As soon as American Ultra hits theaters on Aug. 21, Jesse Eisenberg will officially be an action star — action by way of a stoner comedy, but action nonetheless. It's a strange label to slap onto the awkward, skinny actor, but that's the point. As Mike Howell, a lazy, but sweet, stoner who works at a convenience store, Eisenberg is supposed to look like the least likely action hero in the world — which he is, when he discovers that he's a sleeper agent for the CIA, is suddenly triggered, and finds himself capable of killing attackers with a spoon and other crazy fight skills he never knew he had, alongside his girlfriend (Kristen Stewart). But did Eisenberg really do his own American Ultra stunts?
Director Nima Nourizadeh had Eisenberg begin fight training a few months before filming began, but the director wasn't interested in turning Eisenberg into a real life assassin. "What I had him do was all practical, real-world, real-technique training. So he was able to put his own sense of style and movement into the character instead of being trained to move in a specific way," Nourizadeh told the New York Times.
Eisenberg also had a lot of help from stunt performers and stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo — Eisenberg's stunt double on the film, Jacob Kabel, has worked on The Maze Runner, 300: Rise of an Empire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1. According to Nourizadeh, the stuntmen working opposite Eisenberg were instrumental in making the fight scenes come to life on screen. "Selling punches, or any fighting, is really tough in a movie," she added.
Eisenberg learned "Southeast Asian style fighting" for the film, but it's unlikely the Oscar-nominated actor could really kill someone with a spoon, saying that his training was focused more on fight choreography than actual fighting. "It was really interesting to learn, 'cause a lot of their fighting is like...it looks like ballet. You know, it looks like it should be done in concert with somebody rather than against somebody, so it's really beautiful," Eisenberg said in an interview, adding, "And, I remember some of it."
Nourizadeh and Eisenberg both wanted to keep Mike as unassuming as possible. For Eisenberg, that meant wearing a wig: "I just wanted to wear longer hair and a wig, because the character is the kind of guy who wouldn't have gotten a haircut in seven years. He's immersed himself in nothing but his own laziness. I thought he wouldn't groom himself in any kind of consistent way, and that gives it a better turn for when he [has] to defend himself. This is a guy who couldn't be less prepared to do this," Eisenberg said to Film School Rejects.
Stewart may not have had as many stunt scenes as Eisenberg in American Ultra, but that doesn't mean she didn't give her action scene her all. "I am definitely not a wimp. I didn't entirely realize: Action movies hurt. You have to be down to take a hit. I went home with some serious bruising — and by the way, that's the best. I would literally go home and be, 'Check it out,'" she told Parade.
In an interview with Today, both Eisenberg and Stewart said they enjoyed doing the stunt work for the film, though Stewart admitted she would have liked to do more. Stewart isn't a complete stranger to the action genre, having performed in some pretty epic action scenes as part of the Twilight Saga. For Eisenberg, the stunt work was more of a reprieve from his usual fare. "It's the greatest thing. Yeah, normally I do movies about people complaining in rooms. ...This is like the greatest thing," Eisenberg said.
Stunt doubles or not, I think it's safe to say you wouldn't want to pick a fight with either Stewart or Eisenberg. Especially if there's any cutlery nearby.
Images: Lionsgate; Giphy