was the time in my life. I was like in fourth grade, and I Saran wrapped my dad’s toilet and put baby powder on all the fans in our house. I thought I was brilliant. So it may not be the greatest joke as an adult but man to a fourth grader I seriously was like the MacGyver or April Fools. I was amazing.

JB: I covered a phone receiver in hand lotion and then called said phone.

NT: Well done, well played, check and mate.

JB: Check and mate.

DePaul University: This is actually directed to Jay. I’m wondering, does this seems to be sort of your first leading role, with maybe the exception of Undeclared on television. What was that like to take over sort of that leading role in a feature film?

JB: Well I have to say that it, I’ve, I guess kind of groomed for it in that mercifully the whole time that I’ve had a career in the States you know doing supporting stuff, I’ve been making some pretty cool independent movies back home in Canada, and I’ve been the lead in most of those. That coupled with Undeclared, plus when I started when I was 12, I was the lead in two different TV shows, so I knew what it was to kind of, at least I thought I did, to carry a movie on my shoulders...with being the main dude or whatever, you’ve got to make sure you’re sympathetic, that the audience identifies with you and then maybe if possible look for spots for you to be funny as well.

Chicago Maroon: All right, so basically since pop culture tends to define our generation, Aladdin is referenced a lot in the movie as well as (other) references in the past 20 years or so. As the sort of pop culture fabric, do you feel though that in comparison to the '60s, '70s, and '80s we have like the Beatles, and Star Wars to quote, that the '90s and 2000 maybe lack a sort of classic relevance to the previous decades?

JB: Oh my God. Well it’s impossible to know until we’re 20 years from now.

NT: I think what’s crazy is we’ve started quoting so many things from pop culture of last, of the last decades, that now that’s our pop culture.

JB: Yes, that’s what it is. It’s like we quoted the '80s so much in the '90s then the '90s became oh, that was when we quoted the '80s. And I guess you know the 2000s haven’t been super hilarious. There’ve been a lot of world turmoil’s. So I don’t know how many hilarious references there are, there were to make. But no, we’ll see what happens. We’ll see, ask me again in 20 years.

Wayne State University: I was wondering how it was like working with Jim Field Smith compared to let’s say Judd Apatow or Ben Stiller? I guess this question is more directed toward Jay.

JB: I mean each thing is its own--is a different beast, you know--and Jim, the sort of school that he came from is like, he was a sketch comedy actor and director over in England so his mind is wired a certain way and he has his own sensibility. I guess the connection between the three of them would be that they all allowed me to ad lib. Mind you I don’t really give anyone much choice. I will ad-lib no matter what. Whether or not they use it is a whole different story. I guess he’s also closer to age to me than the others. I guess the main difference would be he has a, you know, your quintessential dry English sense of humor.

University of California San Diego: Well we’re big fans of Undeclared here, so this is really exciting for me and…I’m wondering if you’ll ever consider returning to television or if you’re sticking with films from here on out?

JB: No, I honestly, I guess I’m going to sound like a cliché here but I really just want to do what I dig and really for me the coolest opportunities as of late have been in movies. But if there was a bad ass part to be played on TV, you know I mean I guess I did a couple episodes of Numbers just because that’s my friend Krumholtz’s show and so I, you know they’d bring me down once in a while to play a friend of his. If something awesome came along I would jump at the opportunity regardless of what medium it’s in.

UCSD: I understand that a lot of the actors have backgrounds in, like, sketch comedy and improv, and I know the director also has a background in improv, so I was just wondering was there a lot of improving while you guys were filming, and did any of it make it onto the final cut of the film?

NT: Luckily, not only do we all have the same sense of humor but me and T.J. actually both went to Second City. I think he was in Chicago too at some point. But, yes, what was cool was we got to play around...but, then there’s also a couple scenes where [the jokes] flat out just weren’t in the script, and then made it in the movie somehow, and those are always kind of cool when you get to see that. Not only like a director getting behind it but even a studio getting behind it. There’s all ways …

JB: You put the four of us in a room together, no matter what,it’s going to be an improv festival.

University of Wisconsin Madison: All right, so Jay, you’ve found a niche for yourself, and I mean this in the nicest possible sense.

JB: Oh God, here it is.

UWM: As the nice dweebie guy. How similar would you say you are to this character type?

JB: Oh gosh. I’d like to think I’m nice, and I’ve spent a lot of time by myself so in those respects, I’m similar, I guess. I think I’m a lot crazier than people know, and I also grew up in one of the worst neighborhoods in Montreal so I guess that also lends something to it. So, I think close enough, but definitely that’s not me 100 percent.

Bowling Green State University: This question is for Jay. After [working on] the amazing, Are you afraid of the Dark?, what drew you to comedies and romance films?

JB: That’s a good question. It’s weird, it’s like I’ve kind of had two careers for the past ten years, and you know for every big budget comedy I’ve made in the States, I’ve done a weirdo Canadian independence film. And some of those have been pretty dark, and so I don’t know that my American resume reflects all of my tastes. As cliché as it sounds, I kind of just like doing whatever I’m going to have. If it sounds like I’m going to have fun doing it and I would pay money to see it myself, then I’ll usually do it. And sometimes that's drama, sometimes that's comedy, sometimes that's a weird slasher movie.

Northern Arizona University: Do you think this movie will really appeal to college students? What makes this movie different from other romantic comedies?

NT: That's a good point, or a good question rather. What makes it different is...here's a cliché but [what is at] the heart of the movie is that it has a chutzpah. Because I really think that we have four sympathetic characters and I really — there's not a douche bag among us. And it's this time it's four nice guys I suppose. And what will college students like about it? I think it's a hell of a fun way to spend two hours.

University of California Santa Monica: This is for both of you guys. Jay Baruchel you first started on TV, and Nate you started on commercials. So what does it feel like to transfer from that to a big feature film?

NT: It's been a long time coming. You know, I've been out here for about 10 years total and it took me about 3 years to even be able to get an agent that would take me on for TV and film. But the crazy thing was, it was the commercials that got me an agent for TV and film. They opened some doors for me, and I was able to do a couple of guest spots. I mean, obviously I didn't move to L.A. to do a thousand commercials. That's not really living the dream necessarily, but hey, if it got me to this place I'm pretty excited.

JB: And I’m just a huge movie nerd, and it's just kind of awesome that this is what I do for a living. You know, I can't relax without watching a movie so...how I relax and how I earn my living are the same thing.

Northwestern: Could you describe a little bit what the dynamics were on set? Are there any interesting stories that you'd be able to share from filming?

JB: The dynamic on the set was very much the dynamic of this phone conversation. It was, you know, some serious [stuff], some laughter, and wasted time permeated by moments of productivity. I'd say we all just kind of found each other real funny and poor Jim the director was basically camp counselor just trying to kind of herd us and keep us and keep us in line right.

NT: I think it was exactly like going to camp. It was [the film] Poison Ivy. What was a good camp movie? Meatballs, both of which are movies I've never seen.

JB: Poison Ivy is an erotic thriller.

NT: No, it was the one with Michael J. Fox.

JB: Oh, you're right.