Q&A: “THIS IS THE END” Star Jay Baruchel
With the current rage of Earth’s demise playing out in cinemas worldwide (OBLIVION, AFTER EARTH) and many more such grim flicks to come, it’s refreshing to see the Apocalypse played for laughs in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s uproarious THIS IS THE END (see review here). Not only is it the year’s funniest film, but it plays most of its horrors straight: pits of hell opening on Melrose Boulevard, huge winged demons ripping the heads off pathetic humans and Jonah Hill doing his best Linda Blair impersonation. Equally novel, THE IS THE END has Hollywood’s A-list of comedic superstars (Rogen, Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, etc.) playing their debauched selves. Fango caught up with the film’s lead, actor/producer Jay Baruchel, an admitted horror geek who provided insight into THIS IS THE END’s diabolical mischief.
FANGORIA: The last time we spoke (see here and here), you had just made two of the best indie films in recent years, the low-budget sleepers GOOD NEIGHBORS and GOON. Here you are in a big Hollywood movie again.
JAY BARUCHEL: Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in.
FANG: So how did it feel to be back on the major-studio playing field, working with the Hollywood big boys?
BARUCHEL: It helped that I know these big boys personally; that took some of the edge off. A movie’s a movie, but the trailers were somewhat bigger on this one.
FANG: When you made the short film JAY AND SETH VS. THE APOCALYPSE, was it always considered a dry run for a feature?
BARUCHEL: Oh, God, no. No, no, no. We basically did that to help out our friends. [Seth and I] did that because our pal Jason Stone was graduating from USC’s film school, and he wanted a calling card and proof of his directing abilities, so we decided to do this weird short film. It was a cool idea that Jason and [co-writer] Evan Goldberg had developed, and we thought it would be a fun thing to do for two days. And then, somewhere along the line, someone thought it might be a movie-movie. But I can say personally that doing it as a feature was the furthest thing from my mind when we shot the short.
FANG: What was it like playing yourself in THIS IS THE END?
BARUCHEL: Awful in a lot of ways [laughs]. No, it was weird. It came with its own problems—its own little obstacle course of things to worry about. It was very strange, but there were times when I had to leave any semblance of shame or self-awareness at the door and just let Jason and Seth guide me toward some insanity. There were moments when I had to be like, “All right, real Jay wouldn’t do this, but apparently movie Jay would, so I’ve gotta let movie Jay take the reins.”
But then, in a lot of ways, it was way, way easier, because I got to talk the way I talk and no one could tell me I sounded too Canadian or any of that stuff. On an American feature, like clockwork, at least once—at least once!—I will get caught on some telltale word, and they’ll be like, “Ah, you sounded pretty Canadian there.” And nobody could say that on this one. That, if nothing else, made it easier.
FANG: How close is the movie Jay to the real Jay? I can’t imagine you getting much work done with all that partying.
BARUCHEL: [Laughs] Yeah! I’d like to think real Jay is a bit more productive, and that he’s not as much of a stick-in-the-mud Beetle Bailey-type character, but who knows? That could just be a pipe dream, but I’m hopefully a bit more of a doer and less of a complainer in real life.
FANG: Rogen has said that a few actors resisted doing some of the extreme things he and Goldberg asked them to do. True? If so, did you balk at anything?
BARUCHEL: Oh, yeah, we all had limits based on our upbringings, parents, religion, whatever. We each had shit we couldn’t say—aside from Franco, apparently—and had a moment, at least one apiece during the movie, where it was like, “I can’t say that. I can’t do that, man.”
FANG: Can you give an example of what your “respective limit” was?
BARUCHEL: It was likely something to do with either my mother or my hockey team. There was probably something I didn’t want to say about my family or city or something like that.
FANG: Would THIS IS THE END have been as effective if you had played characters other than yourselves?
BARUCHEL: I suspect not. One of the unique things about this movie, and how we sneak our way into the craziness of the third act, is that it acts in part as an interesting storytelling misdirect. And strangely, even though we’re playing ourselves—actors from another planet of wealth and shit—it ends up being strangely more accessible, in a way. People have their guards down, because they’re watching a bunch of goofy actors playing themselves and they get sort of fixated on that, and then while they’re looking that way, the shit hits the fan and monsters show up from the other direction.
FANG: If this movie was turned just a little more in that direction, it could have been a straight horror film. The demons are really scary-looking.
BARUCHEL: Indeed, I agree. I had such an awesome time with that. You know me, you know where my tastes lie, so easily the most fun part for me was being privy to all the gore and mayhem, and getting to see all the cool concept art. Those were conversations I always wanted to chime in on.
FANG: The ROSEMARY’S BABY scene homages the original so well, except for Satan’s enormous phallus. Whose idea was it to put big dicks on the demons?
BARUCHEL: That’s just Seth and Evan’s weird penile obsession—same as in SUPERBAD. They actually released a book of just dick drawings from the movie. I thank Christ I can’t take responsibility for that. I’m not similarly afflicted with a phallic obsession.
FANG: You’re one of at least 11 producers credited on the movie; what did your duties entail in that job?
BARUCHEL: Oh, Jesus. Making sure I got up and got to work on time. I was on Jay Baruchel duty as producer. I was the actor I was tasked with being responsible for, so making sure I got there on time, with an Xbox on set for me to play NHL on.
FANG: The IMDb says the budget was $25 million. Is that possible?
BARUCHEL: Yeah, somewhere around there—25 to 30. It was on the small end, studio-wise. But that’s still a megabudget to me. That’s three times the budget of GOON, a movie I produced and wrote.
FANG: THIS IS THE END is loaded with major cameos. Was there anyone you tried to get who was not available?
BARUCHEL: Oliver North! No, that’s not true. I don’t think that conversation ever happened. Yeah, there were a few people whose schedules couldn’t work out and all that stuff, but there was nobody who was against it and refused to show up. We were quite blessed with the humor and “F**k, yeah” attitude everyone showed up with. There was nobody who had their guard up. Everybody who came to hang out and work knew what was in store, and they were up for it, and that was incredibly inspirational. I don’t know how I’d be able to complain about having to do something I didn’t want to do if Rihanna was fine with doing anything; she’s one of the most famous people on Earth! Clearly, if she’s cool with it, I should be cool with it, too.
FANG: Was any of the movie improvised, or did you stick to the scripted word?
BARUCHEL: Oh, no, no. I mean, in this movie, the scripted word… There’s a lot of that in there, but for the most part, we would figure out amongst ourselves what each scene needed to be, where it needed to go, the beats that had to be hit, the storytelling that needed to be covered, and then we would ad-lib like crazy—all sorts of different permutations. That’s Seth and Evan’s process, which is a version of Judd Apatow and Ben Stiller’s process, which is to know what you have to do and then try a bunch of different ways to get there. There’s a shit-ton of ad-libbing in the movie.
FANG: What is the status of your screenwriting gigs: RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE, EXORCISM DIARIES and PIG?
BARUCHEL: Thank you for asking. We had a meeting with the RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE producer yesterday. We’re now going about trying to get all our ducks in a row—to secure our director and cast and all that. Evan and I turned in a script for that about six or seven months ago, and we’re really, really proud of it—it might be the best thing we’ve written so far. And then when I go home to Montreal, we start working on GOON 2. We’ve already done a shit-ton of work on that, but it’s time to put pen to paper.
FANG: Are EXORCISM DIARIES and PIG on the back burner?
BARUCHEL: PIG is, sort of. We just want that situation to be as good as it can possibly be. A lot of things have to go right to get a movie made, and this one is our baby and so dear to our hearts, we have to make sure the right situation presents itself. We were replaced on EXORCISM DIARIES. We had a quintessential LA writers’ experience of developing a project with a bunch of executives and seeing that company get bought out by another one and losing every single executive we worked with, so it’s all over. Come Monday morning, there were new executives with no idea of the context of the project or the history of what came before it or anything we were given, so we were just shit out of luck. But it was fine with us, because we have enough stuff to do, and I’m also hosting a Just for Laughs gala [in Montreal] this summer, so we have a bunch of shit to write for that, too. And then there’s a bunch of other various things that haven’t seeped into the public consciousness that we’re trying to find ways to make. That’s where I’ve been the most busy, in the writing shit.
FANG: What kind of character do you play in the ROBOCOP remake?
BARUCHEL: I play the sleazebag fashion-label-whore head of marketing for Omnicorp.
FANG: In past years, you’ve spent your summer vacation at Montreal’s Fantasia film festival. Can fans expect to see you there again this July?
BARUCHEL: Yes, they can! But this time as a moviegoer. I don’t think I’ll be invited back to the jury anytime soon [laughs]. I was on the jury last year, and I got to see a bunch of incredible things. But, hell yeah, I’m home all damn summer. I may milk my jury membership from last year to get tickets, but it’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to.