Interview: Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart talk about American Ultra

Duo happily ride wave of a bloodbath with belly laughs in one of the funniest, most action-packed films of summer 2015

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 September, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 September, 2015, 6:00am
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American Ultra is one of the funniest, most action-packed films of the summer, and much of its humour comes from the unlikely casting of Jesse Eisenberg as a stoner who morphs into a killing machine.

Eisenberg just laughs at the notion that he might ever play such a role. "Oh yeah, when my mother gave birth to an undersized premature baby with an androgynous name, I'm sure she thought I'd grow up to be a big action movie star," he says during a recent telephone interview that also features co-star Kristen Stewart.

But Eisenberg and Stewart say they saw something special in the script by Max Landis, the son of John Landis, who directed such classics as Animal House, The Blues Brothers and the Michael Jackson video Thriller. In essence, the movie is a mash-up of 1980s and '90s genre films, with inspiration from The Terminator and Reality Bites.

"Landis grew up in the world of movies, so he's referencing other movies - and referencing them in a way that makes them great," Eisenberg says. "There's a modern sense of irony and self-awareness."

And Eisenberg and Stewart were eager to work with director Nima Nourizadeh, whose best-known previous film was 2012's surprise hit Project X.

"The script was really great, and the characters were so consistent in how they responded to the absurd situations they faced," Eisenberg says.

Stewart adds: "We thought the script really worked, but whether we could pull it off was another thing. But Jesse is hyperintelligent, and I was confident about this guy." Stewart starred with Eisenberg in another film, 2009's Adventureland.

The movie starts out as a typical independent film-style love story, with Mike Howell (Eisenberg) getting stoned and working a nowhere job at a West Virginia convenience store while his more responsible girlfriend, Phoebe (Stewart), works at a bail bond shop.

They smoke dope in the morning. They smoke dope at night. And Mike thinks everything is hunky-dory, even if he is prone to panic attacks. So he buys Phoebe an engagement ring and plans to pop the question, if he can ever find the right moment.

One night at the store, Mike has a mysterious visitor named Lasseter (Connie Britton), who gives him a weird message that he interprets as a bunch of gobbledygook.

Later, while eating some ramen noodles, he spots two black-clad men messing with his dilapidated Ford and asks what they're doing. They attack. And Mike kills both of them with a soup spoon. He's rather stunned and doesn't know what to do. So he calls Phoebe.

"I just killed two people," he says. To which Phoebe responds, rather flippantly, "That's awesome." Then Mike explains: "They had guns and knives, and they were being total dicks."

That kind of stoner humour continues throughout American Ultra, as Mike gradually finds out what his relationship with Lasseter really is - and who he really is as well. Eisenberg thinks a lot of the humour also comes from the supporting actors, who include John Leguizamo as one of Mike's stoner friends and Topher Grace as an obsessive CIA agent.

It's an unlikely role for Eisenberg, who's known for playing intelligent, somewhat hapless guys.

Stewart notes that Eisenberg always "looked like he was going to have a heart attack when he did some of the big action scenes". To which Eisenberg responds: "I got my cholesterol checked every morning. It was so much more exhausting and demanding than you'd think."

In fact, being baffled by what's going on is part of the film's charm, especially for audiences, who gradually learn the backstory as it's revealed to Mike after numerous scenes of mass destruction.

"We threw ourselves into it, and it all genuinely felt real," Stewart says. "It was cool to do that, even though we're both incredibly nervous and anxiety-ridden people."

"Yeah, it was incredible," Eisenberg adds. "They actually blew up a car next to us, and it was very real and very terrifying."

Tribune Content Agency

American Ultra opens on Sept 17