Filmmaker Talks Killing Off Characters & The Surprising Survivors Of This Action Comedy & More
Exclusive: Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), two lazy, but conniving white-trash layabouts, want to open up a tanning salon, but they're broke and Travis' dad (Fred Ward) is a millionaire who refuses to give his indolent son any money. A crazy and circuitous scheme is hatched: kill dad. Where will they get the money to hire an assassin? It's elementary: just force some nobody pizza boy (Jesse Eisenberg) to rob a bank by knocking him out and strapping a bomb to his chest.
Very loosely based on a true-life incident, this is the seemingly convoluted, but actually diverting premise of "30 Minutes Or Less," director Ruben Fliescher's follow-up to the well-received fall hit of 2009, "Zombieland." Also starring Aziz Ansari as Eisenberg's best friend and Michael Peña as a Detroit gangsta, "30 Minutes Or Less," is a well-scripted comedy with elements of heist, action and race-against-time genre conventions. It's also the rare film that gives equal bromantic time to both the misguided villains of the film and the protagonists, who try to rob a bank and deliver $100,000 before their bomb goes off. Bonds of loyalty and trust are tested, broken, mended and redeemed on both sides of the coin, which makes for an amusing comedy that contains a slightly serious undercurrent theme about the value of friendships -- at least alongside all the comedic mayhem.
We recently sat down with director Ruben Fleischer to discuss "30 Minutes Or Less," his reluctance to hurt the characters he came to love, all the alternate/extended endings he shot and his initially darker take on the story, which changed during the process of filmmaking. "I’m sure the Coen brothers movies from script to screen are pretty much identical, but my job once I get a script is to use it as a starting point and then to interpret it to what I think will make the best version of the movie," he said. The filmmaker also discussed tentative plans for "Zombieland 2" and his upcoming detour into something much more dramatic, the "L.A. Confidential"-like "Gangster Squad," starring Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin. Here's a few things we learned from our chat with Fleischer and be forewarned, there are spoilers in this piece, so reader beware.
1. Fleischer says that "30 Minutes Or Less" was conceived as something darker that wound up being "a lot funnier than I think I intended it to be"
The Coen brothers were originally a bit of a touchstone for the director going in when he first read the script. "It has a dark premise, which I thought was cool," the director said. "I thought that it might end up being more dramatic and 'Fargo' really was a big reference to me, but I think when you cast people who are so funny [like Ansari, McBride and Swardson] it’s just going to be funny, period." The filmmaker was aware the picture would change dramatically when leads were cast, but aspired for it to still retain the serious dangers and situations these characters were in. "I hope it did still succeed to have you care and invest in the main characters' story line and believe that [Jesse Eisenberg's character] really is afraid and that there are stakes to his story. And then all the crazy hilarity that surrounds him is enjoyable, but I hope that at the end of the day the audience connects with that character and goes on the journey with them."
2. The film's third act gets dark, explodes with action and even maims or kills a few people. Fleischer says he wasn't always happy with that decision, but ultimately it was one he had to make.
"Yeah, I don't always wish it was [like that]," he said of the climactic ending packed with flamethrowers, bullets and bombs going off, "but it kind of can’t not be [like that], you know?" Spoiler alert, he didn't have much fun killing comedic scene-stealer Micheal Peña in the film. One can see why; the actor is completely hilarious in the picture and delivers the LOLs every second he's on screen. "It bummed me out, I loved Chango [Peña's character]," he said. "I really loved that dude and Michael’s so funny in the movie. We even talked about doing a pick up where you see him running away just so you know that he’s alive still. We actually shot him collapsing and dying and we purposely didn’t include that, but yeah, it’s messed up. It’s definitely not cool to light a person on fire."
3. In fact, some characters who you assume are dead are not, and some other endings are left ambiguous. All of the outcomes should appear on the DVD. There's also a post-credits sequence you should stick around for.
"In the present version of the film [Danny McBride's character's outcome] is completely ambiguous," he said. "You can’t have a bomb and not have it go off. And so I like that it’s a little bit unexpected when it comes." But stick around into the credits and you'll find out more. Additionally, one of the characters the audience pretty much assumes is stone cold dead, actually survives. This is another spoiler cue, faithful reader. "If you sit through the credits there’s a Coda commercial from Major Tan [Fred Ward's character], his tanning salon and it’s pretty funny," Fleischer said. "[Danny McBride] says 'come on down to Major Tan where we’re proud to be a family business,' and he pats his Dad on the shoulder. It looks like a cheap homemade commercial and it’s [got] all the double entendres like, we have the facial tan, all these stupid tan things and at the end of it you see Danny [McBride], Nick [Swardson], the stripper Juicy [Bianca Kajlich] and the Major all together."
4. The film ends abruptly, and fittingly on a great comedic note, but the filmmaker shot a lot more that we won't see on screen.
Fleischer said he shot several scenes that concluded each of their characters stories (more spoilers ahead). "We had a scene where Danny comes home, we show him crawling out of the van, he finds his Dad bloody with the phone in his hand having just called the ambulance and he cradles his father and it’s this heart wrenching scene that the audience was just bored [for]," he laughed candidly. The filmmaker said testing is important to his process and when the audience tunes out, it's time to change things -- especially in a comedy. "Because it was like, the bomb’s done, they got the money, the movie’s over," he explained. "Then we had a scene with Jessie and Aziz sitting pool side relaxing as if they’re in Mexico or something like that and the audience didn’t care about that either. So it ends very abruptly, you don’t know what happens to the characters, but it seems like no one really needs to know, they just know that they got away."
5. Fleischer doesn't think the movie is much of an action comedy, "there's not that much action," he said, but still gave us his list of favorite action films.
"I definitely grew up watching all those classic 80’s comedies," he said. "My favorite is 'Blues Brothers.' It’s my favorite movie and has so much great action. There’s a flame thrower in that movie, there’s a car chase in that movie, that movie’s so great. But you know 'Beverly Hills Cop,' 'Lethal Weapon,' 'Point Break,' all those movies are great movies too."
6. Fleischer's decision to turn left and direct a period drama is a "super conscious" choice
"As much as I love the two movies I’ve made, and I would love to make more movies in that style, I don’t want to be limited to that, so I feel like this is a great opportunity to kind of spread my wings a little," he said about taking on the L.A.-based period gangster film, "Gangster Squad," which will be his next project. "It’s also just an opportunity to take a shot at a genre that I think is probably my favorite film genre, so it’s a huge opportunity."
7. Fleischer is keenly aware of the high bar already set by period based gangster films like "L.A. Confidential" and "The Untouchables"
Though he'll have a great cast to work with -- Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, Holt McCallany, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick, Frank Grillo and Mirielle Enos -- the biggest challenge Fleischer will face with "Gangster Squad," which takes place against the backdrop of 1940s Los Angeles, are the high standards already set by previous entries in the genre.
"The two movies that it’s closest to both in structure and sort of visually are 'L.A Confidential' and 'The Untouchables.' I’m hyper aware of both movies," Fleischer revealed. "In 'Zombieland' I was hyper aware of 'Shaun of the Dead' and every zombie movie, so I think you have to be informed and distinguish your work…I think that’s just inherent [to making a movie]. People made movies before I have and they’re awesome. So the bar’s high and I want to be there with those guys and it’s not going to be by being derivative. It’s going to be by making this movie special and doing the best movie, the best job that I possibly can and I hope…all I can hope is that people will like it."
8. "Zombieland 2" is possibly coming. But keep your pants on, the director and cast are sticking to the idea that they're only moving forward if the script is great.
"The only reason to do it is if it’s better than the first," Fleischer said echoing a sentiment the entire cast has shared since the idea first landed on the table. He also stressed it wouldn't be a payday picture for any of the cast and none of the actors -- Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson or Emma Stone -- want to be involved in a subpar sequel. "I don’t think anyone wants to do it just to do it and certainly no one’s going to do it just for the money, and it’s not like any of us could get rich off of it," he said. "So I think the only reason to do it, honestly, is if it’s going to be better than the first. So the bar’s super high…without sounding arrogant, the bar’s really high and so we’ve just been holding it to that." The director also told us a script is actually done, but as to why it's not moving forward or green lit, well, read on.
"30 Minutes or Less" opens nationwide on Friday, August 12. -- Interview conducted by RP