Why must the big studios pick the Four Seasons Beverly Hills for all of their press junkets? Why can’t journalists and movie stars all shoot baskets together at Fairfax High, or fly up to Vancouver and pick wild blackberries? Even with airfare, the studios would save lots of money, and the stories would be much more engaging. Just Google “Superbad,” “Jonah Hill,” “Michael Cera” and “sitting on their asses at the Four Seasons” right now and you’ll find a dozen or more articles identical to this one, all featuring benign observations about the hotel décor interspersed with statistics and quotes from the Celebritron TriviaBase 2000T automatic celebrity-tidbit generator.
“It’s all on IMDB,” says Cera. “All these answers. All our trivia.”
“Yeah,” says Hill. “You can Wikipedia all that stuff.”
But if you must read on, know that while Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, stars of the latest Judd Apatow production, Superbad, are, yes, sitting with me at an outdoor booth in the street-level bar at, yes, the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, the Four Seasons Beverly Hills is not actually located in the city of Beverly Hills.
Unimpressed yet? How about this: Cera, whom you might remember as the young and wistfully deadpan George Michael Bluth in Fox’s brilliant-but-canceled Arrested Development, is not even of age. He’s still an actual teenager, at arm’s length from a gin and tonic. If I allow Cera to take a sip, I’ll be arrested instantly, probably taking down Hill and the whole Columbia Pictures publicity team with me.
But Cera remains sober, pure and, despite his efforts to the contrary, largely silent. That’s because Hill, already a Team Apatow veteran at 23, currently sporting a full beard and lighting another cigarette, is on a roll. “When the mainstream press sees a movie about young people,” says Hill, “they tend to call it a ‘teen movie.’ Which is an offensive term to me.”
“Yeah,” says Cera. “That’s something that —”
“Teen movies,” Hill continues, “always come with a negative connotation. It’s like, Yeah! Teens! And they’re all called, like, Booby School! And it’s all like, jocks! and nerds! and dweebs! and cool dudes!”
“And cheerleaders,” says Cera, faux-meekly, as is his way.
“Was Freaks & Geeks a ‘teen show’?” asks Hill. “No. It was a really good show about young people. And Superbad is a really good movie about young people; it’s not a ‘teen movie.’ ”
“It’s an adult movie,” says Cera, “featuring teens.”
“Maybe a different term than adult movie,” I suggest.
“The movie’s about friendship,” says Hill. “About me and Michael’s friendship. Yeah, there is the story of us trying to get these girls and trying to buy alcohol, but it’s really about your relationship with your best friend when you’re young. When you’re 16 or 17 or 18, your best friend is the person you spend all of your time with, who you tell everything to. There’s this indescribable bond. And in Superbad, the two best friends are realizing, over the course of this one night, that their friendship’s about to completely change, and their lives are about to go on separate paths. That’s what the movie’s about.
“My parents saw it,” Hill continues. “They’re on the square side. My dad’s an accountant — someone who would never like a so-called teen movie — and he walked out of it going, ‘Man, that’s how I felt in high school, and I went to high school in the ’60s.’ ”
“That’s awesome!” says Cera, with as little affect as possible, while still qualifying for an exclamation point. He’s really, really good at that.
The dynamic between Cera and Hill as they eat and drink (just water) at the end of a long day of interviews is remarkably similar to the one between their Superbad alter egos — the desperately shy, soft-spoken Evan and the impulsive, sarcastic Seth. The script, started by pals (and Superbad co–executive producers) Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen when they were still in junior high school (“to see if we could write a movie”), then rewritten with guidance from Apatow, relies on a palpable co-dependency between the characters and, to a lesser extent, between them and Fogell, their mutual friend whose “McLovin” fake-ID alias has, before Superbad’s August 17 release, already been turned into a summer catch-phrase legend-in-the-making by the mainstream entertainment media. (Premiere has taken an early lead on its competitors, with not only “These two young comedy stars are McLovin the spotlight” but “The summer comedy you are guaranteed to be McLovin.”)
“Damn it,” I say. “I can’t remember Fogell/McLovin’s real name.”
“Chris Mintz-Plasse,” says Cera.
“Just call him McLovin,” says Hill. “He doesn’t give a shit. He loves it. He calls himself McLovin. You know, he’d never even been on an audition before. He doesn’t realize how crazy his life’s about to become.”
“And he’s 17?” I say.
“Just turned 18,” says Cera.
“Like, a week ago,” says Hill.
“Chris is going to have a good summer,” says Cera.
“I noticed,” I say, “in his close-up at the end, when he’s gettin’ it on, looking down into the camera — you know, ‘It’s in!’ — that he looks uncannily like Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. I can’t get the image out of my mind.”
“I used to call him k.d. lang,” says Hill.
“I can kind of see that too.”
“You’re gonna print that,” says Hill, “and then k.d. lang’s gonna beat me up. She’ll be like, ‘Oh, man! I can’t wait to read this article on Jonah and Michael comparing me to McLovin.’ ”
Hill bums a cigarette off his publicist, who sits eavesdropping at a nearby table. “What’s really great about Superbad,” says Hill, who earlier this year co-starred in Knocked Up and Evan Almighty, “is that I don’t feel the pressure I usually feel when promoting a movie. Usually, you’re unsure about it — you’re like, ‘Oh, man, I hope people go see it.’ And this is the movie where I don’t feel an immense amount of pressure, because I know that the word of mouth . . . once some people see it . . . basically, I’m just confident in it. This is what we made, and we know that people are going to like it. Or at least that we like it, to the point where we’re not ashamed to go out and say, ‘You should really see this movie.’ ”
“I can’t picture it tanking,” I say. “But you never know. Mike Judge made Office Space, and I saw an early screening and thought it was a thing of great beauty. But then this horribly misguided publicity campaign came out, and the movie was gone from theaters in, like, a week.”
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“Office Space is a great movie,” says Cera.
“Entertainment Weekly did a big piece on Judd just before The 40-Year-Old Virgin came out,” Hill says. “They were all in the editing room, and they were having kind of like this same conversation — like, how does a funny movie do bad? And then Seth [Rogen] goes, ‘Office Space — one of the funniest movies ever.’ The bottom line is, you can’t predict how things are gonna do. I don’t think, ‘This is going to make a lot of money,’ or anything; I just think, ‘I could not be more proud of a movie.’ So, whatever happens, at least we know we’re happy with it. And the fact that the studio’s putting a lot of money into it is really nice too. They’re not just being like, ‘Fuck it — we’ll see what happens.’ ”
“It’ll be interesting to see how they promote it,” I say. “Because the basic premise — high school friends buying alcohol for a party and hoping to get laid — is something that any ol’ bottom-feeding studio might attack gullible teens with, to make a few quick summertime bucks. It’d be easy to get a D-plus or a C-minus.”
“This movie in the wrong hands,” says Hill, “is the worst movie ever made. It’s like Lord of the Rings. You give the ring to the wrong person and . . .”