Before he earned an Oscar nomination for playing insecure genius Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s Facebook drama The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg helped Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone survive an undead apocalypse in Ruben Fleischer’s hit comedy Zombieland. Now Eisenberg and Fleischer have reteamed for the high-octane action comedy 30 Minutes or Less, and they’ve invited Parks and Rec funnyman Aziz Ansari along for the ride. Movies.com caught up with the two in New York City, where we talked about Lethal Weapon jokes, Die Hard references and the Stallone-Russell classic, Tango & Cash.
Movies.com: I couldn’t believe how fast this movie moves.
Aziz Ansari: I know, right? Ruben [Fleischer] is so good with his pacing. Even when I saw Zombieland, I was thinking, “I’m really not getting bored at any moment.” Especially when it comes to comedy, shorter is always better.
Movies.com: But is it tough trying to get a rhythm or timing to your comedy when you also have to be concerned with the physical properties of an elaborate, choreographed action sequence? I always assumed that to be a difficult juggle.
Jesse Eisenberg: Yeah, but so much of the action in this movie is intrinsically linked to the comedy. The comedy actually comes from these characters who are, inherently, two lazy guys. There’s a pizza delivery guy and an elementary school teacher being thrust into an action movie accidentally because one of them has a bomb strapped to his body. The comedy comes from the juxtaposition of these characters not being able to be action stars like the heroes from Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and other movies that they watch.
Movies.com: Some of the Lethal Weapon references are obvious. Others were so subtle that I wasn’t sure if I was just reading into things because I loved those movies growing up, as well.
Ansari: Like what?
Movies.com: Well, there’s the scene with Jesse sitting on the toilet with the bomb strapped to his chest while you read instruction manuals on the Internet. That immediately made me think of Danny Glover sitting on the toilet in Lethal Weapon 2. Am I over-reading that?
Eisenberg: No, not all.
Aziz: I just caught that. [Laughs]
Eisenberg: There were actually a lot more that didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie. The writers [Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan] love Lethal Weapon, and there are a lot of references that you probably wouldn’t catch unless you absorbed those films the way they have. I didn’t even think of the toilet scene, but now that you mention it, I know that they put it in there for that reason.
Movies.com: Where would your characters, Chet and Nick, fall if we were ranking action movie duos. Are they ahead of Riggs and Murtaugh? Behind Tango and Cash?
Aziz: Tango and Cash! [Laughs] I would definitely be Ray Tango. Which one is Tango? Was it Stallone? That was Stallone and Kurt Russell. That’s when they slide down the power line and escape from a prison. [Turns to Eisenberg] You don’t know Tango and Cash?
Eisenberg: Not too well, no.
Aziz: You were supposed to watch Tango & Cash before we filmed this film, Jesse.
Eisenberg: I rented Turner and Hooch instead.
Aziz: [Laughs] That’s a buddy-dog movie! I’m a dog? That’s what it’s like?
Eisenberg: No, no. I’d be Hooch.
Aziz: You told me you watched Tango & Cash. Who was the love interest in Tango & Cash?
Movies.com: Teri Hatcher.
Aziz: Teri Hatcher! Desperate Housewives. Let’s just do a junket for Tango & Cash. Ask me what it was like working with Teri Hatcher.
Movies.com: What was it like working with Teri Hatcher?
Aziz: Not as much fun as it was working with Kurt Russell. [Laughs] Ask me what it was like filming the scene where we slid down the wire.
Movies.com: What was it like filming that scene where you two slid down that wire?
Aziz: That was so fun because [Laughs] … that was like the first day of filming and here we go, I’m working with Stallone and they are telling us, “OK, there’s going to be this big set piece where we slide down a power line and sneak out of prison.” They had stunt men, but the stunt men were finishing up work on Turner and Hooch. They couldn’t make it down to do the Tango & Cash stunt. Next thing you know, we got rags on our hands and we’re sliding down the power lines. It was totally improvised. [Laughs]
Ruben Fleischer’s 30 Minutes or Less opens in theaters on Friday, Aug. 12. Andrey Konchalovskiy’s Tango & Cash is available as we speak on DVD and Blu-ray. Both are well worth your time.