Posted on Thursday, June 25th, 2015 by Germain Lussier
American Ultra isn’t an easy movie to summarize. From its tone to its genre, the film lives and breathes because it rides a fine line between action, comedy, and romance. In fact, it seems the only truth on the set of American Ultra is that Wal-Mart is a great place to find deadly weapons.
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh and written by Max Landis, American Ultra stars Jesse Eisenberg as Mike, a West Virginia stoner who just wants to marry the love of his life. That’s Phoebe, played by Kristen Stewart. Things are moving towards this end until Mike is revealed as a deep-cover, highly-trained CIA agent. Suddenly, everyone is out to kill him.
Bourne with a bong this is not, however. Landis, Eisenberg, Stewart and everyone down to the prop-master and make-up effects team stand by the fact American Ultra is really a sweet, interesting, realistic romance. It just so happens to have insane action centered on an unassuming Oscar-nominee.
American Ultra opens August 21. Below read about our May 2014 American Ultra set visit, featuring Eisenberg kicking ass in a mega mart, and see two brand new posters.
Everything is a weapon
It’s day 25 of 41 on the Louisiana set of American Ultra, and this unexpected action love story is nearing its climax as Mike smashes through the front of the “Max Goods” supermarket, desperately searching for Phoebe. He’ll give the bad guys a warning before tearing up and down the aisles like a crazed, murdering consumer, using light bulbs, garden equipment, makeup and more to destroy his enemies. It’s a violent display shot as a hybrid of Tony Jaa and Jackie Chan… only with Jesse Eisenberg and a plethora of weapons anyone can pick up off the shelf at Wal-Mart.
“I walked through a supermarket and said ‘That’s a weapon, that’s a weapon, that’s a weapon,’ and this is that scene,” said an excited Landis who was bursting with excitement while visiting the set. Over the course of the afternoon a quiet strip mall in La Place, Louisiana was almost completely transformed into a supermarket, complete with signage and five or six aisles fully stocked with Gatorade, Stove Top stuffing, Razor scooters, beer, and pretty much anything else you can buy at Wal-Mart.
It was an impressive feat of production design for Richard Bridgland, who called the 10 weeks of work on the set the most elaborate in the film. To get the thousands of products, Bridgland found a supermarket that was closing and paid them just to borrow the items. Most were returned in original condition after the filming.
The stunt coordinator, prop master and make-up designer echoed the sentiments of Landis in that each made trips to local Wal-Marts, walked up and down aisles and imagined what items could be used for disgusting deaths. Shelves for graphic American History X-like curb stomps? Yes. Garden tools with spikes on the end? Yes. Eyeballs gauged out by a mascara pen? Of course that one, too. That’s what was being shot on this day.
The Two Unassuming Stars
But before we get back to the American Ultra violence, we’d be remiss to mention the stars, who you can see in the exclusive posters above.
Despite the action inspiration, the stars aren’t Jackie Chan or Tony Jaa. They’re Jesse Eisenberg, whose most bad-ass previous character invented Facebook, and Kristen Stewart, best known for getting physical with vampires and werewolves. Both are incredibly talented and in-demand actors. (Eisenberg was prepping for Batman vs. Superman during this shoot and made that film immediately after.) They can do almost anything they want.
Each chose this film because, despite the strong relationship between the characters, it blended versions of themselves in a sort of hyper-reality. “I think the basic idea was if you were to take the most unlikely people, like two dinky little stoner kids, Jesse Eisenberg and me, and then suddenly see them thrown into this really high speed, intense and disarmingly realistic action movie, it’s funny,” Stewart said. “It’s like ‘What!?’ It doesn’t feel familiar. It feels a little bit shocking.”
They aren’t the only two impressive, yet unexpected names on the call sheet, either. The film’s main antagonist, Adrian Yates, is played by Topher Grace. He’s the lead agent of the discreet CIA arm who trained Mike and it’s his job to bring Mike down. Described by Landis as kind of a mad super-villain, the actor won the role by sending in a stand-out audition showcasing dialogue performance and a delicate balance of evil and self-awareness.
“The writing is unbelievable,” said Grace. “If you’re Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt it’s rare to find writing this good. In a film that has action, when do you get that sort of Sorkin-esque dialogue that has youthful humor in it?”
Yates’s foil is played by Friday Night Lights’ star Connie Nielsen; their boss is played by Bill Pullman; Walton Goggins is a crucial thug; and John Leguzamo, Tony Hale and others are thrown in there too. All were also drawn to the script. “It’s so difficult to blend action, comedy and the absurd,” says Goggins. “When it’s serious, it’s serious, when it’s action it’s action and when it’s comedy, it’s comedy. And it’s a mash up.”