Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings as the titular characters, celebrates an eternal phenomenon: the lifelong love of music that begins in adolescence. The film follows Dennings and Cera’s tentative courtship over the course of an adventurous night in New York. Cera, a sensitive bass player, still pines for his manipulative ex-girlfriend. (“I know you, I know your make. You’re an emo-punk-band boy,” Dennings shouts at him in one scene. “They could make action figures out of you—drummer not included.”) Dennings plays the ultra-hip daughter of a famous record producer. How it will end is never really in question, as they spend the film going to clubs, talking about music, and occasionally letting it speak for them. There’s also no question of whether other actors could have played these roles: Cera builds on the sweetly hapless character he developed on Fox’s Arrested Development, and Dennings is equally natural as an insecure smartass. The roles aren’t far removed from their natural personalities, lending an authenticity to characters that could otherwise fall flat inside the teen-movie template. After a pre-release screening for the public in Chicago, The A.V. Club talked to Dennings and Cera about flannel, music, and being total poseurs.
The A.V. Club: On your website, Kat, you called this “the movie of your soul,” and said your character is closer to your own personality than any other you’ve played.
Kat Dennings: Well, I take that back now, I think. I said that closer to when we shot. I thought that I was just like Norah, and then I realized later that [I’m not]. It’s just maybe a thing that happens because I’ve never been in something where I was in every scene before. We’re both in every scene except two, maybe. I think there was just no time to be myself, with that schedule. I’d just get home and go to sleep and wake up and go do Norah, so I think I felt like she was me. But as I decompressed from shooting, I realized that we’re different.
AVC: Does it raise the stakes, though, when you have a personal connection to the film?
KD: No. I felt like it was real when we were doing it, though, and I think people can tell when they’re watching it. I think you can tell when someone is being dishonest as an actor.
Michael Cera: I think that’s something that Pete [Sollett, director] has a real knack for. I loved his movie Raising Victor Vargas, which is so authentic, and I thought he would do this really well. He’s good at that.
AVC: So much of the film is about a visceral connection to music, which is especially potent in adolescence. What bands have you felt that close to?
AVC: Was that your first concert?
KD: Technically, no. My mom took me to a Dolly Parton concert when I was 3.
MC: I hear she’s incredible in concert. She tells anecdotes and stuff—like a one-woman show more than a concert.
AVC: What about your first club show?
KD: I’ve never been to a club show.
MC: I never really did, either. I lived in a suburb of Toronto, and all those shows are downtown, which is like an hour drive, and growing up, how are you gonna do that, you know?
KD: You can’t even get into clubs. I can’t.
MC: Well, there are all-ages shows.
KD: Oh, I don’t know how that works.
AVC: So what you’re saying is, you guys are total poseurs in this movie?
KD: Well, all my concerts, in defense of myself, have been outside.
MC: I’ve been to an indoor concert. I want the reading public to realize that. [Laughs.]
AVC: There was a big uproar online when people found out that Norah wasn’t going to have her flannel shirt, which is a big part of her character in the book.
KD: Oh, I know.
AVC: You fought for that, right?
KD: Peter and I really tried as hard as we could.
AVC: What was the thinking behind that? Was it a dated grunge reference or something?
KD: I don’t know. It’s out of our control. It bothered me, but I think the outfit is really good in that it’s not distracting—it’s really neutral. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m gonna watch this girl in checks for two hours.”
MC: I mean, that’s not what the movie’s about.
KD: I understand that, and I realized that as we went on. It’s a part of the book, and it’s important to her identity, but…
MC: It’s just hard to please fans of the book, because it’s never going to be what it was when you read the book in your imagination. Reading a book is a different experience than watching a movie. You have to separate the two. We’re never going to take the book away from them; they can always read the book and have that experience.
KD: And I’d like to point out that when Caroline [played by Ari Graynor] gets a phone call from me, I am flipping the bird, and I’m wearing a flannel shirt. I said, “I have to wear a flannel shirt at least in the picture on her phone.” So if you pause the film, I’m wearing a flannel shirt.
MC: That’s a little tip of the hat to the book people.
KD: And there have been a couple of photo shoots when I have brought my own flannel shirt that I own, and I’ve worn it. And I wore a plaid dress in a recent photo shoot. I’ve done all that I can do, you know? [Laughs.]
MC: And you’re getting an entire-body tattoo of flannel, right?
KD: My face is going to be all plaid.
MC: Like in Spaceballs.
AVC: The book apparently has more boozing and drugs and swearing—
KD: Just swearing.
MC: Not boozing and drugs.
KD: Nick and Norah are straight-edge.
AVC: So you don’t feel like you’ve lost anything going to PG-13?
KD: We would’ve lost a lot of people, being an R-rated movie. We would have cut our audience in half.
MC: Yeah, is that important to people? Hearing them swear? [Laughs.]
KD: No, it’s not who they are.
KD: The flannel shirt, the language, it’s not the people.
AVC: You did some re-shoots in May of this year. Of what?
MC: The whole movie used to start with my band playing onstage; there was no backstory. Like in the beginning, you see me kind of heartbroken, and you see Kat and Ari, and get a little bit of backstory. I guess they felt it needed that, just for people to get their footing and figure out everyone’s relationships and see what’s going on, instead of figuring it out backward.
KD: Ari got to be sober in a scene, finally.
MC: Yeah, that’s true, she was drunk for the whole movie.
AVC: Michael, you had a really big year last year, with Superbad and Juno. Was there any point where you sort of noticed a sea change?
MC: No, not really—just getting recognized more is the only difference. People feel like they know you, and sometimes people like you, and sometimes they don’t like you based on that, which is very strange. I don’t mind if people meet me and don’t like me, which happens too. It’s strange when strangers don’t like you or do like you. It’s strange either way.
AVC: Originally, the producers had you in mind for a different role?
MC: No, somebody asked me that—
KD: Why are we hearing that? I don’t think that’s true.
MC: Where does that come from?
AVC: The press kit—Andrew Miano, the producer.
MC: It’s not true. There’s a bunch of bogus facts in there. I’ve been asked some weird questions from there.
KD: Whoever said that was drunk.
MC: I met with Pete for the first time in New York, and I was always talking to him about playing Nick.
KD: I had always heard that Michael was Nick from the beginning.
AVC: Miano also said that he wanted to recreate the feel of an ‘80s John Hughes film in this. Did it feel that way to you?
KD: I don’t know. I think Pete is really distinctive.
MC: Yeah, I never thought of it. Maybe that’s what Andrew thought it had the potential to be. I could see that, but I think Pete had a vision for it.
KD: Although I do kind of look like James Spader.
MC: Yeah, I look like Molly Ringwald.
AVC: John Hughes films perpetuated a lot of high-school myths. Both of you were acting in high school, and neither of you had a traditional high-school experience, with tutoring and home-schooling. Do you feel like you missed anything when you play these sorts of roles?
MC: Oh no, most of my high-school life was regular, except from 10th grade on.
KD: The only trouble I had, which was obvious, was I didn’t know how to open the locker. That was kind of embarrassing.
MC: You just pull it open.
KD: I know.
AVC: Was it a combination lock?
KD: There was a combination, and then you have to push and go up or something. Well, I never had a locker, so the crewmembers were laughing.
MC: I remember that being scary in high school, having to figure that out, and you have such little time.
KD: I think I ruined a take too. I was like “Props! I can’t open the locker!” They were like, “Just push the thing.”
AVC: How much rehearsal did you do before filming?
KD: A week?
MC: Yeah, just went to some of the sets, blocked it out. We actually did the blocking so that when it came time to shoot, we didn’t have to think about that.
AVC: On location?
MC: Yeah, a week before we started shooting, we went with Pete, blocked it out and rehearsed. It was the first time I’d ever done that.
KD: I don’t know why more people don’t do that.
MC: Yeah, it was very helpful, and it saved time. We had a very short amount of time.
KD: The DP [director of photography] was there with his camcorder so you could just get there and be able to shoot, no blocking.
AVC: Have you generally done a lot of rehearsal for other projects?
MC: It depends on the director.
KD: Everything’s different.
AVC: Do you like to have more rehearsal time?
KD: That depends too.
MC: It’s never bad. It’s not detrimental if you don’t rehearse. It’s hard to say. I know with Superbad, we all just hung out, and that helped. We were all friends by the time we started shooting. I guess that could be considered rehearsing, because we’re just hanging out in the movie.
KD: There’s stuff I don’t like to rehearse, really emotional things, I don’t like to rehearse. You just beat it to death. Remember how awkward it was? The only really awkward thing was when we were trying to rehearse our last scene, our love scene.
MC: Well, what can you do? We’ll figure it out when you get there.
KD: Yeah, it was too much, and then my long monologue, quoting the song, it was painful. But Pete is really an intuitive person. He was like, “Let’s just stop.”
AVC: It probably helped that the love scene is off-camera.
KD: Yeah, [it’s] sort of unclear what happened. It was provocative—it’s a head lovemaking, it’s a mind… Whoa, I’m tired. [Laughs.] It’s an intelligent love scene. A thinking-man’s love scene.
AVC: Michael, last night at the screening, someone asked you how you developed Nick’s character, and you said that it was just an extension of George-Michael Bluth. Is that on your mind at all, that you’re perpetuating George-Michael?
MC: No, I don’t think about it.
KD: You know what my theory is? Because people say that about me too. It’s because you look the same in every movie, because you’re you, and I do too. If you grew a 25-foot-long beard and dyed your hair, maybe people wouldn’t say that. I think it’s just because you look like yourself, but the characters are totally different. I’ve seen basically everything Michael’s been in, and you’re totally different in everything. I think people just see the face and go, “He’s the same in everything!” Yeah, he is, because he’s Michael Cera.
KD: Maybe we can both wear wigs in the next one.
AVC: Speaking of Arrested Development, your IMDB page says you’re “rumored” to be in the film version coming out next year. Though you denied it last night.
MC: I know. It’s still hypothetical. I don’t know who governs that website.
KD: Not anyone who knows you. It’s like Wikipedia—it’s so creepy. Anyone could add anything.
MC: I’ve added stuff on there.
KD: I’ve tried to get stuff taken off.
AVC: Kat, on your IMDB page, somebody posted that you look like a female Michael Phelps, and someone else posted that you look like Hilary Duff. That’s quite a spectrum.
KD: Yeah, I saw that.
MC: You get that a lot, right?
KD: I get Michael Phelps every day. I don’t know, man. If they think I look like I could win eight gold medals, then great.
MC: I’m sure that’s how they meant it: eight gold acting medals.