Eisenberg discusses the challenges of his role in ‘30 Minutes’

Alex Williams

In “30 Minutes or Less,” Jesse Eisenberg stars as Nick, a withdrawn pizza delivery boy who has a bomb strapped to his chest by small-time criminals played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson. With only a few hours to rob a bank before the bomb goes off, Nick enlists his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) to help him stay alive.

“30 Minutes or Less” reunites Eisenberg with director Ruben Fleischer. The two worked together on 2009’s “Zombieland,” which Eisenberg followed up with an Oscar-nominated performance in “The Social Network.”
The Daily Texan participated in a roundtable interview with Eisenberg just before he handed out slices of pizza at Austin’s Home Slice on July 11 to promote “30 Minutes or Less.”

The Daily Texan: What is it like playing someone who is constantly panicked?
Jesse Einsenberg: It’s a strange balance between the dramatic situation that my character is in versus the movie as a whole, which plays comedically and lighthearted. Ruben, the director of this movie, asked me to just play the scenes as realistically as possible and keep in mind I’m in a comedy, so if something funny occurs to me, I can say it. I was lucky to be surrounded by the funniest people in the world, who kind of took the burden of making the movie funny off me a little bit so I’m able to maintain the dramatic situation with my character.

DT: Tell me about the development of the dynamic between you and Aziz Ansari.
JE: Aziz was cast before me. When I auditioned, it was with him, so I had to kind of adjust myself to his pace. He’s very quick and uses a lot of random cultural references. I like improvisation, but I’m not as up-to-date. He called me Wayne Brady in my audition, and I didn’t know who that was. I had to do a lot of crossword puzzles to get up to speed before we shot the movie. But it took the burden off my shoulders. I was worried about having to be funny in what would be a very dramatic situation, so I felt unburdened by him because he’s so naturally funny, even when he’s not trying to be funny. He’s just got a funny way about him and naturally funny speech patterns, so it felt more comfortable than it would have if I was with somebody who was playing it more dramatically.

DT: What drew you to this project?
JE: I loved the script when I read it. It’s rare to find a script that’s genuinely funny and has a character that is credible. In most movies, especially most comedies, the characters change based on the whims of the plot. This character was really driving the plot. In the first part of the movie, he’s kind of living a mundane life and he’s kind of a depressive and he doesn’t engage, but when he gets this bomb strapped to him it forces him to re-evaluate his life and to grow up a little bit. It’s very character-driven even though the framing of the movie is funny.

DT: Did you do any of the driving yourself?
JE: 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 would mirror the movies that these guys liked — “Point Break,” “Lethal Weapon,” even “Heat.” To shoot it in the way that they would have shot it, which means putting the actors in the car and putting stunt drivers in 20 cars surrounding the actors and having a single camera just drive next to that scene and shoot it practically.

DT: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
JE: The bank robbery scene in the movie was really challenging but also our favorite. It was logistically challenging because so many things 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. There’s this great disconnect between what they think they’re doing and what’s actually happening, so they end up kind of looking ridiculous. It was a challenge to shoot because there were so many things to account for, but it was so fun because we were gearing up for it, as actors and as characters. We shot it toward the end of the schedule, and we were anticipating it so much, it was a release to be able to do it.

DT: Can you tell me about your role in the next Woody Allen film, “The Bop Decameron?”
JE: I’m not sure if I can say anything, but I know he’s in it. But I have no idea who he’s playing, because they only send me my scenes. I’m very curious to see, because I think he’s the greatest actor. I love watching him in movies, and I think people underestimate his acting skill because they think he’s playing himself, but if you’re on a set and realize what it’s like to do it realistically, it takes a lot more than just being himself. I love his acting, and I hope we’re in a scene together.

“30 Minutes or Less” opens tomorrow.

Printed on Thursday, August 11, 2011 as: Jesse Eisenberg discusses his latest film