It’s not unusual for avid audience members to have trouble separating the actor from the character he’s playing. They’ll gaze at John Krasinski and pray that he’s just as witty and charming as Jim Halpert or build elaborate fantasies about befriending Tina Fey with the hope that she’s half as hilarious as her onscreen counterpart. Ultimately, these hopes are almost always dashed. Actors get famous because they’re capable of becoming something they’re not, and so the chance that their personalities in the real world would match their onscreen personas are fairly dismal. Fortunately, Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari may be the world’s best exceptions to that rule: they’re every fan’s fantasy — they’re living, breathing manifestations of every character they’ve ever played.
The two make an improbable pair: Ansari has that same kind of cartoonish surrealism even in person, all exaggerated expressions and wild gesticulation. His twitchy counterpart sat still and gnawed absentmindedly on a napkin in the moments he wasn’t speaking. They were visibly comfortable surrounded by strangers and assaulted by questions, happily bantering back and forth with their assailants. At one point, I confessed to having never seen “Point Break,” which prompted Ansari to stare me dead in the eyes.
“You know, do me a favor: get out,” he deadpanned.
It was the first time that I have ever been shot down by a celebrity, but it was certainly not the last time that Ansari would playfully mock one of his questioners.
The two were united by director Ruben Fleischer for the movie “30 Minutes or Less,” in which they play a couple of small-town nobodies forced to rob a bank by a pair of similarly pathetic villains. Jesse, who worked with Fleischer before on “Zombieland,” marveled at the director’s ability “to make these kinds of very funny, broad, visually arresting movies but never compromise on the authenticity of the characters…this movie is branded in a bit more realistic situation [than “Zombieland] but is still broad and extreme, and he never once compromised the kind of reality of the characters.” Oh, and for anyone wondering: yes, Jesse Eisenberg really does talk that quickly in real life.
The pacing of the movie’s dialogue felt extremely natural, so the fact that a good deal of it was invented on the spot was not terribly surprising.
“It’s hard to say a percentage or anything,” Ansari explained, “but on set there were a lot of little moments we found and a lot of great lines we came up with that did end up in the movies…You know, when you’re actually there wearing the costumes, you’re in the set, you’re doing the scenes, certain things come to your head that you just can’t come up with when you read it in the room.”
One of these “certain things” was the entirety of the banter from the bank robbery scene (one of the most hilarious scenes in the movie), which leads to the conclusion that the entire film probably would have gone over swimmingly if the director had just placed Jesse and Ansari in front of a camera without a script for an hour and sent it straight to production.
Ansari also gave a glimpse into an actor’s psyche, despite his refusal to give straight answers. Elaborating on his funnier improvised decisions, he explained that much of his behavior was influenced by decisions that he’d made about his character without any direction from the script or from his directors.
“I made a choice somewhat early on that [his character Chet] was hungry the whole day.” This wasn’t particularly significant to the movie, of course, but it did partially explain Chet’s short fuse.
Jesse was asked what he would do in his character’s situation if he were not “a super-rich celebrity.” But, like Ansari, he shot back a characteristically cheeky answer.
“Wait, sorry, I’m just — I’m having trouble just figuring out what it’s like to not be a super-rich celebrity,” he said. So, what, he’d just email his assistant? Jesse laughed: “Oh, I don’t have to email her, she knows.”