There may not be two hotter young stars working today than Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, so throwing them together in a car and having them drive around New York City in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is the kind of genius casting that only happens a few times a year.
If you haven’t read the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, it’s a really wonderful first-person stream of consciousness love story, following the two title characters on a wild and oddly romantic night traipsing across New York’s Lower East Side. The movie diverges a bit from the book, having them drive around looking for hot rock band Where’s Fluffy? and trying to find Norah’s missing friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) who has gotten drunk and wandered off.
Cera first got attention on the short-lived Fox show “Arrested Development” playing Jason Bateman’s son George Michael, but then last year, he exploded, first by appearing in the hit comedy Superbad, then a few months later in the equally-huge Oscar-nominated Juno with Ellen Page.
Even with the differences from the book, there probably isn’t two better young actors who could play Nick and Norah, since they’re well-paired with the type of chemistry we don’t often see between actors of opposite genders under 25, maybe not since Ethan Hawke met Julie Delpy in Richard Linklatter’s Before Sunrise.
The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and ComingSoon.net had a chance to sit down with the two stars for a free-form bit of banter. Cera had somewhat of a homefield advantage, being from Ontario, but he’s very much like his characters in the way he talks and makes jokes in a very deadpan matter of fact way, and Dennings ended up being the perfect counterpart for the interview.
ComingSoon.net: How were the two of you cast for this and did you get to spend any time together before being thrown out onto the streets of New York?
Michael Cera: Yeah, we hung out.
Kat Dennings: We had a lot of rehearsals.
Cera: Yeah, rehearsals and hanging out, just getting to know each other. That was definitely helpful. We knew each other and we were comfortable with each other and with Pete (Solett, director) and with all the other actors before jumping in.
Dennings: And with the locations.
Cera: Yeah, we rehearsed at the locations, which I’ve never done.
Dennings: I don’t know why more people don’t do that, because it is the most practical thing I’ve ever heard of.
Cera: We actually blocked it out, so when we got there we didn’t have think about blocking, we could think about everything else. It was nice.
Dennings: It was really nice.
CS: Which one of you was cast first?
Dennings: You were first before anybody else.
Cera: Yeah, I met with Pete and then I was cast and that’s when he started…
Dennings: I don’t know if I was second cast, was I? Because me and Alexis and Ari were all cast around the same time. I think.
Cera: I think Pete wanted to find Norah before anyone else.
Dennings: It is just the girls when I was having my read with you, my final read with Michael it was me, Ari Graynor and Alexis Dziena. We all ended up getting the roles and we were all there together at the end. I wonder who beat everybody.
CS: At that point, you had already done “Superbad” but it hadn’t come out yet?
Cera: It had come out I think. It was a few months before. We had done all the press tours for “Superbad” and everything. It was last summer and then in September it went to Europe.
Dennings: Yeah, it did because I saw you at the premiere.
CS: This was shot last fall?
Cera: This was last November I think.
Dennings: October to December. I went home like December 15 or something.
CS: Were you fans of the book and were you comfortable with the changes that were made to it?
Cera: Yeah, I only read the book right before we shot.
Dennings: Yeah, me too.
Cera: But yeah I definitely liked it.
Dennings: I liked it a lot. As a big book person, I did want to do as much justice as I could. Movie Norah is different from book Norah, I’m not going to lie. The thing that I keep saying, which is true is that Norah does not wear a flannel shirt in the film, which is a huge part of her character in the book. I know there are some people who are upset about that.
Dennings: Yeah, people are.
CS: They are upset about a lot of things apparently.
Dennings: They are upset that I ask him to be my boyfriend and he doesn’t ask me.
Cera: People get so upset, but it’s not like we are taking the book away from them.
Dennings: The book is there.
Cera: I can’t feel too bad about it. I’m not going into their bedrooms and taking the book and putting the movie there. They need to think of it as a separate entity. When I like a book and it is made into a movie, I think of them as two separate things. When you read a book you project your life onto it, it is so personal and intimate. You are one on one with the author and there is no way that you can make a movie that is exactly how everyone pictured the book. There is no way, it is impossible. When making a movie I think you just have to think of it as a movie.
Dennings: Well said.
CS: How different do you think the movie is because your car doesn’t break down and you get to drive around? Do you think it changed the tone a lot or did you think it was necessary?
Cera: Yeah, I guess that helped a bit. Did that change at some point?
Dennings: Well, I crashed your car.
Cera: I remember there being some talk about how that happens.
Dennings: There were a lot of changes with whether the Yugo was not going to be used anymore.
Cera: And where we ended up and why we go to your father’s studio.
CS: It also allows you to add things like the taxi joke.
Cera: Yeah, I think it was a big part of it. I think it helped keep things moving.
CS: How difficult was it driving the Yugo?
Cera: Yeah, very, very difficult. I didn’t drive stick before that.
Dennings: Difficult to be a passenger inside the Yugo.
Cera: I had to learn on that to drive a stick and it hardly ran at all even for someone who knew how to properly drive a stick shift. They could hardly get it to go. I didn’t have to drive it too much.
CS: What were your New York experiences like before making this movie and during?
Cera: I always loved New York and had been there a few times and had always wanted to move there. That is always where I wanted to end up since I was really young and it was great getting to be there for a few months. It was awesome.
Dennings: I’m from Pennsylvania… Philadelphia. I love New York. I’ve spent a lot of time there being from Philly I was there all the time for work. It is kind of like a second home. I know where everything is. It’s great.
CS: It must be different working in New York while driving around different parts of the city.
Dennings: The Lower East Side is a different feel. New York is like in sections, everywhere feels different than everywhere else. I think the Lower East Side might be my favorite.
Cera: I was in the East Village while we were shooting, I was living there.
CS: We already heard about people holding up signs in windows at NYU while you were shooting there.
Cera: When was that? Oh, I remember yeah.
CS: Was there a tangible difference in the way people treated you while making this?
Cera: No, you just get recognized a little more. That’s the only thing.
CS: Did growing up in Brampton influence your desire to move to New York?
Cera: I don’t think it was that so much as seeing New York in movies and stuff. It is a great city.
Dennings: People are going to watch “Nick and Norah” and want to move to New York.
Cera: Maybe yeah. I saw “Ghostbusters” and wanted to move to New York.
CS: Do you still want to move there?
Cera: Yeah, someday, someday I hope to.
CS: Are you still living in Brampton? How many months out of the year?
Cera: It depends on what’s going on. This year I was working in Louisiana so I was there for a few months, so I go home whenever I can.
CS: So it was 29 days of night shooting. Had you ever done that much night shooting before?
Cera: This was the most.
CS: Was that easer or harder than you thought?
Cera: It’s just adjusting.
Dennings: It physically knocks you out, but it is kind of energizing…
Cera: You have coffee and stuff.
Dennings: You wake up and your little group is up and everyone else is living normal life and you are eating gummy bears at five in the morning together. It is kind of the best. I wish every movie could be night shoots.
Cera: Yeah, I love it.
Dennings: I don’t like the sun, so for me it is the best possible thing. I’m very, very pale. I have a sun allergy so shooting at night is kind of the most amazing thing ever for me in the world.
CS: How did you work on building the chemistry between your characters and what did you do to get to know each other better?
Cera: Just hanging out talking and having breakfast. You just get to know each other.
Dennings: Watched YouTube videos.
CS: Did you feel it was important to do that?
Dennings: Yeah, I mean we are basically in every single scene together. You can go in not knowing somebody very well and get to know them, but it helped to already know each other pretty well.
Cera: There are no surprises. It is nice to rehearse together and feel each other out on how we are going to play the parts I guess. Even if you don’t think about it, it is nice.
Dennings: It is easier that way.
CS: Did you find that you are musically compatible?
Cera: Yeah, we kind of are.
Dennings: Yeah, I love the Beach Boys.
Cera: We like the same stuff more or less.
Dennings: Yeah, we do.
Cera: Maybe you like some stuff that I don’t like.
CS: Like what?
Cera: I don’t know, what do you like that I don’t like?
Dennings: I can’t think of anything.
Cera: Do you like Coldplay? I might like Coldplay.
Dennings: Who doesn’t like Coldplay? They are really good. I don’t like their newer things, if you want to go there. Some people don’t like the Blood Brothers and I really do like the Blood Brothers.
Cera: Blood Brothers, huh.
Dennings: Do you like the Blood Brothers?
Cera: I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Blood Brothers.
Dennings: They are very screamy. There is a time and a place. A lot of people don’t like them. There is a time and a place. I like them… when I’m angry.
CS: Where does someone like the Beach Boys come in?
Dennings: He loves the Beach Boys.
Cera: Yeah, they’re great.
Dennings: I also love the Beach Boys. Sometimes we sang on the rainy days, remember we were on the roof then.
Cera: We sang “Don’t Worry Baby.”
Dennings: Yeah, we harmonized. Rafi wanted to throw up I remember.
CS: Led Zeppelin?
Dennings: Yeah, a lot of it.
Cera: The Who.
CS: Green Day?
Cera: Green Day. (laughs)
Dennings: I like Green Day.
CS: Now that we got that out of the way, Pete was talking about some scenes that you and other actors improvised. When you saw the film, were you happy with how much actually made it into the movie?
Dennings: I was ecstatic.
Cera: I haven’t seen the film yet. I’m seeing it tonight for the first time.
CS: What were you most ecstatic about seeing?
Dennings: Geez, I knew it was going to happen because Pete assured me it would be in there. We filmed it during the writers strike so Lorene couldn’t actually legally do rewrites, so if something wasn’t working, we had to make it up, which was great actually. When I punched Michael in the throat, there wasn’t anything written for me to say really. There was maybe an “Aaah” sound. Pete was like, “Just say something awesome,” so I said, “Let’s dance, douche bag.” It’s in and I’m ecstatic about it, and then you tell me you’re from Hoboken and I say, “Hoboken, no jokin’, waaat?” The “waaat” was all me, but the “Hoboken no jokin’” was told to me.
CS: Ari was talking about the scene where you two bonded and became BFFs while sharing chewing gum.
Dennings: Well, it was sort of the friendship seal, you know the final tattoo on our hearts. Ari is, first she has to hold fake vomit in her mouth, which is Ginger Ale mixed with ginger cookie. She may have told you, and she has a piece of gum in her mouth when she vomits this fake stuff into a bag and then she lies down on my lap and then she gives me her gum and I take her gum and put it in my mouth. In the movie there was a cut, but in life it happened. That gum was in her mouth and every single time… we started to do the new gum…
CS: Did you realize that you were doing that?
Dennings: We asked is there was anyway to not do this and they said “yeah,” but we said “Forget it let’s just do it.” We love each other anyway. We started to do a new piece every time, but it kind of tasted even worse because its bubble gum flavor and it had to be the same kind of gum for continuity.
Cera: It couldn’t be mint.
Dennings: No, it couldn’t be green it had to be pink, so finally after awhile it starts to lose its flavor, we just decided at the end I would take it out and put it back in her mouth and we would do it over again. If that doesn’t cement a bond I don’t know what does.
CS: How are things going with “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life”? It seems like such a difficult comic to adapt, I think Edgar is probably the only one who could do it. How’s it going? When do you think you will start that?
Cera: Next year we are going to start.
CS: Have you been working with him already on it?
Cera: They are working hard. He is just doing stuff that he doesn’t need me for right now. It is going to be good from what I’ve seen, from what he’s shown me.
CS: Have you read all the books?
Cera: Yeah, all the books that are available right now.
CS: Do you know who else has been cast? Anyone else from your circle?
Cera: My circle? No, they are just going to get who Edgar thinks is right for the parts. I think Mary Elizabeth Winstead is going to be Ramona. She’s great for it I think.
CS: Is that going to be another 24 hour movie, following in the tradition of “Superbad” and this?
Cera: Well, that takes place over a few months I guess or weeks. It’s not one night.
CS: You are 20 now, so did you ever see yourself as a leading man when you got into this?
Cera: No, I mean I started when I was nine and just doing commercials and I just auditioned and getting parts.
Dennings: And now you did it.
CS: Could you relate to this idea of running around town all night. Have you ever had this kind of experience before?
Cera: Yeah, for me it wasn’t a big city experience, but definitely being up all night with friends. In Brampton where I grew up.
Dennings: The only story I can think of is one of my best friends Rodine and I didn’t have New Year’s Eve plans and we ended up at a concert for The Killers with 7,000 people out of nowhere and I got hit in the hand with a champagne cork and people thought I was a vampire.
Cera: With a cork?
Dennings: The cork, it went… (shows how cork hit her hand)
Cera: That’s always really terrifying.
Dennings: I hoped it didn’t happen and it did and then we ended up in someone’s house and then we left and then we went to Bob’s Big Boy and had ice cream and then went home.
CS: Where did all this happen?
Dennings: In L.A. actually.
CS: Do you have any stories like that from Brampton?
Cera: The exact same thing happened to me in Brampton. (Note: We’re pretty sure he’s kidding.)
CS: Where is Brampton located from here?
Cera: Northwest about 45 minutes.
Dennings: Anywhere there are drag queens is an adventure that I want to take, because I love them. That’s true and there are drag queens in this movie and that was my favorite day of shooting. That was the best day of my life.
Cera: Didn’t like a fire alarm go off that day?
Dennings: Yeah, we have that on camera. We have that on film. You started the fire.
Cera: I didn’t start the fire. It’s always been burning since the worlds been turning. (laughter)
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist opens on Friday, October 3.