Jay Baruchel talks “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” and “Random Acts of Violence.”
A few weeks back, I was invited to Dreamworks Studios in Los Angeles to interview, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’s Dean DeBlois and Jay Baruchel. I had a lovely time chatting with both of them about this film and their future endeavors. Below you can find my full interview with Jay where we talk all about his experience working on these films as well as his upcoming film, Random Acts of Violence
Scott Menzel: Hi, Jay, very nice to sit down and chat with you. I have to admit that I love Goon.
Jay Baruchel: Oh, thanks!
Scott Menzel: It was really just so freaking good.
Jay Baruchel: Thank you.
Scott Menzel: And thank you for making the second happen, cause, I love that one.
Jay Baruchel: Really? I directed that one.
Scott Menzel: Yeah I know you did.
Jay Baruchel: So that means a lot. Thank you.
Scott Menzel: I know you did. Yes. Congratulations, I mean, to be part of this animated franchise it’s got to be a special feeling.
Jay Baruchel: It really is, man. Thank you. Yeah, it really, really is. I feel like I stumbled into it arse backward too because like, all I did was go to an audition. And twelve years later, I’ve been able to be, the hero in this saga that is a global phenomenon. You know, these movies and our T.V. shows mean, a great deal to a great many, to a lot of people, you know? And I think you can toil your entire career in cinema and television and never be a part of something, that’s like, a quarter as impactful as any of this. So, none of that is lost on me, and so I always, I have a real sense of duty and obligation that this is important and we’ve gotta give something that our fans and our characters deserve, right? And so yeah. And there’s a healthy amount of reverence, you know? It is an absolute honor to be a part of this. It’s a privilege like you said. I take nothing for granted and you know, I haven’t played another character for twelve years straight. That says something.
Scott Menzel: I was going to ask you, coming into a film like this in a franchise where I mean, I talked to Dean and he was telling me the story of how he’d just got thrown in jail with this project originally. So, how, for you, what is it like, voice acting this character, and seeing it go from almost like a little kid to a full grown adult?
Jay Baruchel: Crazy, because it’s also, it kind of maps out. So in the first one, I felt like he was my son. Because he was enough like me, that I felt connected, but it wasn’t me. And I think somewhere in the middle of the second one, he stopped being my son and became me, in a way. A version of me. And now in this one, I’m like; I have more obligations and responsibility now than I did when we started these movies just like Hiccup. And it has just been, no other character I’ve played has, means what Hiccup means to people. So in addition to the work just being great, I love voice acting. I don’t have to be self-conscious, I don’t have to have lights and people staring at me, I don’t have to wear makeup, I can turn off the vein bit in my head and not worry about what I look like at all. So it was like, no self-consciousness really in the recording booth. It’s way more pure, way more direct. It’s the scene, and me and a mic and my director, and that’s just like honest and real, and being robbed of my crutches of gesturing and mugging and all this shit, made me a better actor. So I’m like a way better actor now than I was when we started, and I also think that the work I do in these movies is like, yeah, it’s better because I’m focused on nothing but that, you know?
Scott Menzel: Yeah. How does the experience differ from doing these movies, versus the voice for the television series?
Jay Baruchel: Yeah, it doesn’t really. It doesn’t really. The personnel is different, just because Dean is not really involved in the show, but we have amazing, amazing producers and writers and directors on that show. You know, Doug and Art, they really know their shit. And again, they, like Dean, encouraged us to sort of taking ownership of these characters and to find ways out of a scene that maybe they hadn’t anticipated. And so it was the same sincere creative collaborative process. And really, Hiccup’s Hiccup, and so whether it’s a small screen or a big screen, the gig is the same. And I’m really, I’m proud that the same cast that did the T.V. shows did the movies because I don’t know any other situation where that happened.
And so I think that’s really cool and a rare thing, and I’ve had so many people come up to me and thank me and say like, “that’s a special thing, that it’s all the same shit.” And also, we never got rusty. So even if there were gaps between the movies, we were still always doing episodes of the show, so I haven’t stopped playing him up until this point.
Scott Menzel: I was telling Dean too, it’s crazy, that any animated franchise, that the same director returns for all of them.
Jay Baruchel: Yeah, that’s a rare thing.
Scott Menzel: So say like, someone bounces, “Oh I did one, I’m going to move on.”
Jay Baruchel: And our movies are a very singular process. You mentioned Pixar, those are very writer room movies. I’m not taking issue or shitting on their process because that’s their process and people love those movies. But they have a bunch of ideas and a bunch of personalities over the course of years, and they eventually make their movie but this is just Dean. And again, I can’t think of another studio, outside of Japan where animation directors are auteurs. I can’t think of another movie over here or animated franchise, whatever you want to call it, where its auteur cinema. Because it’s just Dean writing and directing it like that’s the real deal. These movies, which an argument could be made, depending on what you think makes an independent film, but I would say every Scorsese and Spielberg film is an independent film, I would argue that same metric applies here.
Scott Menzel: Interesting. You rarely hear that about animated films. How do you get such rich emotion out of the character without acting alongside someone?
Jay Baruchel: Oh thank you. That was nice of you to say. Well, I get to get rid of all the noise in my head. There’s not a crew full of people and any of that shit, and so that allows you, kind of wiggle room to just do it and to focus. So I’m way more focused. It’s not like I’m an airhead on set, but in a recording booth, there’s just a zeroed in quality that I don’t get on set.
And I think that the being robbed of my crutches, forces that energy into my voice, and it makes my voice stronger. And I hate to keep sort of going back to him, but it’s Dean man. It’s him. My relationship with him as my director is absolutely sacred and I have nothing but respect and trust in him. Respect for and trust in him, and so if I’m there recording with him, I know he sees the whole thing in his head and his heart, and he feels every second of it. And so if he tells me it’s right, I know it is.
Scott Menzel: So I can I switch gears and actually ask you about this horror movie that you have? I read a little bit about it and I’m pumped about it.
Jay Baruchel: Thanks, man. That’s very nice of you to say, man. So, my writing partner Jesse and I, who we wrote, Goon: Last of the Enforcers together, we’ve been trying for seven years to make this movie. Like, it was ready to go before Goon 2 was.
And we had opportunities to make it over the last seven years and we said, “no,” which is what you’re never supposed to do. However, we said no because we wanted to do it right. And the resources were never there, and there’s an understanding that if it’s a horror movie that it has to be bottom dollar. It has to be made for a bargain. And we were like, “that’s not this flick. It’s not three kids in a house.” There’s a bunch of shit in this movie that needs a bit of something, so we’d rather not make it than make it shitty.
So, we finally got to make it, and it is called Random Acts of Violence starring Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster and myself, and it is, an incredibly distinct bit of cinema. Now, I say that for better or worse. I would rather make a movie that as many people hate it as much as they love it. I would rather make like that than a movie that everyone forgets. I don’t want to be a part of a movie that people fall asleep to on an airplane.
So I am so proud of Goon 2, being at 47% on Rotten Tomatoes because that tells me that I got a strong fucking reaction out of everyone that watched it.
That’s all I want. And so, I think Random Acts will be a similar fucking thing because it goes, very hard. And what was really interesting is like, you know, with Goon 2, we very much tried to make it operatic, comic book like and Peck and Paw, and so it was deliberately over the top because it was that. That was the essence, it’s direct, melodramatic emotion. This violence in this new film doesn’t have as much blood and yet it is so much harsher. Because we had a specific kind of dogma we wanted to adhere to. We don’t want anyone to enjoy the violence in this film. We don’t want anyone to have that kind of, midnight madness, high five to the guy next to you reaction because you saw a head pop clean off, and a geyser came out. Because as entertaining as that shit can be, it’s not scary. Are you ever scared in that over the top gore scenario?
Scott Menzel: Never ever.
Jay Baruchel: Right, you’re not. And so I know, if anybody is watching my movie and they turn to the guy next to him, I want for them to say, “I got to meet you in the lobby. I can’t watch this because this is fucking clumsy, weird, angry and mean.” So it is hopefully all those things and incredibly beautiful too because my cinematographer, Karim Hussein, who is one of the great living cinematographers and we were allowed to do whatever the fuck we wanted. And so, I haven’t earned the right, but I got make my auteur. I got to do some shit on this on this movie, and I’m super fucking proud of it. The thing sings, the performances are awesome and it’s heavy as fuck, man. And there’s this great bit, it’s a ten-minute trippy fucking scene of Kubrickian mind shit right in the middle of it, that’s like, it goes off on a tangent that I think most movies would keep to a little thing, but it just keeps going on with that tangent.
So it’s dreamy, harsh and colorful, and hopefully very, very human. Because the performances, I encouraged my actors and when you write the dialogue, you can tell them to throw it all out and I would just tell them, just fucking react. Who gives a shit what the lines are, I’m telling you, I wrote them, so fuck them. Just get in there and be you, because I want the human interactions in this movie to feel like an Altman flick.
So everyone’s minced up, everyone’s talking over each other, it feels fucking organic and real, and so when the shit hits the fan, it’s way harsher. That’s the idea.
Scott Menzel: Sounds awesome. Where is it coming out and when?
Jay Baruchel: We have distribution in Canada, and I think in France because our movie is funded by France and Canada, a French company in Canada. So we have to sell it in the states and the rest of the world.
Scott Menzel: Are you thinking about trying to get it into the Toronto International Film Festival?
Jay Baruchel: Yeah, our goal will be to come out at TIFF, yeah.
Scott Menzel: Well, hopefully, it is. I’ll see you there man.
Jay Baruchel: Thank you very much. It was great fucking chatting with you, man.
Scott Menzel: Thank you, hopefully, we will chat again soon.