Canadian actor Jay Baruchel first became known to American audiences as the star of the critically acclaimed Judd Apatow TV series Undeclared. His long list of credits include Million Dollar Baby, Tropic Thunder, Knocked Up and She’s Out of My League.
In How to Train Your Dragon he voices the pivotal role of Hiccup, the teenage son of Viking leader Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), who longs to kill a dragon and make his father proud. That is until he injures one, and then befriends it.
Jay Baruchel spoke of his unique role, and the magic of voicing animated movies.
Can you tell us a little about Hiccup?
On the Island of Berk, where the movie takes place, the rite of passage for every Viking is to go out and kill a dragon. The Vikings have been at the mercy of dragons for as long as they’ve been on the island.
They are essentially the pest, the pigeons or the skunks or the raccoons the Vikings have to deal with – only, instead of messing up the statues or tearing up gardens, they steal sheep and destroy entire villages. So for Hiccup to eventually develop something of a rapport, an affinity for a dragon, that’s blasphemy in the town. Not exactly something the son of their leader should be doing.
Hiccup’s dad is warlord of the Vikings. And he’s just a tough son-of-a-gun – each of Stoick’s arms is abut the size of two Hiccups put together. I think that it’s not too dissimilar from my father in real life – all he wanted was for me to play hockey, or maybe baseball, and neither of those was ever going to happen.
Can you talk a little about Hiccup’s growing relationship with the dragon.
He thinks he’s supposed to kill the thing, but his gut tells him that he can’t, but because the Viking in him – namely, his dad – would want him to kill the dragon, I think he really makes an effort. He makes a go of it, but he just can’t bring himself to do it, especially when it looks as pathetic as it does. He looks up, and just stares at Hiccup.
In the moment, he realized that the dragons are as scared of the Vikings as they are of them. So instead of killing it, he sets it loose. And little by little, he eventually forges a bond with it, almost like Black Beauty or White Fang. It’s really tense and tentative at first, but it becomes quite magical.
Was it fun to watch your character grow over the years you voiced him?
I’d like to think that, after playing Hiccup for the better part of two years, I knew him like the back of my hand. That being said, seeing the final finished product of what Hiccup looked like, it was almost a goose bump moment. I was beaming with pride.
When you were a teen did you have a misfit problem, how did you channel your inner sixteen year old to play this guy?
That was very easy. Look at me. I always spent plenty of time behind closed doors writing and drawing or doing whatever, escaping into my daydreams.
I hear you were able to do a few scenes with Gerard Butler and other members of the cast. Was that helpful to you?
Just being able to play around once or twice with any of the other actors, it informs what you’re going to do. You take it with you. You remember what their energy is like and all that stuff. I’d like to think for me that I’m a better actor for having done this movie, because having to only speak it kind of robbed me of some of my crutches. I gesture like a son-of-a-bitch.
I’m real fidgety and all this stuff. And when it was just my nasal-ass voice, I had to figure out how to sell stuff without going (gestures all over the place). So it was like going to acting school for three years in a way.
And then at the end to see how it turned out, I had real high expectations and this just shattered all of them. I’m as proud of this as I am of anything I’ve ever done. It’s absolutely beautiful, it reduced me to tears. I was embarrassing at the end of it.
What have you got coming up?
In July I have a movie called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (with Nicolas Cage) which comes out, and then I just finished a movie about three weeks ago called Notre Dame de Grace which is the second movie I’ve made in as many years with this director, Jacob Tierney, back home in Montreal who is one of my best friends.
We made a movie called The Trotsky together, that actually comes out in wide release in Canada in May and premieres in the U.S. at the Tribeca Film Festival. And then a lot of sleeping!