Jay Baruchel leads an on-screen revolution
A representative for Jay Baruchel calls twice to say the Montreal-based actor will be five minutes late for WE’s scheduled phone interview. When Baruchel calls (just two minutes late, for the record), he immediately apologizes. Was it a call from Judd Apatow that tied him up? A meeting about a How to Train Your Dragon sequel? Nope, the pizza guy couldn’t find his house. Again, he’s really sorry he’s calling so late.
Baruchel is happy to embody Canada’s famous politeness. The 28-year-old has spent the better part of the last decade firmly planted in Hollywood, earning himself a seat at Apatow’s round table (on TV in Undeclared and on the big screen in Knocked Up), a scene-stealing role in Tropic Thunder, and the lead voice role in an unexpected blockbuster, the above-mentioned animated fantasy How to Train Your Dragon.
His heart, though, is never far from making movies in his homeland, as evidenced by his new film, The Trotsky. An unusual teen comedy set in Montreal, it follows the exploits of Leon, an impassioned 17-year-old who believes he’s the reincarnation of another famous Leon, Socialist leader and Communist exile Leon Trotsky.
“The Trotsky’s as proud as I’ve ever been of anything,” Baruchel says. “It’s a love letter to adolescent passion. You know, the first time you start learning about the world or deciding to give a shit about what’s happening, you’ll never care as deeply about anything else.”
Jay Baruchel in The Trotsy.
Written and directed by one of Baruchel’s best friends, Jacob Tierney, The Trotsky mines the earnest rallying cries of that adolescent passion for plenty of laughs, while still paying tribute to the power of youth. Baruchel, who grew up with Tierney, intimates that Leon is really a composite of both director and star, though not one totally faithful to Baruchel’s own teenage identity.
“In high school, I was, unfortunately, almost the exact opposite of Leon,” Baruchel laughs. “I went to a fine arts school, and was surrounded by people who claimed to be either bisexual or Marxist-Leninist. So, as a result, I started wearing sweater vests and being a proponent of the death penalty. But really, it was just to piss them off more than anything. I was this horrible little Glenn Beck version of Leon when I was in high school, but I came full circle. I thought I was conservative, and then I started hanging out in the States and I was like, ‘God, I’m a fuckin’ lunatic! What the hell was I talking about?’”
Leon’s frenzied belief that he’s meant to carry on Trotsky’s socialist vision results in constant conflict with his businessman father (Saul Rubinek) and the dictator-like head of his high school (Colm Feore). In short order, he throws himself at a much older woman he believes is the reincarnation of Trotsky’s wife, spearheads a student revolt, and tangles with the police. For Baruchel, Leon’s obsessive drive was an intrinsic element of The Trotsky’s appeal. “Most people kind of grow out of being impassioned about certain causes, but me, I’ve just gotten crazier with age,” he says.
His chief concerns, he goes on to explain, include globalization, greed, power, and the ruling class. “I’ve learned some pretty horrible things involving rich people and Satanism,” he laughs, although it turns out he’s not joking. “As outlandish as that sounds, it’s actually something I really give a shit about... I’m out there fighting rich people and devil worshippers,” he insists.
The topic has so consumed him, he’s currently making a documentary about it, and he fully expects some professional and personal repercussions. Like Leon, though, he’s full steam ahead. “When my documentary comes out, then they’ll really be gunnin’ for me,” he says. “It’s a compendium of modern-day Satan worship and Satanic ritual abuse, and how it’s the dirty little secret of modern-day psychology. I can connect a bunch of different crazy events over the last 20 years, specific to Western countries, but... Umm...”
He trails off.
“I’d also like to say publicly that if I ever kill myself, I didn’t actually kill myself,” he continues, following up with a laugh. “I would never take my own life, but that’s how they like to get rid of you, so you know who to look for if it happens.”
Baruchel’s tenacity likely won’t make many rich or powerful Satanists happy, but his keen sense of the absurd and the macabre has made him one high-profile Hollywood friend: Nicholas Cage. Baruchel calls his co-star in the upcoming live-action Disney film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice a kindred spirit. “Whatever your fantasies are about him, they’re warranted,” he jokes. “He’s an amazing man. We’re both fuckin’ oddballs and loners and march to the beat of our own drum. He’s a true iconoclast and into the coolest shit. I’d always make him mix CDs and give him comic books and stuff.”
And yet, despite Hollywood’s seductive lifestyle, Baruchel insists that making Canadian films like The Trotsky and cultivating Canadian film culture are of “paramount importance” to him. “All I wanna do is direct horror movies in Montreal for the rest of my life,” he says. “I feel it’s incumbent upon me that if I have any career in the States, I maintain one in Canada. Unfortunately, the message most Canadian kids receive is that our stars only hang around our country when they can’t get work elsewhere, and that fuckin’ blows to me. Maybe they see me in Tropic Thunder and then they see me in an ad for The Trotsky and they go to see it, not knowing it’s Canadian. But I’ve tricked kids into going to see Canadian flicks. At this point, it’s just important to get butts in the seats.”
The Trotsky opens Friday, May 14.