Get ready to start your engines! This summer Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer is taking you on the ride of your life in his new adventure-comedy 30 Minutes or Less, which opens in theaters on August 12th.
The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as a pizza delivery driver who is kidnapped by two morons (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) and forced to rob a bank with a bomb vest attached to his chest that is set to go off in nine hours. The kidnappers need the money in order to pay an assassin (Michael Peña) to kill Danny McBride's character's father for insurance money, while Jesse Eisenberg's character enlists the help of his reluctant friend, played by Aziz Ansari, to help with the bank robbery. The film promises to be a non-stop thrill ride full of comedy, excitement and lots of explosions.
Late last summer we had an opportunity to travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan to visit the set of 30 Minutes or Less and talk to some of the cast and crew, including Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Michael Peña, and director Ruben Fleischer. We also had a chance to watch the crew film some of the action.
We arrived at an abandoned construction lot just outside of the city around midnight. The crew was in the process of filming a night scene when we walked on set, and that gave us an opportunity to watch for a little bit. The scene being shot is somewhat pivotal to the film's plot, so we can't give away too many details. But we can tell you the scene comes towards the end of the movie. It involves Jesse Eisenberg's Nick, who still has the bomb strapped to his chest, and Aziz Ansari's Chet negotiating with Danny McBride and Nick Swardson's Dwayne and Travis. Also in the scene is Michael Peña's Chango, who is about to put a monkey wrench in the kidnapping duo's plans. Oh...Did I forget to mention that there is a flamethrower involved? We were allowed to witness some pretty cool explosions. And afterwards Ruben Fleischer, Nick Swardson, and the stunt crew gave us a special flamethrower display on the side of the set.
First up, we had an opportunity to speak with actor/comedian Aziz Ansari who plays Nick's friend Chet in the movie. Ansari is best known for his role in NBC's hit series Parks and Recreation but has also appeared in such films as Funny People, Observe and Report, I Love You, Man, and Get Him to the Greek.
The actor began by telling us a little bit about the role he plays in 30 Minutes or Less, "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." We followed up by asking if he gets a bomb strapped to his chest at any point in the movie. "No it's just Jesse Eisenberg. I'm just his friend that's tagging along." The actor went on to discuss his character and what he is like in more detail. "He's just a 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," explained Aziz Ansari. "Then they are forced into this situation when they are robbing a bank together."
The actor's character becomes involved with the bank robbery and we asked him what it was like to shoot that scene. "It was so fun! I don't plan on robbing a bank anytime soon so that is probably the closest I'll get to do that. I see why people rob banks, its very fun. You just bust in and start yelling shit at people and threatening to shoot them and stuff, it's so fun. You know, the whole time before we were shooting that I just watched Heat over and over again, to really get in that mindset. It's just like an idiot like me to try and channel through Heat. So, it was 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," he continued. "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."
The actor talked further about improvising on the set and collaborating with the director. "You know Ruben Fleischer's always like, if you have any ideas, try them. I think when you start to talk about improvising, it gets to be actors, just saying dumb stuff randomly like on 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 Fleischer has been really cool about pushing me to do as much of that as I can."
We also asked Aziz Ansari which of his fellow cast members were already signed on when he agreed to join the project and who he was most excited to work with. "When I joined I think it was just me and Danny McBride. You know, he was a guy I respect a lot. I respect his work and his taste and everything, when I heard he was involved I definitely started bugging out," answered the comedian.
Next we asked Aziz just how action oriented this film really is. "How action oriented is this? Jesse Eisenberg did stunt driving and stuff like that. I'm just kind of riding in the car with him. I guess the main thing is the stunt driving, which is so fun. I never did anything before where I had to be in a car chase and its pretty cool. They have these rigs that pull the car and stuff. You know acting is very easy. It's a lot of, 'Ah! Look out!' It's the first time I had a stuntman that wasn't a Caucasian stuntman, that needed to be painted brown," he continued.
"I had this stuntman named Neta that was half Hawaiian 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." The actor also talked about what the deciding factor was for him in choosing to take on this 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. 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."
Finally, we asked Aziz Ansari if he was a fan of director Ruben Fleischer's work before he signed on to the film. "You know it's so funny, Ruben showed me an e-mail he sent me in like 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,'" he joked. "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.' I was like ... wow it's so crazy. So we have finally been able to work together on this. I knew his stuff from like Zombieland and I thought he did an awesome job with that. So from watching that, just imagining that skill-set applied to the stuff we've been shooting, I feel like it's going to turn out really good."
Next up, we had a chance to speak with Oscar nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg who plays Nick, the kidnapped pizza delivery driver in the film. Eisenberg has worked with director Ruben Fleischer, of course, on the hit horror/comedy Zombieland. We began by asking the actor what its like working with Fleischer again on this film. "Yeah, I mean the tone I think of the movie is a little different. This movie is set in more of a real world context, whereas the other movie was a little more of a heightened comedy. Where this is, at least with my character, pretty straightforward and a real world context."
We followed up by asking the actor if the tone of the film would be similar to Zombieland, where there is a balance between the comedy and the action. "Yeah, sure. The comedy in this is a little less winking to the audience. 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 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 Ansari and my character, are real world characters. But much more realistic," he continued. "I think it will be funny as well. I haven't seen what Danny McBride and Nick Swardson are doing because their scenes have been very separate. They play the two kidnappers, I haven't seen what they're doing, but their characters I imagine are in the script a bit more broadly drawn."
The actor went on to discuss his favorite day of shooting on the set. "I think probably the centerpiece scene of the movie is this bank robbery where Aziz Ansari and I have to go rob the bank. 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, we're ill equipped to handle the situation. I think it's really funny and that's also the centerpiece of the movie because the whole movie is gearing up to us having to rob this bank and give them the money so it's kind of the crux of the movie."
The actor also talked about his character's love interest in the film. "Yeah, I've been in love with my best friend's twin sister," he explained. "This is probably the reason my friend and I go our separate ways. I spent the last several years not doing anything important in my life and never taking control of it, so one of the things that the bomb does is allow me to...Well it kind of lights a fire under me so to speak. One of the things I'm inspired to do is to go confess my love to this girl. The kidnappers are following me so they end up taking her as bait, which is a problem of course."
Finally, since the movie is sort of a heist film, we asked Jesse Eisenberg if there were any classic heist movies that he watched for inspiration preparing for this project. "We reference Lethal Weapon a few times in this movie so I saw some of that. There are four of those," joked the actor.
Aziz Ansari has been watching Heat because there's a big gun battle, so he's been watching that and then he comes to our comparatively smaller set disappointed. I think Ruben Fleischer has been watching thousands of movies on his computer as points of reference for this movie. You don't want to fully avoid it, because part of the fun of it is that these characters were just like regular guys who get into it and really immerse themselves in the bank robbery. 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, Aziz Ansari drinks three of these five-hour energy drinks and becomes a livewire bouncing off the walls, so that's part of the fun of it, is to kind of reference those characters."
After Jesse Eisenberg left, we were greeted by comedians Danny McBride and Nick Swardson. The actors play Dwayne and Travis, respectively, the two would-be-kidnappers in the film. Danny McBride had this to say about how he became involved with the film. "Yeah, I got a phone call from Ruben Fleischer. He had this script and he had been reading a lot of scripts for his follow-up to Zombieland. He said he had been passing on everything and this script caught his eye and he was curious what I thought about it. I read it and really responded to it, I thought it was funny. It's a pretty wicked dark comedy. It's crazy, I mean, a comedy based around a dude who has a suicide bomb vest seems... timely."
Nick Swardson explained to us that he had actually first auditioned for Aziz Ansari's role with another famous actor auditioning for Jesse Eisenberg's part. "Red Hour Films called me to do a table read on the script, they had just acquired it. So Jonah Hill and I did a table read for it like nine months ago. Then they called me up and said, hey, we're doing that movie, would you want to be the bad guy? I was like, yeah, sure! I've never been a bad guy before so I was really excited to do it. Then I found out Danny McBride was doing it. I never worked with him before so I was just fired up. I knew Ruben Fleischer, so all those elements were just really exciting," he explained. The actor went onto to discuss exactly what kind of bad guys he and Danny McBride are playing. "We're like...It's almost like Dumb and Dumber bad guys, we're not like pure evil, we're just guys who are bored and don't know what to do with their lives."
"So we're making some bad choices," Danny McBride added. "You know we have goals and ambitions. Maybe people will root for us for that? We want to really change the world. We want to create the first tanning salon where guys can get hand-jobs and blowjobs," McBride laughed. "There'll be a lot of states where we're the good guys," Nick Swardson joked. "North Dakota...you know what I mean. Utah will be like, these are our guys." Danny McBride sums it up best when he says, "I don't know, we're mother-fuckers in this thing."
Danny went on to explain some of the influences and inspirations for this film. "Well Point Break was being bounced around, I mean Lethal Weapon. I know that the writers are huge Shane Black fans so they're obviously influenced and inspired by him. I can see that too, there's a lot at the core of this that is about buddies on the good guys side and the bad guys side. Yeah, there are elements of that. I mean, there's a little bit of Precious in this movie," joked Nick Swardson. "There are elements of everything. They really incorporated a lot of stuff."
The actors also discussed their use of improvisation while working on the set. "Well, one thing is they brought Danny McBride and me in so we could improvise a lot. I mean, we definitely follow the script as much as we can, but we've been given pretty free reign to add stuff and whatever," said Swardson. "Yeah, that's the cool thing I like about working with Nick too is he's not like one of the improvisers who just kind of...You know, you're just doing like stand up-comedy in the scene. I kind of feel like the stuff that we're doing is just always, we never take it too far off the page. The scene is always what it's about and we'll just try to come up with different ways to spit the jokes out," explained Danny McBride. "Yeah you don't want to be self-indulgent," continued Nick Swardson. "You want to make sure that you stay in character and it's a part of the whole machine. It's not just us doing fart jokes in the middle of a drive-by shooting," he finished.
Finally, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson talked about working with director Ruben Fleischer and his unique vision for the film. "Ruben's been great. I mean, you know, he's a good dude, he keeps things really mellow, and he's passionate about what he does. Anytime I get to kind of like peek at the monitor or anything while he's shooting I mean, he's just got a good visual sense too so I'm just stoked to see how this all comes together," answered Danny McBride. "Yeah, and he's such a normal guy too," added Nick Swardson. "He doesn't flip out at moments that are stressful. He really did a lot of work, the crew's great, and they collaborated really well. Also it's been a really casual set for all this craziness and Ruben Fleischer's like, all right, so we're going to light you on fire now, and then he'll just do it."
Next up, we had a chance to speak with actor Michael Peña who plays a hit man named Chango in the film. The actor began by describing his characters intentions in the film. "He's a hit-man who kills Danny McBride's father and he actually calls off the deal because he's like, can I bump it? As if it's a reservation at Sizzler. I'm like, no, dude. You can't bump it. Fuck this. You just became the hit. So then I go after Danny McBride and then everything just comes to a head and I want to kill him. Then I see Nick Swardson 's character and I'm like, what? Now I have to kill two guys," joked Michael Peña. "It's kind of crazy. They're putting a fucking bomb on one dude to go rob a bank to pay the other guy to kill his dad."
We followed up by asking the actor if there were any assassins from other films that inspired his character in this movie? "You know what, that's funny. I won't tell you the name, but there's somebody that I know in Chicago that talks a lot like the way that my character does and he's in and out of the pen. He loves gangster movies. He's always quoting them. I'm like, dude, you're not them, obviously because you always get caught. That's why you go to the pen all the time," said Michael Peña.
Finally, Michael Peña talked about the difficulty of balancing the film's comedy with its action sequences. "That's really interesting to me because when I did Observe and Report it was mainly, like, you knew you were doing a comedy. In this one, it's interesting because you have to do a little bit of drama. Even when I read it, there are two scenes that I've done out of my character's sequences where they're actually more like drama. Then the other ones you can fuck around with a little bit. But there's some that are drama and then some that are comedic."
Before we left the set, Ruben Fleischer took a few minutes off from directing the film to speak to us. The director began by talking about his inspiration for casting Danny McBride and Nick Swardson in the movie. "Danny McBride is someone I've been a huge fan of for a long time. Nick Swardson was in the first short film I ever made 8 yrs ago, so I've known Nick forever," he explained. "They've never worked together and I don't think they knew each other. I think it's a fresh pairing to put Danny McBride with someone who's not of that Judd Apatow world, and Nick Swardson has always been so funny in Adam Sandler movies. It's nice for him to do something a little different."
The director also spoke about why he decided to make 30 Minutes or Less his first post- Zombieland movie. "The story is just so original and it's really funny on paper. The script was one of the funniest I read. It was a chance to do a smaller movie that I could craft, make my own and try and make an original film. I really feel like this movie doesn't exist already. It's really weird and messed up and dark but hilarious. The cast is incredible. It was a chance to do something on my terms and do something I was passionate about."
He continued by discussing the challenges balancing the film's comedic and action tones. "Zombieland was a little more popcorn. It's pure entertainment. You have zombies, and comedy. It's a classic avenger story. This one has darker undertones and the best reference point would be Fargo. Hopefully this will be more actively funny than Fargo was because of the comedians. There's definitely a grounded reality to it. It's a crime story similar to how Fargo was as far as the messed up plot of it. Just a misguided plot and it's bad for everybody," said the director.
Since the movie is intended to get a hard R-rating, we asked Ruben Fleischer if he was ever tempted to try and make it into a PG-13 film. "I don't know that the subject matter inherently would have allowed it. It's dark at times so I don't know if that would have even been a possibility," he explained. "I think The Big Lebowski has the record for the most F-bombs, I think we might give them a run for their money. It's embarrassing how much profanity there is. I'm almost a little bit nervous, there are so many F-words, but hopefully the audience can sustain it."
Since he mentioned that there is a lot of profanity in the movie, we followed up by asking him if there is a lot of violence in the movie as well. "I mean this is like the most extreme, where we're literally burning a guy. But there are not a lot of bullets and gunfire and stuff like that. There is a couple of fights, there's the car chase, the actual bank heist, but it's not like The Expendables or anything. It's pretty tepid."
Finally, Ruben Fleischer shared with us what he hopes audiences will take away from his film. "The theme of the movie to me is like, Jesse Eisenberg plays this pizza delivery guy who just sits on his couch and has let life pass him by," Ruben Fleischer said. "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 on 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 shit he hasn't talked about before," he 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. More than anything else, that's what, hopefully the audience will take home from this movie. That 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."