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Nick Swardson on 30 Minutes or Less, Playing With Fire, and His Love of Point Break

Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly
Nick Swardson. Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly

Nick Swardson is best known for his oddball parts in Adam Sandler movies, but this week he’ll break from the mold in 30 Minutes or Less. He plays Travis, an amateur explosives expert who helps his buddy Dwayne (Danny McBride) rig a bomb to the chest of a pizza delivery guy (Jesse Eisenberg) to force him to rob a bank. Believe it or not, Travis is the moral compass of the operation, and Swardson plays him as a good-hearted sweetie, even in the scene that involves him using a flamethrower. We spoke with the comedian about playing with fire, improvising with McBride, and losing his virginity to Christina Ricci.

Usually you’re kind of a random character …
Yeah, it’s fun to have meatier parts now, instead of just running onscreen like a fucking lunatic and being weird in so many movies. I really wanted to do something that was the exact opposite of what I did on Reno 911!, where I was the gay prostitute on roller skates.

That show was all improv. And it seems like you’re doing a lot of improv in this film, too.
We were able to go off as much as we can. There’s the line that made the trailer, Danny says, “Remember when we worshiped the devil for two weeks?” and I say, “Those were the best two weeks of my life.” And there’s one line where I’m asked, “What, are you gay for this guy?” and I say, “Well, if loving money is gay, I’m Elton John.” Danny and I just had a field day.

And the “That’s what she said” line that Travis keeps saying? Was that scripted?
No. I started saying that in the scene at the pool — that whole scene was really improvised — and I threw it out there, and after that, I kept putting it in scenes. I just kept saying it. Then, when we had finished all our scenes, I said, “Can I say it one more time? I think it would be really funny to tie up the whole movie.” When we test-screened the finished film, that final line played fucking huge, in that final scene, so we were really psyched about it. It paid to call it back!

There’s quite a bit of Point Break consciousness in the movie.
Yeah, because of the masks? [Laughs.] Yeah, there are elements of that, which is great. I love Point Break. It’s so fucking sweet. It totally holds up. I just watched it the other day, and it’s funny seeing a healthy Gary Busey. He doesn’t feel as caricature-y as he does now, bless his heart.

What did you do to prep for your big flamethrower scene?
When I read it in the script, I thought, Awesome! I wasn’t nervous at all, at first. But then I had to do a whole day of fire training. We were shooting in Michigan in August, so it was already really fucking hot, and I had to put on all these layers, and cooling gel, which is ice cold. And then I got kind of scared. Stuff was blowing up and debris was going everywhere. And all these people were standing by in case anything went wrong, like if something exploded and you burst into flames.

Now that you’ve had this training, if there were a fire right now, could you save us?
No. [Laughs.] At the end of the day, I can’t save shit. I would scream and cry, just like anybody else. But if someone tried to rob me with a flamethrower, I would know how to handle that. They’re really glitchy, so they don’t work well right away, so if someone tries to rob you with one, you just charge them. And then you can unplug the hose in the backpack.

You might have just saved someone’s life with that tip.
Thank you. I hope everyone’s safe out there. [Laughs.]

So you go from shooting flames in this to shooting porn in Born to Be a Star.
Yeah, I play a porn star with the smallest dick in the world! [Laughs.] It’s basically like Napoleon Dynamite meets Boogie Nights. It was so much more intense, because I wrote it with Adam Sandler, and I’m producing it, too. I play this sweet innocent kid, he stumbles across a porno site, and he finds out his parents used to be porn stars in the seventies, so he thinks that’s his calling. He’s never had sex before, he knows nothing about it, so while the movie has crass moments, it’s really sweet. He’s just trying to find his way.

He loses his virginity to Christina Ricci. What was that like?
She was dating my friend [Owen Benjamin] at the time, which was kind of bizarre. He was okay with it, though. [Laughs.] And she’s a good person to lose your virginity to.

Nick Swardson on 30 Minutes or Less, Playing With Fire, and His Love of Point Break