Alternate Realities: Michael Cera hikes in Sweden with his dialect coach

Words by Alexander Bennetts

Pictures by Kitty Allison

Published on December 18, 2014

Agda’s pack was pulled taut against her back and shoulders. The way she moved, turtle-esque, reminded Michael Cera of his first crush. They were rounding a trail when Michael Cera pointed ahead and said:

‘Can we go up that tall pile of dirt?’

‘The mountain?’

‘That’s what I said.’

They stared at each other, both trying to work out if there was something lost in translation even though they were speaking the same language, like that Bill Murray/Scarlett Johansson film where they sing karaoke beside a high-rise window.

‘We have to be back to meet the others at seven,’ Agda said. ‘But if we don’t walk too slowly, I think we’ll be fine.’

‘Fine is good,’ said Michael Cera.

He said it like a mantra as he followed Agda towards the grey mountain.

‘Fine is good.’

Agda was Michael Cera’s dialect coach and ‘cultural handler’ on Inga fler växande, a Swedish remake of Arrested Development. Barring any last-minute disaster, production on the pilot was scheduled to begin tomorrow.

Mae Whitman, who had played his sometimes-girlfriend in Arrested Development, had dared a drunk Michael Cera to ‘do’ the show. Everyone is going to be there, she’d said. This is the real reunion. She had a glow in her eyes and flute of champagne in her hand. The whole band back together again, sharing the same room. It was all he’d wanted to hear.

It wasn’t until he was standing alone in Stockholm Arlanda Airport that Michael Cera started having doubts. He soon realised that he was the only original cast member set to appear in Inga fler växande. He wasn’t even sure if it was a licensed production.

When Agda introduced herself at the airport, Michael Cera thought she was one of those fans — the ones that you’d flirt with at a party and then make jokes about the morning after — and tried to not make eye contact. She had to repeat his name four times before he looked up from his assortment of bags. She was taller than him, a lanyard looping around her neck.

‘It is nice to meet you,’ she said, ‘but we should go find the car.’

Over the next few weeks, she slowly introduced Michael Cera to elements of contemporary Swedish culture. They watched TV over lunch, walked around shopping centres and tourist attractions. For Agda, it felt a bit like showing your uncle’s cousin’s distant friend around your hometown so they didn’t have to fork out for a tour guide.

Sometimes, when she asked Michael Cera what coffee he wanted, she spoke in an exaggerated accent, just to see if he noticed the difference. He didn’t, or he didn’t mention anything. Although the actors in Inga fler växande would speak with Swedish accents, it was to be English language, so it could be sold internationally. Michael Cera was the only foreigner in the cast. He suggestion to the producer that his character could be written as an adopted American male wasn’t taken on board.

You sound smarter when you speak like a Swede, they said.

**

Agda breathed in and out like a drummer trying to keep time to bad jazz. It wasn’t that she disliked hiking; she just didn’t own any shares in the intellectual property of the pastime. Her guest membership had expired when Josef left. Agda had moved in with her sister after Josef left. She’d stopped doing most things. For money, she tutored foreigners, until her students stopped turning up. The only friends she ever saw were her sister’s. Everything that came before felt like it only existed on some warped VHS that she didn’t even have the equipment to play. Inga fler växande was her chance to correct course, to be part of something again.

They were now halfway up the mountain. Although they had symbolically moved closer to the sun, the sun itself had moved behind the tip of the mountain, so they were now physically in shadow. From behind her, Michael Cera spoke.

‘Do you believe in ghosts?’

Agda let her head tilt to one side to give the impression that this was something she had to think over.

‘I don’t think so, no.’

‘So that means you’re not scared of them, right?’

‘I’m not scared by the ghosts that I don’t believe in, no.’

‘Good, good. I was just checking.’

He counted four steps in silence. Unlike both hearing and taste, Michael Cera wholly trusted his sense of comedic timing.

‘I dated this girl once — I probably shouldn’t tell you who it was.’ Michael Cera paused for Agda to guess. She didn’t. ‘You might have seen her in movies.’

‘I don’t watch many American films.’

She’d seen every ’90s Johnny Depp movie on her sister’s couch, but.

‘Well this girl I dated — who is almost as famous as me — I’ll just say that, well, she always slept with a light on. Because she thought ghosts came in the night and messed up her room. Well one time — you’re going to love this story, I bet — I got up after she was asleep and put slices of watermelon all over her bedroom. You should have seen her reaction in the morning. We broke up after, but you can’t write this stuff! Real life, I’m telling you, real life is where all the gold is buried.’

Agda stopped walking. She looked back at him, at the row of stupid little hairs above his lips.

‘Please don’t futz this up, Michael Cera. Too many people would be disappointed.’

Her heel made a deep mark in the soil where she turned, continuing up the mountain.

**

The view from the top was to be revered, like something you’d see when typing “nice mountain view” into Google Images. By now they had caught up with the sun, which silhouetted them like hand puppets. Agda spun around slowly, catching it all in panorama. Michael Cera listened to the ambience for a whole minute before breaking out into triumphant shouts:

‘I’M A KING OF THE WORLD! WHO’S THE TALLEST YOUNG MALE COMEDY ACTOR OF OUR GENERATION? IT’S ME!’

Michael Cera let his shouts trail off when the void failed to respond. Agda shrugged the pack off her shoulders and it fell against the rocks. She started to name the things around them, first in English and then in Swedish. Sky. Himmelsblå. Clouds. Moln. Mountain. Fjäll. Michael Cera thought her voice was calming.

‘When you say that word — flat rock? — it sounds like you’re saying hell. Like, as if hell is just a flat, smooth rock.’

‘Häll.’

‘That’s what I said.’

Agda stared at him and then, suddenly, through him. She blinked but then everything was normal.

‘But imagine.’ Michael Cera began to chuckle to himself. ‘Imagine if when we die, we just get turned into tiny little people, and we have to live on a flat rock. Like insects.’

‘Or like humans,’ she said, ‘but we live on a rund sten. A round rock.’

‘Oh yeah.’ He laughed for as second before cutting himself off.

‘Maybe we’re already in hell.’

**

The wind had started whipping at their limbs. Michael Cera was perched on a rock, looking out over the mountainside. Agda came over and knelt down beside him.

‘Michael, why did you want to go hiking today?’

‘Sometimes when people say Michael, I think they’re talking about my dad on the show, whose name is Michael too.’

‘Michael.’

He looked deflated.

‘I just wanted to climb a Swedish mountain.’

‘That’s it?’

‘What if we made a tent out of our bags and things. Have a little wilderness slumber party.’

‘I don’t want to try and build a tent with you, Michael Cera.’

Agda stood up and crossed the mountaintop to let Michael Cera mope on his lonesome. This was the kind of performance he leaned into for the indie films he made when he wasn’t starring in comedies opposite the flesh duplicate of Jack Black.

There was no phone reception on the mountain, not even when Agda held it up to the sky like a tribute to the satellite gods. She thumbed through her photos instead. Most of the recent photos were just of animals she’d spotted going to or from her sister’s apartment, but within a minute she was moving through her past life. She stopped at a view of a glassy lake. Josef was just lingering out of frame, nothing more than a suggestion. You couldn’t even see his reflection in the water.

‘Everything is a mess.’

Michael Cera was standing beside her, backpack slung over his shoulders.

‘We should probably head back.’

‘Can I tell you a story, Agda?’

‘Fine, and then we leave.’

‘Fine is good.’

Michael Cera sucked in the mountain air.

‘When we were filming Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, sometimes the camera would see right through me, like Edgar Wright would do a take of me sitting on the swings, and the camera just went through my chest and you could see the snow behind me. Do you know that scene? They had to fix it up in post-production. My whole chest is CGI. My whole chest!’ He tapped a palm against his belly. ‘Do you know what that does to a guy’s self-esteem? I’m a ghost. I think I’m a ghost.’

It was a lot to take in. She looked off into the fields below before bringing her eye line to Michael Cera again.

‘I haven’t seen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.’

‘You’re really bad at this, you know.’

‘Hiking?’

‘No, I thought coming up here with you would help me embrace life and its infinite mysteries. You’re bad at helping me with that.’

Agda laughed sharply.

‘That’s your job, Michael Cera. You came from over the sea. You’re the one who is going to disappear when this show goes to ruin. Don’t you get it? You’re my manic pixie dream girl.’

**

The sky was getting dark and the moon was showing off its buff, full body. Agda took the decline carefully with Michael Cera fumbling behind her, having to pull up again and again to stop from colliding.

They were near the foot of the mountain when an animal rushed across before them. It had a white body and the standard number of eyes. It was the size of a fancy coffee machine, or a cheap coffee machine, whichever is bigger. Either way, it was dark, so you couldn’t have seen what brand it was.

‘What was that?’ said Michael Cera, spooked.

‘Probably just a goat,’ said Agda.

Michael Cera smiled.

‘I thought you said you didn’t believe in them.’