There are few things cooler than seeing someone use a flame thrower for the first time. Particularly when that person is Nick Swardson and you're in a junk yard in the middle of Grand Rapids, Michigan at 1am.
Oh, is this not a commonly shared experience? Allow me to explain: back in September, Columbia Pictures flew me out to visit the set of 30 Minutes or Less, the new Ruben Fleischer helmed action comedy about a pizza delivery guy forced by incompetent criminals to rob a bank, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, and Nick Swardson. Something that no film reporter will tell you is that visiting sets is a really awkward experience. It's like reading someone's computer screen over his or her shoulder; it's interesting, but the whole time you're acutely aware that you're being a nuisance. And there is no one like a hulking, bearded film crew member in cut-off jeans, a torn t-shirt emblazoned with a skull in chains, eating a heaping plate of craft service food to make you feel like you probably don't belong in a junk yard in Grand Rapids, Michigan at 1am.
And then you see Jesse Eisenberg shuffling across the lot and think, no, THAT is a guy who doesn't belong in a junk yard in Grand Rapids, Michigan at 1am.
This is before the release of "The Social Network," when he was still most well-known for his other Reuben Fleischer collaboration, "Zombieland," and everyonenot just your momwas referring to "The Social Network" as "That Facebook Movie." If you were wondering if Eisenberg's notorious awkwardness is an acting affectation, it's not. When the small cluster of press and I circle around him during a brief break from shooting, he releases a palpable cloud of discomfort. The first question he's asked is about what's different during his second time working with Ruben Fleischer. As he formulates his answer, he shifts his weight from foot to foot, alternately nibbles on his fingernails and the corner of his tightly rolled script. Then, in a voice that's got a pleasant, Muppet-like phlegminess to it, he answers, "Yeah, I mean the tone, I think, of the movie is a little different, because this movie is set in more of a real world context, whereas the other movie was a little, at least for my character, was a little more heightened comedy, whereas this is, at least with my character, pretty straightforward and in a real world context."
This "real world context" is epitomized by the neat heaps of manicured "junk" in the junkyard set. (It seems that the image of a real, gritty junkyard that we all have in our minds doesn't actually exist. Because, if it's not in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it's nowhere.) The real junkthe shiny metals and broken appliances that are actually being discarded by peoplehas been moved off to the side, while the main lot has had a little village of exaggeratedly drab mountains of cogs and dismantled machinery built around a little workers' hut bearing the motto, "Be proud of your work. Remember our customer is the final inspector."
The fact that I am on set to watch a crowd of dedicated people spend 4 hours filming a 1 minute scene is a testament to the fact that this motto is not just for junkyard employees.
The scene in question appears to be the climactic confrontation between Eisenberg's character and the bad guys, played by Nick Swardson and Danny McBride. Before the press is positioned to watch the filming, we are presented with the pages of the script being filmed. To be perfectly honest, the slice of script I saw didn't exactly blow me away. But Nick Swardson and Danny McBride did. With every take, they added new, increasingly funny jokes, and, though they occasionally broke into giggles, they never lost the energy of the first take. This was a particular feat for Nick Swardson, because he had to wear and hold a heavy flamethrower throughout the entire scene.
Aha! I've finally weaved my way back to the flamethrower!
I won't give away any of the plot, but suffice it to say that Swardson's character finally uses that flamethrower he's been lugging around, and, in order for that to happen, Swardson must learn how to use it. As he prepares to go over to his flamethrowing lesson, he says, "This will probably be my last interview before I die. So you can tell my mom I love her."
From a safe distance, a little group, including Ruben Fleischer himself, gathers to watch the lesson. With unexpected trepidation, Swardson is suited up and he listens carefully while a comically cavalier stuntman explains what to do. At last, Swardson unleashes a long stream of fire. Then another. And another. When he finishes and the flamethrower is taken away, Swardson slowly turns to his audience and raises his hands in triumph, clearly proud of his work.
In theaters August 12th