Voicing Robin in “The Lego Batman Movie” opens Michael Cera up to a particular line of questioning: comic book talk. But he’s not a comic book nerd. He is, however, a cinephile. The “Arrested Development” alum is a regular at New York City repertory houses. Some recent greats he’s caught on the big screen include Peter Bogdanovich’s “They All Laughed” and Eric Rohmer’s “The Green Ray” (which is amazing, but “A Tale of Winter” might be his favorite). He says he’s spent the last few months watching films by the late Abbas Kiarostami, Mike Leigh and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
“You don’t really need any more than that,” Cera tells us. “That’s a balanced diet for me — just hanging out with those three guys all the time.”
One could easily talk to Cera about movies all day, but we move onto other topics: the value of art, getting around the city without a smartphone and not watching enough TV.
Is there a specific reason for why you see so many movies? Would you want to curate your own film programs at some point?
I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m a good organizer. [Laughs] I tend to enjoy other people’s efforts.
So you’re just seeing them because you like movies.
Yeah. I don’t see it as productive in any way for me. It’s just enjoyment. I feel like it’s a school, in a way. It’s kind of an unconscious philosophical education or something. When you spend time with people who are so connected to their own outlook on the world, and especially if they have a poetic one, it’s a really good feeling. It’s like soul food. You learn from it in ways you don’t even track.
It seems like that kind of cinephilia is becoming more rarified.
Do you think so?
Well, we all have more access to movies and music and books than anyone in history, but how many are going outside of their comfort zone?
Maybe that goes in cycles. I don’t think it moves in one direction. It’s like the way vinyl is having this new appreciation. I don’t think movies will die out. The really special ones will last forever. They’ll just keeping coming back.
It is ironic that smartphones have made so much of the world and of history available to us, but they’ve also robbed us of our attention spans.
I was doing press yesterday with Rosario Dawson [who voices Batgirl]. She really is a professor on a lot of things. She has this fountain of knowledge. She can regurgitate information in a really impressive way. It made me feel so ashamed. If I was trying to give you all the information I was trying to convey, I would probably just send you a link. [Laughs] She can present everything in a way I never could.
Some people can avoid that weird evolutionary step where we can no longer articulate complex thoughts.
It’s more device-oriented the way people use their brains now. Even the basic way we remember things. You think, ‘What’s that guy’s name who was in that movie?’ Instead of using every muscle in your brain to recall that, you can just look at your phone. It’s this externalization of memory and certain muscle groups. I don’t have a smartphone and everyone always asks me, “How do you get around? How do you get to an address?” The old way! [Laughs] That kind of baffles people, not having a GPS in your hand at all times. They’re like, “How can you function that way?”
I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get around without my phone.
What if your phone dies?
My phone is so old nowadays it randomly turns off. What if I’m going, say, three neighborhoods away?
You’re going to have to cancel your plans!
So, onto this movie. Are you also a comic book person?
I’m not. That passed me by. I think I would have gotten into it if I had a friend growing up who was into it. But I just never did. It never came my way.
I didn’t either, but in my 20s I got into the super brainy, super respected comics, from people like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.
I got into that a little bit in my early 20s. I liked “Paying for It.” It’s a great graphic novel-memoir that’s a rationalization of paying for sex and why it’s not a more socially acceptable thing to do.
I don’t think my brain has enough space to be crazy about comics. It’s too full already with movies and music and books.
There’s a blizzard of content out there. There’s only so many hours in the day.
Exactly. This is why I’ve never seen “The Sopranos.”
I know! People look at you like you just don’t care about anything if you haven’t seen a show they love. You see this disgust — like, “You are so much less than I thought you were.” [Laughs]
I know this look all too well.
It’s like you told them you don’t know basic addition. Sorry! We’ve led different lives!