Cera was born in Brampton, Ontario. He is the son of Linda (née Cockman) and Luigi Cera, a technician. His father is Sicilian, and his mother has Irish, Dutch, Scottish, and English ancestry. His parents both worked for Xerox. Cera has an older sister, Jordan, and a younger sister, Molly. He became interested in acting after viewing Ghostbusters repeatedly when sick with the chicken pox at the age of three. He memorized all the dialogue and idolized Bill Murray. He enrolled in the Second City Toronto and took improvisation classes.
He attended Conestoga Public School, Robert H. Lagerquist Senior Public School and Heart Lake Secondary School until grade nine, but then completed school online through grade 12.
His first role was an unpaid appearance in a Tim Hortons summer camp commercial. That appearance eventually landed him a position in a Pillsbury commercial in which he poked the Pillsbury Doughboy, his first role with lines.
In 1999, Cera was cast as Larrabe Hicks in the Canadian television series I Was a Sixth Grade Alien. In 2002, Cera played the young Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and he also provided the voice for Brother Bear in the 2002 Berenstain Bears animated series. Also in 2002, he was cast in The Grubbs, a new Fox TV series. It received a poor critical response, including an E! Online review that called it "the worst sitcom ever produced". He also voiced Josh Spitz in the cartoon Braceface. He played George Michael Bluth in the award-winning television series Arrested Development for three seasons before it was cancelled for six years. In 2005, he starred as Harold in the award-winning short film Darling Darling, for which he was awarded Best Actor at the San Gio Festival in Verona, Italy. In 2006, he created and starred in a parody of Impossible is Nothing, a video résumé created by Aleksey Vayner. He also guest-starred in an episode of teen noir drama Veronica Mars – in the episode "The Rapes of Graff", which also featured Arrested Development co-star Alia Shawkat – and also in the Adult Swim series Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!.
Cera, along with best friend Clark Duke, wrote and starred in a series of short videos released on their website. The idea came from Duke, who was enrolled at Loyola Marymount University and did it for his film school studies. In 2007, they signed a deal with CBS Television to write, produce, direct, and act in a short-form comedy series entitled Clark and Michael. The show featured guest stars such as David Cross, Andy Richter and Patton Oswalt, and was distributed via CBS's new internet channel, CBS Innertube.
Cera also appeared in a staged comedy video that shows him being fired from the lead role of the film Knocked Up after belittling and arguing with the director, in a scene that mocks the David O. Russell blow up on the set of I Heart Huckabees.
Cera starred alongside Jonah Hill in the film Superbad, which was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The film opened in North America on August 17, 2007. In November 2007, he hosted Saturday Night Live on strike, a live staged version of SNL not shown on television due to the 2007 Writers Guild of America Strike. Also in 2007, Cera co-starred in Juno as Paulie Bleeker, a teenager who impregnates his long-time school friend Juno (Ellen Page). For Superbad and Juno, Cera won Breakthrough Artist in the Austin Film Critics Association Awards 2007.
In 2007, Cera appeared in the comedy short "Drunk History", playing Alexander Hamilton in a comedic retelling of Hamilton's duel with Aaron Burr. Cera starred in the independent film Paper Heart. It was written by and co-starred Charlyne Yi, and premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival where it won a screenwriting award. Cera and Yi composed the movie's soundtrack. He also starred alongside Jack Black in the 2009 comedy Year One. In 2009, Cera's first published short story, "Pinecone", appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly. In October 2009, Cera starred in a film adaptation of the novel Youth in Revolt, in the role of the lead character, Nick Twisp, and his destructive "supplementary persona", François Dillinger. Cera played the title character in the film adaptation of the graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, released in August 2010.
In 2013, Cera starred in Magic Magic, a film directed by Sebastian Silva and filmed in Chile, for which he spent "five hours a day learning Spanish". He also worked with Silva in another Chilean film released in 2013 titled Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus. He played an exaggerated version of himself in the apocalyptic comedy film This Is the End, which was released in summer of 2013. Cera reprised his role of George Michael Bluth for the fourth season of Arrested Development in May 2013, which he was also a consulting producer on. According to press reports, Cera will appear in the Arrested Development film when it eventually goes into production.
Cera, along with Reggie Watts, Tim & Eric, and Sarah Silverman created the web-based comedy YouTube channel known as Jash, where he posts short films which he directs and stars in. Cera is part of the cast of Burning Love, a web spoof of ABC's The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.
In August 2014, Cera began a run of Kenneth Lonergan's This is Our Youth on Broadway, co-starring with Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson.
In 2010 Cera contributed mandolin and backing vocals to the Weezer song "Hang On" from their album Hurley. Cera has also established himself as the touring bass player in Mister Heavenly, an indie rock band originating in the American northwest, and is a member of the band The Long Goodbye, along with Clark Duke. Cera also played bass and sang back up during songs in both Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.
He released his full-length debut album True That on August 8, 2014 through his official Bandcamp page. The album features 19 original tracks, a cover of Roderick Falconer's "Play It Again" as well as a cover of Blaze Foley's "Clay Pigeons."
In early 2015, Canadian musician Alden Penner released "Meditate", a track from his upcoming EP Canada in Space, which features Cera. Penner subsequently announced that the EP would be released on 29 June 2015 on City Slang records, as well as a European tour of the UK, Netherlands, France, and Germany, which featured Cera as both co-headliner and member of Penner's backing band.Studio albums
True That (2014)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2010)