Originally, Just Buried, Halifax filmmaker Chaz Thorne's directorial debut, was "about this herbal supplement company---and the reason nobody was dying was because everyone was under 45 and insanely healthy," Thorne said last August, before the film's premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. "It was much broader and satirical. Where it ended up was a much, much darker style."
The film is the story of young oddball Ollie (Jay Baruchel), who inherits his father's funeral home in a rural Nova Scotia town, only to find nobody is dying (but when someone does, their families use a new, state-of-the-art service run by a racist in a rival town). Egged on by mortician Roberta (Rose Byrne), Ollie starts killing people to drum up business---first accidentally, soon less so.
Baruchel, best known as a Judd Apatow repertory player---he starred in Apatow's failed college sitcom Undeclared and appeared in Knocked Up as one of Seth Rogen's roommates (the one named, um, Jay)---portrays Ollie as a stoic geek whose nose bleeds when he gets nervous.
"The first time I met Chaz he...mentioned to me, 'Jay, you're very frenetic, you gesticulate, you move your arms a lot,'" says the quick-talking Baruchel, on the phone from his Montreal home a few days after Just Buried's screening at the Just for Laughs film fest. "'It will look very, very funny if you do nothing . If you just make an effort to be still the whole movie and not fidget, all this weird, pent-up energy is going to come across.' If I've done my job, seems like this wound-up slinky waiting to blow up in someone's face."
Shot in Halifax and Windsor two summers ago, the film toes the difficult line of dark comedy. Though Just Buried's first kill appears to be an accident, as the murders pile up, they escalate, resulting in situations often as hilarious as gory (an impaled eye somehow becomes the movie's shrewdest moment of physical comedy).
But for Baruchel, who's 26, "the heart of was a straight-up love story. He fell head-over-heels for Roberta, you know. Ollie does lose his virginity in this movie but once he gets past that hurdle, it doesn't get any easier---it gets more difficult. It's that funny little weird time where you're not a kid anymore, but you're definitely not an adult and you're trying to use whatever knowledge you have from little high school puppy-dog stuff you've gleaned from movies. Life has to kick your ass a few times before you become a man. He's smitten. She hit him in the head with a two-by-four of love."
Ollie's reaction to the murders changes as the depth of his attraction to Roberta increases---initially stunned and freaking out, he eventually becomes a stone-cold, blank-faced killer. The transformation culminates in a post-body-dump moment, when Roberta remarks, "Your nose isn't bleeding." "It's really creepy," says Baruchel. "Around the same time that his nose stops bleeding, he starts wearing nicer clothes. I think he's become a man, via really terrible circumstances...he becomes horribly accustomed to having his way and getting what he wants, in the most savage, brutal way possible."
In the year since Just Buried's festival-circuit debut, its stars' stock has risen considerably, which could bode well for its success. ("I personally think the whole star-casting thing is bullshit," said Thorne last year. "It just so happened...we ended up getting some known names.") Byrne now co-stars with Glenn Close in the Emmy-nominated legal drama Damages, and Baruchel has a number of projects in the can and on the go, including August's Tropic Thunder and a just-announced project with Rogen, Jay and Seth vs the Apocalypse. He also appears in the current Vanity Fair, as part of the "new wave" of young Hollywood---driving a speedboat around Manhattan.
Baruchel flew up to the photo shoot from Pittsburgh on a day off from filming the upcoming comedy She's Out of My League. "When I arrived they said, 'Do you know how to drive a boat?'" he recalls. "'Well no, nobody asked me that,'" Baruchel replied.
"'You're driving a 60-year-old speedboat across the Hudson River,'" they insisted.
"There's all these barges honking at us. It stressed me the fuck out."
Just Buried opens Friday, July 25. See Movie Times on page 22 for info.