Home is where Jay Baruchel’s heart lies
Montrealer ‘can’t think of a worse place to spend eternity’ than Hollywood
Just for Laughs gala host Jay Baruchel has experienced a banner year, with the success of This Is the End and his run as Sherlock Holmes at the Segal Centre.
Photograph by: Rogerio Barbosa, The Gazette
MONTREAL - To most, the film This Is the End is a work of wild comic fantasy. To others, including its star Jay Baruchel, it plays more like a sobering documentary — and not just because all the principals use their real names. Its premise is that Hollywood is ripe for obliteration, because of all its excesses and, oh yeah, because the apparently odious Forrest Gump and Jonah Hill are products of the place.
“Agreed on all counts — 100 per cent,” Baruchel cracks.
Baruchel is knocking back his customary breakfast of bangers and mash at one of his favourite haunts, Ye Olde Orchard on Monkland Ave. The rake-thin Montrealer needs all the sustenance he can get for a major live gig on Thursday: he makes his Just for Laughs debut in hosting a gala at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier. The job comes with its own set of challenges, but at least it’s on his home turf.
“I like to think that I’m a bit more fun to be around than I am in (This Is the End), but I am every bit as self-righteous as I come across. A lot of my dislikes in that film are fairly truthful. Hollywood is not my cup of tea, and I can’t think of a worse place to spend eternity.”
Fortunately, that’s where the line between fact and fiction is less blurry. Unlike the version of himself in the film, Baruchel doesn’t have to deal with an eternity in L.A. after the Apocalypse. “But it is a pathological fear I have, that any time I leave to go to Hollywood or anywhere, I will never see Montreal again,” he says. “It’s at least part of the reason I got a maple leaf tattoo over my heart, because if I never get to see the shores of Canada again, at least they will know where to send me if I die.”
In This Is the End, Baruchel is an actor who fears and loathes Los Angeles, who ventures there reluctantly for work purposes. His best friend, Seth Rogen, chides him mercilessly for his anti-Hollywood stance. That part of the role was not much of a stretch for the real Baruchel, who, to the chagrin of his actor buddies and management team, will not uproot to California, preferring to dwell in his beloved N.D.G. and to head to Hollywood only for film shoots.
Baruchel, 31, is a creature of habit, an old soul in a young man’s body. He is true to his roots and friends. He lives close to where he was born and raised and where his family still resides in N.D.G. And he has more than proved his point that he can stay put in Montreal and still survive.
“Often my definition of success and failure is at odds with that of my agents and managers. If all that I really wanted was just the brass ring, maybe I would live in L.A.,” he says. “I flirted with the attempt of being a leading man. And there was one embarrassing year when I did She’s Out of My League, where I actually hired clothing stylists.
“I kept getting crap from my people for the way I looked on TV. They told me that’s what I had to do. So I did it, and I did all the talk shows and the magazines. And as it was getting going, I realized I didn’t want that. In the end, it just didn’t explode for me. I was in movies that were adored, but the brass ring never materialized. And I thank God it didn’t.”
Flash forward a few years, and these past 12 months have been pretty much golden for Baruchel. Goon, the raucous smash-mouth hockey epic he co-wrote and in which he stars, won Telefilm’s Golden Box Office Award as the highest-grossing Canadian-made English feature of 2012. Two months ago, he completed a sold-out, acclaimed run as the lead in Sherlock Holmes at the Segal Centre. This Is the End, which opened six weeks ago and is based on a short film he co-wrote with Rogen, is still going strong at multiplexes. Plus, he stars in the coming remake of RoboCop, with Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson, and in the heist flick The Art of the Steal — which premières in September at the Toronto International Film Festival — playing opposite Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon. He also lends his pipes to the animated feature How to Train Your Dragon 2, slated for release next year.
And he is in the midst of scripting Goon 2 with writing partner Jesse Chabot. Baruchel is set to reprise his role and Michael Dowse, who was at the helm of the first Goon, is already on board to direct the sequel. “A lot of the boys (from the Montreal Canadiens as well as other NHL teams) have reached out to tell me how much they liked the film and asked if they could be in No. 2. Now I’m going to guilt-trip them into doing it,” Baruchel says with a grin.
“It’s been a really crazy year, but my life is finally taking the shape I wanted it to. My family is great. I’m one payment away from owning my house. Acting has afforded me such an amazing opportunity, such an amazing life. But it’s not my raison d’être. After doing Sherlock Holmes, I feel I have very little to prove to myself as an actor. I’m sure I have plenty to prove to other people, but f--- ’em. I’m just feeling really good right now.”
Still, the year did have some heartbreak for Baruchel. He had been engaged to marry his longtime girlfriend, Toronto actress Alison Pill, who starred with him in Goon, was featured in the Woody Allen films Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love, and can be caught in the HBO series The Newsroom. They broke up six months ago.
“It was a hard thing, because it was the first time that I was ever with someone with whom I went public, and I made the mistake of being public about it. I was so proud of the relationship, so I was also proud to talk about it. But it just wasn’t meant to be — at all,” he says with a shrug. “Some people just aren’t compatible. Our philosophies were always at odds with one other from the start. As much as you try your heart and ass off, it’s just not going to be.
“But when it all went pear-shaped, every single one of my friends and my mother and stepdad came out of the woodwork to say it was always going to end terribly. They didn’t want to say anything while we were still together.”
It didn’t help that he wanted to be based in Montreal more than Pill did.
Without naming her, Baruchel diplomatically acknowledges he is now with someone “whose company I greatly enjoy.”
There is a certain innocence and vulnerability to Baruchel, and he is almost devoid of attitude. This has served him well in films from Million Dollar Baby to Knocked Up, The Trotsky to This Is the End.
“Make no mistake: I have one of the world’s worst tempers — especially when someone cuts me off in traffic. That’s what I inherited from my (late) dad. But unless someone gives you reason to do otherwise, you should treat everybody with the same respect as you would your family.
“Regardless, some people mistake politeness and kindness for weakness, especially in Hollywood. Down there, I make an effort to be professional and easy to work with. I’m always the first actor on the set. But some mistake that for wet-behind-the-ears, eager guy. They think I can be pushed around. No. I learned toughness from my father, who did six months in Bordeaux prison. So don’t push me too far, motherf---ers!”
Baruchel concedes that hosting his first Just for Laughs gala will have daunting aspects, particularly the experience of performing live in front of a few thousand patrons. He has been spending considerable time putting together a video for the show. Some have suggested he has solid standup instincts. He certainly has improv instincts.
“The hosting is a great opportunity. It takes a lot to make me laugh, but I do love comedy,” says Baruchel, whose comic tastes range from Dr. Strangelove to Mr. Bean to Norm Macdonald. “But the way I see it is that I have a finite amount of time left and don’t see standup as an option. I want to focus on my strengths.”
Politics, oddly enough, could be a strength. Another reason he likes living in Montreal is that he doesn’t like the way U.S. politics are so polarizing. “There is so much anger there, and ultimately they have a government and politicians they deserve.
“Sure, we pay high taxes here. Growing up we didn’t have much money, yet education and health care were never concerns. As I get older, I realize why that is. Too many try to figure out how not to pay taxes, but this country raised and looked after me. Now I want to pay my part.”
So what about a run for office? “I’d be terrible,” he laughs. “My mother tells me it’s impossible to be a politician without lying, and she says I’m just too honest. That would be my downfall.”
Jay Baruchel hosts a Just for Laughs gala Thursday, July 25 at 7 p.m. at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts. Tickets cost $40.70 to $71.75. Visit hahaha.com.
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