This week, one of the year’s most hotly anticipated sequels How To Train Your Dragon 2, finally flies into cinemas nationwide. Elaine Lipworth chatted to its star, Jay Baruchel who returns as the voice of Hiccup.
Born and raised in Canada, Jay Baruchel began acting professionally at twelve when he landed a job on the television series Are You Afraid Of The Dark. His big screen breakthrough came when Cameron Crowe cast him in Almost Famous. He went onto appear in Million Dollar Baby, Night In The Museum 2 and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. He is currently writing several screenplays, as well as working on a sequel to Goon.
Where do we find Hiccup at the start of the film?
In the first film, Hiccup was sort of a square peg, born into a world that he really didn’t understand. But Toothless and Hiccup have had a very positive impact on their world. In this film there’s more adventure and more challenges. Now everyone in Berk, even Hiccup’s father old Stoick, has a dragon. But Hiccup is dealing with the obligations of manhood, which are starting to pile up. There are expectations from his father that he doesn’t know if he can or even wants to live up to. I think what he is going through is a universal theme, what anyone at the age of nineteen or twenty is going through. Stoick wants Hiccup to be just like him, and he expects that his son is going to have all the same interests as him and lead a life similar to his. But Hiccup is not like his dad; he’s not interested in the same stuff as Stoick.”
He is an unlikely hero isn’t he?
“He’s not a typical hero at all, although I don’t know that there is such a thing as typical anymore. There are a million reasons why Hiccup shouldn’t succeed in life, given who he is. But he is incredibly smart. He may be awkward and he’s not brawny, but he is strong. He’s a guy who won’t ever give up. He won’t ever abandon his friends. He won’t ever leave a fight. He’s stubborn, and that’s the best quality he has inherited from his dad. He’s a Viking in his heart, even if on the surface he doesn’t seem like one.”
Can you discuss his relationship with Toothless, his trusted dragon?
“Toothless really is Hiccup’s other half. It’s amazing that these two creatures from two different species have more in common with each other than they do with their respective species. I think they’re both kind of outsiders, and it’s through Toothless that Hiccup has found who he was meant to be. Each on his own is good, but you put the two of them together and they become a superhero.”
How has their friendship developed, now that they are older?
“They are very close – explorers trying to map out as much of the world around them as they can. Hiccup’s a bit of a cartographer, which relates to who he was in the first movie… the guy who doesn’t just see this world as one island in front of him, but rather as someone who sees the wider horizons. At the start of this film, Hiccup and Toothless have kind of taken their symbiotic relationship to another level. Hiccup actually builds a flying suit, which is really wicked and amazing, so he can fly side by side with Toothless. It is a bit like hang gliding. Hiccup always tinkers around and loves building things, he’s souped up his peg leg, [he lost the lower half of his leg in the last movie]. And he has a flaming sword. He already knows what it is like to ride a dragon and know a dragon. Now he gets a taste of what it is like to be one, which is kind of cool. Actually, it’s incredible.”
What can you reveal about the plot and Hiccup’s journey?
“Hiccup finds out that there is someone else who has the ability to control dragons: it turns out it is his mother, Valka, who he has not seen since he was a baby. He meets her, and his dad Stoick is reconnected with his long-lost love, the woman he thought was gone forever. All of this is going on against a backdrop of a terrible war that is taking place. We find out that there are dragon trappers who have no interest in living peacefully with the dragons; they just want to own and conquer them, as a means of controlling the world. So there is this great story of the family reconnecting, alongside an epic battle.”
We meet some extraordinary new dragons in the film. Can you say anything about the Alpha – the creature at the top of the dragon hierarchy?
“The Alpha is the king of all dragons and it’s massive. What’s cool is that instead of breathing fire like most dragons, it breathes ice and is pretty amazing.”
What does Cate Blanchett bring to the role of Valka?
“Oh, she’s amazing, but to say Cate Blanchett is amazing is to say cheeseburgers are great. (Laughs.) She’s incredible, one of the world’s greatest living actors; one the greatest actors of any generation, living or dead. Period. I’m so proud that I get to have her as my mother in the film. She is wonderful in the role; she makes the character so broad and strong, but incredibly intimate and personal and real. She makes Valka a real lady… so very inspiring.”
Was your own mother a great inspiration?
“Yes, big time. She is still what I call my ‘consigliere’ [advisor or counselor] like Robert Duvall was to the Corleone family in The Godfather! I don’t make any business decisions without talking to her. If I am even remotely well adjusted or healthy, it’s all because of her.”
What is it like returning with Gerard Butler as your dad?
“It is great, I get along with him incredibly well. We became fast friends when we met the first time, five or six years ago. We both have a shared childhood in common. He lived in Canada for a long time.”
What about America Ferrera who plays Astrid, your girlfriend?
“I really enjoy her company, I also think she’s incredibly talented. I’m always better at my job from having from with her. She is funny and real and she finds a way of making Astrid adorable and hilarious. She has given the character a wonderful voice. Hiccup and Astrid have a great relationship, we’re just a couple now. She wears the pants because she’s far more alpha male than he is. She is constantly making fun of me. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Astrid – or America – does her impression of Hiccup – or me. It is not at all flattering, but it’s definitely hilarious (laughs).”
The Director has said that Hiccup actually is you in many ways. Is that true?
“Yes, we do have a lot in common. Hiccup has a bigger mouth than he should have. Mine works faster than it should. He thinks he knows better, and I do. I also think that he’s quite old-fashioned in terms of what is important to him: his family, his friends, his people. He has aspirations that go beyond the neighborhood he was born into, like me. I suppose I have all those things that he possesses. I’m pretty old-fashioned.”
Dragons continue to be extremely popular, especially the ones in this franchise. What is it about these mythical creatures that we all love so much?
“I think there is a reason why a version of them exists in most ancient cultures throughout the world. For better or for worse, they represent what we don’t know. So they are our imaginations embodied, but they are also our greatest fears embodied. The combination of Vikings and dragons works brilliantly. I have heard Cressida [Cowell] talk about it. She said that she got her inspiration for the stories from an area in Scotland where she used to go on holiday with her family when she was a little kid, [an island in the Inner Hebrides] which became the world of Berk. We have two very vivid, distinct worlds coming together in the films.”
Has acting always been your ambition?
“I have wanted to act and write for as long as I can remember. In fact my mother told me a story about when I was born. She said, ‘you actually had a golden aura around you. And I knew from that moment you were going to do something special.’ It is weird, throughout my whole life, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think I was going do something cool. At nine years old I realized I wanted to make movies and one day be a director. It was like I was meant to do this. When I was 12 and I started acting, my mother said, ‘if you want to be a director, acting is the best film school you can go to.’ So by acting, I’ve been in film school since I was 12. I have been on sets learning, and I’m still learning.”
You seem very down to earth; do you credit your family for your grounded approach?
“Oh boy, I haven’t taken anything, not one dollar for granted, because of the way I was raised. I have done better than anyone in my family has for generations. I know that all of this-what I call a career-could disappear in an instant. I am aware of how incredibly fortunate I am to make a living acting. Less than 20 percent of actors can feed themselves by acting. I’ve been able to do it for two decades, which is amazing.”
Finally, what can audiences look forward to in How To Train Your Dragon 2?
“If people go to see our flick, they will be in for a rollercoaster ride. It’s got battle sequences that can go toe to toe with any action movie, it’s got comedy that can go toe to toe with any comedy, and it’s as moving a picture that anyone will ever see. It’s about finding your own way. It’s about not settling for other people’s definitions of who you are. It is about believing that there’s always a resolution and a way that we can all be tolerant and celebrate our differences. It is great.”
How To Train Your Dragon 2 hits UK cinemas on Thursday 10th July.