Features, Film, Interview

INTERVIEW: Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton on ‘BLACKBERRY’

"It was a weird, rare, inspiring thing to work with a bonafide, honest-to-goodness auteur."


BlackBerry is the enthralling brainchild of Canadian actor-director Matt Johnson. With this smart, quick-witted flick, Johnson proves to be a force to be reckoned with, both behind and in front of the camera. The upcoming biographical drama from IFC Films chronicles the rise and the meteoric fall of the landmark company that first invented the smartphone—long before Steve Jobs ever did.

Jay Baruchel (This is the End, She’s Out of My League) leads this formidable feature as meek, well-intentioned BlackBerry founder and CEO Mike Lazaridis. He is joined by Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, A.P. Bio), who plays ruthless BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie, the force that gets the mobile start-up off the ground—with disastrous results. The duo is supported by the convivial, good-natured, and simplistic Doug Fregin (Johnson), Mike’s co-founder and best friend who disapproves of Balsillie’s corporate-driven tactics. At first, the three men revel in success during the booming, early days of tech, but greed, lies, and the increasingly-suspicious Security Exchange Commission loom on the darkening horizon. 

The film is poignant, fascinating, and significant; prior to Johnson’s film, it was easy to forget this tiny device and those who worked so hard to create it. BlackBerry phones forever changed how humans live and are now a long-forgotten ghost of the recent past, lost to time and rapid technological advancement.

The cast is commendably strong here. Despite being known for the adored comedic films of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, Baruchel is so much more than that. The ever-humble Canadian actor is striking in his performance—arguably his most powerful to date. His doleful eyes are a haunting contrast to the commanding presence he brings to Mike in the final act of the film. 

Boston Hassle spoke with Baruchel and Howerton about the making of BlackBerry, the intricacies of portraying their real-life counterparts, and their experiences working with Johnson. 

NOTE: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

BOSTON HASSLE: How did this project come about?

GLENN HOWERTON: I was sent the script and an offer, and I’ll be honest—I don’t get a lot of offers often where you get the story and go, This is amazing. A lot of times, it’s like, Hm, maybe I’ll be able to do something with this. The script was so good.

JAY BARUCHEL: For me, I was a fan of Matt’s before I even met him. I’ve loved his stuff since The Dirties. We met and became kind of friendly while in Toronto, in the movie scene around there, since we knew a lot of the same people. I was cutting Random Acts of Violence—a film I recently directed—with my editor, and Matt came to visit us. He was like, I wanna make a movie about the BlackBerry—is that something you might wanna do? And I fuckin’ pulled one out of my pocket and said, Yeah, certainly! And then he and Matthew Miller wrote one hell of a script.

BH: What drew you to be a part of BlackBerry?

GH: Matt Johnson’s prior work as a director. I was so impressed with everything he was able to do with such little resources prior to this film. The fact that he was given actual resources to make this movie, well… I knew it was going to be a hit. Matt’s such a wonderfully collaborative person. I got that impression immediately, from the first time we Zoomed. The whole thing was a slam dunk. The character was exciting, the script was incredible, and Matt is a great director.

JB: I trusted that Matt was going to make a good movie no matter what. It was a weird, rare, inspiring thing to work with a bonafide, honest-to-goodness auteur.


BH: You can definitely feel his energy and fervency through the screen. 

JB: Thank you, for sure.

BH: Glenn, Jim is a formidable force throughout BlackBerry. How did you tap into the intensity and ruthlessness of his character?

GH: Honestly, it’s just exploiting a side of myself. I’m not a ruthless person, but I think my wife would tell you that I’m certainly an intense person. I clearly experience the world differently than other people, because everything is intense to me. Really! Whether it’s the dog barking, the kids screaming, or beautiful music, I just feel it all so deeply.

I had to be an actor or else I think I’d go insane. Just channeling that intensity into a character is quite cathartic for me, even though I don’t act like Jim acts. Though, I can relate to the intensity with which he goes about things. I tamp it down a little bit in my real life, just so that I don’t walk into a room and blow peoples’ hair back, but I can understand it.


BH: Jay, I’d love to talk to you about Mike and his transformation throughout the film, both mentally and physically. He goes from downtrodden, docile, and very loyal to Doug, to being confident and bitter; he dismisses Doug and gives up his morals, allowing his BlackBerry phones to be made with cheap products, something he had been vehemently against at the start of the film. How did you get into Mike’s character, and in that respect, this transformation? Did you feel it was integral to him as a character?

JB:  That’s a really good question. So, luckily, due to Matt and (Matthew) Miller writing a hell of a script, the map was kind of laid out there—then it’s just on me to not fuck that up. We worked backward from Mike’s lowest point, from what I call his “Tony Montana” moment, where he tells Doug, Fuck off, we’ll just make the phones in China. 

He’s like Scarface in the hot tub. He lost everybody at that point. The only difference is that Mike doesn’t get killed in our movie (laughs) and he gets to bounce back up a bit. In the end, he’s found himself somewhere in between that low and high point. It was a really interesting, fun thing to do to try and figure out what the big pivots would be.


Other actors—better actors than me—know exactly what they’re going to do in every scene. They think about scenes like cue cards. They have a very specific sequence in order. All I’m ever able to do is do what’s directly in front of me as best I can, and hope to God that the director is aiming me and charting that way. That is, with the exception of profound, big choices. I have normal-ish hair and then I have crazy hair. So, that was the pivot where my high-school-educated brain registered Mike’s character change as, Oh, Mike’s different there. But yeah, really, it’s all Matt. I just jammed with Matt and Glenn and we found this music together. It’s really because our boss is very good at what he does.

GH: Matt also surrounds himself with a really great brain trust of smart, creative people. He’s got his band of cohorts that he can consort with between takes, and they all speak the same language.

JB: Yeah. They’ve been making movies together for ages.

GH: It’s a really cool thing to see.

BH: Well, you answered my final question already, which was going to be, What was it like to work with Matt? So thanks, guys!

JB: He’s the best. Legitamentally the best. Best guy I’ve ever worked for.

dir. Matt Johnson
119 min.

BlackBerry opens Friday, 5/12 at AMC Boston Common and theaters everywhere.

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