Michael Cera rose to fame playing the delightfully awkward George Michael on the cult comedy series Arrested Development 20 years ago. Although mostly known for his comedic performances, Cera has shown incredible range throughout his acting career.
Born and raised in Canada, Cera scored his first role in a Tim Horton’s commercial before making his feature film debut in 2000’s Frequency. He later appeared in the George Clooney-directed Confessions of a Dangerous Mind as the young Chuck Barris. Cera also lent his voice to the animated realm, most notably as Brother Bear in the series The Berenstain Bears.
In 2003, he landed the role of George Michael Bluth, the son of Jason Bateman's Michael Bluth, in the ensemble faux-documentary series Arrested Development, also starring Will Arnett, Tony Hale, Portia de Rossi, Jeffrey Tambor, Alia Shawkat, David Cross and the late Jessica Walter. Though originally short-lived, the series was and remains beloved by fans, and later spawned two rebooted seasons on Netflix.
Following the first three seasons of Arrested Development, Cera played a string of coming-of-age teen roles in films, including Superbad, Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Youth in Revolt and, in something of a culmination of that progression, Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Though he's never left comedy behind, Cera has also shown serious dramatic skills in films like The End of Love, Molly’s Game and Gloria Bell.
This summer, Cera has earned praise for his role as Allan in Barbie, showcasing an alternative to the Kens dominating the film and proving to be a hilarious secret weapon for the film. His latest effort, The Adults, sees him returning to the indie world as a young man on a trip home that he’s determined to keep brief, even as he strives to manage the relationship between his sisters, played by Sophia Lillis and Hannah Gross.
Below, A.frame presents 10 essential films showcasing Cera's on-screen journey.
Superbad stars Cera and Jonah Hill as a pair of best friends about to graduate high school and split off to different colleges, but not before they engage in one last night of shenanigans trying to get to a party. Cera and Hill make a dynamic comedy duo, well-balanced in their performance styles, with Cera effortlessly tackling his role of Evan, an awkward teen ready to grow up, but not entirely ready to leave his childhood friend behind. The movie also starred Bill Hader and Seth Rogen (who co-wrote with his real-life best friend Evan Goldberg) as a pair of goofy cops, along with Oscar winner Emma Stone in her breakout role.
Juno stars Elliot Page as the titular character, a teenager who becomes pregnant by her friend (and potential boyfriend) Paulie Bleeker (Cera). Neither is ready to become a parent and face adulthood, and both actors nail the conflicting feelings around their situation. They deftly handle comedy stylings punctuated with quirky slang and turns of phrase created by Diablo Cody, who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for her writing. Co-starring Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, and Oscar winners J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, Juno also received nominations for Best Picture, Best Director for Jason Reitman, and Best Actress for Page.
In Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Cera plays Nick, a recently dumped aspiring musician, while Kat Dennings plays Norah, a lovelorn young woman who likes his taste in music. Through some mutual friends and Nick’s ex-girlfriend, they meet and spend an adventurous night together in New York City, sharing a love of underground music, and becoming quite fond of one another. Cera is completely charming as Nick, providing a matured take on his previous teen-centric roles.
Edgar Wright's colorful video-game-inspired adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs The World stars Cera as Scott, a slacker musician who falls for Mary Elizabeth Winstead's quirky and aloof Ramona Flowers. To truly be with her, he has to battle her seven evil exes, played by the likes of Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman, to name a couple. But Scott is no perfect comic book hero, and Cera plays those flaws and the character's strengths with equal aplomb as Scott embarks on a journey of not just love, but self-respect. The ensemble cast includes Aubrey Plaza, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick and Oscar winner Brie Larson.
Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, a film by Chilean writer-director Sebastian Silva, sees Cera begin to show more of his dramatic range, while still utilizing his natural comedic and improvisational abilities. In the film, he plays Jamie, a self-centered American visiting Chile and eager to seek out the "magical cactus," a hallucinogen. But when he invites "Crystal Fairy" (Gaby Hoffmann) on his journey with some of his local companions, everything gets complicated.
For much of his career, Cera was known for playing shy, awkward and likable teens, and he appeared to be a similar presence offscreen. With This is the End, which features many of his regular collaborators, including Rogen, Hill, James Franco and Jay Baruchel, as well as a star-studded series of cameos, including Rihanna, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling and Channing Tatum, Cera plays a wildly fictionalized version of himself, an aggressive creep dedicated to sex, drugs and hard partying. It was a fun chance for Cera to play against type and have some fun with his public persona.
Another collaboration with Rogen and company, Sausage Party is a wild animated (but most certainly not kid-friendly) tale of anthropomorphic grocery store foods learning the startling truth about what happens after check-out. Cera voices Barry, a deformed sausage pal to Frank, voiced by Rogen, who helps save the various foods voiced by another all-star cast, including Hader, Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, and Oscar nominee Salma Hayek.
Molly’s Game, based on the memoir of the same name, stars Oscar winner Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, who ran an underground poker empire for celebrities, athletes and mobsters, and was eventually investigated by the FBI. Cera appears as Player X, a reported composite of some of the big Hollywood names who had played with the real Bloom, and he gets to flex his dramatic muscles in a less-than-sympathetic role as a vain and greedy gambler. Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin, who made his directorial debut with the film, received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Julianne Moore stars as the titular Gloria, a divorcee with two adult children, played by Cera and Caren Pistorius, who spends her nights dancing and trying to find love and herself. Cera is excellent in his scenes as the frustrated son, struggling with his parents and their relationship, as well as with his own duties as a father.
In Great Gerwig's Barbie, Cera plays Allan, Ken's buddy and the only Allan, really, in a sea of handsome Kens, led by Ryan Gosling. Allan seems like a simple one-joke character, but as Margot Robbie's Barbie works through her existential crisis and attempts to restore Barbieland to its former glory, Allan proves to be a helpful and humorous ally.