Michael Angarano and Michael Cera on Fatherhood, Casting Kristen Stewart and Making the Buddy Comedy ‘Sacramento’

When Michael Angarano was trying to get “Sacramento,” his indie buddy comedy about two friends who go on a road trip to a certain state capital off the ground, the question he’d get was always the same. Does it really need to be set in Sacramento?

“At one point we were ready to shoot the movie in Atlanta — we had the financing and everything,” remembers Angarano, who directed the film, as well as co-wrote it. “And this was for a movie called ‘Sacramento.’ But it’s like why try to cheat it? Maybe, we should we just call it ‘Athens’ or ‘Savannah’?”

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And even though Angarano and his co-writer Chris Smith weren’t that familiar with the city that inspired their film, its appearance on a highway sign, informing them of the California city’s distance from Los Angeles, was foundational. For them, Sacramento wasn’t just a destination, it was a state of mind.

“We had just been to a batting cage and we were driving back and we saw the sign and we just played a game of chicken,” Angarano remembers. “It was like, ‘hey, want to go to Sacramento?’ ‘Yeah, sure. Why not?’ And it became sort of an inside joke. Like what if you just picked a random place and went there for no reason at all?”

That exchange plays out nearly verbatim in the film that Angarano and Smith finally, after many false starts and abrupt stops, finished. But the version that premieres at the Tribeca Festival this weekend has evolved just as the lives of the people involved with bringing it to the screen have changed in dramatic ways. In “Sacramento,” two estranged college buddies reconnect at a transitional moment in their lives. Michael Cera is Glenn, a soon-to-be father, stressed out by impending parenthood and facing a professional crisis. Angarano plays Ricky, his irresponsible friend whose happy-go-lucky persona masks some deeper personal issues. And though the two actors are longtime pals, they insist they are nothing like the people they play in the film.

“Our dynamic is not the same,” says Angarano. “Mike is not like the strait-laced one and I’m not the wild guy. We’re both pretty similar.”

But Cera notes the years it took to get the film off the ground meant that when cameras actually started rolling, the particulars of their lives had a lot in common with the parts they were playing.

“It’s a movie about these two guys on the precipice of fatherhood who are entering this new chapter,” says Cera. “And when this movie first started coming together that was a few years off for both of us. But it took so long to get started that by the time we were shooting, Mike and I had just entered into fatherhood. So it was very real and immediate to us.”

Making “Sacramento” changed Angarano’s life in other important ways. He met his future wife Maya Erskine after casting her in the film as Ricky’s ex-girlfriend. “Sacramento” ended up taking longer to get off the ground than anticipated, but she stuck with the project and with Angarano. The pair’s son was born in 2021 and they announced they were expecting their second child last April.

“This movie has this weird cosmic energy around it, where it’s life imitating art or art imitating life,” says Angarano. “Small little miracles happened around this film.”

To fill out the cast, Angarano approached Kristen Stewart, who he had dated in the early aughts, to play Rosie, the very pregnant wife of Cera’s character.

“I’ve known Kristen, since we were like 12 years old,” says Angarano. “We did not write it with Kristen in mind. But you get a list of stars when you make anything that the people who control the money are interested in having be in the film. Kristen was obviously on the very top tier of that list. We knew she’d be great in the role and she’s a person who has a history of doing smaller films like this.”

Stewart loved the script and wanted to work with Cera, so she agreed to join the project. That helped secure the financing, as well as a commitment from the movie’s backers to actually shoot the movie in Sacramento and not in an Atlanta suburb. But a few days before filming started, Cera gave Angarano a scare. The director had decided to take trip to Palm Springs by himself to decompress when he got a text message from his star that read, “I have an insane favor to ask.” But when Angarano wrote him back, Cera went silent. And that sent the filmmaker on a downward spiral.

“I texted everybody — the producers, everyone,” Angarano remembers. “I was like he’s pushing it. It’s falling apart.”

Eventually, Cera responded. He wanted to know if he could borrow one of Angarano’s guitars during the shoot. “He let me know that I had put him through hell,” Cera says sheepishly. “I think there was some non-psychotic reason why I didn’t respond. My phone had died or something.”

In the end, not only did the film get made, but Angarano lent Cera his guitar.

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