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It goes without saying that Aziz Ansari is one of the best young comedians working today. A star on one of the funniest shows going right now (if you’re not watching Parks and Recreation you should really start), it’s only a matter of time before he begins using his hiatus time to start building an extensive film career. That starts with Ruben Fleischer’s 30 Minutes or Less.
As I’ve been reporting all week, last summer I and a small group of other journalists had the chance to visit the set of the new comedy from the Zombieland director and talk to the cast and filmmakers, including Aziz Ansari. Check out our interview below in which the actor talks about robbing a bank with plastic guns, watching Heat on repeat and the freedom he’s had to improvise during his career.
Do you play Jesse Eisenberg’s best friend?
I play Jesse’s best friend, and as you know he gets a bomb strapped to him and is told that he has to rob a bank so when that happens he asks his best friend to help him do it and I play the best friend so I’m along for the ride.
Do you have a bomb attached to you as well?
No, it’s just Jesse. I’m just his friend that’s tagging along.
How was shooting the bank robbery?
It was so fun! I don’t plan on robbing a bank anytime so this is the closest I’ll get to doing that, and I see why people rob banks, it’s very fun. You just bust in and start yelling shit at people and threatening to shoot them and stuff, it’s so fun.
Is it just like the movies, when you come in screaming?
Yeah, you know 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 just like an idiot like me trying to channel the dudes in Heat. So, it was so fun, and that was always my favorite part of the movie, I don’t think there’s ever been a bank robbing comedy so that just seemed like a really interesting concept to me. Yeah, it was so fun, and Ruben [Fleischer] was really cool about this, letting me do whatever I want as far as improvising stuff during the bank robbery and that’s just a fun situation to get to improvise around.
Did you get to do a lot of improve with Ruben?
Yeah, um, you know Ruben’s always like, “If you have any ideas, try them.” I think when you start to talk about improvising it gets to actors just saying dumb stuff randomly like Whose Line Is It Anyway? or something, but I try to think of it as rewriting in the moment, like really looking to see if there are any alternate jokes or something like that, and Ruben has been really cool about pushing me to do as much of that as I can.
Who was already on the movie by the time you had joined it and who were the most excited about working with?
When I joined I think it was just me and Danny [McBride] when I first signed up and Danny and I had knew each other, we’d never worked together. In this, unfortunately, we don’t have any scenes together really but we are doing another movie, we are writing another thing for us to do together, so we’ll actually do some stuff together in that but we were fans of each other so I was excited to find out he was in it. You know, he’s a guy I respect a lot, and I respect his work and his taste and everything, when I heard he was involved I definitely started bugging out.
It’s a thing with his company Rough House, and my friend Harris Little, who is a writer on Parks and Recreation, the show I’m on. He’s writing it and I think we are keeping the logline under wraps for now, but I think it will be a lot of fun.
How action oriented is this?
Jesse did stunt driving and stuff like that I’m just kind of riding in the car with him. Other than that… what’s the other stunt stuff? The bank robbery, there’s no stunts in that, but I guess the main thing is the stunt driving, which is so fun, I’ve never done anything where I had to be in a car chase and it’s pretty cool. They have these rigs that like pull the car and stuff, you know acting is very easy it’s a lot of “Ah! Look out!” It’s so fun and yeah the rest of the stuff they have this guy, it’s the first time I had a stuntman that wasn’t a Caucasian stuntman that needed to be painted brown, I had this stuntman named Neta that was half Hawain and half Philippino, he had a very similar skin tone, and he handles any really hard stunts, most of the stuff has been pretty simple as far as the stunt stuff goes.
So you didn’t get to shoot any guns.
No, when we rob the bank we have plastic guns, we didn’t use any real guns.
Do you have any scenes with Danny McBride or Nick [Swardson] is it hard getting through the script because they’re improvising so much?
I don’t have any scenes with Danny or Nick, no, not really, I mean just this thing at the end, you know. No, I mean, yeah like I said anytime I improvise I try to make sure it makes sense within the thing, I don’t like do some scene and just start doing this riff on popcorn, you know. It has to integrate with the script and you have to kind of know what you’re doing. I’ve kind of done enough stuff now as far as Parks and Recreation and some of the other movies that I’ve done, like okay this is some of the stuff that will actually work and make it in the movie. To do that stuff well you have to do it in a particular way, to just dick around you’ll just waste everyone’s time.
Is there someone that you work with particularly well that brings that out of you? That brings out the best lines?
You know, I think everyone. I feel really lucky to work with the people that I’ve worked with, you know, whether it be the cast of Parks of the people in this movie and everything. I’ve been really lucky to work with people that have brought it out in me. Just people that are fun to work with I guess. Oh, and Bruce Willis. He brings it out of me but I’ve never got to work with him. It’s really a bummer [laughs].
I could just tell, like he’ll say something and I’ll be like, “Ah, I’ve got something for that, but I’m not in the movie!
Were you a fan of Ruben before?
You know it’s so funny, Ruben showed me an e-mail he sent me in 2006 saying, “Hey, I just shot this McDonald’s commercial and I have some extra time with the equipment. I’d love to do some short film with you, I’m such a huge fan.” This is years ago before I did Human Giant or anything, and I was like “Sorry man, I’m busy.” I didn’t say it like that, I didn’t blow him off, but it was so funny because he was like, “Yeah, I’ve been wanting to work with you for so many years” and I was like “Wow,” It’s so crazy. So we finally got to work together on this. I knew his stuff from like Zombieland and I thought he did an awesome job with that. From watching that, just imagining that skill-set applied to the stuff we’ve been shooting I feel like its going to turn out really good, like he knows what he’s doing.
What was the deciding factor that made you take on the project?
You know I read a lot of scripts for something to do in my off time from Parks and Recreation and this was my favorite and it really felt like a role I could really make my own and bring something to it. Just the idea of a comedy based around a bank robbery seemed like something that would work.
What’s your character like in this?
What’s my character like? It’s just like this guy whose best friend is given this impossible situation and they have a rough time in the beginning because his best friend has confessed that he has a huge crush on his twin sister and then they are forced into this situation when they are robbing a bank together, and all of these movies where they take ordinary, regular people and put them in extraordinary situations, you know.
Yes, I think so. Yeah, I believe so. I knew Swardson, and when I found out he was on it I was psyched. I think him and Danny are a really cool combination and they haven’t been together in anything. What’s cool about that pair and me and Jesse’s pair is that they are both really different energies. It’s like me and Jesse are very different and him and McBride are very different so I think it works very well together, all of the pieces.
There are a couple heist comedies that maintain a sense of danger while the characters are still saying jokes and being funny. Would you say that element is kept up in this movie?
I think that we try to play everything real and to be aware of that. You have to play it real because this is happening. I think that when you play it real it actually makes it funnier. I mean all my favorite comedies are like…like a lot of Parks and Recreation stuff we try to play everything real and I think that always works well.
Tom on Parks and Recreation has a real fascination with Jamie Foxx. Is your character in this obsessed with another actor?
Well you know, I’ve always had a part of me…When I was growing up my favorite movies that I watched all the time, I mean I watched comedies and stuff, but the movies I watched all the time were Die Hard and Terminator 2 like these classic 80s 90s action movies, so I kind of channeled that a little bit. In this movie there is a thing where these guys like Lethal Weapon a lot so I kind of thought of this guy as being really…like brought out that part of my personality. Like, okay this guy must be really into those kinds of action movies. Stuff like Point Break and Terminator 2 and Die Hard, like those are his favorite movies. That’s in my head anyway.
Is there any race comedy? You mentioned your new Filipino friend.
Well that’s my stuntman. He doesn’t have any jokes in the movie [laughs]. But, no not really. Pretty much a lot of the roles I’ve done were written for a white guy – his name is Chet – so yeah there wasn’t any real race stuff. I don’t think there really is. It would be really weird if it was written for a white guy but they had Indian jokes just in case. You know, like “Hey we just did a rewrite – he’s got this Indian accent and your dad’s really he’s really silly so he’s in the movie now!” “What? No! I didn’t sign on for this!” It’s like the kind of stuff I’ve done in the rest of my career. It’s more focused on the character and not on ethnic jokes.
Yeah. I mean I never really auditioned for stuff where the humor is based solely on the person being of a certain ethnicity. It’s just never appealed to me. Like in Parks and Recreation, the funny thing about him is not that he’s an Indian guy or anything it’s his personality and the way he acts.
Your relationship with Jesse in this film, does he kind of play the straight man to your comedian? How is the comedy balanced in that relationship?
I think his character is dealing with the seriousness of that situation but his character is not like a total straight man. I think we both play off each other. We’ve become really good friends over the course of shooting. Pretty much all our scenes are together so we’ve been together most of the time. We’ve become good friends. Our off-screen rapport has kind of helped the scenes too. Yeah, I mean I don’t think he’s 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.
Are you still working on the Randy movie? What’s happening with that?
We’re working on these three movies for Apatow right now, and one of them is the Randy thing, but the one we’ve been working on the most is this idea about me and another guy play two astronauts who are disgraced and have to go back to the moon to clear their names. We’ve been working on that script. I’m really excited about it. Yeah, astronaut comedy.
Who else is in that?
Well it’s not cast yet. We’ve been writing that and working on that…
What’s it called?
We don’t have a title yet. But that’s a movie I’m really excited about so hopefully we get to do that.
Untitled Moon Comedy
Untitled Astronaut Comedy, done. It’s me and Bruce. Like Armageddon, right? [laughs]
I think he’s been great. I think he knows what he wants and what he’s doing.
Does it have the same feel that Zombieland had, where he balanced the comedy and action at the same time?
Yeah. I think this is a little bit more of a comedy than Zombieland was – in my head, I don’t know. I think he’s been really good. He’s been so open to any ideas, and for me as an actor he’s been so open to any ideas I’ve had. I feel like I’ve had a really lucky career in that I’ve worked with people who have really been open to things like that, like Apatow, the guys at Parks and Recreation, where they are not just like, “Okay, this is it, do it!” They are like, “Whatever ideas you have. Whatever it is.” That’s been really cool, it’s been really collaborative. Like every scene we go in and try to elevate the scene and make it better than it was when we first got it. That’s been the coolest part for me.
How does this character compare to everything else you’ve done. Will it be easy for your fans to like this character?
I think with everything I do there is a certain essence to the character in a way. This just character my beard is styled a little bit different [laughs], usually this is shaved but in this movie it’s a little more grown out. There’s a little bit more beard there. No, I would say it’s a different character. This guy is like a junior high school teacher and these guys’ relationships are different. I think if you enjoy my work you’ll like this.
Are you planning any web videos with this character like you did with Randy on Funny or Die?
Not right now. The Randy thing was so easy because I wasn’t in the movie that much. With this, I’m shooting pretty much all the time. I don’t have time to dick around on thirty minute short films [laughs].
Yeah. I mean, I’ve seen Zombieland, but I wasn’t there on set. But yeah it does seem like we move pretty fast. We shoot some crazy stuff. With car chases they are just slow by nature. It’s a lot different than shooting a scene in an office on Parks and Recreation. Parks and Recreation is documentary style so we move a lot faster; there’s less coverage and stuff. So that’s different on this. Yeah, it’s so fun.
How do you like shooting in Michigan?
It’s been really fun. Everyone is really nice here. It’s hard being away from home but everyone has been really nice and it’s a fun town to shoot in. I love Grand Rapids.
You know the downtown by heart by now. Yeah I guess so. But who is going to say, “Man, Grand Rapids has been so shitty. I can’t wait to get out of here.” [laughs] I’d be such a dick!
Where would you say are some of your favorite places to shoot?
Well I’ve mainly only shot in LA. For the other stuff I’ve done everything has been in LA. For Observe and Report I was in Albuquerque for a little bit, but I was only there a couple of weeks. This has been the first time I’ve done a movie where it was like okay I’m going to be here for a long time. The other films I’ve done have mostly been shot in LA. So, it’s based on Grand Rapids and LA basically.
What’s your favorite heist movie besides Heat?
I just watched The Killing, Stanley Kubrick.
Not as funny.
No [laughs]. It’s more serious in that one.
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