‘Superbad’ actors: This ain’t your typical teen flick

Ed Symkus

When a teen-centered coming-of-age high school comedy works, it can be a rollicking joy to watch. Cases in point: “American Graffiti” and “American Pie.” When it doesn’t, well, if you’ve already bought your ticket, you might as well take a nap. Cases in point: “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Career Opportunities” and countless others.

“Superbad” comes across as an offbeat love child of “Graffiti” and “Pie.” It’s raucous but smart. It’s outrageous but sweet.

The story is simple. It covers a day and a night in the lives of some high school seniors — longtime best pals — who are trying to get some booze for a party while also dealing with the fact that they’re about to be separated for the first time when they head off to college. The film’s success has as much to do with the touch of producer Judd Apatow (“The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”) as it does with the spot-on choices for the young lead actors.

Jonah Hill (“Virgin,” “Knocked Up”) plays the crass, foul-mouthed Seth; Michael Cera (TV’s “Arrested Development”) is Evan, the film’s voice of reason; newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse tackles the central role of the nerdy but self-assured hanger-on, Fogell aka McLovin.

The three actors recently sat down to talk about why this teen film is different from others, who they think will enjoy it, and how viewers might identify with it.

“I think the focus of this is the friendship of the two guys,” says Cera in a high-pitched voice. “Normally, I don’t think teen movies care much about that.”

“Normally, teen movies are about a guy and a girl,” chimes in Mintz-Plasse, who has a sort of stunned look about him, as if he still can’t believe he landed such a juicy part in the film.

“Or they’re about some guys who you just don’t believe are friends,” adds Cera.

Hill, who is just as boisterous and almost as foul-mouthed in person as he is in the film, feels that one of the strongest components is the quasi-autobiographical script by Apatow regular Seth Rogan (the star of “Knocked Up”) and Rogan’s longtime pal Evan Goldberg.

“It’s an extraordinarily well-written script,” Hill says. “And to make things sound more natural, we were able to be pretty free with how we wanted to say things. It was more about the intentions of the scene and the emotional beats than the actual words.”

Hill goes out of his way to praise Apatow, who worked closely with director Greg Mottola (“Arrested Development,” “Undeclared”) on “Superbad.”

“Judd also worked on ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ and ‘Freaks and Geeks,’” he says. “Something always spoke to me in his work about things that I could relate to — real human emotion mixed with things that were insanely funny to me.”

Cera mentions that everyone involved made sure the film’s main point stayed on the friendship between Seth and Evan, and that they were going through the beginnings of a kind of separation anxiety.

“That was always prominent with Greg,” he says. “That’s what we had to care about when we were making it, and hope that the audience cares about that, too.”

All three actors have been surprised at the reaction the film has been getting from adult audiences at advance screenings.

“My mom saw it and loved it, and my dad saw the preview trailer and said that was exactly the way he and his friends talked when they were younger, says Mintz-Plasse.

“It’s aimed at us,” says Hill, referring to the film’s intended audience. “Our theory has been that if we like it, there’s probably a lot of people out there like us that’ll like it. But I think it’s reached far beyond what we ever thought. My parents liked it. It was amazing for me to hear my parents say that they related to it. I guess they remembered what it was like back in high school.”

Cera adds yet another dimension to why he thinks the film works.

“If you don’t feel that you were these guys in high school, you at least knew them. It’s something everyone can identify with. And not just the three main guys, but also all the other high school characters. It’s not like a cartoon version of high school.”

Hill jumps in with why today’s teens will feel right at home watching it.

“I think people respond to honesty,” he says. “I felt that the reason the movie was made is there was a lack of reality and truth in movies about teenagers. The goal was to make it as realistic as we could. Young people hate being talked down to and lied to, and I think they respond to things they recognize.”

Cera brings the discussion back to the adult audience for a moment, wanting to make something completely clear. It’s sort of a warning.

“I think the first few minutes of the film could be a bit jarring,” he explains. “It’s like stepping into a hot tub. You dip your toe, and it feels like someone’s attacking you, but once you soak in, you can relax and turn the jets on.”

“Superbad” opens Aug. 17.

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@cnc.com.