After a season of “Social Network” promotion and awards-reaping, Jesse Eisenberg has re-teamed with “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer for a bit of a palate-cleanser. It puts Eisenberg squarely in a dirty Michigan junk and scrap yard, in a bomb vest, opposite of Nick Swardson holding a homemade flamethrower.
“30 Minutes or Less” is decidedly “not David Fincher,” Fleischer laughs.
The director played host to handful of journalists in Grand Rapids, in August last year. On hand was Aziz Ansari, who plays best friend Chet to Eisenberg’s floundering pizza delivery guy Nick, as well as Swardson’s bad-guy co-conspirator Danny McBride.
The midnight shoot turned the lens on the finale to the story of 30-something Nick, whose quandaries start when Dwayne and Travis (McBride and Swardson) kidnap him. They strap a bomb to his chest with the instruction to rob a bank in 10 hours or Nick waves his do-nothing life away. Eisenberg’s character then loops Chet, a middle school teacher, into his little problem, despite the fact that Nick recently pissed his buddy off by admitting his love for Chet’s twin sister Kate.
Kate unfortunately gets added to the mix, a mix that, naturally, requires a bank robbery.
Check out photos of Nick, Chet, Kate, Travis and Dwayne here.
“It was so fun,” Ansari enthused. “I don’t plan on robbing a bank anytime so this is probably the closest I’ll get to doing that. And I see why people rob banks. The whole time before we were shooting that I just watched ‘Heat’ over and over again, to really get in that mindset, so it’s an idiot like me trying to channel ‘Heat.’ Just the idea of a comedy based around a bank robbery seemed like something that would work.”
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“We reference ‘Lethal Weapon' a few times in this movie… and there are four of those,” Eisenberg laughed. His moment of “heat” is behind the wheel of a Datsun in downtown Grand Rapids during a car chase. And Swardson, of course, endures actual heat during his scenes, as indicated by our Q&A.
But while “Zombieland” featured an excessive amount of “winking” and real shotguns, Eisenberg said, “30 Minutes or Less” is far more earnest and realistic, with toy guns. This is no post-Apocalypse; it’s two normal dudes in an extreme situation in Working Class, Michigan.
“[Nick’s] really forced to prioritize what's most important to him in that day. He has one day essentially to live, so it forces him to get off his ass and do something then also tell the girl he's always loved that he loves her and be real with his best friend about some sh*t he hasn't talked about before,” Fleischer explained. “It's really about if you only had one more day to live, what are you going to do with that day and what's most important to you. If you're just delivering pizzas, you might want to reevaluate your priorities. Unless that's what you want to do.”
“Ruben has a great kind of sense of how to create a comedic movie and not compromise the characters and he does that really, really well,” Eisenberg said. “With the Facebook movie… there’s no comedic aspect of the movie, it’s kind of a different process and a different endgame.”
This comedic “endgame” may be one that rivals a cussing classic.
Fleischer: “I think ‘[The Big] Lebowski’ has the record for the most Fs [as in ‘f***’], and I think we might give them a run for their money. It's embarrassing how much profanity there is. Hopefully the audience can sustain it.”
Foul language and absurd behavior can almost be expected, coming from the first-time pairing of Swardson with McBride, and Eisenberg with Ansari. The “Eastbound and Down” actor was among the first on board, and Fleischer wanted to pair him with someone “who’s not of that Apatow world.” And Ansari enjoys bridging the gap between a partner and co-lead with Eisenberg and lightening the mood when the levity of the situation becomes unbearable.
“I don’t think [Nick] is a total straight man. But I think sometimes he’s dealing with a serious situation and I just have to say some stupid jackass comment to break it up a little bit,” said Ansari, adding that he and Eisenberg had grown quite close as friends during shooting.
“And lighting a dude on fire is no joke,” Fleischer added helpfully.
Another "Observe and Report" alumnus Michael Peña adds to the funny. Ansari and McBride were given some room to rewrite jokes and their characters in the script, and overall the actors were encouraged to improvise so long as it didn’t ruin their characters or the plotline.
“You don’t want to be self-indulgent. You want to make sure that you stay in character and it’s a part of the whole machine, you know, it’s not just us doing fart jokes in the middle of a drive-by shooting,” Swardson said.
“That’s not to say that there aren’t,” answered McBride.
But it’s Nick’s personal strife is what keeps the comedy held down to earth, during the 37 days of shooting.
“There’s so much action and there’s also so many things that are comedic elements in the movie, but -- at the risk of being pretentious -- that’s my job to kind of maintain the emotional honesty.”
“30 Minutes or Less” is out on Aug. 12.