You can tell how much Superbad stars Michael Cera and Jonah Hill love each other by how much they hate on each other.
In Hollywood, no matter how grueling the working relationship or how much bad blood has been spilled or how many screaming matches broke out on set, everyone always pretends to be best buddies when it comes time to release the movie. The horror stories leak out later -- after the box office receipts are collected.
So when two young actors spend the afternoon relentlessly taunting each other throughout a miniature golf game and trading brutal insults over french fries and nachos afterward, it's a safe bet they truly like each other.
That's just how guys are.
"Every girlfriend I've ever had has said when she's hung around with me and my friends from high school, 'If I didn't know you guys, I would assume you all hated each other, because I can't believe how you talk to each other,' " says Hill, the heavy-set, heavy talker of the duo.
That's how Hill and Cera are with each other. Consider this exchange when the two were discussing their promotional tour:
Hill: "They just did a piece on me on Nightline."
Cera: "I thought it was To Catch a Predator, right?"
When the Superbad actors and filmmakers were signing posters for each other recently, Hill said almost every scribbled note was riddled with profane put-downs.
"And these are now my best friends in the world because of this whole crazy experience," Hill says. "I guess that's our way of saying, 'Hey, I love you. I'm proud of you.' "
"I don't know why that is," adds Cera, who says he and Hill have never fought.
"Is that what they call fear of intimacy?" Hill asks.
Cera bobs his head, as if that seems right. "I have that," he says cheerfully, as if it's a baseball card to be traded. "I have that fear!"
There is an older-brother feeling about Hill, 24, as he hangs around with Cera, 19, who has the skinny frame of someone who could suffer serious damage if the playful barbs ever did turn into a brawl.
In Superbad, opening today, they play characters similar to their real-life personalities: Hill is a loudmouth high school senior, and Cera is his sensitive, soft-spoken best friend. Both are unlucky in love and hope to score some beer (and score with some girls) before their adolescence officially ends.
The actors have built strong credits in their young careers, but Superbad is the film poised to establish them as stars. Cera was Jason Bateman's perennially baffled son George Michael Bluth on Fox's decadent family cult hit Arrested Development, and Hill has appeared in small roles in I (Heart) Huckabees, Click and Knocked Up.
Superbad was produced by Judd Apatow, who made The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and Seth Rogen (not coincidentally, the star of Knocked Up) wrote the screenplay with his friend Evan Goldberg.
In the story, an Odyssean journey ensues as the boys engage in various ploys around town to round up some kind of alcoholic beverage to bring to the year's last cool party.
The film is unapologetically raunchy but surprisingly sweet-natured as it tests the bonds of their friendship. The question of whether the girls who invited them to the party did so simply because of their genuine personalities transforms the teenage beer run into an existential crisis.
Cera and Hill were strangers before making the movie. "But it's like we auditioned to be each other's friends," says Cera, who added that it didn't take very long for a real brotherhood emerge.
"Yeah," Hill jokes, "Michael and I started dating right away."
Fore! Putters coming through
On this sunny Saturday afternoon, Cera and Hill have met at The Putting Edge, an indoor, 18-hole miniature golf course, and the competitive side of their friendship rears its ugly (but not very serious) head.
"Michael is going to win, I guarantee, because when we're not around, he actually does stuff like this," Hill says, noting the neon-painted sea-serpents, armored knights and other colorful bits of psychedelia that decorate the course.
"Don't patronize me," says Cera, his face stoic. His sense of humor is so dry, he often has to flash his naturally guileless smile before it's clear he's kidding.
Perhaps because of his innocent appearance, Cera loves to play arrogant jerks. This summer, he achieved viral Internet fame with a deadpan clip of him allegedly getting fired after throwing a hissy fit on the set of Knocked Up. (He was never in the movie. The video was just a joke.)
On the website ClarkAndMichael.com, Cera and friend Clark Duke have created a series of short films featuring themselves as egomaniacal struggling screenwriters, trying in vain to shop their terrible scripts around Hollywood. It rivals The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm for its cringe-worthy humor.
In contrast to the cutie-pie he plays in Superbad, Cera says his Internet videos are a chance to "just play ignorant, someone who thinks they are smart when they're not. It's funny to be an a-hole instead of yourself."
Though they play brash, both actors can't help but let their nice-guy sides show around one person: McLovin.
Hill and Cera are joined at the golf course by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who is already the breakout newcomer thanks to Superbad.
Mintz-Plasse plays the nerdy ultra-weakling known as McLovin (after the alias his character has inscribed on his fake ID), spending most of the movie separated from his friends while in the clutches of two comically rogue police officers (Rogen and Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader).
While Hill and Cera spar with each other witheringly in real life, they are exceedingly kind to Mintz-Plasse. Perhaps it's because this is Mintz-Plasse's first movie role and they are both, even in their young careers, screen veterans.
At 18, Mintz-Plasse is only a year younger than Cera, but he projects the aura of the new kid on the block. They clearly like him, but in high school parlance, he is the awkward freshman, and they are benevolent seniors.
"I'm going to intimidate Chris into losing this," Hill says as he selects his bright orange putter from a rack. But as the game progresses, Mintz-Plasse mostly garners remarks from his castmates like "Nice shot, Chris!" or "Hmm, not your finest hour on this one."
Meanwhile, Cera and Hill draw out verbal knives for each other.
"Michael, it's not fair for you to request your favorite song during the game!" Hill yells as Donna Summer's Last Dance plays over the course's speakers.
After a particularly strong showing midway through the game, Cera begins loudly rehearsing his victory speech: "Michael Cera congratulated Christopher for a noble effort in a crushing defeat, while Hill looked on incredulously, totally discouraged."
But soon, Cera's shots begin to miss regularly, and Hill's glee is unmistakable. Cera pretends that he's losing on purpose. "I just love to be able to catch up. I like to have to work for it at the end," he assures his friends.
Hill gets the game's only hole-in-one, a Skee-Ball-style ramp shot that hits the bull's-eye, sets off a flashing light and wins him a free game. High-fives are shared all around.
An initial miscalculation leads to Mintz-Plasse being declared the winner, and the slim, bespectacled actor pumps his putter in the air triumphantly before the mistake is detected. The final scorecard reads: Jonah, 51. Mike, 58. Chris, 60.
Hill claps Mintz-Plasse on the back. "Chris wins the sportsmanship award," says the trash-talker. "I definitely don't win the sportsmanship award."
They're McLovin it
At a Mexican restaurant afterward, a young woman approaches the table where the actors are devouring quesadillas and declares that she has seen a preview of the movie and proclaims her love for it.
"McLovin -- you're awesome," she says.
After she leaves, Cera says: "I paid her to say that."
Is Mintz-Plasse prepared to live with the nickname McLovin from here on out?
"I take it as a compliment," he says, acknowledging he gets it everywhere he goes. "It means they love the character and the movie."
Hill tells him supportively: "If you look at the ads, they're all McLovin jokes. People love it so much."
"If my friends called me McLovin, that would bother me," Mintz-Plasse says. "Like, if we hung out for six years, and then one day you change the name you call me …" He shakes his head: not cool.
"Your friends wouldn't do that," Hill says.
Cera chimes in: "If they did, they're not your real friends. That's how you know who your real friends are ... McLovin." He smiles.
The more time they spend with Mintz-Plasse, the more ribbing he gets. Maybe they just needed to warm-up earlier.
First filming ended, and now the press tour is wrapping up, so the trio's travels together are coming to an end.
They've already got a number of other films in the can. Hill is doing the voice of a bear in the upcoming animated Horton Hears a Who and has a cameo in the new film Rocket Science. Cera plays a young soon-to-be father in the upcoming teenage pregnancy comedy Juno.
Better than high school
There is an unmistakable feeling of graduation for the Superbad guys, of the future pulling these friends apart as they pursue separate careers. You almost expect Pomp and Circumstance to begin playing as they walk away.
Hill says Superbad's high school setting made him feel as if he were reliving those years. And in a way, he got to do it right this time:
"I wasn't as unhappy as (my character), but you feel really underappreciated in high school. I was always frustrated that no one ever told me I was good at anything. I didn't get great grades and wasn't a star basketball player. Unless you do one of those things, you're in the middle just hanging out.
"No teachers give a (expletive) about you, and no one takes an interest in you. I think Michael and I, our characters, are two funny kids, like we probably were when we were in high school. But nobody ever thinks funny is a talent."
Cera was educated mainly by tutors or online as he pursued acting through his early teens, but his brief time in regular school stuck with him, too.
"I was only in high school until 10th grade," Cera says. "But I got the gist of it. A year of high school is a long time, though it doesn't sound like a lot compared to four."
Did it change his perspective on Superbad, the way it did for Hill?
"I never got to be on top," Cera says. "I never got to have anyone below me in high school. Maybe that's good. It shaped who I was. I wasn't able ever to look at people as beneath me.
"Maybe that's why I'm so easy to walk all over."
He sets himself up for a joke there. But Hill lets his friend slide this time.