Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jay Baruchel's Next Move

Here's a piece I wrote for that didn't get used.
The alumni of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's now cult-classic TV show "Freaks and Geeks" (including Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel) have risen to the top of Hollywood's A-list in the past few years. Shortly after the cancellation of "Geeks", however, Apatow created a second show, called "Undeclared", which again featured Rogen and Segel, but also gave actor Jay Baruchel his "big" break as the show's lead. Like its predecessor, the show only lasted a single season, but 9 years later, Baruchel is ready to take his swing at Rogen-level fame with a trio of 2010 films. The actor co-stars in Disney's big-budget, live-action Sorcerer's Apprentice alongside Nicolas Cage, took on a starring role in the recent R-rated success She's Out of My League, and voices a CG hero in DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon.

Baruchel has seemingly shied away from Apatow's success thus far: his only appearance in one of the director's films (as producer or director) is an intermittent role as one of Rogen's roommates in Knocked Up. In the meantime, he's appeared in one or two indie projects, such as the aptly named real-time dramedy Real Time, and continued to be a supporting actor in big movies like Tropic Thunder and the Night at the Museum sequel. None of these films have trumpeted the actor as a leading man, but perhaps that's part of the actor's plan. A good parallel might be actor DJ Qualls, who made a splash in the 2000 comedy Road Trip and quickly graduated to a starring role in 2002's The New Guy, only to see his movie career immediately stall. Qualls even appeared in I'm Reed Fish, a 2006 movie that happened to star Baruchel.

Regardless of what Baruchel's plans were, 2010 is already looking like it's going to be his breakout year. The producers of League were clearly looking to be in the Apatow business, starting with a romance and raunch formula and ending with a movie poster basically consisting of Baruchel's scrunched-up face, just like the campaigns for The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Banner ads peppered the internet, trumpeting the film's R-rating, looking to catch the attention of the same demographic that made The Hangover a $300 million hit, the studio, after sitting on the film for around a year (thanks to the Paramount/DreamWorks split), carefully positioned it a safe two weeks away from John Cusack and Steve Pink's Hot Tub Time Machine. The strategy worked: League isn't a box-office smash or even a low-key hit, but the film's solid numbers proved that Baruchel's non-existent star status didn't seem to bother audiences.

Now, Baruchel is looking at what may turn out to be two of the biggest films of his career, regardless of whether he'll be personally responsible for their box-office success. Apprentice, which won't be arriving until August, has plenty of cache behind it, including producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Jon Turtletaub, and star Nicolas Cage -- three men who turned two National Treasure films into nearly $400 million in domestic box office reciepts (a third is in the cards) -- as well as the basic name value of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (the film is an expansion of the original Fantasia short with the buckets and brooms, minus Mickey; you can see Baruchel recreating the scene briefly, near the end of the film's teaser trailer), even though it's not really a remake. Right now, though, How to Train Your Dragon is getting big buzz as DreamWorks' best animated project yet, with additional kudos for the 3D. Even if Baruchel won't get stopped on the street for participation in Dragon if it turns out to be a smash, he'll likely find himself doing more and more voicework (just like his "Geeks" alum Seth Rogen, who laid down tracks for Shrek the Third, Kung Fu Panda and Monsters vs. Aliens).

On one hand, most voice actors aren't exactly celebrities, and, while the practice is increasing, most actors would prefer to do their work in front of the camera rather than behind the microphone. Then again, for Baruchel, maybe that level of celebrity makes perfect sense. By doing a film where he doesn't physically appear, and another where he plays the co-lead, he's probably locked up plenty of steady work, retains his cred as a supporting actor, allowing any profit and credibility League creates to be icing on the cake. Even if "Jay Baruchel" never becomes a household name, it looks as if he's got his future in perfect order.

No comments:

Post a Comment