When three grown siblings reunite in The Adults, “you don’t quite know where you are going”, admits actor Michael Cera, “but you sense there is some ocean of history underneath the surface between these characters.”
That element of intrigue is what kept Cera attached for several years while the project — from US indie filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa, and not to be confused with Alex Winter’s EFM title of the same name — went through different iterations, to eventually become the carefully shaded, subtly humorous drama that had its world premiere in Berlin’s Encounters section (Universal Pictures Content Group is distributing worldwide). “It evolved enormously, in a way that was very exciting,” says the 34-year-old Canadian actor.
In the writer/director’s third feature, Cera — who previously appeared in Defa’s 2017 Sundance ensemble piece Person To Person and has remained friends with the former actor — is front and centre as the intense and guarded Eric. On an overdue visit to his hometown, Eric’s attempt to reconnect with his two sisters (played by Hannah Gross and Sophia Lillis) after their mother’s death comes up against old resentments and childhood fantasy, making for some surprising and edgy on-screen moments.
While Cera has two sisters in real life, he insists that nothing about the sibling relationships in the film resembles his own family dynamic. To play Eric, though, he did bring to mind “a few people in my life that are confusing to me, that you don’t know how to read. I’ve known plenty of those guys, and even though it can be confusing to be around them, there is always something very intriguing about those people, too.”
There was another real-life connection in the game of poker, which Eric, once one of the town’s hottest players, turns to in the film in order to vent some of the emotions he usually keeps hidden. During the pandemic, Cera — who appeared as a card player in Aaron Sorkin’s 2017 crime drama Molly’s Game — and Defa both joined up for a multi-player low-stakes online poker tournament.
“We got really into it and would chat afterwards about the way we played and the way other people played,” he says. “The biggest feeling in poker for me is the pain you feel about making the wrong decision at any given moment. I think a lot of the agitation you feel playing poker was very real for Dustin, and he piped it into the script as an outlet.”
The Adults is a far cry from the studio comedies — including sizeable box-office hits Superbad, Juno, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and This Is The End — that made Cera’s name in Hollywood, with a blend of boyish charm and likeable smarts. Since moving to New York a decade ago, Cera has kept a lower profile and been selective about film projects. He has kept active recently with stage and voiceover work, and been a regular in Amy Schumer’s streaming series Life & Beth, but his last live-action feature released was Sebastian Lelio’s 2018 Toronto premiere Gloria Bell, starring Julianne Moore.
“I love working but I also try to work hard on my life outside of work and keep that nourished,” he says. “So sometimes a lot of time will pass before I take anything on, and I try not to stress about that. These days I tend to find projects by being in contact with people I know and enjoy collaborating with. Or things come out of nowhere.”
One such project arrived last year — Greta Gerwig’s studio-backed take on Barbie, set for release this summer. While he cannot discuss his role in the “top secret” film, Cera says he was impressed during the UK shoot that indie favourite Gerwig “seemed so loose and playful” in spite of the project’s reported $100m budget.
Also upcoming on the big screen for Cera is Dream Scenario, Norwegian filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli’s English-language horror comedy for A24. Still in development is Jonty, a comedy feature from Succession creator Jesse Armstrong and his former Peep Show collaborator Sam Bain, to which Cera has been attached for four years as the project sought the right director.
Cera, who will be in Berlin this week to support The Adults, continues “to push the boulder up the hill” on two projects he has written for himself to direct. Aside from making a few shorts and an online series in the past, directing is something he has only recently felt ready to tackle.
“I’ve always been interested in it,” he says. “It’s just taken me this long to have a project with a script I feel good enough about to go out with.”
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