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Jay Baruchel: Our Dude, Full of Grace

FROM NOTRE-DAME-DE-GRÂCE TO HOLLYWOOD

By Jason Santerre

Was it him noshing on Matzo ball soup at Snowdon Deli? Could it have been him savouring gravy and chicken at Chalet BBQ? Was it really him shuffling through Trenholme Park, hands in pockets with wild wavy hair bouncing in thebreeze? When he stops to say hello and you hear that voice you’d say yes, yes indeed. It is he. It’s Hiccup! Hiccup, of course, is the animated protagonist of Dreamworks’ Oscar-nominated films, How to Train Your Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Jay Baruchel, who will be 33 this April, provides the voice for teenage viking Hiccup who comes from a clan of dragon slayers but finds himself in a predicament when he befriends a dragon named Toothless.

Of course, if animated films aren’t your cup of tea, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t recognize the voice, but there’s no mistaking that face. Most Canadians under the age of 40 remember his turn as co-host on the science show Popular Mechanics for Kids. As a teenager, he hit Hollywood’s red carpet running, tackling small yet memorable roles in films like Almost Famous, Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, and a string of comedies (Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder, She’s Out ofMy League). He even got to play himself — a sign you’ve made it in tinsel town — in the apocalyptic knee-slapper, This is the End.

Despite a list of box office hits and rubbing shoulders with L.A.’s A-listers, it was his work on small-budget The Trotsky that garners some of his fondest filmmaking memories if not his best acting performance. “It was so cool to not only work with my sister (Taylor) and one of my best friends (fellow Montreal actor Rick Mabe), but I was filming in my hometown during a particularly wonderful Montreal summer,” he recalls of the 2009 film, adding that writer-director Jacob Tierney is also an NDG boy.

Canadian films that are both intelligent and entertaining might seem like a paradox to some, but Baruchel feels the industry here has come a long way. “Quebec cinema has got it made,” he says. “Not only do Quebecers make great films, they get butts in seats and they support their industry.” As for the rest of the country, he says we have to stop with the inferiority complex and forget about comparing ourselves to the States. “We have lots of great talent and amazing stories to tell. I am very hopeful for the future of Canadian cinema.”

If Baruchel is a fan of Canadian celluloid, multiply that by 100 when it comes to his beloved bleu-blanc-rouge. Needless to say, he jumped at the opportunity to work with his holy Habs. “My agent called me up and said that the Canadiens called. Before he could give me the details, I was like: ‘Yes, yes, whatever it is, yes!’” The team asked him to film short TV and web spots for their latest fan club initiative, Club 1909. Baruchel was beyond thrilled to meet his heroes.

“It was hard not to brag to all of my friends, but of course I had to text everyone immediately upon getting the news,” he says with a laugh. “All of the guys were true professionals and they had improvisational skills that many actors I know would kill for. Of course, I was star struck, especially when working with Carey Price. He was just the best, most professional and down-to-earth guy.”

At the time of our interview, Baruchel is working in enemy territory: Leaf Land. Toronto is the setting for his latest project, FXX network’s Man Seeking Woman, a “sweet and surreal look” at the exploits of a naïve, somewhat dorky twenty-something in a constant if not totally gut-wrenching search for true love. Think blind dates with trolls, time travel, aliens, and more weirdness than you can shake a beaver tail at. “It’s a crazy show, but it’s so much fun,” he says.

Of course, the pay cheque and all the perks that come with stardom aren’t too bad, either. But it’s clear that Baruchel takes pride in hard work, a humble outlook, and a guy-next-door demeanour. The fact that he’s a homebody and a self-confessed mamma’s boy helps keep him grounded. “I have a close-knit group of friends in NDG,” a borough where he still resides. “My friends would never allow me to get too big for my britches. Besides, they just don’t care that much about Hollywood. I’m still just Jay from NDG.”

Spring 2015, Vol 7 N°3

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