Eisenberg came to Austin a few weeks back on a promotional tour for 30 Minutes or Less and took time off from handing out free pizza to fans to sit down and answer some questions about the film, his role, and even a tidbit on Zombieland 2.
Eisenberg plays a depressive pizza boy in his new comedy, and it’s a role that showcases his natural and loveable neurotic side. When his character is kidnapped and strapped into a vest of explosives, he has no choice but to rob a bank for an incompetent pair of masked criminals.
30 Minutes or Less co-stars comedic heavy-weights Danny McBride, Nick Swardson and Aziz Ansari. It hits theaters on August 12th.
We Got This Covered: How do you feel about the fact that you’re playing someone who’s constantly panicked, and feels like they’re in real peril when you, as an actor, know you’re in a comedy? How do you play it hysterical but not too hysterical?
Jesse Eisenberg: Yeah, it’s a strange balance between the dramatic situation that my character is in versus the movie as a whole, which should play comically and more lighthearted. Ruben, the director of this movie, asked me to just play the scenes as realistically as possible and to keep in mind that I’m in a comedy, so if something funny occurred to me I could say it. But I was lucky to be surrounded by the funniest people in the world; Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson…who kind of took the burden off me a little bit of making the movie funny while I’m able to maintain the dramatic situation for my character.
WGTC: I really liked your relationship with Aziz in the movie, can you tell me how that relationship got developed?
JE: Actually Aziz was cast before me in the movie, so when I auditioned for it, it was with him. So I had to kind of like adjust myself to his pace, which is very funny and he’s very quick and he uses a lot of random cultural references. I like improvisation but I’m not as up to date on cultural references, so like he called me Wayne Brady when I auditioned for it; I’m like ‘I have abomb on me!’ and he’s like ’very funny Wayne Brady!’ and I didn’t know who that was so I couldn’t respond. I knew I had to do a lot of crossword puzzles to get up to speed before we shot the movie.
But it was great, like I said it took the burden off my shoulders. I was worried about having to be funny in a very dramatic situation, so I felt kind of unburdened by him because he’s just so naturally funny, even when he’s not trying to be funny. He just has a funny way about him and naturally funny speech patterns. So it felt more comfortable then if I was with somebody who was playing it more dramatically.
WGTC: You still had to audition for the film?
JE: Yeah, because when you do a movie there are so many people that have to sign off on every actor, and I worked with the director before, he directed Zombieland, but there are still so many other people working on it that get paid to sign of on things like that.
WGTC: What attracted you to this project, and is comedy your favorite genre of film to do?
I loved the script when I read it, it’s rare to find a script that is genuinely funny and also has a character that is credible. Most movies in general, but especially in comedies, the characters change based on the whims of the plot. So if the plot needs them to stand up for themselves in this scene then they do that. This character was really driving the plot, like in the first part of the movie he was living this sort of mundane life and he’s a bit of a depressive and he doesn’t engage. When he gets this bomb strapped to him it forces him to re-evaluate his life and to kind of grow up a little bit. He tells his boss that he quits, he tells this girl he’s in love with that he loves her, and he reconciles with his best friend.
It’s very character driven, even though the framing of the movie is funny. And I like comedies, but more than that I like to be part of something where I feel like my character is treated seriously, where it seems like the character can maybe live off the page, where the character is not just in service of a plot, where the character is actually dealing with something. And this had that in spades, I mean some of that was cut out of the movie, but we filmed a lot of stuff that was really character based. I mean my parents splitting up, there was a real back story there, it’s not important that the audience knows everything but it was important that the writer at least had kind of intended on creating something real.
WGTC: I’m curious, did you do any of the driving yourself, or was it all stunts?
JE: Yeah I ended up doing a lot of the driving because the director wanted to shoot this movie without a lot of computer generated driving effects. Most chase scenes now with the technology available would be done without the actors really there, but he wanted to do this kind of classic style that mirrored the movies these guys liked, you know Point Break, Lethal Weapon, and even a movie like Heat which is so different.
To shoot it in a way that they would have shot it, that means putting the actors in the car, putting stunt drivers in 20 cars surrounding the actors and then having a single camera just drive next to that scene and shoot it practically. So it was a unique experience for me to get to do that. I live in New York City where I never drive a car ever, so I was that much more reckless than I would have been if I was from California.
WGTC: Was the Facebook joke in the script or something added during production?
JE: I thought of that not because of the Facebook movie, but just because my character likes to think of himself as living off the grid. He’s the kind of guy that lives a very isolated life; he’s a pizza guy, he doesn’t like to interact with other people because they bother him.
WGTC: So you’ve worked with Ruben Fleischer before with very small casts, and some of the other stuff has had much bigger casts and bigger scopes. Which do you prefer?
JE: I guess it depends on the people you work with. You know Zombieland and this movie…it’s really like a very isolated group of people, sp ecially Zombieland where everyone is supposed to be dead, and it was great. You end up developing a kind of rapport. And I can imagine if that doesn’t work it can really hurt the movie. When it does work it’s really special because it’s the only thing you have to look at for two hours. And I mostly have done independent movies where they really can’t afford a big cast so you’re stuck with the same people whether you like it or not. And I guess I feel more comfortable because my background is in theater, where you tend to have smaller groups of people.
WGTC: Did your working relationship change with Ruben on this film vs. Zombieland? What lines of communication do you guys have; is there a sort of verbal shorthand between you?
JE: Yeah, I mean I think Ruben has a really great way of encouraging his actors to improvise but with the kind of assurance that nothing stupid will wind up in the movie. He’s not looking for jokes just to make his movie funnier, he never leaves in a joke that would hurt the plot or kill the momentum of the scene. So we had the freedom to say what we want; we have a scripted take and then we are able to say what we want in the scene, but with the confidence that he’ll never do anything to compromise the pace of the movie, whereas maybe another comedy may just keep putting in jokes if they have a lot of funny jokes, to make it funny. But the cumulative effect of that is that the movie just becomes tired.
WGTC: What was your favorite scene to shoot and what was your most challenging?
JE: I think that the bank robbing scene in the movie was really challenging but also our favorite because it’s logistically challenging because so many things can go wrong. The idea is that these regular guys, this elementary school teacher and this pizza guy, have to rob a bank; and in their heads they think they’re Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but in their bodies they’re me and Aziz, so there’s this great disconnect between what they think they’re doing and what is actually happening. And they end up kind of looking ridiculous, and everything that can go wrong goes wrong, and they end up just apologizing to everybody.
And it was a challenge to shoot because there were so many things to account for. But it was also the most fun because we were gearing up for it as actors and characters. You know we shot it toward the end of the schedule so we had already kind of bought our tools, you know our toy guns and our 5-hour energy drinks. We were anticipating it so much as actors and characters, so it was kind of a relief to be able to do it.
WGTC: Did you have a chance to talk to Ruben about there being a Zombieland 2?
JE: Geez I have no idea, I think they’ve written a script but I haven’t seen it. I don’t know anything about it, I assume the more time it takes to make it, the less interested people will be in seeing it. So it’s probably not helping it that it’s taking awhile.
WGTC: Did you hang with your co-stars offset a lot to build rapport, did you guys get along?
JE: The truth is that there’s not really that much off-set time when you shoot a movie like this, that’s in a kind of shorter period of time. You’re working 12-14 hours a day and you go home and sleep. The next day you come right back in the morning at 6 AM and you work until the sun goes down. So you end up just spending a lot of time with everybody on set, which is where you’d want to be anyway.
WGTC: So it seems like all the actors in the movies have distinct comedic styles, was it ever difficult to make those mesh together well?
JE: Yes, sometimes I was just worried that it was inappropriate for my character to be funny. So it was a strange balance of knowing that this is a comedy but knowing that my character would never say anything right here that would be lighthearted. So I sometimes struggled in knowing what kind of movie I was in, and also knowing what kind of situation my character was in, and you want to do your character justice, and that should take precedence over the movie.
WGTC: Have you shot the Woody Allen film yet? What is it like to get that call?
JE: Yeah, it’s next week. He’s been my favorite director of all time for a long time now, so I was very…yeah it’s a very flattering thing to be asked to be part of his movie, especially as his casts are so interesting and great. Even the movies that haven’t had that much success, you look at the people in them and they’re great actors, and the movie is great to and for one reason or another didn’t have as much publicity as some of his others. So it’s really nice and I’m flattered to be part of that group.
WGTC: Do you worry about being typecast as the neurotic guy?
JE: No, I mean my feeling is that I’ve gotten to play these wonderful characters in some really great things. It’s impossible to predict how other people will perceive you because they’re filtering it through all of they’re own personal biases. But I feel very fortunate to have gotten to play such a diverse group of characters, and only hope to maintain doing quality things like that.
WGTC: Can you walk me through the Saturday Night Live episode? From what I understand, it was the first time you met Mark Zuckerberg? Did you know he was coming on?
JE: Yeah, we rehearsd that prior to the show. The first time I met him was actually during the rehearsal of that scene. Saturday Night Live…I don’t think anything actually happens on there that’s totally spontaneous, even though it’s live they try to rehearse everything.
And he was so nice to me. You expect people to be nice to you when they meet you, but given the strange circumstances…it’s a very kind of noble thing to be so nice to me after I was in a movie that in some ways presents some difficulties for him. And he couldn’t have been nicer or more generous then to come and do that ridiculous thing on Saturday Night Live.
But it was something that everyone thought would be a nice resolution to what had been, at that time, six months of weird press…you know, us struggling to figure out how they were reacting, and them struggling to figure out what we were saying about them. So to have that kind of reconciliation on live TV in that silly way made everybody relax a little bit.
This concludes the roundtable interview but we’d like to thank Jesse Eisenberg for taking time to talk to us. Check back here for our review of 30 Minutes or Less when it hits theaters on August 12th.