Interview: Jay Baruchel of How to Train Your Dragon — "It's very reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back!"
Thu, 25 Mar 2010 12:13:59
Jay Baruchel Videos
Jay Baruchel is everywhere right now—and he deserves to be.
The Toronto-born actor manages to attract the most unattainable hottie ever, Alice Eve, in She's Out Of My League, and he rides the most un-rideable dragon ever, Toothless, in the animated 3-D adventure How to Train Your Dragon. On Friday March 25, Dragon lands in theaters, and with a combination of pulse-pounding action sequences and a unique storyline, it's the best DreamWorks comedy ever. This is the kind of flick that'll keep parents and kids at the edge of their seats, and Baruchel is a big part of it.
He plays the film's main character, Hiccup, the most timid and sensitive Viking in the land. Unlike his old man Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) and his instructor Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson), Hiccup couldn't kill a dragon to save his life—literally. However, he does befriend one—Toothless—and all kinds of awesome dragon flight sequences follow.
"Toothless is the coolest little animal in the world. He's badass and looks amazing when he's flying. When he's attacking, he's the fucking coolest thing ever and when he's up close he's basically like a kitten," laughs Baruchel.
Jay Baruchel sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about becoming Hiccup for How to Train Your Dragon, nailing the right voice cadence for animation and some music that influences his work—including Godspeed You Black Emperor.
How to Train Your Dragon really has an action movie vibe. Was that something you felt?
That's what it is to me! It's more like Excalibur and, on the cartoon end, it's more like Sword and the Stone. It's really epic, and the action scenes are as cool as anything that will come out this year. I find it legitimately and genuinely moving and, of course, it's pretty to look at.
There really are some pulse-pounding moments.
It's legitimately exhilarating. All of the scenes that I get to ride Toothless are pretty special. The finale—the big battle scene at the end—is like the end of the first Star Wars or The Battle of Britain.
Is the movie more about Hiccup becoming a Viking or becoming a man?
It's about growing up more than anything. There's that classic story. You can relate it to high school—when you're in high school, all of the qualities that you believe are your failings or your inadequacies actually end up being what makes you special. That's how it is in the movie with Hiccup. It's almost an analogy for being an artsy kid in high school [Laughs]. You don't play football or hockey. You're always sketching, doing little doodles in your book, writing something or making music on your guitar at night when no one's around. You would do anything to trade places with the people who play hockey. Of course, you grow up and you realize you've got a lot to offer. That's what this movie is to me. Hiccup is not your quintessential Viking—the chicks are more alpha male than he is [Laughs]. Circumstances change though, and there's a paradigm shift. Ultimately, all of the things that Hiccup thought were wrong with him end up saving the day.
It's a great message for kids, saying it's okay to be different and to embrace the things that make you unique.
That's the whole point. Just because you're a square peg now, it doesn't mean that's how it's always going to be. Everything has a season, and everybody fits in somewhere. It's just a question of figuring out what you're lot in life is. If you're wired differently at all when you're a kid, it can be pretty painful to show up to school every day and wonder why the hell you aren't more like the kids you go to school with. Of course you graduate and you realize you don't want to be king high school [Laughs]. I think it is a pretty special and important message for kids.
Do you ever listen to music to get into character?
Often, yes! Thank you for noticing that. I've always had a weird cadence to the way that I spoke anyway. When I'm just trying to react to things, it comes out more. I'm pretty pleased because you don't often hear guys who talk as weird as I do in these kinds of movies. I think it lent an interesting voice to Hiccup because there are other ways to do it. There are other ways to do it. The more on-the-nose way would be to make him the super aw-shucks-y and wet-behind-the-ears stereotype. I'm just a huge weirdo [Laughs]. I love how it turned out.
What were you listening to for Hiccup?
If I listened to anything for How to Train Your Dragon, it probably would've been some old Celtic music because I listen to a lot of old traditional, Irish and Scottish music that actually has quite a bit in common with music from Norway and such and some real epic stuff like the score from Last of the Mohicans.
Is that what you typically listen to?
I legitimately listen to everything. I have an iTunes with over 20,000 songs on it, so I'm just a huge music nerd, period. It depends on what mood I'm in, but I listen to a lot of that stuff, given the fact that I have two roommates back home and one of them is a huge film score nerd. Film music is often being played in our house. My favorites of all-time would be New Order, Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, Godspeed You Black Emperor, The Rolling Stones, Notorious B.I.G.—I listen to all sorts of shit. Godspeed You Black Emperor is kind of "it" for me. I was lucky enough to see them to do their last show in Montreal, and it was amazing. They've all split off into their own side projects. One of them is called A Silver Mount Zion, and they're actually scoring the last movie I made in Montreal, which is cool. If you listen to something like the score for The Fountain, you hear a lot of Godspeed. Everyone of my friends who makes short films, the temp music is always Godspeed.
Is it harder to play an animated character?
I was a better actor for it, for sure. Playing him robbed me of some of my crutches. I gesture quite a bit and I fidget a lot. When I couldn't do any of that stuff, it forced me to be a better actor. I was without my crutches [Laughs]. It was almost like going to acting school because I never went to acting school. It was more of a question of understanding the tone of each scene and recording the dialogue to match that. It was a piecemeal process for three years where I'd record once every couple weeks or couple hours.
You nail your parts in both How to Train Your Dragon and She's Out of My League.
Thanks, man! I appreciate you saying so. It's real neat, and it turned out funny that way. The past three or four years of work all came to fruition within three or four months of each other, but I'm happy about it and thank you for saying so, it means a lot.
You have to keep challenging yourself as an actor, and that's the only way any artist will grow.
I try my best! No matter what people will always have preconceived notions about any artist. The goal is to always to try to challenge myself and do as many different types of things as possible just to keep me interested. In the best case scenario, if I've done my job correctly, Hiccup is the audience and the audience experiences the movie through his point of view. I knew who he was, and I was proudest of the arc that we've given him. It's really exciting. The end was very reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back to me, even. That's awesome [Laughs].