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Cyrus Saatsaz

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Sitting Down and Having Pizza With Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari

Posted: 08/24/11 07:51 PM ET

At first glance, you wouldn't think actors Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari would have much, if anything, to do with surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, or any other sport involving a board. Truth is, they don't.

Nonetheless, when the opportunity came to interview the Oscar-nominated actor and hilarious comedian, I couldn't resist. I'm a huge fan of both artists. In the interview, I told Jesse Eisenberg how impressed I was with Adventureland, mentioning to Jesse that this was my favorite movie of his. I told Aziz Ansari that while his part in the film was small, Observe and Report is one of the most underrated comedies ever, and his scenes were some of the funniest in the film.

And truth is, in a small way there is a connection between the two actors and skateboarding. Ruben Fleischer, the director of their new film 30 Minutes or Less, which is now showing at a theater near you, made a short film years ago about the Gumball 3000 race. A race and film which introduced Jackass director Jeff Tremaine to skateboarder Rob Dyrdek, resulting in the hit reality TV show Rob & Big and catapulting Dyrdek to superstardom.

So while neither Jesse Eisenberg nor Aziz Ansari surf, snowboard or skate, they are extremely talented at what they do. Plus, prior to interviewing the two actors I went to a screening for their film 30 Minutes or Less, and must say the film was hilarious. It helped a lot that Danny McBride starred alongside the talented duo.

I met the pair at a pizza parlor in San Francisco called Goat Hill Pizza. Apropos, since the title of the film, 30 Minutes or Less, is based off Jesse Eisenberg's character, a pizza delivery boy working at a pizza parlor that guarantees pizza delivery in, you guessed it, 30 minutes or less.

Jesse and Aziz were both exactly how I pictured them to be. Jesse was anxious and looked somewhat uncomfortable. He was wearing a plaid, unbuttoned, long-sleeved shirt, with a t-shirt underneath and jeans. Aziz was full of energy and his mannerisms were strikingly similar to when he does standup or is playing a part. Aziz was dressed a little nicer, wearing a collared shirt and leather jacket. While the two don't look like they're best of friends, they certainly have chemistry together.

I sat down with Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari to talk about what it was like making 30 Minutes or Less together, their dating scene, how their careers have ascended so quickly, what it was like working with Danny McBride, a new movie project Aziz and Danny are working on, what their favorite movies are that they've been involved in, how Jesse felt right before they announced the winner of the Best Actor award at the Academy Awards, and whether Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari like to ride. Here are Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari, stars of the film 30 Minutes or Less, now playing at a movie theater near you.

Cyrus: I went and saw 30 Minutes or Less last night.  My true litmus test for whether a movie is funny or not is if I laugh when I'm sober.  I went sober.  I was laughing my a** off (my opinion of the film differs drastically from that of San Francisco Chronicle movie critic Mick LaSalle).

(Jesse and Aziz both look at each other and laugh)

Aziz: Are you drunk right now?

Cyrus: I'm completely sober.  I wish I was drunk.  I usually don't get inebriated with alcohol, it's more on the ganja side.  The movie looked like you guys had a blast.  Some movies you can tell the chemistry's good, others when the director says, "Cut," you can tell people are relieved the day is over.  How was the experience making this film?

Jesse: It was good in that respect. In the movie, my character has a bomb strapped to him and he's forced to rob a bank. I had to sustain that genuine fear of having a bomb strapped to me. If you spend 12, 14 hours a day shooting scenes like that you end up feeling that same anxiety. Luckily, working with Aziz, that was so entertaining and so wonderful to work with him. So all that other stuff is great. You know, the movie stuff. But there was actual stakes for my character that ends up being stressful.

Cyrus: Aziz, was it the same for you as well?

Aziz: Same. (Laughs)

Cyrus: Did you two have a history before this movie, or was this the first time you worked together?

Aziz: No. We didn't know each other before the movie. When you're starring together in a movie like this, you're pretty much together the whole time. So you get to know each other pretty quickly and luckily we got along well.

Cyrus: I saw Ben Stiller's name on the credits as a producer. Was he the guy who put this film together? Who's the mastermind behind it?

Aziz: Obviously the director Ruben (Fleischer). And then Ben, Stuart (Cornfeld), Ben's company Red Hour (Productions), they produced it. It was written by these two guys, Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan. With a movie like this, there's not one person that's the mastermind. It's a huge team of people that work together to make something, and you hope it comes out good. And I think with this movie it really did come out good.

Cyrus: I agree. The audience applauded at the end of the movie when I saw it last night.

(Jesse and Aziz give me a surprised look when I mention this)

Cyrus: It's true. I've never been to a movie screening before where people applauded. No bulls**t.

Aziz: Whoa!

Jesse: That's great.

Cyrus: In the last two to three years you two have really blown up. Your names are sprinkled everywhere, you're in some films now. You guys have become A-listers, you've really elevated yourselves in that regard. In terms of the dating scene, has it suddenly become ridiculously easy? Is the talent better? Do you guys date? How has it changed in that regard?

Aziz: I'm getting a handjob right now. (Jesse and Aziz laugh)

Cyrus: That is awesome.

Aziz: As is Jesse.

Jesse: Partners too.

Aziz: That's the only thing.

Cyrus: If she has a third hand, tell her to come over here.

(Everyone laughs)

Aziz: I don't know. I mean, I'm working so much. I'm more of a workaholic type person.

Cyrus: Are you single, or are you dating someone?

Aziz: I'm single right now. I mean I'm dating, but I'm not in a relationship, no.

Cyrus: How about you Jesse?

Jesse: I've been with the same woman since before I was in any movies.

Cyrus: Wow.

Aziz: That woman is a Victoria's Secret model. (Aziz and Jesse laugh)

Cyrus: Jesse, do you like doing comedies better or do you like doing dramas better? You've forayed into both now.

Jesse: I honestly don't distinguish them from each other because it's the same job for me. You're doing a scene and trying to treat it realistically based on the parameters that the character lives in. And that's all the same. In this movie, you could argue this is a dramatic movie for my character because he's facing these really tragic circumstances. And he's dealing with them realistically.

Cyrus: And the romantic side of your character too. He's in love.

Jesse: Yeah, yeah. He's in love. That's dramatic. When you're young. (Laughs) So I don't distinguish the two. The fact is, the product ends up looking different. So if you're in a comedy, it ends up looking different. And the music's different, so it solicits a different response. But to me, it doesn't really change much.

Cyrus: So the approach is pretty much the same then.

Jesse: Yeah, I would say so.

Cyrus: Aziz, you were in what I consider to be one of the most underrated comedies ever. And that's Observe and Report. I know it wasn't a huge role, but I was dying laughing at your scenes.

Aziz: Oh, thanks man!

Cyrus: I really think the movie never got the recognition it deserved.

Aziz: Oh, thank you!

Cyrus: That was the first of what is now two movies where you've worked with Danny McBride. I know in Observe and Report you didn't have any scenes with him.

Aziz: Yeah, well this one not really either because Danny and Nick (Swardson)'s characters are kind of the bad guys, and we're the good guys. You kind of go back and forth between checking in on each other. We're both big fans of each other, so we wanted to actually do a movie together where we're actually in the same scene together. We've been developing this movie for the two of us called Olympic Sized A**hole.

Cyrus: Say that again? What is it?

Aziz: It's called Olympic Sized A**hole.

Cyrus: Love it.

Aziz: (Laughing) That's all you know! (Laughs harder)

Cyrus: That's really all you need, right?

Aziz: (Laughing) But that we're going to be in it together, it's going to be funny.

Cyrus: Danny's probably a year or two ahead of you guys in terms of blowing up. Is he as funny off-camera as he is on-camera?

Aziz: Really funny guy, yeah.

Cyrus: Jesse, my favorite movie of yours is probably Adventureland. I thought you did an amazing job in that film. It was actually the first time I really got to see you on-screen. I know that wasn't your first film. I've told you guys the two films I've seen so far that you've both been in that are my favorites. Aziz, you were also amazing in Funny People. What are your favorite movies that you've been in?

Aziz: I like all the movies I've done for different reasons.

Cyrus: C'mon, that's a cop-out answer.

Aziz: No, but it's a true answer. This one would probably be my favorite because this is the first one where I've been in the movie the whole time. The other ones are smaller parts. This is like the first big part I've had, so that's a much different experience. So I would say 30 Minutes or Less for that reason.

Cyrus: How about you Jesse?

Jesse: I don't really like to watch the things I play because I find it distracting to watch myself. I was in a movie that I have a great affection for that very few people saw called The Living Wake.

(Looking towards Aziz) You would really like it, you ever heard of it? Mike O'Connell made that. (Aziz shakes his head)

It's really wonderful, very few people saw it and I have a great affection for it. It's a struggle for me to watch things I've been in because I'm just distracted and self-critical. Like other things.

Cyrus: How did you guys get to where you are now? I hate just basing what I know off Wikipedia, because I know a lot of the stuff is false. Aziz, I read that you were a business student at first and Jesse, you started acting at a very young age. How did you guys, in your own words, get to where you are today?

Jesse: I did children's theater when I was younger, and then when I was about 14 I started doing theater in New York City. I wanted to really get out of school. I felt uncomfortable in school. So it was kind of a way for me to have an outlet to do something. And I like acting, and I like writing stories. I felt I found a comfortable place.

Cyrus: You're the first Academy Award-nominated person I've ever interviewed (I had completely forgotten that a year prior I interviewed Oscar-nominated actor Edward Norton). Congratulations on the nomination.

Jesse: Thanks a lot.

Aziz: Whoa. It's a great honor to be the first! (Laughing)

Cyrus: It's a great honor for me.

Aziz: For him too!

Jesse: Yeah yeah.

Cyrus: How does it feel when you're up there, and the camera is right on your face, and they're about to announce the winner of the Oscar? Do you get anxious? Do you have expectations? How is the feeling when you're in that situation?

Jesse: It was nervous like during one of the earlier award shows, but then the same actor kept winning. (Aziz laughs hysterically) So at some point you realize you'll be able to just sit down and relax and clap for him. It's not like you're nervous.

Cyrus: Aziz, were you in business school before becoming a comedian? Did I get that right?

Aziz: I started out doing standup in New York City. I was going to school at NYU, but I just started off doing standup. Eventually I acted in some short films, and then I did a sketch comedy show on MTV for a little while. That led to the movie and TV roles.

Cyrus: You're blowing up dude. You both are. Last question, do you guys surf, snowboard or skateboard? Do you ride a board of any kind?

Aziz: You really need to ask? You know we don't do anything like that.

Cyrus: I do need to ask! Are you kidding me?

Aziz: Look at us! We're not going rock climbing after this! (Laughing)

Cyrus: Have you ever seen what a skateboarder looks like? You guys would blend right in.

Aziz: That's true. I see what you mean. You're right. I guess you're right. But you're saying like, extreme stuff. Not skateboarding. The way you talked about it, I imagined it on a half-pipe or something.

Cyrus: I'm talking about just cruising. Thank you so much you guys.

Aziz: Thanks for speaking with us man!

Cyrus: The pleasure is all mine. 30 Minutes or Less is hilarious. Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, thanks you guys.

Aziz: Thanks man, take care.

This interview is one of over 50 with famous artists and athletes in the new book Dogwild & Board: Stories, Interviews and Musings from a Surf Journalist.

Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari at Goat Hill Pizza
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©Claudine Gossett for Drew Altizer/SFWire
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