With so many comedians involved in the story, we weren’t sure whether to take Eisenberg seriously when he told us completely deadpan how he researched his role. “In preparation for the movie, I went out with a guy who works at the (pizza) place where we’re filming. It was very helpful and also very interesting. It made me realize that the character was conceived very accurately, and it was not a dissimilar experience that my character has.”
He and Ansari talked a bit about the relationship between their characters in the movie. “I’ve been in love with my best friend’s twin sister, which is probably the reason my friend, Aziz and I, go our separate ways,” Eisenberg said. “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 it 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.”
“I think his character is dealing with the seriousness of that situation but his character is not like a total straight man,” Ansari added. “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 onscreen rapport has kind of helped the scenes too. 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.”
Fleischer elaborated on Nick’s story arc. “The theme of the movie to me is like, Jesse plays this pizza delivery guy who just sits on his couch and has let life pass him by, he’s just kind of never really done anything and when he’s faced with the circumstances of the bomb, he’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 but 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. 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? More than anything else, that’s what hopefully the audience will take home from this is life is precious, you have to make the most of it and if you’re just delivering pizzas, you might want to reevaluate your priorities. Unless that’s what you want to do.”
Since improvisation plays such a big part in the movie, we were curious how Ruben was working with comedians who have made a science out of adlibbing gags. “Ruben’s always like, ‘If you have any ideas, try them,'” Ansari told us. “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 is 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.”
“For my character in this scene it’s not appropriate to be funny,” Eisenberg chimed in. “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 improvise for this scene.”
“This scene isn’t even as improv-y as some of the scenes we’ve done,” Fleischer said. “There’s scenes where Danny and Nick just go off totally into their own territory. This one, because it’s the end of the movie, it just has a pace to it, so we can’t indulge too much, but there are scenes we could cut ten different ways if we wanted to. Those guys are so funny they can come up with hilarious sh*t all day long.”
Eisenberg told us that the scene where he and Aziz rob the bank was his favorite scene of the movie.” We did that over the course of three days last week, 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.”
We wondered about the approach Nick and Chet took to robbing a bank, because one has to assume they must have been influenced by some of the bank robberies they saw in movies. (Note: this set visit also took place before we had a chance to see Ben Affleck’s The Town.)
“Well, you don’t want to fully avoid it,” Eisenberg confirmed. “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.
Peña also told us that he gets to have a “bang session” with his own partner, a stripper named Juicy. “We have a romantic scene where we’re both facing the same way. You know what I’m saying? Use your imagination. No, but we have a same directional romanticism going on and she’s a stripper and is the one who kind of sets us all up. She gives Danny a lap dance, and is like, ‘Oh, really? You want to kill your dad? I think I know the guy,’ and then she calls me up.”
When we asked Peña whether he thinks someone might watch the movie and be inspired to try and rob a bank themselves, he didn’t think so. “Not too many people are that stupid. To be honest with you, I think they now just say, ‘Give me some money.’ Nine times out of ten don’t they get caught. You should write that so nobody will be like, ‘You know what, they presented this pretty f*cking good. I might rob a f*cking bank.'”
Fleischer also talked about the decision to make the movie in Michigan. “You’ll see that the movie has like true texture and character that is so specific to city and this part of the country. We tried to shoot a lower class, working class kind of world because that’s kind of the character’s world. We found some great rundown working class kind of stuff. It’s really specific to Michigan and Grand Rapids.”
What you may not have gathered from everything we’ve said about the movie so far is that it’s also very much an action movie. We didn’t really get to see any of that shooting, only got to hear about it from Ruben and some of the technical crew, particularly stunt coordinator Rick Le Fevour, another returning crew member from Zombieland.
Le Fevour told us how the stunts in this movie were so much bigger than that one. “There’s a bigger car chase here, some of the other stunts are big some of the fire stunts we did last night.
“We only steal from the best,” he joked about the inspiration they found for the car chase scenes. “‘Bullitt’ we talked about that one. ‘The French Connection.’ But we have different equipment than they had back then, so we’re able to do different things with the camera where they were more locked-off. Our director also kind of wanted that feel; he didn’t want a lot of big moves or crane arms. He wanted more static-type shots, more mounts. It hasn’t been seen in a while that way. Chase scenes have a lot of movement, a lot of visual effects and we tried to do everything real on this one.”
Part of making these stunts work was to have it all storyboarded beforehand, as Le Fevour explained. “We’ll get a script and [Ruben] had it boarded, and he’ll come to us and ask if it’s doable; if it’s safe to do. They found Grand Rapids, they’ve got some great locations; we’ve been shooting in the area for the last two months or so. The car chase was pretty elaborate. It was down the main street here in Division a couple of squad cars are chasing our heroes in a 1980 280z. It ends up a couple of crashes the squad cars crashed, a dump truck hit a squad car, and at the end of it, our heroes get hit by a squad car and the car flips; they slide to a stop. There are effects going on they made a rig where the car would spin upside down, we could flip the actors, they could drag them on the ground, so you could get all those different cuts for the movie.”
Eddie Fernandez, the stuntman doubling for Jesse Eisenberg spoke to us about some of those scenes. “It was great. Getting chased by cops and not getting caught? It was fun,” he laughed. “It’s a great crew, the stunt crew and the film crew. We had a lot of fun, and I had a lot of confidence in the people I’m working with, which makes a big difference.”
When asked how fast he was driving, Eddie’s stunt partner Jimmy Fiero said, “You know, when I was driving, the speedometer was broke, so I couldn’t tell you. There were times when we were getting to 65 or 70 on the straightaway. It all worked out well; they got the shots they wanted.”
“Every movie is different it’s always a different challenge,” Le Fevour added. “Besides the three vehicles, we probably had another 40-50 cars with us downtown. Something that hasn’t been done, somewhat, before. But every movie is different; this 280z, a lot of times we couldn’t even see it, because we’re chasing it and it’s so low going down hills, it would just disappear; so if there was a problem, we would all pile into it. So there’s certain aspects we all have to get used to in this chase. We were going like 70MPH in these streets, sometimes up to 80.”
“Every scene kind of has some challenge logistically,” Eisenberg admitted when asked how he felt about being involved in these action scenes. “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.”
As you may have noticed, two of the actors were carrying flamethrowers, and as you might imagine, that means someone’s going to be set on fire before the film’s over. Of course, none of the actual actors could be set on fire, but they combined stuntwork with CG FX to make it look more realistic. The appropriately named Jimmy Fiero doubles for one of the actors who catches on fire, which they shot the previous night. “It was really cool, and that had a lot of elements too. He is getting pulled at the same time at the ignition of this benzoyl flame that goes up. He’s got to hit right; the tank’s got to be on fire. There’s so many elements. Again, it was a lot of rehearsal way before we shot this so we can get it right.”
Fernandez told us a little more, “If you were here last night, you could see the big flame that he was literally on fire. A couple of days ago we did a little fire test with the actors on their legs to get them used to what’s gonna go, so this way, when we put it together, we have the actor’s face (on) the stunt double, so it actually looks like the actor who was totally involved. We can see the actor do the dialogue and have partial burns, and they we cut in his movements when he was in total flames, so this way it looks like we don’t even have to have CGI on it. Nowadays people are getting smart, and they can kinda tell fake fire from real fire, so that kinda takes it all our hard work away from us, so we’re going to keep it real.”
Fernandez elaborated on their process for preparing for a big fire scene like that. “We have pre-production meetings, and we have exactly what I need, because people don’t know much about fire. Everyone has a different technique, and I’ve been doing this for over 20-something years, and I’ve tried to perfect it and learn. There’s got to be a safe way to do it right so everyone can go home safe and say ‘hi’ to their families again. You don’t want to get burned, so there is a lot of prepping to do. Before I came here, I was prepping for two weeks in LA. Before the movie started, I was out with the special effects checking the distance on the flame torch, what kind of chemical we would use for it. There are different varieties of fuel; some burn hot, but the ones that don’t burn hot, the color ain’t right, so we have to prep our stunt guy for the color that we need. There’s a lot of work to do. A lot of work. Even as the stunt guy, there’s a lot of concentration, and if you have slight claustrophobia this ain’t for you. He’s totally covered. He’s concentrating on the movements. He’s already walked the movements with the director Ruben. When he’s on fire, he ain’t seeing nothing. It’s like dancing your moves blindfolded, and there are a lot of movements, a lot of serious concentration. No yelling. Everybody communicates. That’s why we have all these meetings way before the day of shooting. Everything runs great, and like last night, it worked out.”
Before we left the set, we had a chance to watch Nick Swardson testing out his real flamethrower for the first time, and while granted, it wasn’t nearly as sexy as watching Mary Elizabeth Winstead with a flamethrower on the set of The Thing, it was funny to see him nervously strap it on and send out a 10-foot plus arc of fire into the air.
30 Minutes or Less opens everywhere on August 12.