When you sit down to interview two comedians, you never really know how it’s going to turn out. The reason is sometimes comedians play it straight and give you honest answers. But other times you might ask a serious question, but you’ll get an answer that’s more like a stand up routine. Thankfully, while on the set of 30 Minutes or Less last year in Michigan, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson gave us a great mixture of the two, and after the jump you can either read or listen to what they had to say. They talked about doing improv, who they play in the film, how did their characters change after getting cast, and a lot more.
Before getting to the full interview, here’s the official synopsis and the very funny red band trailer.
In the action-comedy 30 Minutes or Less, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a small town pizza delivery guy whose mundane life collides with the big plans of two wanna-be criminal masterminds (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson). The volatile duo kidnaps Nick and forces him to rob a bank. With mere hours to pull off the impossible task, Nick enlists the help of his ex-best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari). As the clock ticks, the two must deal with the police, hired assassins, flamethrowers, and their own tumultuous relationship.
While the full conversation is below, here’s 5 things I learned:
- McBride says you shouldn’t have limits on improv. You should try and push it as far as you can in a scene, then it’s the director’s job to let you know when you’ve gone too far or when you’re way off point.
- Swardson says the key to improv is making sure that you maintain the character, and not delving into stand-up.
- McBride’s character is in the driver’s seat in the film; he’s the one calling the shots. It’s Swardson’s character’s job to make sure that no one gets hurt and that McBride doesn’t cross the line.
- Their characters didn’t change much after they were cast.
- Both actors were big fans of Zombieland, and Fleischer got in touch with McBride right after he read the script for 30 Minutes or Less to see if he’d be interested in taking on the role of Dwayne.
As usual, we’re offering two ways to get this interview: you can either listen to the interview (part 1 and part 2), or the full transcript is below. I strongly recommend the audio. 30 Minutes or Less opens August 12.
Danny McBride: It’s a lot of words.
And I noticed the Red Bull.
McBride: Yeah, but we’re digging deep, right?
That and meth?
McBride: Mhmm. You gotta be sure with meth though, right? You can come down hard on meth, right? It’s hard to keep up…
Nick Swardson: Yeah. These aren’t even real eyes. These are crystal meth balls, painted where my pupils are. [laughter]
But actually being serious for a second, you guys. It’s a five-page scene. You’re doing many different camera takes on the same dialogue. Could you talk a little bit about maintaining that energy? And you’re doing the lines off camera to help Jesse.
Swardson: For me, honestly, one of the first movies I did I was always pounding coffee, and I crashed so horribly. So I’ve kind of weaned myself off. You keep getting second and third winds. But for me, I’ve stopped doing energy drinks or any kind of stimulant. I just kind of go natural.
McBride: Au naturale. That’s good.
You two gentlemen are very intelligent and you’re comedic performers. You’re obviously being encouraged to risk and move away from the script as written. But do you find yourself at times going, “OK, we’ve moved too far away from the point of the scene. We have to snap back to the through line of it”?
McBride: That’s kind of what Ruben’s job is – it is just to kind of keep you on point. I think when you’re improving, you should never go into it trying to put restraints on what you should do or what you shouldn’t. I think you just keep pushing it, and then when it goes too far you just have someone like Ruben to say, “Hey, that’s out of the realm.”
I think it’s just about trying to improv, and keeping the character in mind. That usually will keep things in track. And not just try to do standup or something, but just try to riff on stuff that you’re supposed to be talking about in the scene anyway, and just see if there’s a way to make it come out more naturally.
Swardson: Yeah, the key is really making sure that you maintain the character in the improv. Do you know what I mean? Because with a lot of comics and stuff you see, they’ll just start riffing and get jokey. But then all of a sudden you’re like, “It doesn’t really make any sense to the character of the scene.” So the key is really just keeping in character. But Danny and I could go for a long time. So that’s why Ruben’s almost like the referee in that kind of fight where you’re just like, “OK, OK, OK. The round’s fucking over. OK, we got it. We got it. We got it.”
On a lighter note, how much of your characterization is accomplished by your facial hair?
Swardson: Thank you, because that was getting dark. So I thank you for making it a lighter tone.
Swardson: I mean, Danny always is fucking used to it. I’m not used to it. This is awful. For me, I fucking hate it. I hate having a mustache, but it taught me a lot. I don’t know.
McBride: Yeah, nothing. I just feel this is just how I look now. So I just roll with it.
Do you guys do any kind of consistent preparation from one role to the next to get ready for it? Or is it pretty much all in the script and you just sort of build it as you’re shooting it?
McBride: You took years of training, right? With monks?
Swardson: I lived with fucking Vietnam monks. [laughter]
McBride: A little bit like Brando.
Swardson: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t do anything too crazy. The thing about comedy is you don’t really have to… I’ve never done anything in my career that was just, “Holy fuck. I’ve got to dive in hard core.” There’s no Bill the Butcher moment, where it’s just like, “Alright, Swardson. Let’s go!” Reno 911 is probably the closest I’ve ever come to really getting out there, and that’s just an extension of myself basically.
With your characters, like we saw in the scene, you’re caught off guard that Danny’s character has a gun. And so as you so eloquently put it: you’re fucking the bitch and he’s holding the camera. Is there a bit of lack of dedication on your character’s part, and you’re kind of just pushing him to take things to the next level?
McBride: They’re two buddies who’ve been friends for a long, long time. And, yeah, I think Dwayne is ready to do this. It’s my father that we’re trying to knock off, so I obviously have more to gain in it.
Swardson: And the girl too.
McBride: And the girl, yeah. So I’m manipulating a few people here.
Swardson: Yeah, he is in the driver’s seat. I think in my eyes I’m just trying to get through this without anybody really getting hurt. And Dwayne kind of gets into the realm of “by any means fucking necessary.” You know what I mean? So I think I’m trying to really ground him and be like, “Dude, we’re still just trying to get the money and that’s it. We’re not trying to kill anybody.” So it’s just basically Dwayne going off on this, starting to get crazier and crazier, and me just still trying to ground it in reality but not stepping on his toes because I’m afraid of him slash kind of idolize him.
When you guys came to the project, did the script change at all when you got involved? Because someone was saying earlier that when they were reading it, they could imagine you as the character. Basically, how much changed when you guys got involved, or did it not at all?
McBride: The character of Dwayne was pretty much what it is now. When I read it, it seemed like something I dug and was funny. The character didn’t really change so much for Dwayne. I mean, I think they’ve had the regular rewrites that happen when they’re developing something. But the character – he was there on the page before I got involved.
Swardson: Mine was a little less, where I think they did some stuff to mine. But I think it was basically pretty much the same. They told us a lot that the reason they cast me and Danny was that we could bring another level to it in terms of improvising and just bringing out more and more lines and popping it out a little bit more. So they’ve really been malleable with the dialogue and being able to bring a little bit more out of it that wasn’t on the page.
Did you gentlemen have a chance to see Zombieland before you knew you’d be working with Fleischer, or did you see it once you knew that? I mean, was it a film that had been on your cultural radar?
Swardson: Yeah, totally.
McBride: Yeah, I saw Zombieland right when it came out.
Swardson: Yeah, I loved it. I’ve known Ruben for a while, but yeah, I saw it right away. I thought it was great.
McBride: I’m not real sure. I was in pretty early, but I don’t know who had been cast before that. But Ruben talked to me right when he got the script, and sent this to me and asked if I’d be interested in playing Dwayne. And, god, I don’t know how far along in the process he was.
Swardson: I think Danny and Aziz were attached before I went on. Then they were saying that Jesse was going to be in it. I don’t know if he was locked in yet. But I think all the elements were in place. I think me and Michael Pena signed on at the same time.
We actually don’t know too much about who Michael plays in the film. Does he have scenes with you?
Swardson: Yeah. Wait, no.
McBride: Does he or does he not? I can’t remember.[laughter]
McBride: He plays a hit man in the film.
Swardson: With HIV.
McBride: With HIV, yeah. [laughter]
Swardson: I was really hoping that was kind of part of it.
McBride: That would be so intense.
Swardson: No, I’m being…
McBride: It’s like he’s a long form assassin.
Swardson: No quotes, inappropriate.
Did you get to pick your Metallica shirt?
McBride: Yeah, I picked this. Do you like it?
I like it very much.
McBride: It’s pretty cool, huh?
Swardson: That shirt is…that’s one of their best albums too, I would have to say.
Swardson: Yes, I agree.
McBride: Yeah. Clean nose. [laughter]
We heard it through the grapevine that Ruben was a really big fan of yours while making Zombieland. Did you know that? Maybe that’s why he came to you so early in the process.
McBride: I didn’t get a chance to meet Ruben until, my gosh, I guess it wasn’t until after Zombieland. But he was a nice guy when I met him, and I loved Zombieland. I thought it was great. So I was stoked about the idea of being involved in something he was going to do next. But I didn’t know how far back the love affair had gone or if it was mutual at that time.
Swardson: It was a very strong love affair. [laughter]
Danny, you’re getting a lot of attention with Kenny Powers now. People are really going crazy with that character. Do you feel like you have a responsibility, I guess, to create more of a definition between Kenny Powers and your characters on film or in any other things you do?
McBride: Yeah, a comedian has their voice and the things that make them laugh. So there’s always the danger of just relying on those things too much or whatever. With Kenny Powers, it’s different because when you do a character in a film – you do it and it’s done. But with a TV show, it goes on and on. So you’re doing the same material over a long period of time. So, yeah, I think it’s important to toss it up. The film that I finished last year, Your Highness, which we just picture locked last week on. That’s a different role for me. I’m a pansy little British prince in it. So that will be a little different. But, yeah, I think anybody who’s acting…you’ve got to try to change things up every now and then and make sure you don’t get stuck in a rut.
How about you, Nick? Is it the same thing with you with Reno 911?
Swardson: Yeah, this was definitely a break for me from doing a lot of the crazier characters. A lot of the stuff I do is always a crazy kind of character. I’ve known Ruben for a long time, so when he brought the role up to me, he was just like, “I’m psyched for you to just have something a little bit more grounded and not as wacky and crazy.” So yeah, I was really, really psyched to do it.
Besides ripping Jesse’s tape off and shooting a gun, do you guys get to actually mess anything up in this movie, and cause some major destruction? And do you have fun doing that, if so?
Swardson: Yeah, we haven’t done it yet, though.
McBride: Yeah, all the destruction is next week. You guys missed out.
Swardson: The next two weeks.
McBride: It’s always fun to do that kind of stuff. That’s the stuff always whenever I’m in a film and there’s something crazy, like shit’s blowing up or there are cars speeding by, you never get tired of that stuff, I don’t think. I’m always just amazed and wide-eyed that I’m involved in such situations. That stuff is definitely more fun than doing a five-page scene over and over and over.
Swardson: Are you going to make sure you’re there when they blow up the bear?
McBride: Yeah, we’ll be there.
All right, gentlemen. Thank you very kindly.
Swardson: Have a great day, man.
I wanted to know real quick. Saturday night, Grand Rapids, what do you do?
Swardson: Dr. Grin’s, right? That’s the place. [laughter] Dr. Grin’s.
Have you decided if you’re going to do a show there?
Swardson: I think I might jump on this weekend.
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