We had less than 10 minutes recently to ask Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari about 30 Minutes or Less. Their new film, which opens Aug. 12, is an absurd comedy in which a pizza delivery dude (Eisenberg) and an elementary school teacher (Ansari) must raise six figures by sundown or risk no less than bodily explosion.
Sitting down at a tartan’d table after they finished an hour “shift” slinging slices at San Francisco’s Goat Hill Pizza, we began our speed date with the current GQ India cover star and the man more universally recognized as the Facebook founder than the actual Facebook founder.
A clutch of press people stared and chewed on crust in the background.
Eisenberg and Ansari ordered Diet Cokes. We smoothed our curls and worried about our prettiness.
So how was the pizza duty?
Aziz Ansari: That was fun!
Jesse Eisenberg: He was a whiz at the cash register!
Ansari: I got really good at the cash register. It’s not a big deal.
When the line outside got cut off, people were trying to make deals with the devil to get in here. Someone said, “I don’t want to talk to them, I just want to run past and scream at ‘em and take their picture. Is that okay?”
Eisenberg: No, that’s not okay.
Ansari: That sounds scary.
You seem like such a natural duo onscreen.
Eisenberg: Can’t believe it took America this long to put us together.
Because you come from related but different fields, did you share or pick up tips on the acting craft as you went along?
Ansari: I think I picked up things that I can’t verbalize. I’ve had no formal acting training, and the work I’ve done in film and TV has just been watching other people and trying to learn everything I can. Jesse’s got a tremendous body of work that I admire, so it was cool to work with him.
Eisenberg: I’ve never had that conversation with somebody, but I got so much on a daily basis working with him, just seeing how he thinks of a joke and see how he weaves it into a thing and but makes it realistic. It’s something that’s impossible to articulate but something you pick up working with each other.
Like a rhythm?
Ansari: The thing I learned from Jesse: We would have really early mornings and he’d wear his glasses and put his contacts in later in the day instead of starting off with his contacts. It’s a good tip. If you put your contacts in super early in the morning, it hurts your eyes.
Eisenberg: You know who taught me that? Robert DeNiro. You’ll never see him in his contacts in the morning.
The film is set in Grand Rapids, Michigan — did you film there?
Ansari: We did, we filmed the whole movie in Grand Rapids.
How was it, working in the town?
Ansari: It was fun, we spent so much time working that there wasn’t a lot of time to hang out. We’d finish the day and go to bed pretty beat.
So you missed out on the scintillating nightlife of Grand Rapids?
Ansari: Grand Rapids nightlife: left unexplored.
How much of what we see in 30 Minutes or Less is improvised?
Ansari: The movie had a really great script and the director was really good about encouraging us to improvise. Any ideas we had, we would try. There are definitely a lot of moments in the movie that came from different things that happened on set.
Did you go as far as to study any comedic duos in preparing for the picture?
Eisenberg: There were some references in some of the drafts of the script to Lethal Weapon, but it didn’t really make it [into the movie].
Ansari: Our characters were guys who watched those movies.
Eisenberg: So when they’re put into a very extreme circumstance of having to rob a bank themselves, they think they’re cooler than they are. They feel slicker than they are so when they’re forced to rob a bank, they run in, guns blazing. They’re really excited and cool and then quickly realize that it’s much more difficult. The interpersonal awkwardness that occurs from being aggressive to somebody immediately feels strange to them.
A great quality of the movie is that it doesn’t tie everything up in a bow, and something is left to the imagination.
Eisenberg: Do you prefer that?
Ansari: I like that about the movie, too . . . We shot so many different endings to the movie and the one we went with was our favorite. We shot five or six different endings.
Do you think they’ve left any room for a sequel?
Ansari: Who knows?
Eisenberg: I think if it’s popular, then of course they’ll find a way that will be great and credible. In the same way that The Hangover . . .
Ansari: Guy got lost again! What are you gonna do?
Eisenberg: But it’s still a credible thing and it still makes sense. But the movie is really finite and works on its own terms and doesn’t beg for one.