Ruben Fleischer, acclaimed director of Zombieland, brought his new movie 30 Minutes or Less to Comic-Con International at San Diego over the weekend, along with cast members Aziz Ansari, Michael Pena and Nick Swardson to shed some light on the upcoming comedy.
The film, loosely based a real-life case, stars Danny McBride and Swardson as fledgling criminals who kidnap a pizza delivery boy named Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) and force him to rob a bank while wearing a bomb vest attached to a 10-hour timer.
For Fleischer, the focus for 30 Minutes or Less was simply to have a good time. “I think it’s important just to have fun when you’re making a comedy,” he said. “I’ve heard about some comedy sets where the directors are just assh—s, where it’s really tense. I don’t know how you can make something funny or fun in that environment. I guess that was really, really fun. It was cool because even though Danny and Nick did their stuff together and Jesse and Aziz did their stuff together. Sometimes they would just come hang out and watch what everybody else was up to. It was just really a communal, positive energy among everyone working on the film to try to make the best and funniest movie ever.”
Contributing to the humor is Swardson, who plays Travis, one of the bumbling crooks who straps the bomb to Nick’s chest. “You’ll notice in the movie that Nick — there’s a lot of jokes and laughs derived from his physicality as he walks around,” Fleischer said. “It is really funny. But then for some of the stunt parts where you get blasted across the field with an explosion in your backpack, we did use somebody else for that part. I don’t want to give away movie magic secrets, but yeah. There were a lot of stunts, so that was one good thing about the masks that we could double the stunts. Actually, there was no mask at that point.”
Many of the actors also did their own stunts, including Swardson, Pena and Ansari. “We had talked about whether we should have a double and then at the last minute, I was like, ‘No, I’ll do it,'” Swardson said. “And Ruben was like, ‘Yeah, I think that’s better.’ I think it was really good we did that. It was a fun challenge. It just kind of happened.”
“My character is in some car chases with Jesse Eisenberg,” said Ansari, who plays Nick’s friend Chet. “Ruben shot the car chases in a way where it was us in the car a lot. He tried to minimize the use of green screen. So it’s really Eisenberg in the car driving. And you got set on fire!”
“Yeah, I got set on fire,” said Pena, who portrays the hired killer Chango. “You lose like five pounds in a minute. You always get the stunt guys who say, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s really cold.’ And you get these pants that are made out of cold, cold gel… They were like, ‘It’s just your back,’ and I was like, ‘Dude, my back is connected to my head, though.'”
Swardson complimented Fleischer on his professionalism on set, which fostered creativity during filming. “Ruben really held it together,” he said. “He’s so professional and he’s such a great director, so he really had this base for us to work off of. We were going crazy. Danny and I were improvising, and Danny and I are pretty filthy, we have pretty dirty minds. Ruben would be like, ‘Okay, have fun with this take,’ and we would improvise and it would get crazier and crazier and crazier and Ruben would be like, ‘Okay, okay, okay! We’re getting off track!'”
Ansari, who plays Tom Haverford on the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation, detailed the major differences between working in television and working on a film like 30 Minutes or Less. “In something like Parks and Rec you have so much longer to develop your character and figure out your character,” he said. “Well, this, you’re that guy for just an hour and a half, and I think another thing is that with Parks and Rec you have a longer amount of time to form a chemistry with everyone. This, me and Jesse, we’ve got to do it good and we’ve got to do it right away. Luckily, we were able to find a rapport together really fast, but I think that was a challenge about film that’s not there in television.”
Fleischer also commented on the casting of Eisenberg for the lead role, citing the subtlety and scope that the actor brought to the table. “Jesse, I started a relationship with him in Zombieland, and for me casting was really important because we have all these really hilarious comedians,” he said. “That’s not to say Jesse isn’t funny, but he also can play the reality of the life or death stakes that he’s faced with when the bomb [is strapped to his chest].”
“Some of the people that we auditioned for the lead role were funny and they played it really broad and you didn’t believe that this guy might actually die, that he was facing those fears,” he continued. “Or, they would play it really seriously, and then the movie’s not funny because he’s just stressing the whole time. Jesse I think walked the perfect balance between allowing the comedy to play and actually being involved in the comedy, but also giving a grounded reality and stakes.
“I know when I was attached to it, Dame Judi Dench had Jesse’s part,” joked Swardson, “and we rehearsed it and it was like, this is so intense and morbid! Once they removed her, it really opened up.”
“I think that’s what’s great about the movie is that it’s not self-indulgent,” Swardson said. “Some comedies, they’ll just throw so much stuff in there just to get laughs, but this sticks to a story and the cool thing about this movie is that there weren’t a lot of superfluous characters. It was pretty tight. There were very specific, small amounts of characters. It kept it really contained.”
Moving on, Fleischer spoke on the dynamic between Nick and Chet, and the apparent tension between them. “The dynamic is, which you’ll learn when you see this movie is that Jesse f—ed Aziz’s sister and that he’s very, very protective of his sister,” the director said. “This is a secret that’s been buried in the closet for a while and it becomes revealed. So that’s the source of the tension, but because they’re best friends, when Jesse comes to Aziz to rob the bank, he has no one else to turn to, he’s alone and he’s got this bomb strapped to his chest and he has to go to his best friend and the last time they talked they were in a huge fight because Jesse f—ed his sister. So that’s the dynamic of their relationship over the course of this movie that plays out. It adds this great backstory and this tension between them.”
“In the movie, in the beginning, me and Jesse’s character are best friends but we have this falling out because Jesse reveals that he slept with my twin sister,” Ansari said. “We had this friend breakup and we come back together again when he says he has to rob this bank and he has nowhere else to turn.”
Pena also talked briefly about his character’s on-camera intimacy with his friend Bianca Kajilch, who plays Juicy. “It’s crazy, me and Bianca had this sex scene and I’ve known her for 11 years,” he said. “It’s always interesting when we say, ‘You get naked, I get naked.’ I knew her husband at the time, too.”
Turning to the future, Fleischer gave a brief overview of his next project, The Gangster Squad, also featuring Pena. “I’m in preproduction for this movie now that’s called Gangster Squad, which is a period 1949 Los Angeles crime movie,” he said. “It’s the story of Mickey Cohen who is a Jewish gangster in L.A. who Sean Penn is going to be playing, and Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling leads this team of cops that bring him down. That’s what my focus will be for the next year and we’ll see where Zombieland 2 is at after that.”
30 Minutes or Less opens Aug. 19.