We recently sat down with the Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, and Jonathan Daniel Brown about their roles in the teen party movie, Project X.
Shakefire: How did you guys get involved with the project? What prompted you to go and audition for the national open casting call?
Thomas Mann: It was different for all of us. I had worked previously on this one film and originally they told me I couldn’t audition because I had too much experience. They were very strict about making it just unknowns in the cast but no one knows who I am, obviously, so it took some convincing. The movie that I worked on before had Zach Galifinakis in it so I reached out to him and had him put in a good word with Todd Phillips, you know, cause he worked on The Hangover with him. So finally I got to come in and read, but it was pretty brutal after that. It was like seven or eight auditions for me.
Jonathan Daniel Brown: Nine for me.
Oliver Cooper: Nine for me as well, over the course of two brutal months.
SF: What was that process like?
TM: It was pretty rough. I mean, there were times where you think it was dead and then two weeks later they call you back in. But Warner Bros. is taking a risk with this kind of movie casting unknowns and it’s for $12 million.
JB: I got into an open call over the internet so it started with that. Everyone got in different ways but once you’re in the door it’s the same.
OC: I had a friend actually get me an audition. He was actually Shaun Weiss; he was Goldberg the goalie from the Mighty Ducks movies. We were comedy partners. We were writing a lot together; we were doing standup together. He got a hold of Judd Apatow who he did Heavyweights with and they’ve maintained a friendship over the years. Judd’s first movie was Heavyweights. He put in an amazing word for me to Judd and Judd got me an audition with the casting director who he had worked with in previous films. And that’s how it started. I had an audition…
JB: Snowballed from there.
OC: Just like these guys, we all had these crazy, you know, once you got the audition it was just, I mean, there were tons of people. They had people who just had agents. They had people that had crazy stories like me and Jonathan and Thomas.
TM: They would do mix and matches where they’d bring all these different actors in and kinda pair people up and see who worked well together. We actually never read together until the day we were cast. Until the final day, they brought the three of us in. We didn’t really know what was going on. We were like, “Uh, this could be it. We don’t know.” The next day we found out we got the part and it was like a weight had been lifted it was such an amazing feeling.
OC: Yeah, it really felt great.
SF: So you guys had instant chemistry?
TM: No, actually no…
OC: I hated these guys.
JB: I hate you guys so much. What happened was we had a fight club and that’s how we got it out. We all took off our shirts and beat the crap out of each other and then we were friends.
TM: No, but they like set us up on play dates. They would say, “Where do you guys want to go?” And then we were like, “Can you get us free tickets to Disneyland?” So they sent us to Disneyland. So we had all these little bonding trips. We went to Big Bear one weekend.
OC: Yeah, we went to Big Bear with Producer Scott [Budnick]. We spent the weekend there. I think that was probably the biggest bonding moment. The director Nima [Nourizadeh] came with us. That was our big “right before shooting, we’re going into war.” And really the movie was kinda like going into war. It was fucking nuts.
SF: Tell us about the script. How was the table reading and how your reaction was to seeing the script, etc.?
JB: The table reading was a really, really, nutty experience because stuffs at a table; there’s me Thomas, and Oliver.
TM: Literally the most intimidating thing you can think of.
JB: There’s producers; there’s like half of the executives…
OC: There’s the head of Warner Bros. sitting at the table going, “Make me laugh.”
JB: He didn’t say that but the way he looked at you. He looked at you like he could have us killed.
OC: He was like, “I’m ready to cut you and get another kid in here.”
JB: Short of the casting, that was probably the most pressure I’ve felt pretty much ever.
TM: There were like 20 suits sitting across from us, then Todd Phillips and Joel Silver.
OC: I thought it went actually really well, though.
JB: They didn’t fire us so we did something right. I mean, we were working with pretty much a holy movie trinity. We have Todd Phillips who’s like the master of comedy right now. We have Joel Silver who’s like the action movie guy. And then we have Nima who’s fresh and new and young and just has an awesome eye for style.
OC: There’s also something about working with people, including these guys and Nima, when it’s your first time you want it so much. You see a lot of people you like, you know, actors, directors, and people you’re like, “Man, what happened to their career?” It’s because you’re first one when you’re trying to strive to make it you have this will to do something great. I know I wanted this movie to be amazing and I would do anything for this movie.
TM: If one of us had been an established actor I think the dynamic would have been different. The cool thing is we were all jumping off from the same point. We all had the same enthusiasm coming to the project. It’s not like we’re picky people. It’s not like they approached us with the script and we said yes or no. We were just happy to be working and really lucky to be working with such amazing people.
OC: That’s a lot of it too. Everyone always asks how do you think you got this. I mean, a lot of it is luck. We’re just very fortunate in the right place at the right time. I’ve auditioned for so much shit since then and I haven’t, like, it’s so hard.
JB: Like how did we score that on our first?
TM: We know we were given a huge opportunity so we had to take advantage of it.
JB: If you don’t take it, just don’t act.
SF: What kind of direction were you guys given? We you told to do certain things or told to go party and have fun?
JB: There was both. There’s a balancing act between obviously creating a movie with a cohesive storyline and creating some awesome visuals. Obviously there were scenes we had to shoot and things we had to do but there were times when literally they would just get the cameras out and say go nuts.
OC: Montage moments. The montages, which in my opinion, are really visually stimulating, are in a really interesting part of the movie which Nima did awesome with. Those were a lot of trying to create real party images which was just shooting us and shooting the party and doing all that kind of stuff. That was free cause that was real music playing in the background. You usually don’t use takes in movies with music playing in the background and obviously they dub it and use a soundtrack.
TM: But it was cool. We had a DJ on set so he would play music. We’d do these 20 minute takes where they’d be just like, “Okay, go dance and have fun.” The camera would just float around. We don’t even know if we were on camera.
JB: It’s so many weird, spontaneous, organic moments.
TM: Yeah, you can’t fake fun so we just kinda had to throw ourselves in there and have a good time.
SF: What was high school like for you guys?
TM: I’m pretty indifferent towards high school. I went to school in plain-O Texas where I went to high school with the same people I’ve went to since kindergarten.
SF: Did that personal experience contribute to your role?
TM: Yeah, definitely. I’m a lot like my character in the movie.
OC: Nobody knows who the fuck he is in his high school.
TM: Well, what I’m saying is I’ve had the same friends from my hometown since I was really young.
OC: I always had friends but I was never a big partier.
JB: My best friend was Sonic Adventure 2.
TM: How many times are you going to plug Sonic today? The funny thing is, right when we were cast, Nima had us write down all our favorite things; favorite movies, favorite music, favorite hobbies. And his favorite was the soundtrack from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 [laughs].
JB: That’s just on a list. It’s on a list. It’s not my absolute favorite but it’s up there. It’s catchy as hell. Plug in the Sega Genesis sometime and give it a whirl.
SF: Did you guys do all your own stunts and were there any major injuries?
JB: We didn’t get to do any stunts unfortunately. We had stunt men. My stunt man was like 65 years old. He was in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But no, there were probably nine extras that had to have hospital visits. At one point, Oliver even cut my head open with his chalice during one take that went wrong.
TM: That’s the cool thing about shooting found footage. There’s no green screen. Everything was real. We actually put the car in the pool. Someone actually jumped off the roof onto a bounce house.
OC: He had to get airlifted off set.
JB: No, I had liquid Band-Aid poured on my head.
OC: He was so worried about it.
JB: I was bleeding. It’s not fun bleeding from your head, dude. It was a lot of blood.
SF: Did it make it into the film at least?
JB: No, I’m sure it’ll be a deleted scene, though, because everyone watched it and laughed.
SF: During some of those montage scenes, was there anything that you guys saw that people were doing that did not make the movie that you thought was really cool?
TM: There’s one thing that always sticks out of my mind that I always talk about it. It’s a guy puking into this toilet and the shot from above his head and there’s people literally pissing on his head into the toilet. It’s so disgusting.
JB: There are a couple of fight scenes that got cut. Just like random people fighting. It just didn’t work. Oliver had a fight scene that got cut.
OC: Yeah, with the bully at the school. I had this crazy, unintentional fight scene that they just never yelled cut so it went on ridiculously long. I like ripped off my sweater vest. He threw me on the ground. At first I thought he was kidding, and then he was really going at it so I just fought that guy.
SF: So what do you guys have coming up now that Project X is done?
TM: I have a movie coming out in October called Fun Size. It stars Victoria Justice, Chelsea Handler, and Johnny Knoxville. It’s like a teen comedy. It takes place on Halloween. Then I have Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters coming out with Jeremy Renner in January.
OC: I have a straight-to-DVD with Steven Segal coming out [laughs].
TM: Oh yeah, I’m supposed to let Oliver go first.
JB: I play Bruce Willis’son in the next…
OC: Wait; is this the Die Hard reboot?
JB: Yeah, they’re doing a Die Hard reboot but it actually takes place during the Book of Exodus and it’s the story of Passover with Bruce Willis and myself [laughs]
SF: I’d watch that.
JB: I would too.