30 Minutes Or Less Set Visit Interview: Jesse Eisenberg

By Eric Eisenberg 2011-05-10 09:51:01discussion comments
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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 heís 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 Ė prior to the arrival of The Social Network in theaters Ėan esteemed group of journalists and myself were given the incredible opportunity to visit the set of the new action/comedy and talk with the movieís 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 youíll be asked the most about is working with Ruben again. Whatís 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? Heís I think like 39 [laughs] Heís 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 weíre 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 youíre moving more into the role Woody had in Zombieland and Aziz is stepping more into your role as the sidekick?

I donít think itís 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 Iíd assume?

No, itís 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, itís free, and of course, it comes back later that I have 30 minutes to get across town toÖ[trails off] triple meaning.

Is it similar to Zombieland in the sense that youíre 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 doesnít 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.

So itís realistic?

But much more realistic. I think it will be funny as well. I havenít seen what Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, they play like the two kidnappers, and their scenes have been very separate. I havenít seen what theyíre doing, but their characters I imagine are reading the script a bit more broadly drawn.

From what weíve 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 itís not appropriate to be funny, and the camera was on my side of the scene yesterday, but when youíre 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 theyíre really talented and very funny.

Youíre 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 weíre totally ill-equipped despite the few hours of preparation and ill-equipped to handle the situation, and I think itís really funny and thatís also the centerpiece of the movie because the whole movie is gearing upÖ we have to rob this bank and give them the money so itís kind of the crux of the movie.

What was the most difficult scene to film?

Uh, I donít know. Every scene kind of has some challenge logistically. Iím wearing this bomb throughout the whole movie, but as I said, the movie kind of takes place in this very real world setting, so itís occasionally been challenging because thereís so much action and thereís also so many things that are comedic elements in the movie but itís my job to kind of maintain the emotional honesty. At the risk of being pretentious, thatís my job, so thatís occasionally challenging.

And thereís a romantic interest in this film. How much of the film focuses on that romance?

Yeah, Iíve been in love with my best friendís 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 toÖ kind of lights a fire under me so to speak and one of the things Iím 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, youíre 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 youíre doing so many takes and doing the same scene over and over.

Itís not hard, but I donít know I always feel likeÖ like it feels out of my hands in terms of my own personal energy sometimes. I donít think the amount of takes makes something less fresh. I think itís just about if youíre feeling excited about the scene and can sustain it over the course of several days or it can fizzle out after one take if youíre 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 toÖ I mean, I dunno, thereís various tricks, but theyíre 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 werenít trying to be funny, so thatís the primary difference. This poses a different kind of challenge, it was trying to be funny but you canít 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 wholeÖ because thereís no comedic aspect of the movie, itís kind of a different process and a different endgame.

From the people I know who have seen The Social Network, theyíve said there are some very unexpected comedic moments in that film, even in the trailer thatís out right now thatís very serious, but they said that you and the people you worked with, there were some very funny moments. Did you feel that while you were filming it?

Uh, no. I mean, I didnít see the movie, but no, to me, maybe this is just because my character is so serious, I donít think the character I play I donít 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 heís really frustrated by it, so maybe the movie to an audience, maybe thereís some funny parts, but for me, it didnít feel that way. Whereas this, the irony of the situation is much more evident.

Whereís 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.

Iím not sure. I have a lot of publicity engagements for that movie, which lasts until like October and then Iím trying to do a play in New York City.

Do you feel after doing a couple of these comediesóI mean, youíve done a lot over your careeróbut do you feel you should continue in that direction or youíd like to try to find something more serious next?

The movies Iím signed on to do, which are struggling to raise financing, are all like independent dramas, but thatís 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 thereís a big gun battle, heís been watching that and then comes to our comparatively smaller set disappointed [laughs]. I think Ruben has been watching thousands ofÖ he has thousands of movies on his computer as points of reference for the movie.

Did you get to do a lot of the driving yourself in the film? What kind of training did you have to do for that?

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 weíre not followed and not incriminated, so yeah, and I do a little of the driving because they let me, which they probably shouldnít, because I almost took out the crew the other day because theyíre older cars that I havenít driven.

Is it fun? Is it cool?

Yeah, of course, because they have 20 cars surrounding my car but theyíre 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 weíve seen so far, it seems that your character and Azizís character become stronger and better people. Does the bank robbing scene make you better people?

Yeah, weíre 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 heís 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, heís just very funny, andÖ

Did you guys know each other before?

No, Iíd never met him, and no, heís hysterical.

You mentioned the references to Heat and Lethal Weapon and Iíd imagine if anyone robbed a bank these days, theyíd be influenced by bank robbery movies theyíve seen and I assume thatís the case with your characters? As an actor, how do keep yourself from turning into Al Pacino when you do a bank robbery scene just because thatís the nature of it?

Yeah, yeahÖ well, you donít 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 donít 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 thatís 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. ExactlyÖ stick to the tellers.

I probably should ask Ruben this but heís 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 donít know. I think Ruben probably would discuss this better, the style of the movie, but I think thereís a lot of realistic looking shots, the car chase that we did isÖ I probably shouldnít say anything because he is very interested in maintaining a style that is kind of a classical style, kind ofÖ I think heíd discuss it better.

Are some of the dramas you said youíre trying to raise funding for, are those projects ones that youíve written or plan to direct?

No, Iím 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 Iíve done that, no oneís made any money so.. [laughs] Nothing happened.

Iíll 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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