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Michael Cera: Bam. Kapow. It's supernerd

Michael Cera poses at the premiere of the movie "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" at the Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California, July 27, 2010.


We know he does sweet. Neurotic and self-deprecating, obviously. But kicks, flips and wire-work?

Yes, Brampton geek god Michael Cera finally gets his turn as action hero.

Well, sort of.

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As the lead in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - an adaptation of a cult Canadian comic book hitting screens next Friday - Cera plays an unemployed 22-year-old in an indie band who has trouble with women and earning respect.

It's the same type he's been spinning (albeit to diminishing box-office returns) from the breakout hits Superbad and Juno to Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Year One and Youth in Revolt. He's still wispy. He still favours a glorified bowl-cut, sloppy jeans and T-shirts. His voice still maintains that trademark near-adolescent croak.

Except there's another side to Scott Pilgrim. To win over his new sweetheart, he must defeat her seven evil exes in elaborately staged, video-game-inspired combat. Think mixed martial arts accompanied by swordplay.

"The hardest part was all the physical stuff that I had no experience doing. The harnesses and, just - exertion. I was not used to it at all," Cera says, sitting outside a soundstage at Universal Studios in Los Angeles in green corduroys and a black shirt that emphasizes his small frame.

"I just hope people will buy it," he adds, "and I don't distract them from enjoying the movie."

Not likely.

The training will help. Cera and co-stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jason Schwartzman spent three months on kung fu basics and intense cardio before getting tips from the same fight co-ordinator who worked on Percy Jackson & the Olympians.

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But the moves only count for so much. What really gives this alt-hero his punch is a sense of irony.

To plug the film at Comic-Con - the fan convention in San Diego where blockbuster franchises are made (or at least hyped) - the slight Cera sported a Captain America costume - a little poke at both his own unlikely superhero status and two of the "exes" he fights in Scott Pilgrim: Chris Evans, starring in the upcoming film Captain America: The First Avenger, and Brandon Routh, who's played Superman.

And despite the promotional machine - there are Scott Pilgrim plush toys and action figures, as well as an old-school video game - the project is steeped in indie cool. Beck wrote the songs for Scott Pilgrim's band Sex Bob-Omb. Sloan bassist Chris Murphy was the film's musical coach. Metric and Broken Social Scene are on the soundtrack.

Plus, of course, there's that source material. Created by cartoonist Bryan Lee O'Malley, a London, Ont., kid who spent his early twenties in Toronto, the Scott Pilgrim series combines action with Japanese pop-cultural influences, garage-band emo and romance. Local fans lined up for hours to get signed copies of the sixth and final volume in the series last month.

Cera was a fan himself well before English director Edgar Wright ( Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) tapped him to play the slacker hero.

"Especially being from Canada, you know? They've [the Pilgrim series]got Shoppers Drug Mart and Tim Hortons in them," he says, "I connected with them, for sure."

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The movie certainly approximates O'Malley's unique sensibility - which makes for a whole lot of wild noise and visuals. It also plays up its local elements. Shot last year in Toronto, clubs such as Sneaky Dee's make an appearance, as do Honest Ed's and Casa Loma.

Toronto Tourism is even getting in on the action with a website, Toronto Loves Scott Pilgrim, that includes clips from the film's stars Alison Pill (also from Toronto), Jason Schwartzman and Cera on why they love the city.

Mind you, for Cera, the movie's long production period was less a homecoming than a revelation.

"I didn't know the city well because my parents' house is an hour and a half away. I hadn't worked there since I was 12," the 22-year-old actor says. "It was great filming in Toronto for seven months. I'd go home on the weekends and my family came to the set. I walked around all the time."

"Michael's all into wandering and driving himself to work, kind of just always on his own, doing his own thing," says Winstead, who plays Cera's love interest Ramona Flowers, an American girl with a gig as an delivery girl and a romantic history as colourful as her hair. "He set the tone for a kind of free-flowing environment where we could all just hang out together without any kind of stress. It was all just cool and mellow.

"He's such a sweetheart and he's so brilliant," she adds. "I mean, I've never seen anyone with such a unique sense of humour and such spot-on comic timing. And he knew all the best restaurants in Toronto."

(He likes Saving Grace: "I describe a meal that they have there in the film. It's French toast with caramelized bananas. You should get it.")

If Cera's co-star makes him sound like the exemplary Canadian though - polite, understated, yes, and funny - he bristles, or, more accurately, displays whatever the calm, cordial equivalent of bristling might be at the mention of the latest wave of Canadian comic exports. You know, those intelligent, sincere and, well, nerdy young Canucks burning up the screen right now - Ellen Page. Seth Rogen. Jay Baruchel.

"I really don't have any interesting observations about these broad generational statements."

Well, okay, so broad generalizations aside, what's next for the (Canadian) star?

For the first time since Superbad, Cera doesn't know what his next job is. He'd be happy to make a straight drama with a director he can trust, but isn't particularly anxious to go that route either. There's the Arrested Development movie, but the script based on the cult TV comedy where Cera first made his mark has yet to be written.

For now, Cera might just keep training for that other demand that comes with superhero status - handling the limelight.

"I'd been acting since I was 9, and never had to do anything outside of set that's related to it," he says. "That's a new ball that is thrown at you that you just have no muscle developed for - adjusting to it is a real thing that you have to learn, I think."

He might also learn a few tricks in the kitchen in his spare time - lean, mean anti-hero fighting machine be damned.

"I got a gift certificate to a cooking school," he says. "I like to cook, but I only know how to make two fantastic dishes - a really, really good lentil soup, which I didn't have to figure out since it's my mom's recipe, and I can make pretty good pasta and sauce from scratch, which my dad from Sicily has been making since he was a kid."

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