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In 2009 he starred in one of the most successful comedies of the year and one year later earned his first Best Actor nomination: now is a good time to be Jesse Eisenberg. Though he’s been acting for more than a decade, the young actor is finally getting the recognition he deserves, and it all began with him teaming up with Ruben Fleischer in Zombieland. Now the duo is back to work with 30 Minutes or Less.
Last summer – prior to the arrival of The Social Network in theaters –an esteemed group of journalists and myself were given the incredible opportunity to visit the set of the new action/comedy and talk with the movie’s cast and filmmakers, including star Jesse Eisenberg. Check out the interview below, in which Eisenberg talks about switching out Woody Harrelson for Aziz Ansari, how the two Fleischer comedies compare, and how he stays focused during multiple takes. Check it out!
I guess the question you’ll be asked the most about is working with Ruben again. What’s different this time? Seems like a lot of the same crew, but different dynamic?
Yeah, I mean the tone I think of the movie is a little different, because this movie is set in more of a real world context whereas the other movie was so little, at least for my character, was a little more heightened comedy, where this is, at least with my character, pretty straightforward and a real world context.
How old is your character in this movie?
How old? He’s I think like 39 [laughs] He’s around my age basically.
Did you ever work as a pizza guy?
Uh, in preparation for the movie I went out with a guy who works at the place where we’re filming. It was very helpful and also very interesting.
Did you shadow him for a day, a week?
Yeah, yeah, a day. It was very helpful and it made me realize that the character was conceived very accurately, and it was not a dissimilar experience that my character has.
So do you feel you’re moving more into the role Woody had in Zombieland and Aziz is stepping more into your role as the sidekick?
I don’t think it’s really comparable to that movie, but yeah, he plays my best friend and our relationship is kind of on the outs and then I get this bomb strapped to me, I have to rob the bank and I have no one else to turn to so I go ask him for help.
So the bomb you have on you is 30 minutes I’d assume?
No, it’s like a ten-hour timer. The title refers to my job as a pizza delivery guy and if the pizza is not there in 30 minutes, it’s free, and of course, it comes back later that I have 30 minutes to get across town to…[trails off] triple meaning.
Is it similar to Zombieland in the sense that you’re balancing two tones, comedy and action?
Yeah, sure. The comedy in this is a little less winking to the audience that Zombieland had more the tone of constantly playing on the absurdity of the real characters in this crazy situation whereas this movie is genuinely scary in a real way. It doesn’t ever feel like safe like Zombieland always felt scary in a safe way and in a cleverly humorous way. The stakes in this movie are legitimately high and the character, at least Aziz and my character, are real world characters.
But much more realistic. I think it will be funny as well. I haven’t seen what Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, they play like the two kidnappers, and their scenes have been very separate. I haven’t seen what they’re doing, but their characters I imagine are reading the script a bit more broadly drawn.
From what we’ve seen today, they were really improvising a lot. How hard is it as an actor, do you have to feel like you have to keep up with them and throw in your own things or do you just play off what they do?
Yeah, but for my character in this scene it’s not appropriate to be funny, and the camera was on my side of the scene yesterday, but when you’re working with people that funny when the camera is on them, you just try to give them their space, so that they can have the freedom to explore the scene and improvise, but no, I love improvisation as well and they’re really talented and very funny.
You’re almost done shooting so has there been a favorite day of shooting so far that sticks out to you?
I think probably the centerpiece scene of the movie is this bank robbery where Aziz have to go rob the bank, and we did that over the course of three days last week, and it was great. I think the scene will be really great. Every thing that can go wrong goes wrong and we’re totally ill-equipped despite the few hours of preparation and ill-equipped to handle the situation, and I think it’s really funny and that’s also the centerpiece of the movie because the whole movie is gearing up… we have to rob this bank and give them the money so it’s kind of the crux of the movie.
What was the most difficult scene to film?
Uh, I don’t know. Every scene kind of has some challenge logistically. I’m wearing this bomb throughout the whole movie, but as I said, the movie kind of takes place in this very real world setting, so it’s occasionally been challenging because there’s so much action and there’s also so many things that are comedic elements in the movie but it’s my job to kind of maintain the emotional honesty. At the risk of being pretentious, that’s my job, so that’s occasionally challenging.
Yeah, I’ve been in love with my best friend’s twin sister. This is probably the reason my friend, Aziz, and I, go our separate ways, and one of the things that the bomb does to me is that I spent the last several years not doing anything important in my life and never taking control of my life so one of the things that the bomb does is allow me to… kind of lights a fire under me so to speak and one of the things I’m inspired to do is to go confess my love to this girl.
One of the things I noticed when you were doing Zombieland was that you got a lot of set-ups in one day, and in this one, at least today, you’re doing one scene over and over with different camera angles and take. Ruben made a joke about Fincher doing a lot more takes than that, but how hard is it to keep things fresh when you’re doing so many takes and doing the same scene over and over.
It’s not hard, but I don’t know I always feel like… like it feels out of my hands in terms of my own personal energy sometimes. I don’t think the amount of takes makes something less fresh. I think it’s just about if you’re feeling excited about the scene and can sustain it over the course of several days or it can fizzle out after one take if you’re not prepared in the right way.
So what do you have to do to get back into the energy if that happens?
It could be very difficult. I have certain things that I work on as an actor to kind of maintain some kind of inspiration with scenes, especially scenes that feel like a bit of a stretch for the character. There are certain things you have to… I mean, I dunno, there’s various tricks, but they’re all going to sound really absurd [laughs].
Obviously, everyone is talking about The Social Network so can you talk a little bit about the directors of this film and the director of that film, especially with the way they work directly with the actors?
Well, 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, and in The Social Network, we weren’t trying to be funny, so that’s the primary difference. This poses a different kind of challenge, it was trying to be funny but you can’t really compromise the stakes of these characters or otherwise the movie will just be absurd, and when you watch it, at last as an actor, you want to engage in the scenario. With that movie, with the Facebook movie, you can cut out the whole… because there’s no comedic aspect of the movie, it’s kind of a different process and a different endgame.
Uh, no. I mean, I didn’t see the movie, but no, to me, maybe this is just because my character is so serious, I don’t think the character I play I don’t think found a lot of what was happening funny. He was kind of confronted by his past and people claiming he stole the idea from them or that he cut them out of the company and he’s really frustrated by it, so maybe the movie to an audience, maybe there’s some funny parts, but for me, it didn’t feel that way. Whereas this, the irony of the situation is much more evident.
Where’s your head at after doing this comedy? Do you fell like doing another comedy or do you want to do something more serious? Or something more independent? What are you doing next I suppose is the question.
I’m not sure. I have a lot of publicity engagements for that movie, which lasts until like October and then I’m trying to do a play in New York City.
Do you feel after doing a couple of these comedies—I mean, you’ve done a lot over your career—but do you feel you should continue in that direction or you’d like to try to find something more serious next?
The movies I’m signed on to do, which are struggling to raise financing, are all like independent dramas, but that’s probably very difficult for them to get made.
Any heist movies you saw before coming to this?
We reference Lethal Weapon a few times in this movie so I saw some of that. There are four of those [laughs]. Aziz has been watching Heat because there’s a big gun battle, he’s been watching that and then comes to our comparatively smaller set disappointed [laughs]. I think Ruben has been watching thousands of… he has thousands of movies on his computer as points of reference for the movie.
Yeah, I had some driving lessons, and the cars are kind of a big aspect of the movie. My car is a Mustang and then we steal a Datsun to rob the bank so that we’re not followed and not incriminated, so yeah, and I do a little of the driving because they let me, which they probably shouldn’t, because I almost took out the crew the other day because they’re older cars that I haven’t driven.
Is it fun? Is it cool?
Yeah, of course, because they have 20 cars surrounding my car but they’re all driven by stunt drivers or have to watch out for me, so often times, I have free reign of the road and they all have to kind of watch out for me, which is awesome.
From the scene we’ve seen so far, it seems that your character and Aziz’s character become stronger and better people. Does the bank robbing scene make you better people?
Yeah, we’re not supposed to flee the bank robbery, but as I was saying, my character he dropped out of college a few years ago and he has not done anything to better his life, and he’s a little miserable and feels worthless, so the bomb inspires him in a way to do all the things he should have done years ago.
How is it working with Aziz?
Aziz is great. As you can imagine, he’s just very funny, and…
Did you guys know each other before?
No, I’d never met him, and no, he’s hysterical.
Yeah, yeah… well, you don’t want to fully avoid it, because part of the fun of it is that these characters were just like regular guys get into it and really immerse themselves in the bank robbery, because they have no choice, because if they don’t get the money than the bomb explodes, so yeah, part of the fun of the bank robbery is how committed these guys become, they become crazed, and Aziz drinks three of these five-hour energy drinks and he becomes a livewire bouncing off the walls, so that’s part of the fun of it, is to kind of reference those characters.
Is Point Break another one of them?
Right, Point Break we reference in the movie, too. Exactly… stick to the tellers.
I probably should ask Ruben this but he’s using the DP of Hot Fuzz which also references lots of those movies, so is he trying to avoid going too far in that direction?
I don’t know. I think Ruben probably would discuss this better, the style of the movie, but I think there’s a lot of realistic looking shots, the car chase that we did is… I probably shouldn’t say anything because he is very interested in maintaining a style that is kind of a classical style, kind of… I think he’d discuss it better.
Are some of the dramas you said you’re trying to raise funding for, are those projects ones that you’ve written or plan to direct?
No, I’m signed onto some independent movies because they will ask an actor to commit themselves to do it and then use that to get the financing, but every time I’ve done that, no one’s made any money so.. [laughs] Nothing happened.
I’ll be posting more about my visit to the 30 Minutes or Less set throughout the rest of the week, so be sure to stay tuned to Cinema Blend. Be sure to click HERE for all of my set visit coverage!
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