In Early Works, we talk to artists young and old about the jobs and life experiences that led them to their current moment. Today, it’s actor and screenwriter Jay Baruchel, whose Goon: Last of the Enforcers is out in theaters and VOD tomorrow.
I was born in Ottawa, but when I was six months old, we moved to Montreal, where we lived for most of my childhood. There was a five-year era where we lived in a Toronto suburb called Oshawa—a blue-collar type place. Growing up in that house was the best. I was very lucky to have two parents who wanted me to find something I loved, and afforded me the opportunity to love it as much as I could.
There were some lean times. We were full-on bankrupt at one point. We didn’t always have a ton of money. My mom always said, “There’s always money for books.” So I could read at a pretty early age—three or four years old. My dad was a fairly prototypical carousing sports male and really wanted me to play hockey and softball. He got two seasons of softball out of me, but every time he played pitch and catch with me in the backyard, I’d make my whole body go limp and collapse to the ground until he went back inside. He and I both knew what I was doing—he was like, “OK, go back and read your comics.”
But he saw that I love movies, too. Every Friday and Saturday night, he’d rent at least one—if not two—movies. I’d wake up early the next day, and if the tapes were still in the VCR, it meant that I was allowed to watch it. If they were back in the box, it meant it was too racy for me. But what my parents thought was “too racy” was very lenient. They didn’t have a very strict censorship code.
At nine years old, I said I wanted to be a director, and that’s all because of them. Watching movies with my parents was like taking a class. I have a very vivid memory of watching The Road Warrior with them, and they prefaced it with a preamble about how this was my first experience seeing it, and why they loved it. If it was something like Monty Python, they’d pause it after every joke to explain what the joke was. These are habits I’ve inherited—I can’t show my friends a movie without giving them a ten-minute spiel before.
Elementary school was great because there wasn’t a huge differentiation in my height from everyone else. I was just tall enough that I didn’t get jumped too much. Plus, I had an old-school house where my dad took me in the backyard and taught me how to throw a punch.
Also, this sounds like a dick thing to say, but there are some kids that are slightly brighter in the class, and I was usually one of those kids. I was always writing short stories and stuff. At recess, if we weren’t playing softball or—in the States you call it kickball, we call it soccer baseball—I was always the kid who came up with the conceit for Cops and Robbers. Four or five kids would queue up in front of me, and I’d be like, “OK, here’s the deal: We’re all fighter pilots, and we’re being chased by Soviets.”
Acting was never my great ambition. I never had a ton to prove. I’ve been very lucky and grateful to have had the career I’ve had—there’s no two ways about it. The quality of life of my family and I have skyrocketed, and as a movie fan, I got to be a part of some awesome movies. Any time that it looked like acting was on its way out for me, I would be like, “OK, well it was always going to end at some point.” But there were times it felt closer to ending than others. From ages 16 to 19—when I was no longer a cute kid, and certainly not a man—I was godawful, and my voice was in puberty purgatory. I was gangly and awkward, and when that happened, I was like, “Well, I had a good run. I guess I’ll go work at a video store and write scripts when I can.”
Then I got Undeclared, which brought me to the States and started a part of my career that everyone in the States knows began. But the year before that, I thought my acting career was done. And I’d planned it that way! There have been times where I’ve been like, “Well, the house always wins. The bottom was going to drop at some point.”
I hate to sound like an old fart at 35, but there’s something my generation had that the kids don’t—a certain anonymity. When me and my friends in high school made movies—and this was every fucking weekend—we’d grab a camcorder, come up with an idea, shoot the bloody thing, and show it to our friends and our friends’ parents, and the teachers we thought were cool. That was that. We did it for ourselves. There was no YouTube. We were afforded years of making movies for movies’ sake, and had there been a YouTube, we’d been mindful of an audience, and I think it might have fucked with the process. I think you should always be creating, but allow yourself a period of time where you’re creating something just for you.