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BlackBerry director and stars on telling an iconic Canadian story

Co-writer/director Matt Johnson and stars Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton unpack their new Canadian biopic

BlackBerry movie

Between the likes of Steve Jobs, The Social Network and The Dropout, we’ve seen quite a few movies and shows about the larger-than-life American figures in the tech industry. Now, it’s Canada’s turn to get that treatment with BlackBerry, a new biopic about the history of the once-popular Waterloo-made phones of the same name.

Co-written and directed by Toronto’s Matt Johnson (The Dirties) and based on Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, the film chronicles the wild highs and lows of the company from the perspective of co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis (This is the End‘s Jay Baruchel) and Jim Ballsillie (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton). While tech moguls like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are household names, the masterminds behind BlackBerry are decidedly less famous, making the film particularly noteworthy.

Naturally, that left a lot of room to tell a story, and it’s something that the film’s creators really wanted to explore. For Johnson, the time leading up to 2008 — just one year after the release of BlackBerry’s biggest competition, the iPhone — was most appealing.

“That was when those characters were going through the most change and were making the most drastic decisions that would change the rest of their lives,” he says.

Howerton, meanwhile, says the public’s general lack of knowledge about BlackBerry’s co-founders gave him more freedom when approaching Balsillie. “I didn’t feel any pressure to do a Jim Ballsillie impersonation or accurately portray a very particular mannerism of his that’s iconic or any of that,” he says. “I did as much research as I could, but at the end of the day, my research was just reading the script over and over again.”

While Ballsillie is portrayed as the more hot-headed and business-savvy of the duo, Lazaridis is the more soft-spoken and impressionable tech whiz. As a result, this meant that Baruchel had to give a more understated performance, which he says makes his journey more interesting.

“The sort of hero emotion I wanted to come to the surface the most — if nothing else, if I failed at everything else, I wanted people to see that this is a guy with a sort of definitive POV and moral imperative behind him who then kind of turns into a bit of a monster before he finds himself again,” says the Montreal-raised actor.

For both Baruchel and Johnson, the story being quintessentially Canadian is what attracted them to it in the first place.

“We’re both very proud that this is a Canadian product, as hokey as it sounds. I felt true civic pride in being able to show people not only the Canadian origins of this but to show the movie made in a Canadian way with real Canadian people,” says Johnson.

“The things I care about the most are making movies here,” adds Baruchel. “It was really just allowing ourselves to tell the story and write a bit of a love letter to a time and place in which Matt and I came of age.”

Check out our full interview below:

BlackBerry opens in Canadian theatres on May 12th.

Image credit: Elevation

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