One of our favourite pastimes as Canadians is reminding Americans which of their biggest celebrities are actually from this side of the border. We slip into it as a conversational default anytime pop culture in the US is raised. Yeah you know, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Seth Rogen, Samantha Bee, Drake, Biebs is one of us. But one actor who we don't have to trot out the "did you know he's Canadian" line for is Jay Baruchel. The star of Undeclared, This is the End and Man Seeking Woman is a national rarity, a flag-waving patriot (he literally has the Maple Leaf tatted on his chest) who has long eschewed full-time status in the US for Canada. I recently sat down with him in a Toronto diner to talk about why he stays, the difficulties of making a movie in this country and why Canada needs a superhero in 2017.
VICE: So you bought a comic book house, that seems like as close to living the dream as it gets.
Jay Baruchel: It's up there.
It's up there?
Yes, it really is. It's like the closest in my adult life that I felt to, what it was like when I was like playing with my G.I. Joes, with my friend as Space Man, or all of us in a tree house, or all of us playing cops and robbers at recess. It's imagination with reckless abandon, and getting to talk incredibly earnestly about what cape looks cooler, and all that stuff. [laughter] Stuff that I know some people grow out of, but I never did, and yes, it's, it's technically it's a job too. I say I have work to do, and it means that I have to read comics for four hours. So it's a pretty good recipe for a life.
What exactly is your role as Chief Creative Officer. What does that look like when you go to work?
I basically help weigh in on big world-building stuff where our various story arcs intersect, places for the entire world to go and I get to weigh in on pretty much all the big creative decisions.
Captain Canuck kind of kicked all this off . And when he was first introduced to us in the 70s he was fighting apocalypse in the 90s which is very funny.
Yeah, yeah and communists. A lot of communists.
Who knew. Why do you think we need a Canadian superhero in 2017?
Oh gosh, that's a terrific question. We have such an uneasy connection to our patriotism. We have like, the World Juniors, and the Olympics every four years where we're allowed to put on red and wave flags, but we seem to think of it as beneath us most of the time. And that's a good thing I think on balance. I'd rather grow up in a country that makes you think of that stuff that way. That isn't all fireworks and gung-ho shit. That being said though, the negative repercussion of that is you have a lot of a country that is often in an identity crisis. We've found a Canadian style in music, we have found a Canadian style in certain things, I don't know that we have necessarily in every art form. And so it helps having guys like that to bang the drum. Why he makes sense now. He's an aspirational character like Superman or Captain America. He's someone for us to want to be. He's not someone to show us the worst parts of ourselves. That's something that never goes out of date, and is particularly important when circumstances force Canada into being a sole defender of multiculturalism in the 21st century.
It's something I hit on when I was a kid, why it's OK to be patriotic. If the flag that you're patriotic towards in a country you're patriotic towards represents stuff you believe in, then that's fine. I think patriotism is nonsense if it's unconditional, and I think that there's a lot for us to be proud of, and I think that [Captain] Canuck embodies all of that.
How is he different from his US counterparts?
One of the main things is, he second guesses everything he does.
That's very Canadian.
Yes it is. Yes it is. The art on his suit isn't his idea. He doesn't want to wear it, he's convinced that Canada needs it. That's again a very Canadian thing to me. That he is a defender of pluralism and freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, all these different things, but what sets him apart is, he doesn't rush in, and he will use force only when he has absolutely no other option. He takes the punches more than he gives them. I think that's a very Canadian thing as well.
Are there certain stories that you're specifically drawn to? In this world?
Oh geez, yeah. I mean I Iike, yes hundred percent, I like the big crazy ones that take you away from your life, you know. Like i don't think escapism is a dirty word. I think a lot of my favorite art is what would be called escapist, and so I love immersive stuff with the deep rich world that feels transportive, that takes you somewhere else. You know, teleports you, and you forget where the hell you are, you know, like my favorite book of all time is Frank Herbert's Dune. And from the first sentence to the last, you are in that world the entire time and you are not just light years away, you're millennia away. So I want to give people something interesting that captures their imagination, takes them on a crazy journey.
I want to talk a bit about your directorial work. You're patriotic in a way that's really refreshing….
Oh, thanks, that's nice of you to say.
But that can be really hard here in the film industry in particular. So what is it about Canadian stories that you're drawn to and what keeps you working here?
It's really just because I'm Canadian, you know, I… You don't get to pick where you're born, right? And I was not just born here, I was born here and raised in a family, specifically on my mom's side, that believed that this was the best country that the world has come up with, and that wasn't just a platitude. I was raised in the boonies, like I was raised very well versed in American culture. I am very, very well versed in British culture, but also well versed in our culture. I grew up slightly frustrated that the only time that I ever saw Canadians doing Canadian things was when work sort of dried up for them elsewhere. And then they would, suffer being on TV up here. I like making movies, and I like making comics, you know, it seems reasonable to want to do that here.
It feels like, we're a baby country, and who knows if there's even a Canada in a hundred years, because maybe Nation States are a thing of the past anyway. And maybe I'm on the wrong side of history, either way, I'd like to leave something behind, and contribute because that's what survives. The books survive, the paintings survive, you know we, that's how we know so much about Greeks and Romans. It's because of that shit, and we have tapestry here that is there to be contributed and added to, and if I can do what I can do elsewhere, it just means less.
Do you think that part of is that we don't really know how to define a Canadian film? I feel like, there's so much struggle and it's always historical, we don't really tell modern stories about people like you and me…
Hundred percent. There's a certain pool of people who have had the keys, for a long time so it's hard to get stuff made in Canada, but once you make something, it's easy to keep making that same stuff.
You can make it forever.
And that's a good thing and a bad thing, but the bad thing is, is that it like incentivizes you to make the same thing. I'm sick of seeing Victorian Canada on the CBC. We tell boring old stories, and so what that does is it turns people off from our stories, and our history. And that sucks because I think we have as vital and as interesting and colorful a history as anywhere else. We have just done a piss poor job of lionising it. There is bloody, sexy, vital shit at every time of our history. We just don't know about it. And it's just beneath us, as a people to fucking wave a flag about it. Again that double-edged sword, it's a good thing, I'd rather be from here. I try to tell Americans that in Canada we would rather you fail, but be humble, than succeed and be a show off. Right? That's not even up for debate right, and I like that, that's a nice thing. But one of the negative side effects of that, is we have a very soft sense of who we are.
Do you think, is that the biggest challenge then, of making movies in this country? Other than the financing?
I think really the biggest challenge of making movies in this country is getting people to watch it, and for it to not to feel it like homework. My buddy Jacob says, "We have to get to that point where you are not doing me a favor by watching my movie, or not feeling like you're going to vote when you watch my movie. You watch my movies because you feel like watching a movie."
Jay Baruchel's directorial debut ' Goon: Last of the Enforcers' landed in US theatres last week after a Canadian release in March. Check it out, America.
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