Michael CERA and Kat Dennings slide into a booth at Canter's Deli on Fairfax Avenue to talk about their romantic comedy “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” but mostly this reunion -- after last seeing each other in May for re-shoots -- feels like an excuse to worry over and needle each other with affection, like a youthful Tracy and Hepburn.
Dennings, 22, who played Catherine Keener's daughter in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and appeared most recently in "The House Bunny," accesses her inner Jewish mother, training her melancholic gaze on Cera's slumping, beanpole frame and beseeching, "Are you eating? I could put you in my pocket and there'd still be room." As for 20-year-old Cera, whose brown pants/blue-and-white-collared shirt combo might best be described as '70s caddy wear, he wonders aloud why his English muffin and side of peanut butter have arrived before any of his costar's order.
"And she's got an English muffin coming too?" Cera calls out a mite too late, the waitress already rounding the corner.
"Dude, please, eat immediately, right now," Dennings commands. "I am, like, so engulfed in my cream soda here."
In "Nick & Norah," which opens Oct. 3 and is based on the young adult novel by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, the pair play lovelorn music obsessives with troublesome exes who find themselves pushed together over the course of a long New York City night. Before their casting, the pair had met a few times before: once at a CAA screening, where, Dennings says, "I learned that every 10 seconds Michael gets attacked by someone who likes 'Arrested Development' "; and then again at the premiere of Cera's movie "Superbad," at which, Dennings adds, "I had a fake tan for a movie, and felt very self-conscious."
They immediately hit it off, thanks to an opportunity to get to know each other in New York before shooting.
"Just hanging out," is what Cera calls this phase. "Like, we got breakfast a few times. It can be more important than rehearsing."
"You made me walk, like, 800 blocks constantly," Dennings recalls.
"Yeah, we took the long route home," counters Cera, "but I got us there."
Cera, who was last seen working his nerd-boy charms opposite Ellen Page in "Juno," says he loved working with Dennings because "she doesn't take things too seriously, which is nice. It was always pretty fun." He turns to her, scanning her pretty, pale face for approval. "We never had a rough night, right? Where we were going to have a nervous breakdown?"
Dennings reminds him that as fun as the nighttime schedule was, it did occasionally make for some bouts with fatigue. "It messes with your head, because you're so tired and your body wants to wake up when it sees the sun, so occasionally I couldn't sleep when I got home."
Mostly, though, the pair thought of the sundown-to-sunup shoot as like "camp," and recall with much laughter the eccentricities of filming around New York bystanders. "If it was a Friday or Saturday when the bars were letting out, it was insane," says Cera, at which point Dennings asks him if he remembers one interloper who kept wanting to show everyone his genitals.
"Totally," he says. "He was so funny and the whole crew was laughing at him."
"He's forever burned in my mind," Dennings says. "He didn't get to, though, did he?"
"No, that's the long and short of it," Cera deadpans, which elicits an extended, lurching giggle from Dennings.
Would they work together again? "No," they joke in unison.
"I consider this working together again and it's not working out," Cera dryly offers.
"I don't know," continues Dennings, whose frequent smiles denote a losing battle with keeping a straight face. "I guess if I were forced at gunpoint."
In a recent website interview, Dennings described Cera as "the cutest thing in the universe." When asked if that assessment still holds, Dennings merrily asserts, "Of course. I stand by your cuteness. What do you think of that, Michael Cera?"
"It's nice," says Cera, crinkling the sides of his mouth into a half-smile.
Then Dennings offers a last-minute amendment. "But you should gain 10 pounds, because you look really skinny."