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Michael Cera On Paws Of Fury, Samuel L. Jackson, Scott Pilgrim Memories And More - Exclusive Interview

Since the beginning of his career in 1999, when he was just 11 years old, Michael Cera has portrayed or voiced all kinds of interesting characters in movies like "Superbad," "This is the End" (where he played himself) and the 2010 cult classic "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," along with TV series like "Childrens Hospital" and the now-classic "Arrested Development." However, he's never quite voiced anyone or anything like Hank, the dog and would-be samurai at the heart of "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank."

Directed by Rob Minkoff ("The Lion King"), Chris Bailey, and Mark Koetsier, "Paws of Fury" follows the initially inept Hank as he is recruited by a local landowner named Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais) to become the town samurai for a little village called Kakamucho. Ika Chu hopes that hiring a dog to protect a hamlet full of cats will throw the village into enough chaos that he can swoop in and knock the town down — his plan all along.

In a family film that somehow manages to loosely (and safely) remake Mel Brooks' raunchy, way too politically incorrect comedy gem "Blazing Saddles" (Brooks and other "Saddles" writers even get screenplay credit), Hank gets some training from another local samurai, the retired Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), and sets his sights on rallying the town to his side to stop his erstwhile boss.

"I loved the character," Cera tells Looper about playing Hank. "I loved his haplessness, but also his determination. You could easily take him for a fool in the beginning, but then you learn how serious he actually is and how committed to his dreams he is and how admirable that is."

Why Michael Cera enjoyed voicing a samurai dog

How do you prepare for a voice role, as opposed to a live-action one? And in particularly, how did you prepare for the role of Hank?

You can only do so much preparation because a lot of the times, you're working in a vacuum. On an animated movie like this, they're animating away and doing all the script work and storytelling behind the scenes, at least as far as I'm concerned. I'm not privy to any of that. I check in every few months and see how the movie's coming along. It's a funny thing. You get presented some new stuff and you digest it, and then you start experimenting. It's a lot of trial and error and osmosis that ends up delivering your performance, as opposed to something that feels really in your control at all.

What was it about Hank that you liked and drew you to the role?

I loved the character. I loved his energy. I loved his haplessness, but also his determination. You could easily take him for a fool in the beginning, but then you learn how serious he actually is and how committed to his dreams he is and how admirable that is. I loved all that about him.

What acting opposite Samuel L. Jackson meant to him

I read that you did do at least one recording session with Samuel L. Jackson. I know, most of the time, you guys do these things pretty much in isolation. Was it helpful to be able to get together with Sam for at least that one afternoon together?

It was definitely helpful, and it was thrilling too. Even if they didn't end up using anything from that session, it was a great afternoon in my life to get to work with that guy.

I can imagine it was. Did it feel looser in that sense? Were you able to do a bit more give and take?

Yeah, you can fool around a little more. I wish we had a chance to do more of it because when you're working with someone for the first time, you start picking up on their rhythms, and it starts to feel really good. I'm glad we had a chance to do that, especially with him.

When you look at the rest of that cast, [including] Mel Brooks and Ricky Gervais, Michelle Yeoh, did you wish they could find a way to get you guys together even just once?

Oh, yeah. I would've loved it, and I'm still hoping to meet all those people at the premiere of this thing.

I've talked to people who've done animated films, and sometimes the cast never meet each other until they actually get to the premiere.

It's funny. I had a Zoom conversation with Ricky Gervais about a year ago, and we talked about this movie and said, "One day, people are going to see it," because we had been working on it for so long. It's exciting that it's finally coming out.

On Paws of Fury's Mel Brooks connection and Scott Pilgrim 12 years later

Were you a "Blazing Saddles" fan? Were you familiar with all the references and the updates to that material in this one?

I grew up loving all things Mel Brooks and loved "Blazing Saddles" and loved "High Anxiety" and "Spaceballs" a lot. Those were the ones that I watched over and over. He meant so much to me. It was so cool that this was happening and he was involved in it, and that it was this semi-homage and continuation, in a way, of his tone.

A couple of years ago, I read so many 10th anniversary articles about "Scott Pilgrim." Do you feel like that movie keeps growing in terms of its influence and its impact on people, and has become this massive sleeper or cult classic over the years?

I definitely think it's been a sleeper, in that more people are becoming aware of it as time goes by, which I guess is ... I don't know if that's unusual. That's [what can happen], but it's definitely ... a really nice feeling. It's really nice that people — because when we made the movie, we all were so excited about it and having such a great time making it. I was sure that was going to come through in the movie, and I think it does. I'm really glad that people are [still] connecting to it and finding it.

"Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" is out in theaters on July 15.

This interview has been edited for clarity.