MIAMI BEACH — Canadians are easy to spot in Florida. Guys like Jay Baruchel don’t have to open their mouths and drop an “a-boat” or “I’ve never BEAN here before” to give away the game. They’re pink.
“I’m like a Jane Austen character,” the skinny, big screen funnyman admits. “I need a parisol when I’m down here.”
The 32 year-old Ottawa native has made his mark in indie films (“Fanboys”,” “I’m Reed Fish”) and as a part of the ensemble of some of the biggest comedy hits in recent film history — “Tropic Thunder,” “Knocked Up”, “This is the End.”
But the one part he truly owns is Hiccup, the hero of the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies, an animated character who is “the Jay Baruchel of the Viking World,” Christine Champ noted at Film.com. The character has Baruchel’s “angsty sarcasm”, his distinct, high-pitched voice, and his speaking style, which Time Out/London compared to “the beguiling delivery of a young Christian Slater.”
In “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” Hiccup becomes downright — Dare we say it? — Canadian.
“He’s a peacemaker,” Baruchel says of Hiccup, based on the hero of Cressida Cowell’s “How to Train Your Dragon” books. “He wants reconciliation, across the board. He IS Canadian. In a way. He’s a great moderator. He wants cooler heads to prevail and he knows we’re better off if we can all find a way to get along.”
Baruchel revels in talking about the “Dragon” movies — “Dragon 2” opens June 13, and “Dragon 3” is already in the planning stages. He bought into the franchise right away because of the character, who “represents people who are earnest in their beliefs, and who refuse to accept things the way they are. Just because this is how things have been doesn’t mean this is how they have to be or will be forever and ever.”
He connects Hiccup, a quirky tinkerer, blacksmith’s apprentice and dragon-loving dreamer amongst the pillager Vikings of his family and village, to his own life.
“Hiccup is a great emblem for anyone who is wired differently. He’s still all Viking, even though he’s the least Viking of them all. So he’s loyal. But I had a dad whose sole ambition for me was that I play hockey and live exactly the same life that he did. And that was never going to be an option…
“There’s a lot of kids out there who face that…Hiccup tells these kids that the things you’ve been told are failings can actually be virtues, and will be, if you give them time.”
A Canadian child actor summoned to Hollywood by Cameron Crowe for a role in “Almost Famous,” Baruchel picked up on how he sounded — slightly nasal-voiced — and looked different from the standard issue movie stars or even character actors of his generation.
“They’d say ‘You’ve got such a distinct voice!’ And I was never sure how to take that. Maybe because they’d IMITATE me when they said it. But it’s just another thing I’d have thought was a failing that has become a virtue.”
And the beanpole appearance might make him a great foil for his beefier Canadian pal Seth Rogen, and a natural to star in a movie titled “She’s Out of My League.” But it can be limiting.
“I know. I KNOW. I’ve tried. I am working enough to eat. I swear. At some point, I’ll just say ‘tapeworm’ and leave it at that. I weighed myself two days ago. I got up to 157. I was so proud, a new record!”
His preferred manner of working is diving into a new project with his extended family of funnyman friends — Rogen, Dan Fogler (for whom he just made “Don Peyote,” another stoner comedy), Judd Apatow and director Cameron Crowe, “who wrote me a small part, playing Bradley Cooper’s step-brother, in his next movie. Who WOULDN’T want a job where you get to hang out with your friends all day? Movie days are like 14 hours long, so having friends on the set, that’s an important consideration when I’m looking for work.”
Guys from that extended community — Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse — flesh out the voice cast to the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies. But that’s not why Barcuchel does these and will continue to do so, as long as Dreamworks keeps making them.
“I have stumbled to my ‘Star Wars.’ Most actors can spend an entire career and never have even a chance of being in something as impactful and positive as ‘How to Train Your Dragon.’ I am on board these until they’re sick of me, until they fire me.”