'Stuber' Stars Kumail Nanjiani And Dave Bautista On Testing Their Limits And The Buddy Action Movies That Inspired Them [Interview]

Although both have made names for themselves outside of the world of movies, Kumail Nanjiani  (as a stand-up comedian) and Dave Bautista (as a pro wrestler) are still relatively new faces on the big screen that have had recent, high-profile successes upon which they plan to build. After years of TV work and smaller parts in films, Nanjiani shared an Oscar nomination with wife Emily V. Gordon for their original screenplay for 2017's The Big Sick. While Bautista co-starred in a pair of Guardians of the Galaxy movies as the mighty Drax, in addition to sizable roles in Blade Runner 2049, Hotel Artemis, and the upcoming Dune adaptation from his Blade Runner director Denis Villeneuve.

With their latest film Stuber, the pair each get to try out something they rarely get to do on screen. Bautista does something more purely comedic as Vic, an LAPD Detective in search of the drug dealer (Iko Uwais) who killed his partner (Guardian's Karen Gillan) six months earlier. Having just gotten corrective eye surgery earlier the same day he gets a tip as to the location of said drug dealer, Vic is forced to hire an Uber driven by Stu (Nanjiani) to take him around the city in search of clues, as well as make it to his daughter's (Natalie Morales) art show to prove he's not a terrible father (he still is). There's a potential love story opening itself up to Stu on the same day, with his long-time best friend, Becca (Betty Gilpin), and Vic's boss (Mira Sorvino) is also involved, since technically the case has been passed on the feds and Vic shouldn't be working it at all. As involved as the plot might sound, Stuber really comes down to this odd couple in an electric car driving around the worst neighborhoods in L.A., each learning things from each other about being tough and tapping into ones sensitive side. And there's a lot of killing and crashing and exploding.

/Film spoke with Nanjiani and Bautista back in late April, not long after the's film's work-in-progress debut at the SXSW Film Festival. More the point of this particular interview, the interviewer had just seen a press screening of Avengers: Endgame (which features Bautista) the day before. But we also discussed the winning formula of buddy action-comedies, Nanjiani transforming into an action star, and Bautista's attempts to broaden his range as an actor outside of the MCU. Stuber opens nationwide on Friday, July 12.

Who is the genius mixologist that thought of bringing the two of you together for this?

Kumail: Was it the director, Michael Dowse? It certainly might have been, but I don't know.

Dave: I never asked, but we he had this idea to have me play Vic, and I got the call and the script and heard Kumail was attached; that was all I needed to know.

Kumail: Yeah, I read the script when there was nobody attached, and I met the director and he said he wanted Dave, and I was like "Yeah, if you can get him."

Well Michael made Goon, so that's all I'd need to know before saying yes.

Dave: I got the nod from James Gunn, who said he loved Dowse. I don't know if they'd ever met, but he loved Goon so much. But he's buddies with Kumail and had nothing but great things to say about him.

Kumail: Is that right? I didn't know that.

I should mention that I've seen Endgame already and this isn't running until July, so anything you might say about it won't be a spoiler.

Kumail: He doesn't even know what happens in it. I can't wait it see it. What sucks is that when I get home, my wife is out of town, and she's like "We have to see it together."

Dave: Oh, that's the worst [laughs].

Kumail: "Or maybe I can see it separately and you can see it separately."

Dave: I went to see the last Jurassic World movie twice because I promised  [someone] I wouldn't go see it without her, and she was on the road and I wanted to see it.

Kumail: I liked Jurassic World 2; it was cool. And the way it sets up the next one with the raptors in the suburbs...

As we were coming into the [Avengers] screening, there were people going into the two-and-a-half-day Marvel marathon, and we were thinking that we should make those people pay us not to ruin the final movie. 

Kumail: Does Captain America die? Don't respond! I don't want to know. I don't know if that's true.

Tell me about meeting each other for the first time. What was that like? Was it all a done deal at that point?

Dave: Oh god no, not the first time we met.

Kumail: We were doing a chemistry read together.

Dave: They definitely had in mind for us to play these parts, but they wanted to be sure we meshed together.

Kumail: I remember being very tired and very nervous. I had just gotten back into town, and you had just flown in.

Dave: We squeezed this in. You were still doing a lot of press [for The Big Sick] and traveling around the world. I think I had come out for some Disney thing.

Kumail: It was like Saturday at 8am.

Dave: But I was excited and nervous as well, but more excited about meeting Kumail, but it was great.

Kumail: I remember being very nervous for it. And it's weird because you're doing the scenes for the first time, and you're doing a lot of different scenes. So we're doing scenes where we're not getting along, but we also did the goodbye in the rain scene, which was so weird because I'd just met Dave and we're doing this sweet, emotional goodbye at 8am on a Saturday on the day we met, hoping each of us and the other person gets the job.

Dave, you've obviously done things in which you are funny, but you've never done a straight-up comedy. And Kumail, I don't think you've ever done a balls-out action movie.

Kumail: Just in my life.

[Everybody laughs]

Dave: He lived it.

Kumail: I've mopped the floors with some scumbags.

Was that important, to change things up and have people see you differently?

Dave: For me it was, for sure. It was more of a personal challenge. This really stick in my head—I went in to read for this casting director and she was talking about Lee Pace, and I wasn't familiar with him at the time, but she was like "Oh, he's great. He can do anything, across the board." And I thought, "God, I want someone to talk about me like that."

Kumail: Well, they do now.

Dave: Since then, I want people to think that I can do anything. I want people to want to work with me and get excited about working with me and trust that I can deliver for them. Anything that can break me out of the mold that I should be in—the gorilla mode—I'm good with and want to give a shot.

You have another film coming out later this summer, My Spy, that's more family friendly.

Dave: That's another thing, I just wanted to broader my horizons and hit every genre.

And did you want to so something more action-oriented, more physical?

Kumail: Yeah, I wanted to do an action-comedy. After The Big Sick, I was like "What's next?" We did something so personal that's our thing. Where do you go from there? And I was thinking to do something completely different that no one would compare to The Big Sick. I wanted to do a big-studio action-comedy—that would be really fun to do.

Stuber Trailer

It is funny that within this big action film, they have still put you in the role of this emotionally driven guy in a complicated relationship.

Kumail: Right! I think that the characters are different, in that the guy in The Big Sick is actually closed off in every way—closed of to his emotions. His head and his heart are completely disconnected, and the journey of his character is to put those together. But for Stu, it's a little different. He's in touch with his emotions, but he's not comfortable expressing them or standing up for himself. He's not comfortable being angry. He lives for other people and not for himself. Whereas, in The Big Sick, it's the opposite—he's selfish and doesn't do stuff for other people.

How much of what we're seeing here is actually you?

Kumail: Anytime someone is getting hurt, that's Richard [his stunt double]. Anytime someone is whining, that's me.

[Everybody laughs]

Dave: [Almost annoyed] That's not true.

Kumail: Alright, I did some. I wanted to really, really learn—I really did. I was so excited about learning to do this new thing that I'd never done before, because I wanted to be good at it. A couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to do an action movie. I wanted to be able to do a straight-up action movie, not even an action-comedy—I wanted to be an action hero. So I figured that an action-comedy is the way into that, so I learned a lot there. And I'm going to the gym a lot and hoping to do an actual action movie.

Dave: And you will do it. It doesn't bother me that you don't give yourself enough credit, but it does kind of bother me [laughs]. I've worked with actors who just can't and they don't have the pride or desire to step in there and do some action. Action and fighting is one thing; stunts are another. I'm proud to say, I have a great, qualified stuntman, and if it's something that could result in serious injury, I'm more than happy to let my qualified stuntman do it because I'm not a stuntman. I don't want to be set on fire or jump off a building. But I've seen actors who don't want to throw a punch, and some aren't qualified. I've worked with actors who, when you hit them, they spin in the opposite way of the punch. I've worked with those people, and you should give yourself more credit.

Kumail: Thank you, thank you. I did another movie after this where I actually get into fights. I'm not an action star in it, by any means, but it was good to apply a lot of the lessons I learned to that. I want to be good at it.

And to be clear, Stuber is not some half-assed action movie. There is blood and brutality. There's a can of something that goes right into someone's face at one point.

Kumail: [laughing] I'll tell you, I was never sold on that beat and started having doubts and was like "What's going to happen here?" And Michael was like "This can is going to go through this guys head," and I was like "I'm not sure that's going to work, Mike." It's so gruesome. And when it happens, it's so funny. It's this grotesque moment that totally works.

Dave: There are a couple of "Holy shit" moments in there.

There definitely are. But let's face it, in some action-comedies, the action is superfluous because they're trying to get to the jokes, but here it's a solid blend of the two.

Dave: I remember saying to Kumail earlier, I didn't know how good the action was going to be. I knew it was going to be funny, but I didn't know until I saw it for the first time on screen how good the action was. It's solid. We hold up to any action film.

Kumail: It looks great. And it really is firstly an action movie. The comedy is in it, but it's structured and shot like an action movie.

Dave: With a lot of heart too.

With Michael or you guys, were there any touchstone films that you looked to in terms of tone?

Kumail: Yeah. For you it was Lethal Weapon.

Dave: Yes, but Michael also wanted me to go back to 48 Hours, because there was a certain feeling and vibe about Nick Nolte's performance that was really unlikable [laughs]—he's really surly and sully and insulting, and he wanted me to draw from that, not to that extreme because it's a different time. But he wanted me to pick up that tone, and I used Nick Nolte's character as a reference and being this big bull, grouchy and surly veteran cop, on the force way too long, obsessed with it. That's all he knows, that's all he wants to know, and he doesn't really see outside that.

In a weird way, you need to get a heart, and Kumail needs to get courage; there's a dog and something like a Wicked Witch. Can we fill out this Wizard of Oz connection? I'm sure that was at the forefront of your mind.

[Everybody laughs]

Kumail: I hadn't made that connection, but you aren't wrong. He needs to get in touch with his heart, I need to courage. Toto is in it.

Because of the nature and newness of rideshare, this isn't a film that could have been made 10 years ago. Is it different making a film that is so of the moment?

Dave: I hadn't thought about that until this moment. But I really just want people to be entertained and laugh a lot.

Kumail: Whatever you can use from the zeitgeist to create the situation, go crazy. You want to have these two guys handcuffed together, how do you do that? Well, rideshare is something that everybody uses and have become very reliant upon. Why not use that? I think some people might watch this movie and think it's an ad for Uber. "Are you getting sponsored by Uber?" No, not at all. But the truth is, we probably said Uber more times today than we do in the movie. "I'm going to a party. Let's Uber there." That's just how people talk now. No one says "Let's go on the local search engine and look something up." "Oh, you mean Google something?"

Of your great supporting players, I was especially happy to see Mira Sorvino back on the boards. What do you learn from working with someone with that much experience as an actor?

Kumail: You had more scenes with her.

Dave: We were also very happy to have her there. It's still very surreal for me, and I felt that while we were there. I worked myself up a little bit on the night I first worked with her. "I have to be on tonight; I'm working with Mira Sorvino, Academy Award winner, Harvard graduate. Focus." But I did work myself up a bit, probably too much. But I eased into it, because she's such a sweetheart. Watching her do her thing is a privilege, but at the end of the day, she's really just a good human being, and she makes you feel at ease and comfortable, so you don't have to overanalyze things. You can't get wrapped up in her achievements or the fact that she's a beautiful woman, and there's nothing she can't do as an actor.

Kumail: We were lucky to have her. I remember there was one night, there's a scene in the junkyard in the rain that was tough to shoot, and Michael wanted a lot of rainmakers. And we're doing this emotional scene, and it's literally the most wet I've ever been in my life. It's like swimming pools are dropping on our heads, and I was like "Mike, it never rains this hard on earth! Where are we?" And we shot that scene until about 3am, and I was done, but he had to do this scene with Mira, and her call time was like 8am and we were running late, I remember. And I was drying off, and she was showing up to work, and I was like "How are you?" And she had such a great attitude, and she was like "If I have to do it, I'll do it." And in my head, I'm thinking that I would be livid if I had to sit in my trailer for seven hours and then had to stand in the cold rain for a very important scene for three hours in the middle of the night.

That could have been a very generically played character—and I don't want to say too much about her role—but she brings something to it that you never expect, and it's a great addition to the film. It was great to see you both. Best of luck.

Dave: Thank you very much.

Kumail: Alright, thank you. Does Captain America die? Don't say anything. There's no way Captain America does, right?