‘Life & Beth’: Michael Cera Explains Appeal of Portraying a Character with No Social Filter — Q&A

The actor also noted you're "very aware of ticks" while shooting on Long Island.
Life & Beth -- "Kiss from a Rose" - Episode 110 -- Beth decides she can’t waste any more time on regrets. She makes a plan to move forward, cut some old ties, and forgive. John (Michael Cera) and Beth (Amy Schumer), shown. (Photo by: Scott McDermott/Hulu)
"Life & Beth"

Signing up to play Amy Schumer’s love interest in “Life & Beth” was a no-brainer for actor Michael Cera. When Schumer sent him the scripts of the 10-episodes series, Cera was immediately drawn to the project. “I just had a great time reading them. I could really feel the world, see the world, see the characters, and like all of the characters in the dynamics and the story.”

Cera, who’s made a successful career playing the sweet and low-key underdog in cult classic comedies like 2007’s “Superbad” and 2010’s “Scott Pilgrim vs The World,” brings similar sensibilities to the role of John, a farmer and chef who challenges Beth (Schumer) in ways that bring about change in both her personal and professional life. But Beth and John’s romantic journey is complicated by what seems to be a lack of social cues and aloofness from John, but Cera believes that audiences will relate his character: “Sometimes he gets stuck on something like a thought or a piece of logic that the conversation gets sort of stalled out on. It’s like, if you just accept this piece of information, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from, and everything will be clear. Why can’t you get that? [He’s] unable to sort of put himself outside of himself and see it from a holographic 3D way that maybe makes it easier for him to understand Beth’s side of the conversation.”

IndieWire caught up with Cera via Zoom to discuss working with Schumer and unpacking the character’s eccentricities. This interview has been edited for clarity.

IndieWire: Beth is initially attracted to John because of his honesty and transparency.  But as their relationship unfolds, the audience starts to piece together John’s behavior is indicative of being on the autism spectrum. What kind of conversations did you have with Amy concerning this reveal?

Michael Cera: It’s not explicitly stated, so it was not a huge part of the character or the approach to the character for me. It was just what’s on the page, what’s the person’s actions are, what they say and do. To me, it’s very relatable. I don’t have the deepest understanding of the autistic spectrum, but I do feel like we’re all somewhere on it. I also know people who remind me of John. I think we all have people in our life that just don’t have a filter or met people or experienced people who have no kind of social filter. It can be very jarring and abrasive, but also very refreshing and illuminating and make things easier in a way even though sometimes things are not sugar-coated in the way that we [are] used to in a social dynamic. But in a lot of times, something’s just out in the light, and it can be addressed. There’s no ambiguity, and [that] can actually make things easier. So, I find it to be a strength, actually, even though it often makes things maybe more socially difficult.

What’s interesting is the more time Beth spends with John, she becomes more honest with herself and the people in her life. After playing this role, how do you feel this character has affected you and your interactions with friends and loved ones?

I don’t really feel that I personally inhabit better or share that strength. I wish I did. I find that my wife is very good at speaking in a very plain and mature way because it was how she was brought up. So if something’s kind of obvious, she’ll say it, and it’s actually great. For a lot of us, it’s a hard time to shake off habits that we adopted from our parents or from our upbringing in some way or another, and that informs how we will react to things that are challenging. But I really think that it’s something that should be taught to kids in school. Just problem solving together by not complicating or obfuscating an issue. Just put it there on the table, and let’s figure it out together. Things always become smaller when you do that, and if things are unspoken, they can become so much bigger than they need to and so much more challenging.

Life & Beth -- “Homegoing” - Episode 108 -- A newly unemployed Beth helps John at the farmers’ market. She and John attend a funeral, which makes Beth reevaluate a lot of things in her own life. Beth (Amy Schumer) and John (Michael Cera), shown. (Photo by: Scott McDermott/Hulu)
“Life & Beth”HULU

We learn through a series of flashbacks that Beth was bullied as a teenager. You were already a working actor at Beth’s age — but did you experience any type of bullying in school?

I would say that being a working actor was definitely a big part of the whole shape of my life at that time because it involved going in and out of school a lot. Like you’ll be working on set and working with the tutor and working, which was something that I was very excited to be doing. But then the challenge of reintegrating in school with your friends and getting back up to speed, it was always like starting over again and getting kind of caught up on whatever the fresh iteration of dynamics and things was. So, that was my specific experience of school. But I mean, I had a great group of friends that are still all very close. We just figure it out as you go.

A lot of “Life & Beth’s” scenes were shot outdoors in Dutchess County and Long Island, NY. How did you like being in the country, so close to nature?

I was so pleased because it was really how I pictured the show when I was reading the script. I was very excited, and how similar [it was] to the picture that was put in my mind. When we went to shoot on these locations, it’s so beautiful. You’re very aware of ticks while shooting, and you’re spraying all your clothes with tick spray. I actually got attacked by a horsefly a couple of times while we were shooting. They’re awful. They bite you, and then they do a quick loop, and they come back for another bite. They’re terrorizing you — I got one bite on the eyelid and it puffed up on the eye.

You were also shooting under Covid protocols. What was it like having to perform in that environment?

I guess the biggest effect it had for me was it was so new in a way to be back on a set and be around people and be social at work again after so long, after being locked up at home. That was so refreshing and actually exciting and felt like already returned. It was a very safe and extensive Covid protocol on the show. We were all tested all the time, and the whole crew had to wear masks all the time, which is another funny thing: You just learned the crew’s eyes. You don’t really see people’s faces until one day when they’re eating lunch or something like, “Oh, that’s the face.” Because you kind of have an imagination of the bottom half of the face, so, those are the only things that made it feel different than any other shooting. Otherwise, it was just exciting. I mean, we’re all just very enthusiastic about making the show, and it was infectious enthusiasm on set.

“Life & Beth” is available to stream on Hulu. 

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