Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari—30 Minutes or Less, Parks and Recreation—7/6/11

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Jesse Eisenberg recently won an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for portraying Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Other credits include Roger Dodger, The Emperor's Club, The Village, The Squid and the Whale, Cursed, The Education of Charlie Banks, The Hunting Party, Adventureland, Zombieland and the upcoming Woody Allen picture The Bop Decameron. Having made his professional debut as a Broadway understudy in Summer and Smoke, Eisenberg remains committed to the stage; he is scheduled to appear later this year in the Off-Broadway debut of his play Asuncion. Actor and stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari is best known for playing Tom Haverford in the ensemble of Parks and Recreation. Since creating and starring in the MTV sketch comedy series Human Giant, Ansari has appeared in the films Funny People, I Love You, Man, Observe and Report and Get Him to the Greek, as well as four episodes of Scrubs, three of Reno 911! and a guest shot on Flight of the Conchords. Eisenberg and Ansari star together in the new action comedy 30 Minutes or Less, which they promoted by serving pizza and meeting the press at San Francisco's Goat Hill Pizza.

Groucho: I guess we'd better turn on the grill. There’s a whole, kind of, running gag in the film about Die Hard and Lethal Weapon and that sort of thing. So you guys are positioned as kind of the “buddy movie” characters gone wrong, or something, right? What’s the secret to a successful “buddy movie” formula, in your opinion, or getting that chemistry going?

Aziz Ansari: I don’t know. I mean, for us, I think we didn’t really know each other before the film, and we got to know each other pretty fast, and became good friends. And I think our relationship on screen is kind of a variation on our real-life rapport, if you will. So I think it definitely helps that we are friends in real life and get along well.

Groucho: Minus the sister-f—ing.

Aziz Ansari: That doesn’t exist, no. I don't have that sister.

JE: (Laughs.) Major part, yeah.

Groucho: There’s a wrestling scene in the movie. I suppose that might be a way to bond kind of quickly. Was that choreographed, or did you just kind of say, “Let’s just go for it and try not to deviate each other’s septums.”

Aziz Ansari:
There was some stunt dude that choreographed it, but the kind of goal with that scene was, “Okay, these are two guys that have never done a fight before in their lives. How would they get into a fight with each other? How awkward would that be?” And that was kind of what we were going for, and hopefully achieved.

Groucho:
Ah, yeah. Agreed.

Jesse Eisenberg:
Yeah, yeah. And then once you’re on the floor, you kind of—I mean it’s no longer—it’s impossible to choreograph the details, but it was okay because we were supposed to be as clumsy as possible.

Aziz Ansari:
Yeah.

Groucho:
Right. This movie was, as the credits informed me, filmed in “Pure Michigan.”

Jesse Eisenberg:
What does it say? “Pure Michigan?”

AA:
“Pure Michigan.” I don’t know what that means.

G:
I think it’s a tourist board thing.

JE:
Right, right. They must—

AA:
I’d say pure.

G:
Was it “pure” for you guys?

AA:
Why is it—? I don’t get why they say “pure.”

JE:
It’s possible that means entirely filmed in Michigan. We didn’t film anything elsewhere, did we?

AA:
Reshoots.

JE:
Right. Oh, in California.

G:
It’s like “uncut Michigan.” Unadulterated.

AA:
Yeah maybe, but we shot it in Grand Rapids, which was a fun town to film in, and they were very nice to us there.

JE:
Yeah. There was, like, nineteen movies shooting there at the time, because of this tax-incentive that I think is no longer in place.

G:
Ah.

AA:
Yeah.

JE:
They had, like, a 42% tax incentive.

AA:
A lot of stuff taking place in Detroit, Ann Arbor, you know.

G: I’m not sure whether this movie would actually improve tourism, but maybe it might be a draw for bank robbers.

/content/interviews/335/2.jpgAA: Yeah. Easy place to rob a bank.

G:
(Laughs.)

JE:
I mean, it was beautiful to shoot there because there’s so many different locations. You know, you could be in a big city. Detroit or Grand Rapids. You know, parts of Grand Rapids look like a big city. And then you go out ten minutes, and you’re in an entirely different area, you know, they have the beach there, there’s the lake. It’s a varied landscape.

AA:
Yeah.

JE:
Appropriate, you know, for a movie that has to shoot, you know, in many different locations but in a close proximity.

G:
How do you entertain yourself when you’re in Grand Rapids for a couple of months?

AA:
You know, we were filming pretty much the whole time we were there, so you know, when we weren’t filming I was kind of getting my rest for the most part. But Grand Rapids is a cool town. And when we did have time off, I enjoyed it there.

JE:
We would run into the other people…the other people making movies.

G:
Right, right. Now, in the movie, you play kind of a hotshot driver, Jesse. Did you get to do any of your own driving?

JE:
Yeah. I did a lot of the driving, which is fun cause I live in New York City, so I never get to drive. I ride a bicycle in New York, and I don’t know if you’ve experienced that, but you have no sense of following any of the rules. So they let me drive. You know, we had this long stunt sequence where we were on a road, and every other car—

AA:
The car chase, after the robbery.

JE:
Yeah, I mean the car chase. And every other car on the road was driven by a stunt driver, and there were cops all over, so we got to do anything we wanted and everyone else would kind of react to us. So it was a great opportunity that you would never have in a[nother] situation.

G:
Do you fancy yourself a good driver? You mentioned coming from New York. I saw a little B-roll on the internet where it said, like, you were kind of heckling the driver. I don’t know if that was for the character, but you were yelling to, you know, drive faster.

JE:
Mm-hm. Yeah. We were encouraged to drive as dangerously as possible ‘cause my character is like a reckless guy. He delivers pizza, so he’s always in the car, but he also is not a cautious driver. He prides himself on being able to get anywhere very quickly.

G:
Right. Aziz, did it fulfill a fantasy of yours, to teach a class for a day?

AA:
Oh yeah. I always like doing scenes with kids and being mean to ‘em. So that was fun.

JE:
(Laughs.)

G:
What were they like, the kids, playing off of you? Were they kind of cowed, or were they—?

AA:
They were fine. I mean, most of it was just me saying mean stuff to them. So it was fine, yeah.

G:
Now, you know, there’s sort of a thing in the movie, obviously, about being a pizza delivery guy, and that’s not maybe the best job in the world. What’s the worst job you guys have ever had?

AA: Um…

G:
That you can say without, you know, hurting your career.

/content/interviews/335/5.jpgAA: The worst job I ever had was I used to make crystal meth, and it was really hard because the lab would just explode all the time, and it was a lot of cleanup.

G:
Yeah. I hear that.

JE:
I’ve never had a bad job. I mean, yeah, I’ve had jobs I didn’t like, but nothing that would be comparable to somebody in a really bad situation.

G:
Actually, the film is pretty wild—wild situations throughout the comedy—but I appreciated the moments that ground it in reality a little bit. One of those for me was when Jesse comes to you, his character, and reveals that he’s got this bomb at the school. And your reaction to that—your facial reaction to that—was, to me, pretty real.

AA:
Tremendous acting.

G:
Tremendous acting.

AA:
“Great” you’re looking for.

G:
Yes, yes. (Laughs.)

JE:
No, no.

G:
But, did you find that to be at all difficult with—I mean, it’s actually loosely based on a real story, but do you find it difficult to, kind of, relate to these situations or ground yourself in them?

JE:
Yeah, I mean, it’s difficult because it’s so extreme for such a long period of time. It’s such an extreme situation that these two guys have to rob a bank, and it’s difficult—and a bomb strapped to me. It’s difficult to sustain that kind of intensity, so there’s a lot of levity in the movie, ultimately—it’s a very funny movie—but the fun of it was these guys kind of living out this fantasy of having to rob a bank. And so that ended up being a lot of fun. Just thinking about, “What would we do?” and kind of the excitement that—

AA:
Well, when they pull it off, they’re excited. You know?

G:
Would you say there’s a lesson to be learned from this film?

JE:
Yeah. I mean, it’s not that kind of movie, but it’s a kind of “seize the day” sentiment because my character lives this kind of mundane life and hasn’t accomplished things he wants to accomplish: to tell the girl he loves her, to quit his job, to tell his boss off. And this day, which should be the worst day of his life, ends up being the best day of his life because he’s able to accomplish all these things that he probably should have done months and years ago. So, you know, it’s that kind of—if there is a—

G:
What would happen if someone put a gun to your head?

JE:
Yeah, but I think if the movie studio heard me talking about it as some kind of, like—

G:
Serious drama.

JE:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I would be taken off the press tour.

G:
Right, right. Aziz, I’m a big fan of Parks and Recreation.

AA:
Oh, thanks.

G: I know you hear that every five minutes. Tom’s going into a new situation with Entertainment 720, and I wonder if that is sort of like a funhouse-mirror version of your own entrepeneurship as a comic. You have to kind of sell yourself as a comic and put all of these irons in the fire, right?

AA:
Ummm—

G:
And as an actor.

AA:
Oh. Uh, oh, you mean just that I do stand-up and movies and television?

G:
Right. And you know, getting deals for screenplays and setting up projects.

/content/interviews/335/4.jpgAA: Yeah, but I mean that’s kind of—if you’re a driven actor, you know, most actors do that. Comedy actors, you look at someone like Danny [McBride]. I’m working on a movie with him, that we’re developing, or Seth Rogen, or any of those guys come in. That’s a pretty common thing.

G:
Jesse, are you about to go off to Rome or have you come back from Rome?

JE:
Yeah, I leave in like two weeks.

G:
I would imagine that’s got to be a pretty exciting move to be in a Woody Allen film, especially as a New Yorker.

JE:
Yeah, yeah.

G:
What was it like getting the call? What was the process like landing that role? Meeting him, I assume.

JE:
It was very brief, but you know he—I met him for two minutes and read the script. And you know, it’s not the kind of thing you even consider. He’s just—he’s the best. He gets amazing actors to do, you know, small roles and things that they otherwise—you know, in movies that—people just want to work with him, and he’s making so many great movies. I’ll be so happy just to meet him.

G:
Do you get any sort of directive from him before showing up on the set, in terms of preparing?

JE:
No. I mean, maybe I will, but I haven’t received it thus far. And I leave in two weeks. So maybe I’ll get an emergency call to shave my head or something.

G:
(Laughs.) Aziz, how many takes did you have to get the paint exploded in your face?

AA:
Oh man. That we did like three or four times, but, yeah, it shoots right up in your face. My nose was like blue for a while. It was no joke. But it looked really good. And the techs, they did a really good job.

JE:
I think they said the first one was the best one.

AA:
Yeah. The first one, so much went in my face.

G:
It’s always nice to hear that you’ve done it a few extra times for nothing.

JE:
(Laughs.) Yeah, yeah.

AA:
Yeah, I know, right?

G:
And, you know, if you’ve got your—it’s good for your reel in case you ever want to do Blue Man Group, or something.

AA:
Exactly.

G:
Now, everyone always asks about improv and what kind of role that plays. You know, sometimes I think, you know, if the script is a little underdeveloped you’re sort of drawn on and expected to, you know, bring it to life with a little bit of improv. Was that at all the case here? I mean, were you sort of encouraged to punch up the script on the fly?

JE:
Well, we were encouraged, but certainly not because the script was light at all. I mean, the script was phenomenal. The detail. The backstory and the characters, the different voices of the characters. Everything was there. It sounds like that should be a standard, obvious thing that every movie would have. Once you start reading scripts—like the amount of scripts that we read—you realize that one out of every fifty scripts has that kind of clarity of voice and humor and authenticity. We were encouraged to improvise because we had such a great platform with which to work.

AA:
Yeah.

JE:
And from there we—but the script was a rare thing.

AA:
Yeah, the script was great, and then when we were shooting it, we found a lot of moments while shooting also. That’s kind of the best of both worlds. It’s like, “Okay we have this awesome script and we’re finding funny stuff while we’re shooting.”

G:
Right, right. Is there anything that leaps to mind that when you watch the film, you go, “Oh yeah. I remember that small thing”?

AA:
A lot of things like that that are in the movie. It’s hard to narrow it down, but there’s definitely a lot of moments like that where there’s little jokes and stuff that came up during the filming.

/content/interviews/335/6.jpgG: In terms of the character dynamic between the two of you in the movie, did you give any thought to why these guys have continued to hang out with each other? What it is that appeals to them about each other? What the glue is?

AA:
I mean, I think in the beginning they’re just clearly like two guys that have stuck around in this small town that they lived in. And my character’s a little bit more settled down with a job, and they've just kind of stuck together. And then, you know, they have that falling out. And then he’s in a huge time of need, and so it brings them back together.

JE:
Yeah. It’s been longevity that’s kept them together. But, like, I harbor so much resentment to him, and he harbors resentment to me. I mean, like a lot of friendships, it's a pastime to fight—

AA:
Tumultuous.

JE:
Personality or whatever.

G:
Now, Aziz, what is next for you after season two of Parks and Rec? What do you think will be your next film project?

AA:
Season four!

G:
Yeah, yeah! Sorry. Season four. Yeah.

AA:
There’s some movies I’m developing now that I hopefully—one or both I'll shoot next. One is called "Olympic-Sized Asshole." And it’s me and Danny play these two guys who are best friends, and then this Olympic athlete has a three-way with both our girlfriends. And they—it's a kind of revenge movie. And then the other one is a movie called "Spacemen" that I’m writing for Judd Apatow about two astronauts that have to go back to space; two disgraced astronauts have to go to the moon to clear their names. And yeah. Hopefully we’ll shoot one or both of those next time I write.

G:
Right, right. All right. Great. Well, it’s been nice to talk to you. Thanks for submitting.

AA:
Thanks.

JE:
Thank you so much.

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