Comedy is a serious business. The one thing that you think about when you hear about a Ruben Fleischer film with a pair of half-assed robbers being played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson dressed in monkey suits kidnapping a pizza boy is serious acting… but that’s where Jesse Eisenberg comes in and takes a silly skit to a quality comedy. Though 30 Minutes of Less is funny and while on our tour of the set the scenes that they shot in-front of us where rather comically off-beat and quirky, the one person taking it all very seriously was Eisenberg, and that’s because as everyone else gets to run around and play it’s his honesty and believability that keeps us invested in the story.
Let’s take a little peak at a day on set with Eisenberg…
We just saw you do the same scene, take after take, how is it for you as an actor maintaining that sort of energy level to do that scene again and again and again?
Jesse Eisenberg: Sometimes it’s easier that others. Don’t drink coffee in the morning ’cause then you’ll have like peeks of energy. I try to main like a low level exhaustion all day.
While some people joked around on set, Eisenberg continued to stay on point and rightly so. At the start of each take he had to be at his breaking point, ready scream, cry, and basically be at the height of his emotions. He continued to prep himself before each run through as he took every single shot seriously, though he was no diva and didn’t have any problems reapplying his own duct tape to his mouth before each take.
How hard is it to balance the stakes? Like the criminal stuff and also reacting in a way that should be presumably funny as it is believable.
JE: I guess the more serious you play something, if the context is funny then it will be funny and it doesn’t really require you to be necessarily, explicitly humorous or silly. There are some scenes in this movie, because of the grave situation are naturally that much more funny. For example the last several days we’ve been filming this back robbery where Aziz Ansari and I have to rob a bank and everything that can go wrong in the bank does go wrong. It’s because the two of us are so panicked and freaked out and taking it so seriously that it’s really funny.
What did it mean to you to have Danny McBride and Aziz Ansari be your comedic counterparts?
JE: I was really excited that they were doing the movie because I’ve loved them but for me it doesn’t change what my character should be doing. We’re all playing three different roles and my character is comparatively the straight man, not that I think of it this way, but compared to them, objectively speaking would be the straighter character. Because they’re so funny it gives me more room to play it straight because they can compensate and make the scenes funny and the pressure is not necessarily on me ’cause I don’t think it should be. My character is going through a very real thing.
Despite the obviously emotionally strenuous job at repeatedly being strapped to a bomb and shot at, Eisenberg would regularly stop by and answer questions from the onlooking press whenever he had a moment. Eisenberg is clearly not a “precious” actor and one who has worked his way up and is still working. Though everyone on set seemed to be there to try protect the actors, Eisenberg, though shy in his own way, was extremely warm and open to us being there and really seemed excited to be on set, to be acting and to be able to share his experience with us.
There’s a great line about knowing that you’re going to be executed in the morning really concentrates the mind, is that a part of your characters ark with death strapped to him in an explosive vest? Does that make him aware of things he should be doing differently in life?
JE: Yeah, the emotional center of the movie is this character who has never done anything in his life. He has a line, I’ve never even quite a job just waited around to get fired. He’s in love with this girl who’s his best friend’s sister. He’s never told her. He’s just kinda ridden through life lazily. This metaphorically lights a fire underneath him to take a stand and spend these ten hours doing everything he should have been doing the last several years ago.
What is it about Ruben’s roles that appeal to you so much?
JE: I was surprised when we were doing the Zombieland that Ruben Fleischer is as, that he accounts for the emotional inner life, as pretentious as this may sound, but this is the actor’s job so this is what I think about it all the time is that he accounts for the actor’s inner emotional through line and inner life in a real way. When I read the script of that movie I didn’t necessarily think that it would earn that kind of attention. So with this, I was much more excited to go into this knowing that the director is someone who is doing a comedy that is occasionally broad and also visually arresting, but also that he will pay attention and account for the actors process and emotional experience.
Though the serious/funny is what Eisenberg seems to be becoming known for, he see’s this role as much more than that. Reaching out to an audience and hopefully giving them a chance to both laugh and be touched is a dream come true for Eisenberg…
I read some of the early drafts of this script and your character is more of a self-assure wise-ass than, where you looking for a change?
JE: I really love the character. When I read it, it seemed like a real person. It seemed like somebody, who me, is the movie so to speak though the change and that kind of all seemed realistic. In that way it felt similar. That’s what I look for when I’m looking to act in something. Something realistic, an emotional journey and this character had that in spades.
Has it been more intense running from hordes of zombies or having this bomb strapped to your chest?
JE: This movie is more, at least for my character, was more serious in tone. Zombieland was a little more fun, at least for my character. This one if, at least for me, has to be played pretty much straight. This one is a little more exhausting because there’s no room for me because it’s set in the real world. There’s less room for me to have — there’s no winking to the audience, with this one.
He even went as far as to get a bit method with the role…
What kind of research you did to get into the working world of a professional delivery driver?
JE: Well the pizza place where we’re filming the movie, they let me go out with this guy Alex, who they thought most similar to my character. I was surprised to realize how similar he was. He was as sarcastic and self-aware as the character is. It was a perfect match for my character, also for the kinda basic logistics of how it is to deliver pizzas and who the costumers are. These guys who kidnap me in gorilla masks are surprisingly not far off some of the people we met that evening.
What do you find is more challenging to play?
JE: When you take on a role you try to do as much as possible before hand to get your mind into it, just to prepare because it’s a daunting prospect to go six months or whatever, this is three months to do something. With the [The Social Network] there’s video to watch of the character I played and there’s audio and there’s images. And this one, there’s a pizza guy who can take me around. Ideas as equivalent preparation experiences.
Was the pizza guy a local?
JE: Yeah, I did the Hollywood pizza place. No (laughs) the place where we’re filming here in Grand Rapids, the pizza guy took me around, names Alex, really cool.
Were you anonymous? Did you get recognized?
JE: Yeah somebody gave us a $5 ’cause they liked Adventureland.
Though the The Social Network has come and gone and though Eisenberg will always be striving for character driven roles, it’s clear that his days of comedy with Ruben are far from over. He’s worked with him once before, one again and as long as the roles keep suiting him and he can find something he can make work, he’ll keep crying to keep us laughing…
Where you apprehensive about working with Ruben at all?
JE: Yeah of course not, it’s the opposite. He did such an amazing job with that Zombieland. Of course, I would love to work with him forever.
Was it a nice transition going into this film and working with Ruben again?
JE: From (Zombieland) it almost feels like a continuation because it’s the same crew and working with Ruben is so wonderful and feels like an extension of the same process.
During the middle of the interview, Eisenberg had to run off and do a few more takes, but as soon as they cut he came back over and finished, making sure to answer everyones questions before taking a much needed lunch break with the rest of the crew (and even us peons press attendees). He’s not one of the most outwardly vivacious actors, but he has a subtle charm and an awkward charisma that makes him a pleasure to talk to. And watching him work on set it was obvious, he’s an actor in love with acting and that for him, comedy is a serious business that he not only loves, but knows how to do damn well.