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Columns

The Michael Cera Craze

We should not expect celebrities to embody their characters

By Brooke H. Kantor

Michael Cera’s recent article in the New Yorker illustrates the stereotypical personality that he embodies: the awkward, out of place white boy who, in pursuit of his genuinely good intentions, tends to exacerbate whatever tensions may exist in any given situation. Audiences everywhere sympathize with the Georges, Nicks, and Paulies they see on TV and in the movies—not to mention the fact that Cera’s repeated depiction of this one type of character is brilliantly entertaining. But no matter how often Cera showcases his one persona in the movies, I will never understand the Michael Cera craze. I have always found him entertaining, but that’s about it.

This summer I had the opportunity to hear Michael Cera speak at the Apple store in New York City. He and his friend Sebastian Silva were promoting“Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus,”a movie that Silva wrote and directed, in which Michael starred. Audience interaction with Cera and Silva was limited to a question and answer session at the very end, after which the two stars disappeared into the store’s back room. My friend, whose obsession with Michael far surpassed my mere respect for him as an actor and writer, was determined to meet him. We rushed out of the store and waited by the corner to see if we could catch him on his way out the back. And sure enough, about ten minutes was all it took for him to exit through the side-street door.

As we approached him, I took a deep breath to relish the moment—this was it. I was finally going to meet a famous person! Through my excitement, I reminded myself that he really was just another guy who had discovered a talent for acting and writing. Still, I couldn’t help but be just a tad nervous. So I decided to wait for a few people to go before me…you know, to tell him what big fans they were, to shake his hand, to tell him that Juno is their favorite movie, etc.

But Michael’s attitude about the situation was apparent from the moment he saw my friend and I walking toward him. I have never seen such a look on a person’s face: cold nothingness. His friend asked him, “Do you want me to get [so-and-so] so we can get out of here?” He replied curtly with more than a tinge of annoyance, “No. It’s fine.”

A small, squiggly semicircle of fans naturally formed around him as if he was radiating some magnetic force that kept each of us a certain distance away. The unspoken rule was that one person could approach Michael at a time. There was no suffocating him, or loud, obnoxious fans yelling in his face. Except one guy rudely snapping photos, everybody else asked Michael calmly and politely if they could take a photo with him. He simply declined. I wouldn’t even describe the general feeling of the group as excitement. On the contrary, awkwardness, that perhaps reached the level found in Michael’s movies, hung uncomfortably in the air. He just kept staring dead ahead, waiting for the next person to approach for whom he had to pretend like he was mildly grateful for their appreciation.

When that next person was me, I quickly ran through the lines I had prepared in my head one last time, extended my hand, and said, “Hi Michael, I just wanted to say that I really enjoy watching you act and I love your work. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to hear you talk about your new movie and it really is a pleasure meeting you.” My arm was left hanging, unshaken. I waited nervously for his response. After the most awkward pause of my life, he shifted his gaze to me for the first time (he had been still staring off to God knows where), and told me, “I didn’t hear a word you just said.”

There was no “I’m sorry…” There was no, “excuse me…” He didn’t request that I repeat what I had said—just that he didn’t hear a word. Taken aback, I fumbled with the few first words as I repeated my compliments. Only after I finished did he return my handshake, flash me a forced smile that looked more like he was sucking on a lemon, and reply, “Thanks.” I’m not going to lie. I was crushed. I would have expected this from maybe Brad Pitt, or Hugh Grant…but Michael Cera?

I will always laugh out loud at George. Nick makes me smile every time. And I still listen to Paulie on my iPod, from his recording with Juno. My appreciation for Michael as an actor has not diminished with this negative experience. But it did teach me the most cliché of lessons: No matter how unassuming and innocent a person’s character is in the movies—even if he plays that character every single time—I cannot form expectations about who an actor is in real life. We should all reassess our Cera craze to make sure that we don’t blur the lines between his personality and that of the characters he portrays, but instead simply appreciate Michael Cera, the actor, for his acting abilities.

Brooke H. Kantor ’15 is a Near Eastern languages and civilizations concentrator in Dunster House. Her column normally appears on alternate Mondays.

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