Interview: The cast of Project X


On February 23rd, I was lucky enough to attend a roundtable discussion with the main cast of Project X, Jonathan D. Brown, Thomas Mann, and Oliver Cooper. Together with Patrick from Hollywood Chicago and Nick from The Scorecard Review, we discussed all types of things, including some behind the scenes stories, the balance between working and partying, and which dead person they’d bring to a party as their +1.

If you think you’re ready to handle the hilarity, read on.

Patrick: Which action or stunt that any of you did in the film was totally opposite to who you really are, as in, “I can’t imagine doing this in a million years”?

Oliver: I didn’t do any actions or stunts.

Thomas: Stuntman!

P: You did actions.

O: I guess I did actions.

J: Behaviors.

O: Oh gosh, I don’t know. I guess humping everything. I did a lot of humping in this movie. And like, I don’t know, that’s like totally against my normal protocol of things.

T: I wish I could be the kind of guy that would flip off a news helicopter. I don’t know, I’ve never been faced with the situation.

J: I don’t really think I did enough in this movie. I’m kind of a monster.

T: He’s actually crazier in real life.

O: He really is.

J: I definitely held back.

T: They had to rein him in.

O: They had to hold him down, yeah.

Geoff: They anchored you down. Actually, I was gonna build off of that. How much of yourselves is tied into your characters?

T: Well, a lot. I’m a lot like my character, probably more so… these guys are a little bit different from their characters. But I can definitely relate to it, especially how I was in high school. I was a lot like Thomas. We all play a sort of version of ourselves, maybe a slightly younger version, sure.

J: I mean, Oliver and I play like twisted versions of each other in an interesting way.

G: Really?

O: Not quite. Don’t… don’t bring me down with you.

J: Oh okay, sorry. God forbid you’re associated with the most evil character in all of comedy movies. Yeah, people don’t want you to think you’re really that guy, just FYI. People may want to party with Costa, but nobody’s gonna…

O: Nobody’s gonna love me.

J: Oliver’s the sweetest guy on the planet, but Costa is like the MEANEST.

O: Well, I have a very dark side, you know, don’t…

T: Don’t underestimate him.

J: I think we all have our dark sides, and we get to play with them in the movie, which is a really fun thing to do.

O: My character, I don’t know, I guess I feel like a different person than the character. But there obviously is a lot of things I brought. You know, my ability to bullshit is really put in this movie. I was definitely that kind of guy who’d like… you know, the smooth talker with the parents or something, and then I’d be an asshole to someone else. So I brought that to the table.

T: It was harder for me to play the darker side of things, you know, when I had to stress out about my Dad calling, or those types of scenes, just because the environment on the set was so fun and there was so much energy and it’s like, “Hmm… now I gotta be the party pooper.”

O: He holds the movie together. I mean honestly, he glues it together.

J: He’s the glue and the fiber.

T: And that’s why I bring it up, so that Oliver will go into complimenting me.

O: No seriously, he has the hardest job in the movie because you are talking about a movie that is mostly crazy and fun. He kind of keeps it… makes it a movie.

T: Grounded.

O: Yeah, and he’s great in it, so…

Nick: If you guys can have a plus one with a person who’s very much dead, who would your plus one be?

O: I love your guys’ questions so far.

J: Do you mean dragging them from the grave? Or like…

N: Nope! I mean, they can bring their bag of bones.

O: I got one. Whitney Houston.

Everybody: Too soon!

O: Whitney would have a great time at this party.

J: You know who I’d bring… I’d bring Winston Churchill.

O: That’s a good one.

N: Would he get you chicks?

J: He’s Winston Churchill. Of course he’d get me chicks. I mean, get FDR and his uncle, Theodore. Was Theodore and FDR, were they uncle… they were related, obviously…

P: They were cousins.

J: Get those two guys over and we will have ourselves a historical party.

O: It’d be a different movie.

J: And Abraham Lincoln shows up. “What’s Lincoln doing here?”

T: Mine would probably be Thomas Jefferson because he was such a ladies man. He would make a great wingman, I think.

O: There’d be a lot of slaves at that party if…

N: Very American answers, by the way.

G: Yeah, very patriotic.

J: Also, I’d bring Marilyn Monroe because…

N: You only get one. So you’ve got Winston Churchill and Monroe.

J: No, Churchill.

G: Yeah, you’d need a wingman.

J: I feel like if I brought Marilyn Monroe, there’d be that SLIGHT chance I could hook up with her. But I mean, look at me, no way. She’d probably go off with some other dudes. “What’s JFK doing here? SHIT!”

P: I just read a great quote from Monroe. She said, “They’ll pay you $50,000 for a kiss, and $.05 for your soul.”

O: I’m gonna start using that. You can pay me $50,000 for a kiss.

P: About the role of Costa, I read in the production notes that you ultimately, you want him to be likable.

O: Who said that?

P: You said that in the production notes.

O: Did I?

P: What do you think the traits of his likability was? What connects people to him, even though he’s a misogynist and a racist.

J: He’s not a racist.

P: No, he’s not racist.

J: He’s just a homophobe. He’s cool with race.

O: His likability, I think, is in how much you hate him. I think everybody knows, maybe he’s a heightened version of someone that you know that was like THAT guy in high school. In a movie, you can like him more because it’s a movie, than if it’s like that guy showing up to your house. You’d be like, “Get out. Leave. Nobody likes you.” But in a movie, you can tolerate it. And hopefully it’s funny and hopefully it’s likable.

J: Interesting thing is Costa is always there. Nobody ever tells him to get out.

G: He’s the one that put it together.

P: I took him to be the facilitator, because he was the one right on the outside of the peripheral. He knew exactly what was going on and was able to handle it.

O: That’s unlike me in real life. There were a couple of scenes that really, for me, helped make the character, because it’s hard to watch yourself be that mean. And you know, the scenes with the kids, and I have a nice little rapport with the two security kids. And also, you know, when I’m tearing up and I’m talking about how I’m full of shit and I can’t fix this, because I told him I could fix it the whole time. And I think those [scenes] inevitably let you realize this kid is full of shit. He’s just this high school kid.

T: He kind of lets his guard down a couple of times. There are sort of like alternative endings for Costa.

J: We did shoot alternate scenes.

T: But yeah, we shot some more of Costa showing his more sensitive side.

J: There’s not enough time, you know. There’s like 20 minutes of Costa’s soliloquy.

O: There really was. There was a scene where I was like, “I’m not from Queens and I’m balling.” And I’m telling them, “My name’s not really Costa.”

J: And Michael Fassbender shows up and gives him a hug.

O: What was my real name? We actually shot a take of this.

J: Yeah, we shot a take.

T: Oh! “Murray Rosenschwaub.”

O: It really would not have worked in the movie, but it was hilarious that we shot it.

J: How often do you see a movie where two of the three leads are Jews?

O: Yeah, never. But that was it, yeah. “My name’s not Costa. I’m not from Queens.” I was from like Syosset, Long Island or something.

G: What was the balance between working and partying for the film?

T: It was weird. The line was sort of blurred so much. I mean, you can’t fake fun. We had a DJ on set who was…

J: DJ Jesse Marco.

T: Yeah, DJ Jesse Marco, and he’s playing music.

J: In between takes.

T: Yeah, and the extras are dancing. And sometimes, especially for all the montage stuff, they would let the extras go. And the camera would just float around and find all these great moments. The extras were so great. They were really like the star of the movie.

J: They were handpicked by Nima. Our director, Nima Nourizadeh, he handpicked all 300 of the extras we had on set.

T: He just wanted to find interesting people that were gonna surprise him and that’s a lot of what you see in the montage shots, one of the most exhilarating parts of the movie, I think.

O: His genius is his attention to detail. And like, the party stuff is so detailed specific, and that’s why I feel like it really comes to life, moreso, than maybe other movies.

J: The party’s the character, you know?

O: Yeah, it’s a character, because of how specific he was about anyone who’s in the scene is alive, if that makes sense. They don’t feel like they’re just there awkwardly.

N: Does this party theme lend itself to on-set chaos? I mean, were extras partying too hard or hooking up with each other or something?

O: We obviously were sober the whole movie.

J: We were drinking O’Douls and apple juice mixed together.

O: I don’t think you could keep up for six weeks straight drinking.

J: With that said, there were extras who would get fired for bringing in real booze or getting stoned. They’d just come back the next day, though.

O: “We’re back!”

T: It depended on how good looking the extras were.

J: “Oh yeah, we worked it out. We’re cool.”

N: So what were you drinking then?

J, T, and O: O’Douls and apple juice.

N: Really? I thought you were joking.

J: No, we couldn’t get drunk on set.

O: We had the choice, and I always picked O’Douls just to make it feel more real.

J: You get bloated. You get the bloated feeling.

O: You feel like you’ve been drinking, yet you’re not drunk. And you can really fool yourself. I’ve done that a million times at a party where everyone’s really drunk and I’ll just act like it.

J: It tastes so awful.

P: So one of the best scenes in the film is the exchange with the Dad at the end, which I won’t give away. What piece of advice or conversation sticks out for each of you in regards to parents and being a teen since you’re so close to that circumstance?

T: The most interesting thing about that scene is how the Dad, it’s not even so much that he’s mad at his son, but there’s almost a little bit of pride.

P: It’s one of the best scenes.

T: He really proves him wrong, you know?

P: I’m relaying back to your own lives. What piece of advice do your parents ever give you that you really recall, or some sort of moment that you had, maybe during your teen years, where you’re finally listening because you know if you’re not listening, it’s gonna be problems?

J: I’ve always been very, very close to my Mom and Dad. I am very bad at hiding secrets from them, even like the worst stuff I’ve ever done in my life will get back to them, because I’ll just say it. Sometimes it’ll be like, two in the morning, I’ll just like go in their room like, “I totally did drugs once.”

O: You ARE very open with your parents.

J: WAY too open with them to the point where I think they’d be like, “Jonathan, you don’t need to tell us this. We appreciate your candor.”

O: That’s something really good about real-life Jonathan. He’s SO open about everything…

J: There’s very few topics that are off-limits for me, and the ones that are, if they get brought up, I’ll go with it.

O: You know, it’s something that is really something I learned from him that is a lesson for all kids and teenagers, I guess, is just speak your mind and be open about how you feel.

G: Party movies like this, they become very popular, like Superbad and The Hangover, all that. How do you think movies like this influence kids still in high school?

J: If you see a kid in high school who sees this movie and decides they want to throw a party, I’d call that kid an idiot, because you see what happens.

T: It does make you want to go to a party, but I think it discourages you from trying to throw a party. Or it should…

N: I’m curious with this party culture movie, and I assume you’re not working with filmmakers who are all your age. So who’s providing the zeitgeist? Like the youthful zeitgeist; is that Todd Phillips, or is that…?

J: Well, Nima’s like in his early 30s and Todd on set has a keen obviously eye for comedy and Joel Silver has an incredible eye for action. So, I mean, in a way, it’s like we’ve got the action covered, we’ve got the hipness covered, we’ve got the comedy covered, and it’s just blended into a soup of delicious, awesome movie.

T: And we’re also surrounded by hundreds of young people that are on set every night.

J: It’s hard not to have fun.

T: And this DJ who’s like, really cool, who’s getting really big in the underground New York scene and stuff, so we’re surrounded by tons of cool people.

O: I think it comes down to Nima, too, is he’s maybe 30, but he’s got his handprint on what is cool and what is hip.

J: His background is in music videos and commercials.

O: He’s got that nailed. One thing that really sticks out in the movie for me is the relatability to what is going on now with technology, and I think he did an amazing job with that. I don’t know if we knew it when we were making it as much as when I watched it that I saw that.

T: There’s some great moments I think that only Nima could come up with, like the girl peeing in the driveway. That concept happens at parties. I think that’s the thing that sets it on another level. And it rocks.

O: He really didn’t hold back.

J: This movie doesn’t pull punches, which is a fun thing.

P: Thomas, your first major film was last year’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story. What was the story behind how you got that role and what kind of atmosphere is on the set of a Ryan Fleck/Anna Boden joint?

T: Wow, no one’s asked me about that movie. It was my first movie, so that was a crazy, amazing experience. I was a huge fan of Zack Galifianakis and I got to meet him, and that was awesome. But Ryan and Anna, they are the most creative, laiJack people and they make a great team, and I really felt spoiled working for them.

P: There’s no conflict in the co-director role like that?

T: No, everyone asks that, but no, they finish each other’s sentences and they just kind of understand each other. They went to film school together, and they’ve been making movies together now for years, and they wrote it together, and I just think they’re very in touch with each other.

P: That’s a great one to have on your resume, brother.

T: Thank you. I’m very proud of it.

G: This is for Oliver and Jonathan. I read in the production notes that you guys started doing stand-up. Are you guys putting that on hold to pursue a film career?

J: Yes. Yeah, I haven’t done much stand-up in the past year. It is something I very much enjoy doing, but it’s a much different process than acting, comedy acting specifically, because stand-up is a very solitary, kinda lonely thing. When I got the movie, I was still trying to juggle both stand-up and also filming this movie. A lot of my friends in the stand-up scene, they just wanted nothing to do with me. It was very weird, because stand-up’s not very supportive. It’s like people who are all trying to make it on their own.

T: It’s like competitive, miserable people.

J: It’s competitive misery.

O: Acting can be that way, too.

T: Going to auditions is the same way.

J: Auditions has the same vibe, but you meet some amazing people and you collaborate. There’s 400 people on one set all trying to make an awesome product. It’s like a symbiosis that really blows my mind.

O: My stand-up, and I get asked this question a bunch, I started doing stand-up when I was 17 years old. It was a creative outlet for me, and I’m really glad I did it. It really helped me out in a lot of things. But I don’t think… I wasn’t a seasoned professional. I never had an act. Some nights, I’d put on total characters. I’d put on a mustache and glasses, and do different characters. And other nights, I’d do like a suit and tie. My point is I didn’t know what I was doing, so even when I got this movie, I wasn’t a seasoned actor, I wasn’t a seasoned stand-up comedian. This was a shot in the dark for me. I was just playing it as I go. One night, a couple of weeks ago, I showed up at a bar and grabbed a mic, no material, and started doing some stand-up. I’m not sure. I’m not openly pursuing it, really, but it’s fun.

J: If it comes along. It’s an enjoyable thing to do when people are enjoying it with you.

O: Acting’s a little more natural for me, it’s a little easier, but doing stand-up… get on stage and it’ll put you right back in your place. It’s a hard, hard art form.

P: I think it’s the hardest thing in show business.

O: It really is.

J: It’s harder than anything I’ve ever done.

O: You can be hilarious, the thing is you can be the a hilarious person…

J: And no one would like you.

O: …and you can go up on stage and bomb it. That is a testament to how hard stand-up comedy is.

T: That being said, I’ve seen them both live, and they’re great.

N: Has being in this consistent party environment made you appreciate the livers of people who live an almost professional party life? The people who professionally party.

T: Like the Kardashians?

J: If you’re doing this consistently all the time, you’re an asshole.

T: The thing is they’re not likable people at all. The difference is we’re these underdogs, we’re these losers and then we throw this party. We have that one night, it’s not like we do that all the time. People on Jersey Shore, that’s their fucking lives.

J: And it’s lame and it’s a shallow life.

N: They get paid a lot of money to appear at clubs, though.

J: I know, but are you kidding me? I’d much rather be in my underwear playing Skyrim than going out everyday.

P: Maybe in about 25 years from now, you guys will be getting together and going to clubs.

O: If I’m still going to clubs and parties in 25 years…

P: “Here’s the three guys from Project X! Come on!”

O: I will promise you that will not be me. Cut to 25 years, it will be me. I’ll be bald and creepily hitting on high school girls.

J: Girls over 18.

O: That’s just… that’s not fun to think about.

J: What outlets are you three from?

P: I’m from

G: I’m from

N: And

J: Awesome! I know all three of your sites!

P: Alright! You rule, brother!

N: Really? From where? That’s awesome.

J: I’m a blog whore.

N: Leave angry comments.

J: No no no no, I leave angry responses to angry comments. Whenever I see comments where someone says something mean, I’ll just be like, “Rah rah rah rah.” I get very defensive about this movie. People online…

P: If they can hide behind an anonymous post, they’ll say whatever they want, and it’s bullshit.

J: Responses have been so wonderful, though, except for on blog comments.

G: That’s just the nature.

J: Twitter’s been fantastic, interviews have been fantastic, people at screenings have been fantastic. You go on a blog and you’ll see some guy going, “Meeeeeeh.”

O: People wanna judge movies. It’s a movie. People can’t just appreciate things. And honestly, a lot of people, a lot of the comments are like, “This looks so stupid. This looks so over-the-top.” But really, this movie is not… I mean, yes, what’s happening is this crazy, over-the-top party.

T: It’s over-the-top, but that’s why it was made.

O: It’s not schticky. It’s very grounded in reality.

J: And I love indie movies.

O: This isn’t indie. This is a big indie. It has an indie feel to it.

T: Even the way we shot it, it felt like an indie.

O: You know, a lot of freedom, that goes to Todd Phillips, who’s got power to say, “Back off. Let us make the movie we wanted.”

J: Which is really, by the way, incredible, because if this movie was a PG-13…

P: Was Dax [Flame] behind the camera sometimes actually doing… Of course, in the long shots where you see him, but did he actually shoot one of you guys saying things?

O: Mmm… no. Very little.

T: It’s a prop camera. A couple of times, he had to, just because you see him.

P: And he was a guy in Texas that just used to put things on YouTube.

T: He’s a comedic genius.

O: He’s a very weird dude.

J: He is a strange kid.

O: But he’s one of the nicest, best-hearted people that I know. He’s a great dude and I think he’s doing really well.

J: Do you guys all do Twitter and stuff, because I’m trying to plug my Twitter, also? I’m @JonathanDBrown and Boom. I had to do that. I have like 12 followers.

P: You were talking about some of the cattle calls and the audition process in Hollywood. Give me a horrible story about that.

J: Project X was a brutal process because all three of us got in in different ways. [Thomas] went through an agent, [Oliver] went through friends. I did the internet open call. But after that, after we all got in the room, it was nine auditions over three months. They’re casting unknowns, so they really had so many people to go through. They needed to find the perfect chemistry.

T: Everything about this movie was so careful, because it was such a risk for Warner Bros. It was $12m, and they’re casting three unknown guys.

O: Also, it’s a risk in what’s happening, to be making a movie about high school kids partying, REALLY partying, too. I mean, they use ecstasy in this movie, which is ballsy, which I LOVE. I LOVE that they do that. For us, it’s weird, because it wasn’t much of a surprise because we know, but I’m always blown away by the audience’s response to it. It’s ecstasy. Everyone’s like, “No way!”

P: And you absolutely know now the motivation of the guy coming with the flamethrower. The flamethrower! It’s just great.

T: There’s almost a sense of dread. Like, once everyone takes it, it’s like, “Oh wow. Here we go!” It really just keeps raising the bar.

At this point, we all said our thanks and goodbyes. Once again, thank you to Jonathan, Thomas, Oliver, Nick, and Patrick for the amazing discussion. Flixist’s review for Project X will be live on Friday, March 2nd!