Set Visit: 30 Minutes or Less!
It's 3 am and I'm in the middle of a junkyard watching Nick Swardson shoot a flamethrower. As I watch ten feet of fire explode out in front of him, I look around, half expecting Oprah to come riding in on a unicorn as this is clearly some sort of messed up dream.
But it's not, I'm on the set of 30 MINUTES OR LESS in Grand Rapids, Michigan, witnessing the type of mayhem that's typical of this project.
Director Ruben Fleischer is our guide for the evening, this being his first film since his original effort, ZOMBIELAND turned out to be a surprise hit. He had his choice of any number of projects after that film's success, but he decided at last on a crime comedy. He seems pretty pumped about his choice. "I've watched a ton of bank heist movies, whether it's Point Break, Heat, Dog Day Afternoon and ours is definitely the funniest. There aren't a ton of hilarious bank heist movies, but this is pretty frickin' funny."
And with the cast he's assembled, it's no surprise this film will likely be hilarious. Fleischer is extremely excited about working the lead of his last film, Jesse Eisenberg, once again on this film. "I'm so pleased and so proud and so excited to be working with Jesse again. Everyone on the set, whether it's his fellow actors or the producers, whoever, is just blown away by how talented he is. I feel super lucky to be able to work with him again."
Eisenberg plays a pizza boy in the film, thrust into the unfortunate scenario of robbing a bank against his will with the dual threats of his crush being held hostage and a bomb locked to his chest being his motivating factors, set in place by a duo of bad guys (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson). The role requires Eisenberg to break out from some of his more usual characters as Fleischer points out, "Zombieland was this kind of familiar character that he plays of being this "afraid guy" and this character is a very confident, a much different turn for him."
In person, Eisenberg is soft spoken, and usually with eyes fixated on the ground as we reporters swarm him for our interview. His recent Oscar nominated turn as Mark Zuckerberg in THE SOCIAL NETWORK almost makes him seem out of place in this film, but his character Nick is the closest thing the film has to a straight man, and he plays that part well. His other half is Aziz Ansari as his best friend, Chet, to balance him out. Chet is thrust into the situation with him, with the added complication of Nick having a long-time thing for his sister, Kate (Dilshad Vadasaria).
"I've been in love with my best friend's twin sister, this is part of the reason Aziz and I have gone our separate ways," Eisenberg explains, "one of the things that the bomb does to me is that I've spent the last several years not every doing anything important in my life and never taking control of my life, and it lights a fire under me, and one of the things I'm inspired to do is go confess my love to this girl, and the kidnappers are following me, and they end up taking her as bait."
Unfortunately we are only able to be on set for a few hours rather than a few days as with some other films, but the good news is that the scene we're seeing shot today is the climax of the film, where all the wandering plotlines intersect. Around us towers of cars are stacked high, scrap metal and old tires thrown into purposefully made piles.
It's about a five minute shot, and we see it run probably over 15 times, with various camera angles and different takes on the material. Minor spoilers ahead.
The scene has Nick (Eisenberg) finally meeting up with his captors, trading them the money he's stolen for his girl and the combination to unlock the bomb strapped to his chest.
When things go awry, and bad guys Dwayne (McBride) and Travis (Swardson) decides the best option is to murder them both, Nick signals Chet (Ansari) who is hiding with a laser pointer to give the illusion they've brought a sniper with them, an easy ruse, but one that fools both Dwayne and Travis who despite their elaborate plan, don't possess a terrible amount of common sense. The scene's drama is noticeably amplified by the fact the two are wearing gorilla and chimp masks respectively almost the whole time, and Travis is hauling around a giant homemade flamethrower.
"It's really really heavy." Nick admits "A lot of my laughing was just that it was so heavy, there are moments where I'm just like, 'I can't do this.' "
If you find it odd that the film has the genial Nick Swardson cast as a villain, you're not alone. In fact, back in the early days of the project, Swardson was in talks for the lead. "Red Hour called me over to do a table read on the script, they had just acquired it, so me and Jonah Hill did a table read for it maybe a year ago, and then recently they called me and said "Hey, we're doing that movie, but would you want to be the bad guy?" And I was like yeah sure, I've never been the bad guy ever, so I was like really excited to do it, and then when I found out Danny was doing it, I'd never worked with him, so I was just fired up."
And who wouldn't want to play a villain opposite Danny McBride, whose HBO show Eastbound and Down has vaulted him to icon status as Kenny "F*cking" Powers. McBride is known for playing an asshole well, and his Dwayne character in this film is no exception. But in person? McBride's a regular southern gentleman, and one of the nicest stars I've had the pleasure of interviewing, with nothing but glowing praise for his fellow cast members, his director and even us for coming out to talk with him.
He explains his role in the film as not a bad guy per se, but a guy making some bad decisions. "So we're making some bad choices. We have goals and ambitions, so maybe people will root for us for that. We want to really change the world and create the first tanning salon where guys can get handjobs and blowjobs." Sounds like a dynamite business plan to me.
In our scene, Dwayne reveals that the code to unlock the vest is "6969" and in 15 takes, I didn't hear the same cunnilingus joke twice. There's a lot of improv in the film, and we heard a ton of it that one scene alone, Fleischer remarks that the film could probably be cut ten different ways with the amount of footage they've gotten.
With a script so good it was the 2009 black list, you would think you wouldn't want to screw with the source material much, but the pair maintains that's why they were hired for the film, because of how much improv they were capable of.
"They were psyched about me and Danny because we can improvise a lot." Nick explains. "We've been given pretty free reign to add stuff."
"That's what I like about working with Nick too," Danny chimes in, "as he's not one of those improvisers who just does stand-up comedy in the scene. I feel like the stuff we're doing, we never take it too far off the page, we'll just try to come up with different ways to spit the jokes out."
In addition to McBride's soliloquy on his favorite sex position, Nick adds in a joke about him not being able to "drop his weapon" when commanded to by Eisenberg's fake stand-by sniper, rather saying he can just point it down because it's attached to his back. Problem is, it's so funny when he first thinks of it, Swardson bursts out laughing the first few times, something we're told is a common occurrence on set, and a hazard when you're working with people this funny. But it's not disruptive and the moment is captured and the rest will be cut for the outtake reel.
Next time in Part II, we'll get to meet the bad guy chasing the bad guys, Chango (Michael Pena) along with more discussion with Fleischer and the rest of the cast. See you soon!
|Extra Tidbit:||Warning: Do not look directly at flamethrowers.|