Directed by filmmaker Matt Johnson, the film BlackBerry, based on the novel Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry by authors Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff, follows the success and subsequent failure of the titular gadget. How to Train Your Dragon star Jay Baruchel and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton star in the film as Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsille.
Both Baruchel and Howerton deliver some of their finest performances to date in what has already become a standout film of the year while also one of the few stylistically distinct biopics in recent years.
We spoke to Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton about what drew them to the film and their prior knowledge of BlackBerry.
But Why Tho: What first appealed to you about the film?
Jay Baruchel: For me, it started with being a fan of Matt Johnson since his very first movie and then knowing him as a guy and getting to know him and digging his ideas on what movies should be. And then he wrote a spectacular screenplay with Matt Miller, and it was like, “It would be pretty hard to f**k this up,” and I think we’re going to make something pretty good regardless. It was just the whole package; there was no blind spot, and if there was a blind spot, it was an exciting one that we would figure out when we do it.
But Why Tho: Was there a certain character element that you were drawn to as well? These characters range from having these big, broad moments to subtler scenes where they exist in that gray area.
Glenn Howerton: I love playing characters who are larger than life. It’s a very juicy thing to get to dig into as an actor, to play someone who is fighting for something so intensely with so many obstacles in its path. It’s an exciting role to play with a lot to bite into as an actor. It’s really fun. And then it’s really fun to work with Jay, who gave me something different in every take, and we were always experimenting and trying different things. It was a really grueling process like I think making most films is, but it was also really, really fun along the way.
It was also great to get to work with a director like Matt, where you can trust that he’s going to cut it all together, and it’s going to make sense. Sometimes he’d ask me to do things, and I’d think, “That doesn’t feel right.” But then I was like, “Well, I’ll give it to him” because maybe in the context of the whole thing, it works.
But Why Tho: Was there an added layer of stress knowing that you were playing characters based on real people, or does that not phase you?
Jay Baruchel: It wasn’t stress so much as kind of like a suggestion of at least some sort of responsibility. We’re not doing a dramatization of transcripts, right, and we’re not in the recreation process of a documentary. We are acting based on bringing a screenplay to life, and the screenplay itself is a distillation of a book which itself is a distillation of real events.
We traffic in allegory, poetry, and all the in-between kind of sh*t that art exists for. But at the same time, they were real guys, so you don’t ever want to have a moment where you turn to the camera and say like, “I, Mike Lazaridis, like skinheads,” you know? Or something like that. But at the same time, we purposefully didn’t hang out with them before because we didn’t want to f**k with the purity of the experiment. We might be worried about them in a way that would prevent us from making the movie that we ended up making.
But Why Tho: How aware of this story were you before starting shooting?
Glenn Howerton: I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know anything about the backstory of BlackBerry. I think that was part of one of the things that was exciting to me about doing the film as well because it felt like, stylistically, I knew the film was going to stand out from the pack just because of who was making it and who we were making it with.
But then I think it was also differentiated by the fact that most people know the backstory of Facebook; most people know the story behind Apple. Those big tech companies, nowadays, you know the stories of what went into it. I found that I, but also nobody that I know, knew the backstory of BlackBerry. That was part of what excited me about the project.
BlackBerry is out now in theaters.