Posted on Friday, May 13th, 2011 by Adam Quigley
Back in August of last year, I was flown out (along with a number of other press members) to Grand Rapids, Michigan to spend a day on the set of 30 Minutes or Less and talk with director Ruben Fleischer (Zomebieland) and cast members Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, and Dilshad Vadsaria. You can learn all about the experience here, and if you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the film’s red band trailer to see what all the fuss is about.
We’ll be posting our interview with Jesse Eisenberg a bit later — our group interviews with Ruben Fleischer and Danny McBride & Nick Swardson have already been posted — but for now, here’s our discussion with Aziz Ansari and Dilshad Vadsaria.
Q: When you’re trying to convey that awkward fraternal bond that siblings can often have, especially twins that tend to grow up like rats in a too small sack, do you spend a lot of time together so you can practice loving an hating each other or just let the script do the work?
Dilshad Vadsaria: I have a brother. So, and we’re really close.
Q: Is he also less handsome?
Vadsaria: Oh, yeah. So I was able to you know grow up with siblings and you can kind of go right in to that .But I’m not a twin, but we’re really, really close. so… We haven’t spent too much time together.
Aziz Ansari: Yeah, the way that the movie’s structured we actually don’t have much like, it’s not like the first half of the movie is just like about us being twins hanging out together and then like he gets a bomb strapped onto him. Our scenes are like we don’t have like us having picnics together type scenes.
Q: Do you guys have a lot of action stuff? Do you do any of that?
Ansari: Me and Jesse have some fun action sequences we shot last week. We shot some car chases and stuff. After we robbed the bank and stuff there’s like a car chase. Which is really fun, I’ve never done any action stuff. There’s no car chases in Parks & Recreation so it was fun.
Q: Fewer in Funny People?
Ansari: Yeah there’s none in I Love You Man or anything like that so it was fun. Ruben really wanted to shoot it like these car chases that are in these movie like “French Connection.” Like we’re really in the cars it’s not all green screen so Jesse’s really doing stunt driving. There’s like rigs that are pulling the car and stuff. It’s just pretty fun. Th acting is pretty easy in a car chase, you’re just like “AAAAHHHHH!!!” You know, oh let me do something different this time — “NOOOOO!!!” Oh I got another, “Look out!” So that was really fun.
Q: You play a teacher?
Ansari: Yeah, my character is a teacher, yeah.
Q: I was looking at some of your dialogue, you’re yelling at a student about texting.
Ansari: Is that hard to believe I’d be a teacher?
Q: I’m trying to imagine your inflection of dialogue that’s all…
Ansari: Wait you mean because I’ve done a lot of thing that I yell at kids?
Q: Can you talk a little bit about playing a teacher?
Ansari: There’s only like one quick scene of me with these students and you see what he’s like as a teacher. But you know, I’ve done a lot of stuff in the sketch comedy show “The Human Giant” we did a lot of stuff with kids so I always find it funny just yelling at kids and being mean to them. So I was excited when they told me I was a teacher and taht was fun to kind of get to play play a teacher that had these little students.
Q: Did you tap into terrifying childhood elementary school memories or anything?
Ansari: Most of my teachers when I grew up were like older white women. So, I couldn’t really channel them.
Q: Do you feel like there’s a lot of freedom on the sets, if you want to move a different way say a different line, run something else. Do you have a lot of freedom, maybe more so than some other films?
Vadsaria: I do. I mean, my experience so far working has been stick to the script and all of that. Whereas Ruben, I mean you were even writing up stuff right before we shot the last scene of the movie. Changing it up and everything.
Ansari: Yeah Ruben’s really cool about letting us improvise and whenever we do a scene or rehearsal I kind of like think about it is this working, are the jokes right there, is there a way to punch this up at all. I go in every scene I do just like, alright is there any way to make this better or is there any way to change this or are there any other jokes or anything that could help. And it’s not just like improvising whose line is it … I think when people talk about improvising it turns into this silly thing like, Oh there’s like a hula hoop there and I’m like “Oh what’s going on here? Is this a really big ring?” It’s not that at all, it’s very focused. It’s almost like rewriting in the moment and really thinking about the scene and any jokes I make or whatever I try to make sure it’s on story and helps the characters and makes sense with the movie. But Ruben’s been cool about – any scene we do he’s always telling me, if there’s anything you want to try, try it, just try it. The bank robbery scene we shot the other day it was so fun because I’ve never done a bank robbery and that’s like the funnest thing to ever do. You just get to yell whatever nonsense you want. It was such an amazing opportunity. It was one of the funnest scenes I’ve ever gotten the opportunity to shoot and like he just is like always just pushing to get us to try to come up with stuff and is very encouraging when welcome up with stuff he likes, he’s always like it’s so great and it’s just a fun process.
Q: In Funny People, Randy makes a joke about if he spins around eight times it’s like 20% funnier than if he spins around- not withstanding that joke, is there any intellectual process of refining jokes that you think of as a comedian or a performer where you’re like I can actually make this a little bit funnier if I just change this word?
Ansari: Totally, usually when I improvise stuff I’ll improvise in a take and as the takes go on you refine that improv and rewrite it over and over again. And it’s like oh that’s the best version of that. I think it’s when that kid of stuff works best. Even with Judd, you’ll improvise like ten things and it will be like oh do those three again. Like that kind of process. So, yeah it’s definitely kind of like refining. It’s not like, oh throw something out – it’s gold.
Q: Miss Vadsaria, I’m curious. You obviously have a great number of scenes with Mr. Eisenberg. What’s it like doing scenes opposite him. What’s it like adjusting to the jazz of stammer and his line delivery?
Vadsaria: He’s so good, he’s so great. Obviously, everyone knows that, but he’s so – there’s this honesty in his performance all the time. Whether it’s on camera, off camera, where ever. So, it’s really wonderful to work off of him and to work with him on that. We’ve done all of our major stuff, we haven’t done any of the car stuff that’ going to happen next week with the scrap yard and things like that so I haven’t been able to do any of the action stuff yet. But it’s just so natural to work with him. I think that’s probably the best way to describe it. There isn’t much effort or you feel like there isn’t much effort because he’s just in the moment and he’s just doing his thing. So it’s been great to work off of him and he’s a very generous actor because it doesn’t matter whether he’s on camera or not.
Ansari: Wow I’ve had a very different experience. Um, he’s really unprofessional. He’s like always at craft services eatin cherries and M&Ms. I’m like dude we’ve gotta like rehearse and he’s like well I’ll just do it when I need to do it. It’s just hard.
Q: One of the easiest ways to make something funny is to make it louder and bigger. Mr. Eisenberg’s comedic sensibility is very specifically about making something quieter and slower and smaller. Do you ever find that there’s a conflict between your comedy styles?
Ansari: No, I hope my comedy doesn’t come off like it’s just about being louder.
Q: No, that wasn’t implied at all.
Ansari: No, I think what’s great about him is I always find that the best acting for comedy is playing things very real and treating it seriously and not treating it jokey. He’s such a good actor and his instinct is to play things real and that’s always my instinct with comedy too. So I think it works really well. With this kind of movie, obviously it’s a comedy, but you have to treat the situation like it’s real. This guy has a bomb on him. There’s like really emotional scenes and you gotta really play it real and if you don’t it comes off weird so I think what’s cool about this movie is it’s grounded in things you treat real, but it’s really funny and it’s good.
Vadsaria: Also going back to that last scene of the film, that we shot just to see them (before my character comes in) do their thing just works really, really well because it’s not like one is offsetting the other in a different way, they have this great chemistry where they work so well off each other that somebody in the audience, when you’re watching that from outside, it just balances really, really well and I think they do a really good job together. Regardless of whatever style. Because they’re best friends so that works out really well.
Q: Ruben said they were kind of allowed to do whatever they wanted in terms of casting and not a lot of notes on the script. Did you guys feel like the roles that they cast you on the page were like tailored for you guys or that he brought you in because he wanted you to take the character and do a lot of expansion?
Vadsaria: For me, I auditioned. I don’t think he knew who I was when I walked in the room. So, I went through the audition process and then I guess they liked how it went. And then my chemistry with Jesse was important for this role. But, I’m thinking he knew who you were.
Ansari: Yeah, but I think as far as the script and stuff whenever you have a comedy script sometimes it’s written for certain people and other people end up doing it, who knows, but I don’t know when those guys when they wrote the script it was necessarily Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari that’s just how it came together. So, me and Jesse out personalities have gotten into those characters and we’ve definitely brought things to it that weren’t there necessarily because Ruben’s very open to us bringing whatever we have to the characters and the scene so obviously it’s changed and I think that’s what’s cool about it because being able to do that stuff is always really fun.
Q: Danny’s dialogue – we were reading it today before we even saw him perform it – and when I read it I was like he could just say this and it would be (missing word). Did you feel like any of it was in any way – whether or not they thought of you for it – you read it and you were like oh I could do this, this is sort of perfect for me.
Ansari: Yeah, I read it and saw how I could make it my own and do what I do with that character.
Q: I was curious if you had gotten an opportunity of taking advantage of any of the liberties you get in an R rated film?
Vadsaria: Yeah this character is rather different from the character I’ve been playing for a few years. But, in the sense of dialogue she’s not the kind of girl who’s going to curse like crazy, it’s just not who she is. If she was I would’ve, but in that sense that’s not who she is. It’s just a whole different experience to be on this kind of set as opposed to being on a network show and a show that’s a bit more trying to still figure out where they are as opposed to an ABC, NBC, CBS, HBO type of deal. So, there’s always that fine line where you’re always trying to push and then you do something in a take but then they’re come in and say “That was great, but maybe you can try it this way.” and you’re like yeah that’s not going to go and they’re like noooo. That’s not really the experience on this film. They’re like, just go, just do it. I think that’s the biggest difference.
Q: With Aziz and Danny obviously being established comedians, with improv, is it intimidating for you to be on a set like this with all the impov?
Vadsaria: Yeah it’s a little bit of a couple of things. Yes, intimidating, definitely but only because these guys are so good at what they do and they’ve been doing it. Stand up is in my opinion the hardest thing you can do and to get up and do even a five minute routine it’s like, I can’t even imagine doing something like that. So these are really seasoned people I’ve been given the opportunity to come in and work with. In my case, I have that in my mind, but it’s also what an amazing opportunity to work with these guys and work off of that and then to learn too. It’s my first exposure to something like this.
Q: Since you guys are filming here in Grand Rapids, what’s the big thing you do on Saturday night.
Ansari: I usually go out of town to do stand up. I go see some friends in New York so, sorry.
Q: Have you tried to do any shows around here?
Ansari: One weekend I was here and I did some shows at a comedy club called Dr. Grins. As soon as I heard the name I was like, this is going to be a classy place. So I did Dr. Grins.
Q: Is he an actual doctor?
Ansari: Yeah, I don’t know how it got that name. The night I was doing the show I was like alright I’m not going to go up there and make fun of the name for five minutes because I’m sure everyone has tore the name up to pieces. But then I looked on the drink menu. I was like ok, so probably Dr Grins that a name that’s been there for a long time and they were like let’s just leave it there’s no point in changing it now people know the name. We’ll just leave it. But then on the drink menu they have like drinks called Giggle Juice and I was like alright there’s no excuse for that. Don’t need to call the drinks Giggle Juice, not necessary. But yeah, Grand Rapids is a fun town. Everyone’s been really nice and I think people are siked about the filming and stuff and just really helpful and really nice. Everyone I’ve met has been like oh let me know if you need advice on where to eat, or what bars to go to. Everyone is willing to lend a helping hand.
Vadsaria: This is my first weekend.
Q: This film marks a pretty big first for both you guys, first major supporting role in a feature and first feature would you talk about how this is different for you?
Ansari: For me, before I had been doing these smaller projects I would come in for a couple of days, do my thing, head out. This, I’m just here all the fucking time. I’m so tired of it, I’m here nonstop.No, I’m not tired of it. But you look on the sheet and it’s like, man me and Jesse are in everything today, again? Then Ruben’s like, yeah you’re the main guys in the movie. Guess that makes sense.
Q: You were talking a little bit about your comedic styling and I wouldn’t say loud or anything like that, but you are … energetic is a word I would use to describe you. Is that something that naturally comes out of you, or is that something that you have to prep for and do you find directors are kind of looking for that out of you?
Ansari: That’s my personality, I’m not quiet. I mean, obviously someone like Randy is a little bit crazy and then Tom from Parks is a different thing and you know this character, I try to do them all a little differently and i guess ultimately my personality will come out through them in different ways. This is really fun because I’ve never done any acting where it’s such a serious situation where it’s like we’re robbing banks we’re in a car chase. These are all crazy situations. I always find movies where it’s taking normal people and putting them in extraordinary situations to be interesting. That’s what I liked about the script. I can’t think of any bank robbery comedy where it’s about two normal guys. it’s kind of like Superbad meets Heat which is a cool combo and it’s just fun doing a normal guy that’s robbing a bank. When we were shooting the bank robbery, the day before I was like watching Heat over and over again an I was like, alright what if this guy is trying to be like Deniro in Heat. So I was trying to be like an idiot trying to do De Niro in Heat. I was trying to sound cool like, “Think about things you love in your life.” Ruben had a folder of all these famous bank heists, Heat Our of Sight, Raising Arizona, I just watched all of them. I was like man a bank robbery sounds like a cool scene and it’s only in a few movies. It’s really cool to get to do one.
Q: Do you get some serious badass moments?
Ansari: When we rob a bank it’s fun and it’s so fun just yelling stuff at strangers. Like you’re going to shoot them.
Q: Were you doing them seriously?
Ansari: Seriously, but it’s an idiot trying to do them. It’s not a guy that’s smooth at it at all. I mean, you see a guy like me going “I’ve been trained in special forces.” It’s like, no you haven’t.
Q: It’s a comedy but the premise of this film is incredibly dark. You could do this film like a drama and it would be like the Hurt Locker or The Wages of Fear. Both your characters spent a lot of the film next to someone wearing a device that could at any moment kill them. How do you tap into that? How do you remember that going into every scene?
Ansari: You know it’s definitely a thing. I feel like Ruben sometime had to be like before takes ‘Hey! Don’t forget you just robbed a bank.’ and I’m like ‘Oh yeah that’s right.’ I’ve got to make sure I remember that, I’ve got to keep that in mind because like you know it’s definitely behind everything. The way you deal with that stuff is there’s definitely scenes that are like really intense and a little more dramatic at times and that was so fun to do because there’s nothing like that in the other comedy stuff I’ve done. There hasn’t been an element where it’s like oh this has to be super serious and emotional and you need to be like about to cry and stuff. So it’s really cool because Jesse’s so good at that stuff he did a scene where he was crying like crazy and it blew me away. And I was like Oh man I’ve got to figure out how to cry that would be really good if I could do that. So when I had a scene like that I really challenged myself to kind of like step my game up to his and it was fun. I think we have those scenes that are very real so doesn’t feel like: Oh why are they not acting more intense there bomb is on the guy.
Q: Ms. Vadsaria is it tough to play hugging someone who’s wearing an explosive vest or a romantic scene with someone who’s wearing a bomb.
Vadsaria: Our romantic scene took place on a roof across from each other. But my character has no idea what’s going on. My character does not know when he actually does have the bomb strapped and he’s with her – she has no idea and he’s protecting her from that you know because he loves her so much. So that’s where the stakes get really high. Where he’s come to tell her how much he loves her because they’ve been friends all three of them have grown up together and she has no clue, but of course she figures that out at the end, but at that point things have gone crazy anyway and that’s’ what we’re going to shoot next week and she figures out something’s definitely wrong because she got kidnapped so you know by some guys in gorilla masks, but she has no clue what’s going on with the bomb until the very end.
Q: Aziz, you were doing stand up before you did funny people, but of course Randy has come back. Do you have to be careful with the roles that you take to make sure that people don’t say Randy is actually you or that the one role you play if it’s in Parks & Rec is not the defining way that you’re perceived. Do you strategize at all about what you take?
Ansari: To me Randy is such an extreme, it’s a guy who runs around and talks about getting his dick sucked all the time. I don’t think there’s going to be a movie with too many parts like that. Oh this guy his best friend delivers pizza he’s got a bomb strapped to him. You play a guy who wants to get his dick sucked all the time. That wasn’t what was brought forward, No, I don’t’ worry about that I feel like I did that Randy character that was a thing I did. This movie and the other movies I’m writing for myself they’re all different things. The one thing I’m writing for Judd now, I play a guy that was an astronaut. It’s all way different. I don’t worry about that.
Q: Obviously there are not going to be a lot of other roles that require a Randy-size performance, but you don’t want people to think that that is just all you.
Ansari: No, I think that unless they are really dumb I think they know that I was playing a character in a movie. I see what you’re saying, I was talking to Danny and sometimes people want him to be just Kenny Powers. It’s an extreme character but it’s a character and it’s not him. It’s a character, him doing a character, but some people have just seen Kenny Powers and their like, “Oh, he must be just like Kenny Powers.” But he’s like, “No, I’m not like Kenny Powers.” I think I’ve done so much other stuff like my standup as myself and “Parks & Rec” and all the other movies, I feel like I’m not Randy.
Q: I know you said that you can’t play Special Forces, but now that you have a taste of the action are you thinking maybe you’re in the scrap yard?
Ansari: I really had fun doing the car chase scene so the next movie I want to pitch is called “120 Minute Car Chase,” it’s just me and Jason Statham in a 120 minute car chase. It’s just me and Jason Statham, no one else. All the other guys got expended, they’re. Well you remember what we said… they’re expendable.