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Interview: Michael Cera's quiet Revolt

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At the age of 21, Michael Cera has been acting professionally for more than half his life, since he was a pre-teen in his native Toronto.

His breakthrough role - at least in Hollywood - was the Emmy-winning but short-lived sit-com, Arrested Development. It showcased his comedy style of misdirection: mild-mannered exterior, disguising an inner fire that sneaks out in hesitant, unexpected ways.

His open, slightly defensive smile is a secret weapon, masking a subversive streak that comes through in his work, such as Youth in Revolt, opening Friday (1/8/10). In that film, he plays Nick Twisp, a would-be teen rebel who taps into his inner bad-boy - literally - to woo the woman he loves.

When I spoke to him at the Toronto Film Festival in September, he seemed to be sharing a joke with himself. Affable and polite, he also had the same unflappable, mildly deadpan persona that has identified him on the screen.

Q: Francois Dillinger is Nick's tough alter-ego. Do you have any darker urges you wish you could act out that way?
A: I try to lie as often as I can but I don't lie as constantly as Francois. I had fun playing that part. I like to do things that let me step outside myself. I figure any acting is an opportunity. You step away from yourself and get to do whatever you want. I've never done anything criminal. I've never gotten in serious trouble. I have such a sense of identity with the feeling of getting caught, that lump in your stomach. It's not something I can relate to.

Q: In the scenes where you play both Nick and Francois, Francois has a mustache. Did you grow one or was that a stunt mustache?
A: It's fake. It's a make-up mustache.

Q: What does it look like when you grow a mustache?
A: Sort of pirate-y. There were a lot of quick changes and I was going back and forth so a fake mustache made sense.

Q: How much of a challenge was it, playing scenes with yourself, as it were?
A: It was only tough because the timing can be tricky. You have to commit to a take doing one character. Once you commit, then you do the other side. You watch it over and over and figure out the rhythm. It's not impossible but it's tricky sometimes, with just an eyeline or an earwig to work with. It got easier as we went along.