Actor Jesse Eisenberg and comedian Nick Swardson are an unlikely pair. They are together to promote their latest film, “30 Minutes or Less,” yet another entry into this summer’s R-rated raunch fests.
Actor Jesse Eisenberg and comedian Nick Swardson are an unlikely pair.
Eisenberg is an Oscar-nominated actor for “The Social Network.” Swardson has a devil-may-care slacker reputation and a stand-up routine called, “Seriously, Who Farted?”
Eisenberg is currently in Italy shooting Woody Allen’s next movie, “The Bop Decameron.” This fall, Eisenberg will make his playwrighting debut with the dark comedy “Asuncion,” which is due to open Oct. 27 off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
Swardson is a veteran of Adam Sandler pictures and has been working with the comedian for eight years. Together they wrote Swardson’s next movie, “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” due out Sept. 9. Swardson also can be seen in the TV series’ “Reno 911!” and “Pretend Time.”
They are together to promote their latest film, “30 Minutes or Less,” yet another entry into this summer’s R-rated raunch fests. In it, two wannabe criminals (Swardson and Danny McBride) kidnap a pizza delivery guy (Eisenberg), strap a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank. Aziz Ansari, of TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” co-stars. Ruben Fleischer, who also directed Eisenberg in the vastly superior “Zombieland,” is behind the camera.
Eisenberg enters the interview room at Boston’s Liberty Hotel first. Reserved and polite, he introduces himself with a handshake. Swardson enters with commotion and a burp. He has to wash his hands. Now, they are wet. He can’t find a napkin. Finally, he finds one. After Eisenberg asks about Mayor Tom Menino and comments on the city’s Irish and Italian cultures, Swardson rolls up the wet napkin and throws it at Eisenberg.
Once the manic Swardson settles in, we spend the next 20 minutes talking about their movie and laughing a lot. Swardson only drops four F-bombs. Eisenberg, none. At times, they make my job easier, taking over to ask each other questions.
Jesse, your co-stars – Nick, Aziz and Danny – are all comedians. Did you feel any pressure to be funny? And, Nick, did you feel any pressure working with the guy who should have won the best-actor Oscar?
EISENBERG: Oh, that’s very nice. All I had to do was focus on my job, which was kind of a dramatic role in a way, even though the movie is framed as a comedy. You know, my role is a guy who has a bomb strapped to him and is forced to rob a bank. And the more serious I take my tragic situation the funnier it is. And a lot of the comedy comes from these two regular, lazy guys – an elementary school teacher and a pizza delivery guy – forced to rob a bank and the anxiety and earnestness in which they treat their plight. So I wasn’t concerned with trying to be funny because I thought it would oftentimes compromise the seriousness of my character’s situation.
SWARDSON: I didn’t have a lot of scenes with Jesse. So I didn’t have a lot of time to be intimidated by Jess and his acting magic. I was really focused on trying to ground the character and play it as real as I possibly could. I’m known for mainly playing such crazy characters that are really flamboyant and insane. I was really excited for this role, to ground it as much as I could and not have to worry about always having to come up with a joke.
Both actors revealed that a good chunk of the dialogue was improvised, including a scene in which Eisenberg’s character reacts to a Facebook conversation by saying “I don’t do that sh** anymore, I’m off the grid.”
EISENBERG: That was me improvising, but not because of the movie I was in about Facebook; more just because that’s just what I thought my character would think of himself … He is a guy who rejects the world. He is kind of empowered by this sense of loneliness and righteousness. But it was not a joke because of the movie. Had I known it would be taken that way, I don’t think I would have said it because you don’t want to take people out of the movie; you want them to experience the character.
SWARDSON (to Jesse): Facebook is so commonplace, and you can make a reference like that and it doesn’t feel specific to the movie. It’s like everyone is part of it. It’s not like you making a tongue-in-cheek joke. It is something that that character would say.
EISENBERG: It’s like referencing LinkedIn.
SWARDSON: Or the laser disc.
Jesse, were you glad when the awards season was over. And Nick, what did you do for the Oscars?
SWARDSON: I just coached Jesse. I did his hair and his makeup and I just got him ready and picked out all his dresses.
EISENBERG: He sewed my suits together.
SWARDSON: Yeah, I made his suit. All of it. I was relieved, very relieved when it was over.
EISENBERG (to Swardson): Did you watch the Academy Awards?
SWARDSON: I watched them wasted at Danny’s house.
EISENBERG: No, do you watch them in general?
SWARDSON: Yeah, always. I love movies. I’m a huge movie fan. I love going to movies. I see everything.
EISENBERG: Do you feel like the awards tend to discriminate against comedic movies?
SWARDSON: Yeah, but I mean comedy is so, so subjective. You can’t really do awards for comedy. I don’t believe in awards, anyway. But I think it would be tough to give awards out for comedy. I would have said ‘Step Brothers’ was the best movie two years ago. But so many critics are like ‘this movie is stupid,’ and it has a 40 percent rating on RottenTomatoes, but to me, that’s one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. So it’s hard to have an awards show for something like that.
Jesse, since you were nominated, you’re now a voting member of the Academy. That’s pretty cool. And, so, Nick, I guess you have to keep on his good side just in case a best fart joke ever becomes a category.
SWARDSON: Vote for me for this movie, Jesse. (Bleep!)
EISENBERG: You’re already throwing a tantrum.
SWARDSON: I better win best fart joke in stand-up. That’ll bum me out if I didn’t.
No pun intended.
SWARDSON: Ha, ha. I get it. The stand-up title [“Seriously, Who Farted?] is supposed to be an inside joke, because I just wanted to have people who seriously would talk about the special and the album to have to say “Seriously, Who Farted?” seriously. You know, I always get flak for being like the “oh, Swardson is such a stupid comic and a frat-boy moron.” But it’s like, I was in on the joke when I thought of that title. For that reason to kind of make fun of these critics.
So it’s intellectual?
SWARDSON: It’s not intellectual, but there is a method to the madness. It’s not just like ‘Hey, farting is hilarious.’ (pauses, then adds) But farting is hilarious.
Nick, you and Danny are best friends in the movie. Jesse and Aziz are also tight. Did you guys know each other before you started filming?
SWARDSON: I didn’t know Danny at all, and I had to go be his best friend. Reuben gave us a few days to hang out and, luckily, we are both great people. We got along really well and we became very close, and I consider Danny one of my good friends.
EISENBERG: Oftentimes, it has been my experience that it can be better not to know the person at all. Sometimes when you act with your friends, which you do a lot, I sometimes find I’m distracted by knowing the person so well and them thinking of me in another way. Whereas I met Aziz at the audition for this movie and we were immediately kind of interacting in the way our characters would interact, and I think in some ways, maybe that’s a little better.
SWARDSON: It is true. I’m usually in the comfort zone of Sandler and stuff, where I do act with him a lot. So it was refreshing to have a new best friend, or have some one to play off of and try to connect with.
Clearly, you guys are having a good time on screen. Were there any scenes that had to have multiple takes because you were cracking up?
EISENBERG: There was this one thing that kept getting me. At the end of the movie, I ask Nick to put his flame thrower down, and he sheepishly says that he can’t put it down because it’s attached to his backpack. And he just made that line up, and there was something about that moment and Nick and my attempt at being serious because I’m supposed to have taken control of the situation.
SWARDSON: And that’s Jesse being intense, and I kind of revert back to being an 8-year-old. It took a while to get through that take. I kept laughing. He kept laughing. But there was a lot of times. The scene where me and Danny are cleaning the pool. That took us a while. I kept laughing and laughing. Danny says, “I want to start a cash business with a lot of girls.” I said, “Chinese food restaurant,” but he says no. I said, “Abortion clinic?” He says, “no, yucky.” And he kept saying “yucky,” and it made me laugh so much because that’s the weirdest way to react to an abortion clinic. And I (bleep) could not for the life of me keep it together. I kept apologizing. I think on the takes they used, you can see the corner of my mouth.
EISENBERG: I am so sensitive to stuff like that. If I see me in a movie, I’m so paranoid that you can maybe see right at the end of the edit, like they used right up until the exact moment where you start laughing. I get so paranoid. I can tell that maybe I am laughing one frame later, and I get so embarrassed.
The film is about a bank robbery, do either of you think you could pull off a heist?
EISENBERG: The thing I really loved about the plot of the movie is the characters deal with that in a really realistic way. They first look up bomb disarming techniques on the Internet. When they can’t find anything good, they decide they have to rob the bank. And they get toy guns and spray paint them. They get energy drinks to maintain their stamina. They do all the things one would have to do in the situation. So the comedy comes from those realistic reactions.
SWARDSON: I think I could rob a blood bank. Or I could rob Tyra Banks or Elizabeth Banks. I think I could have robbed a bank a hundred years ago, the 1800s, maybe. I think now it’s a little daunting with the security cameras, codes and the forensics.
EISENBERG: You also have today’s knowledge of interpersonal social psychology, so you could manipulate people more easily.
SWARDSON: Yeah, I could just Jedi everyone. Just use my own version of the force to seduce and make a lot of love.
You were both in animated films ...
EISENBERG: What did you do?
SWARDSON: I did “Bolt,” Jesse. It was kind of a (bleep) big deal. (Burps) Jesse should (bleep) watch it and study his goddamn co-stars and learn about people. (Pause) What did you do?
EISENBERG: (Laughing so much he almost falls out the chair he’s leaning back on). “Rio.” I was Blu in “Rio.”
SWARDSON: Why would I see a movie that I lived?
Reach Dana Barbuto at firstname.lastname@example.org.