Plucked from high school to headline Roger Dodger, the NYC native has brought his charms to The Squid And The Whale and Adventureland, as well as this month’s Zombieland. But tell him he’s the next Michael Cera and he’s not amused: “It’s the most annoying thing to get compared to somebody.”
What do you do in New York when you’re not filming?
I ride my bike maybe 30 miles a day. Not for exercise, just to get around, and that’s my favourite thing to do.
Was Zombieland a good laugh to make?
It was enjoyable but I feel more comfortable with dramatic films. I find comedy difficult because if you hit the joke in the wrong way it can so easily look phoney, whereas drama comes more naturally to me. At the same time improvising with Woody Harrelson was the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. Improvising is my favourite thing to do and he’s the king of it.
Did you and Woody bond?
I was intimidated by him because he’s so famous and mysterious. Have you always been funny? Well, like a lot of people who are good at comedy, it is probably derived from being an outcast. I had a very difficult time in school so the only way to get through it was to try to be funny. If people are making fun of you, you have to make fun of yourself, otherwise it’s just painful.
You’re practiced in the art of self-deprecation…
Exactly. Also, since I was 18 I’ve got to be in movies so sometimes you want to be self-deprecating to offset people who feel some aggression toward you for being in stuff. People on the street sometimes will say mean things to me.
I get called Napoleon Dynamite because I have curly hair. I live in New York City and I ride a bicycle. I always bike down 9th Avenue and there’s this kid who goes to school there named Abraham. Every time I pass him, he calls me Napoleon Dynamite. He screams it out and his friends laugh. That was a fine movie but I wasn’t in it.
What do you say back?
I say, “Please Abraham, I’m not that man.”
Do you know Jon Heder or Michael Cera?
I don’t know them but I get compared to them. For two months, I got compared every day to the guy from Spring Awakening [Broadway musical]. People even insisted I was him when I said I wasn’t.
Is there anybody who’s inspired you?
Not really. I never pictured myself being in movies and I still can’t believe I’m in them. I don’t like watching myself in movies because I think I’m unattractive. I could never compare myself to somebody because everybody else in movies seems to belong there.
What’s your next film Holy Rollers about?
It’s the true story of a Hasidic Jewish ecstasy mule. Justin Bartha plays the black sheep in this Hasidic community who brings me into the drug dealing world. He’s amazing.
You like to joke about what a smothering influence your mother was…
It’s true, my mom is a nervous person from a neurotic family. She told me I was precious when I was young so she kept me fearful of everything and it turned me into a recluse. I still have separation anxiety. Now I don’t like being away from my girlfriend. I also have an Oedipus complex. My girlfriend is older than me and looks similar to my mom. I call her mom while we make love.
How old is she?
She will kill me if I say. With an ice pick. You know you can murder somebody with an ice pick and they won’t know? That’s what she told me.
Where would you like to be in 10 years?
On the toilet… I don’t know. I’m mystified when I get cast in something. I hope to fizzle out quietly.