This past Friday BlackBerry, a dramatization of the rise and fall of the Canadian company that made the historic smartphone of that same name, arrived in theaters.
In telling this intense story about business history, filmmaker Matt Johnson turned to a pair of actors best known for comedy: Longtime It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Glenn Howerton, and Jay Baruchel, whose credits include everything from Tropic Thunder to This is the End to Letterkenny. They play Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the co-CEOs of Research in Motion, the company that made the BlackBerry.
We spoke with the two actors over Zoom last week, about the film, the story, the Canada-ness of it all, and whether they worried a key moment in the movie might upset the Chinese Communist Party.
I want to ask first of all what drew you to this project, and what were your first thoughts on a movie about BlackBerry?
GLENN HOWERTON: Yea, I mean, I was sent the script, it was a very traditional process in many ways, I was sent the script, I was really blown away by the quality of the writing, the dialogue, the drive of the story, and the fact that it was such an iconic device, and yet somehow I knew nothing about the backstory about went into the building and the downfall of the company.
So it was interesting to me on every level, and then when I watched the director’s prior films and then met with him over Zoom I was so impressed with him, that the whole thing was a total slam dunk for me. Good script, great director, great co-star with Jay – I’ve seen so much of Jay’s work and I get to work with Jay, I get to work with Matt. It’s like, I can’t find a flaw with this.
JAY BARUCHEL: That’s nice, yea. For me, it just started with being a fan of Matt Johnson since his first film The Dirties. And him, just being a filmmaker who I watching. We had a lot of friends in common in the Toronto movie world. And then I got to know him, and he told me he was trying to make a movie about the BlackBerry. And I was like, “Oh shit,” and I pulled one out of my pocket because I was still using one at that time.
But all of that would be utterly irrelevant if they didn’t write a spectacular script, and he and Matt Miller really did. And so it was a script you’d read and you’d be like ‘If we miss half of this, we’re still going to have a pretty incredible ride. And I knew his whole approach to filmmaking. There are not many bona fide auteurs who will stick it out and stick to their guns, to their own detriment, to create what they want to create. And he is sort of a different breed, they don’t make a ton of guys like him anymore.
Like Glenn said, it was a slam dunk.
So Jay, because you’re the Canadian of the two of you, can you speak to the Canadian-ness of this project, and of the story itself? It’s a Canadian company, a Canadian device, it’s set in Canada. Is the Canadian business world different in a way that Americans might not appreciate?
JB: Yea, typically, especially nowadays, it’s probably slightly lower stakes. The American one is still the big time, and the dream for a Canadian product is to get into the U.S. market because there’s literally ten times as many Americans as Canadians. And so just working backward from that, it gives it an inherent kind of difference.
It also has a different history and tradition. But that’s another part of what appealed to me about this one – and not just in terms of business, in terms of all sorts of ephemera, as well, and a spirit behind all of it. It felt truthful, if there is such a thing, as a Canadian perspective, this certainly had one of them. And so I knew that Matt – I liked what he said to say about movies as a guy and a creator, and I saw that reflected in the script that he wrote and the movie that he made.
There’s a great running thing in the movie where Jim doesn’t like cheap products from China that make that noise, and it has that great payoff at the end. Was there any worry that the Chinese government would be upset about that?
JB: Not for me, because I’m not a producer. I don’t fucking care.
So you’re saying it never came up?
JB: It came up constantly. And I don’t want to speak on anyone else’s behalf, but I’ll just say that there’s a difference between being against poor manufacturing in a place that does a lot of it, and being against a country and a culture.
GH: I mean, they may not see it that way, but that’s how I see it.