I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Opening in theaters this weekend is the action-comedy STUBER, starring Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani. The movie is a fun shake-up of the 2004 movie COLLATERAL (though it’s not actually based on that Tom Cruise movie). STUBER involves an Uber driver named Stu (Nanjiani) who is roped into a crime case. He has to drive a detective, Vic (Bautista), around Los Angeles. The two get into all sorts of sticky situations, including a strip club, a sporting goods store and all the carnage that happens inside Stu’s Nissan LEAF.
Fresh Fiction sat down with Bautista and Nanjiani in Dallas recently to discuss how they developed the film’s comedy, tone and characters. Below is a transcription of that conversation.
Preston Barta: Mr. Bautista, as a massive fan of BLADE RUNNER 2049, I couldn’t help but notice how many times you go through a wall your movies. Is there are art to doing that?
Dave Bautista: “[Laughs] Yeah! I would say, ‘Rob?’ [Laughs] Rob de Groot is my stunt double. He’s been my stunt double ever since the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. He’s a legit badass. If there’s ever a really dangerous stunt, he’ll step in for me. Rob was the guy who went through the wall in BLADE RUNNER.”
So, did Rob (or you) take a tricycle to the face in STUBER?
Kumail Nanjiani: “No. Neither of them took a bicycle. [Laughs]. That was a dummy that they replaced later because it was a real bike that was thrown.”
Wow! Well, it really looked like you took it like a champ.
Bautista: “Yeah. [Laughs] Rob is the man, though. He makes it all look good.”
What about the shot from the opening scene? Vic is seen chasing someone and you jump over a balcony while the camera follows you like you’re Jason Bourne.
Bautista: “That was all movie magic.”
Nanjiani: “We were in Hawaii while that was filming. No–”
Bautista: “They did hook me up to this harness because they needed me to jump up to the ledge, at least. It needed to look legit so they could fill it in later. I had this harness attached so I could go as far as the ledge, but I ran over it, and it was scary, man. This rope is supposed to catch you, but I am leaning forward. It really felt like I was going to fall all the way down.”
Nanjiani: “That’s terrifying!”
How high up was that? In the film, it looks like it’s ten stories.
Bautista: “Oh, we were high! I want to say we were seven or eight stories.”
Nanjiani: “It was pretty high. What I love most about that whole sequence is that I got those days off because I’m not in it. [Laughs] I got to sleep in. But it’s such a great way to start the movie. It’s such an awesome action sequence.”
Bautista: “Yeah. Karen [Gillian, who plays Vic’s partner in the film] mostly got beat up for me. She was laying on the ground for one scene, I was supposed to run up and kneel beside her, and I’m, of course, clumsy, and I just plop right on top of her. She screamed in pain, and I felt awful! And Iko [Uwais, who plays the film’s antagonist] had to hop down all these balconies as I am chasing him, and he actually did those stunts. It’s incredible. So, other people got more hurt than it looks like I did. But everyone was OK.”
The most intense scene is in the sporting goods store where you two are throwing stuff at each other, including the bikes. I think everyone at my screening cringed over you (Bautista) getting a fishing lure in your cheek.
Nanjiani: “Yeah. They did a good job of finding all these different items around the store to use. But they are using them in ways in which you haven’t seen before. There’s the stuff at the beginning with the baseball bats and later with the bikes, tricycles and the fishing lure. We thought to use as much as we can.”
Bautista: “The funny thing is we’re arguing during this fight. That was one of the scenes when reading the script that I found myself laughing out loud. And when I had to go back to record some audio sounds for that scene later, I was laughing, too. I don’t like to watch myself on film, but I can watch that stuff any day.”
What I really liked about this script is how it takes the time to roast you guys. There are comments about Nanjiani’s eyebrows and Bautista’s size. What is your reaction when you read that stuff in the script, or whenever it’s added to the film? Does it feel like good fun, or is it troubling to hear those comments made about your character.
Nanjiani: “I think a lot of that stuff is in the moment. The way we make fun of each other’s looks – a lot of that was improvised. When they’re making fun of my character, Stu, and how he looks, but that’s also how I look – [Laughs] A lot of that, including the comment about my massive eyebrows, was done in post because I’m on the phone during that part. So, you’re constantly looking for new jokes to bring to the table, no matter if it’s before production, production or post. Almost every joke in the film we shot three different versions of it.”
There were a few moments where I feel like it’s you two coming through the character. It seems like the type of humor you both showcase in real life and in the talk shows I’ve seen you both on. One I remember very well in STUBER is when Bautista is walking through a strip club and a customer mistakes him as a male stripper. I think Bautista says in an astonished voice, “Some drunk guy gave me a dollar!” And then Nanjiani, you have this great bit about Sarah Connor.
Bautista: “Yeah. We came up with those, or we’ll pick up things along the way. Some of the stuff was on page, but a lot of it was just us goofing around and having fun. Because of that, you’ll get moments like those that kind of come out of nowhere.”
Nanjiani: “Every role you do you want to bring yourself to it, which is obvious, so you can be in the moment. Even though you’re playing this other character, you know yourself well and find ways to filter that through the character. You find pieces of yourself to put in each character so you can be nimble. The writer (Tripper Clancy) and director (Michael Dowse) really encouraged us to run away with it.”
“It was the longest shoot I have ever done, but obviously not the longest shoot [Bautista] has ever done.”
Bautista: “It was the hardest schedule that I have ever done, though. I’ve never been to a set every day, and they were long days and nights.”
Nanjiani: “Yeah. You’re in like every scene. You’ll be up until 3 a.m. shooting and you’ll need another meal, and it’s pizza. It’s crazy! We had pizza on the last night we shot. It was the middle of the night. [Bautista] was already done filming earlier, but he stayed on set with us until we were all complete. He could have gone home. I had a little bit left, but he stayed. But we all hung out and ate pizza until the sun came up.”
Bautista: “We roughed it through this. We were in this together and I just wanted to be there until the end with everyone. It was a special moment.”
Nanjiani: “Yeah. You’re like, ‘Whew. I can’t mess this up anymore.’ [Laughs] Other people can go mess it up.”
I also wanted to discuss those good character moments. Amongst all the jokes, STUBER has those moments where it pumps the brakes to have Vic work on his relationship with his daughter, and Stu to try to find himself and make decisions that can advance his character. What appealed to you most about those smaller moments, and did you take anything away from those discoveries?
Nanjiani: “Wow. Yeah. This movie is about expressing yourself. Vic isn’t expressing himself. Stu isn’t expressing himself. Vic isn’t expressing the love he has for his family. So, you try to take those lessons. It’s very important to vocalize your thoughts. I do try and focus on that. It’s not always easy. Even being aware– sometimes you’re not even aware. I spent years not knowing how was feeling, and you just don’t recognize that. So, I try to stay in touch with myself and communicate to my wife, at the very least.”
Bautista: “I wish I had a great answer. I’ve always been in touch with myself. I was raised by a single mom, who always encouraged me to express myself emotionally. I think people’s perception of me is not who I am as a person. If you spend a few minutes with me, you figure that out real fast. It’s a struggle for me to not to intimate people. I know it sounds weird. At first glance people see me and they find me intimidating. But I purposely try not to be intimidating because I don’t want people to see me like that. I’m an emotional guy. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I don’t hold back, and I never have. I like who I am.”
Nanjiani: “It’s true. [Bautista] really is in touch with himself. He’s probably the one guy that I’ve met who is most like that. It’s such a great combination because he can play parts like that, because he is like that. There’s nobody else like him.”
Well, I can tell you I feel the same way, too.
Bautista: “Thanks, man.”
And last question: Something I always look forward to in action comedies are the shoot-out sequences and what song will be used during it. Hypothetically, if you were in a shoot-out, what would be your song of choice?
Bautista: “Oh man. I think like that all the time when I am listening to music. ‘Wouldn’t this song be great for this [kind of] moment [in a movie?]’ But now, I can’t think of one. [Laughs]”
Nanjiani: “I think I would love a really sad song. Maybe something by Bob Dylan. I love sad music. We were stuck in the car a lot doing this movie, so we’d talk about each other’s music tastes. We discovered that we both like sad music of men and women talking about things they’ve lost and will never get back. So, [Bautista] would give me these recommendations that were cool.”
It’s always fun when a movie takes a song that doesn’t seem like it would fit well in the context of an action scene. Maybe something like Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”
Nanjiani: “Yes! That song actually has good energy for a shoot-out sequence. That would totally work. Maybe we’ll use it in STUBER 2.”
Well, you know who to make the check out to if it happens.
STUBER is now playing nationwide.