Hoodie heartthrob Michael Cera doesn’t know who Jack Benny is. When I mention that Cera’s style puts me in the mind of Benny’s trademarked deadpan comedy the Brampton-born actor says, politely, “I’ve never gotten too familiar with Jack Benny.”

After a description of Benny’s low-key approach to selling a joke, Cera chimes in, “That’s such a secret in comedy. Charles Grodin is such an inspiration to me because he is so small, and yet you see everything he does. It’s really perfect and just enough.”

In Youth in Revolt, his third TIFF film (he was here with Juno in ’07, and with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist in ’08), Cera again displays his knack for subtle, gentle humour. He plays an anachronistic Sinatra-loving teenager who falls for the anachronistic Belmondo-loving girl who lives next door. When circumstance steps in to keep them apart, he changes his life to be with her.

For Cera the movie is a passion project.

“I just love the book,” he says. “It’s very cinematic and I thought the humour of the book would work very well on screen. That was the thought behind the movie; to capture the humour on screen. You can’t tell the whole story of the book because it is so huge, but the book exists for that reason. The book is its own enjoyment.”

His character, Nick Twisp, appealed to Cera because it had a ring of authenticity often missing from teen comedies.

“The character was real,” he said. “C.D. Payne wrote it really personally. It felt like he wrote it in his own voice. He wasn’t trying to write like a 14-year-old kid. He didn’t add in any false naiveté or didn’t try and sound less intelligent; he was just writing and it was personal. I think that’s why people connect to things; when they feel personal.”

Cera hopes audiences will connect with Youth in Revolt. “I hope maybe people will feel inspired,” he says. “That would be the best-case scenario ... That’s a hard thing to accomplish but it is special when it happens.”