First, he came back to the role that launched his career with Season Four of Arrested Development on Netflix, This was a safe, easy choice, and he would have been crucified had he been the lone holdout on the cast. But the first sign of a change was last month's This Is the End. In that hit apocalyptic comedy, Cera and his famous friends (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill etc.) each play some variation of themselves, but only Cera is game for a complete reversal of his nice-guy persona. In the film's early party scenes, he snorts cocaine in public, harasses women, and generally acts like the biggest jerk in Hollywood (a very high bar). He is such a convincing villain, in fact, that we are all very pleased that he meets his comeuppance when a falling telephone pole impales him while he's searching for his cell phone.
Cera's subversive turn in This Is the End left critics and audiences delightfully surprised, but nobody seemed to take it seriously. Viewers might have assumed this was just a momentary diversion from his past and future career of playing nice guys. But people should have known better, for there were some early indications that Cera would not be interested in playing the good guy for long. In Youth in Revolt, his typically shy teenager had an alter ego—more of an id, actually—who could be seen as a preview of his roles to come. From an interview in Ask Men:
"[H]e's a jerk. But I like him. And, I have to admit, it was fun. It was definitely fun to play the asshole. This is the first movie where I get to have a mustache and an attitude and I'm good with the ladies, which is not how I'm usually cast."
Like most good comic actors, Cera definitely enjoys messing with the audience's minds, but with Youth in Revolt and This Is the End, he was staying within the confines of commercial films. That pattern changed with Crystal Fairy, the micro-budget, semi-improvised film by Chilean director Sebastian Silva and in theaters now. He plays Jamie, a snide, arrogant, trust-fund baby who is drinking and snorting his way through Chile. Jamie shares some personality traits with the caricature Cera played in This Is the End, but here he gives a fully rounded performance that is more than a diversion from his nice-guy persona; it's an deep, artful rejection of it.
Jamie is a sad, deluded character, an ugly American who sees himself as worldly and tolerant. He thinks himself an intellectual, but the only book that seems to have made any impact on him is Huxley's The Doors of Perception, and all it inspired is a deep and compelling need to find a certain hallucinogenic cactus, take it to the beach, and trip all night. But even that is difficult for Jamie, who is the kind of guy who becomes so anxious about getting drugs that he kills your buzz before it even starts.