Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani
Action Drives an Uber
by Jay S. Jacobs
Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista come from totally different worlds – at least as far as show business is concerned. Which is why it was so dementedly brilliant to cast them together in the action comedy Stuber.
Nanjiani comes from the comedy world. He started out as a stand-up comedian and video-game themed podcast co-host. He started making his presence known on television, guest starring on series like Portlandia, Broad City and Veep and having a memorable regular supporting role on the series Franklin & Bash.
This led to the role that catapulted him to stardom, as Dinesh, one of the computer geeks trying to get rich with a startup company in the HBO cult-favorite Silicon Valley. In 2017, Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon wrote (and Nanjiani starred in) the popular romantic comedy The Big Sick. This summer, Nanjiani added his voice to play an alien in the reboot Men in Black: International.
Bautista, on the other hand, came up through the world of professional wrestling. He was a six-time world wrestling championship and even did a brief stint in mixed martial arts before segueing into acting. He did guest roles in stuff like Smallville and Chuck, as well as playing a villain in the movie The Man with the Iron Fists before his career really took off when he was cast as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy.
In the five years since that movie came out, he has played the role in another Guardians of the Galaxy film (with a third coming soon) and two Avengers movies. He has also reached into other roles in films like Blade Runner 2049. Escape Plan 2: Hades and Hotel Artemis. Next up are the action comedy My Spy and a new version of Frank Herbert’s classic tale Dune.
Which brings us to Stuber….
Bautista and Nanjiani play a tough LA cop and an uptight Uber driver who get thrown together by chance (well, by an app…) and spend the night chasing some crazed drug dealers – much to the chagrin of the driver.
A couple of months before the movie was going to open – and on the night of the first midnight showings of a rather big tentpole film that Bautista was a part of – the two actors did a special advanced screening of Stuber for an audience completely made up of local Philadelphia college students at the Ritz East.
Bautista riffed off that fact, admitting on the red carpet that he could be in Hollywood at any one of many Avenger: Endgame parties that night, but he would rather be here in Philadelphia promoting Stuber. The care and nurturing of Stuber and finding it an audience were much more important to him. The Avengers will have to fend for themselves. Tonight, he’s in Philly helping to drive the Stuber.
Not that it was due to a total devotion of the city. In his earlier incarnation as a professional wrestler, he had spent a lot of time in Philadelphia. “I will say it is a love-hate relationship and leave it at that,” Bautista explained. “The city, I love it, but the fans are just brutal.”
Things have changed now. Almost no one heckles him at the screening. (Well, Nanjiani does a bit, but it is good-natured.)
Nanjiani is also happy to be there to deliver the film to the fans, but he is a bit more circumspect about it. He smiles and gives intelligent, thought out answers to questions. However, the mask slipped at one point when they were asked a particularly dumb question on the red carpet (not by me, I swear!), he stepped out of camera range and made a “just kill me” gesture to his manager.
Still, he said he loved Philadelphia, as well, having passed through several times in his stand-up days.
Now, all these years later, the boys were back in town, with a buzzworthy movie in tow. The ability to finally share their film made all the hardships of filming worthwhile.
“It was a lot of nights,” Nanjiani said. “It was a lot of late nights.”
Well, yeah, there were some harder parts than that. There were gunfights, explosions, car crashes, chases, life in the friend-zone, drug deals, family problems, angry riders, art shows, crack houses, dirty cops, murder, mayhem, and Nanjiani had a male stripper’s junk thrust in his face.
It was important for all involved for Stuber to have the feel of the classic buddy cop movies of the 1980s and 1990s. Therefore, they decided to look back at what worked and didn’t in the earlier films. They looked back at their favorites, and some movies that were not so memorable.
“Lethal Weapon for me is the gold standard of buddy cop movies,” Bautista told me before the screening.
“I like Midnight Run,” Nanjiani countered.
Still, what was it that made a buddy cop film special? Was it the humor? The action? The strained connections? The stakeouts? The differences between the characters? The bad guys? The angry captain? The inevitable dirty cop? The Harold Faltermeyer synth music?
“We talked about it,” Bautista explained.
“We had a list of all these movies to watch and study,” Nanjiani said.
“For reference,” Bautista agreed.
“I had seen a lot of these movies, obviously,” Nanjiani continued, “but watched them again to remember what was great about those movies.”
So, obviously the guys are fans. As actors, what was it like to immerse themselves in the genre?
“I had a blast.” Nanjiani said. “It was so, so fun.”
The film is a merge of acting styles, with Nanjiani’s deadpan comic persona crashing into Bautista’s more bombastic, action-based vibe. However, as far as the actors are concerned, it isn’t really all that different.
“I don’t know how different our acting styles are,” Nanjiani noted.
“It’s not the styles that are different, it’s just that it comes from a different place,” agreed Bautista. “A different background. I don’t know if his strengths are better than mine. I don’t know if my strengths are better than his. But people haven’t seen his and people haven’t seen mine.”
Which brings up the questions, what will people think when they do see their strengths? And how did they benefit from each other’s talents?
“We were learning a bit from each other, but I think his range is better than mine. He’s got a dramatic range. I think I have a good drama range, but my comedic chops need some work,” Bautista laughed.
Nanjiani disagreed with that assessment vehemently. “He’s really, really funny.”
As is Nanjiani, whose dry comic stylings work well off of the intense action of the story. However, the role does make one worry about one thing. Between this role and his previous part in The Big Sick, is he worried about becoming typecast as an Uber driver?
“Oh, that’s the plan,” Nanjiani laughs good naturedly. “I’m not afraid of it. That’s my career path. That’s what I want.”
Bautista laughs along at the thought. Of course, he may have stumbled, Mr. Magoo-like, into a typecasting problem of his own.
Bautista’s character of Vic had just had Lasik surgery that morning, and his inability to see is what necessitated his taking an Uber in the first place. However, playing a man who can’t see was not as much of a challenge to Bautista as you’d expect.
“It’s not a far stretch,” Bautista said as they both laughed. “I have glasses with me everywhere. When I don’t have them on, I can barely see.”
However, it did lead to some complications for the actor.
“It wasn’t so much the vision thing,” Bautista continued, “it was this thing.”
He pointed to his eyes and squinted.
“[Director] Michael Dowse said… you can’t tell that I can’t see everybody, but visually you need a feel,” Bautista said. “This is not something I was used to. I needed to be reminded of it constantly. ‘You need to squint more. You need to squint more.’”
“It’s challenging, because he has to do so many other things,” Nanjiani agreed. “Then, on top of that, in every single scene, he also can’t see. Each time. I can’t imagine doing that on top of everything else.”
Of course, as noted before, the film was a bit of a challenge for each actor on a more basic level. But they enjoyed the challenge of trying on a different type of film role.
“It was fun,” Bautista said. “It was a learning experience for me. It’s something I’m a little bit self-conscious about. I’m still learning stuff. It’s all a process. It’s a craft. Comedy is not my style. I want it to be.”
When I assured him that he was very good at it, Nanjiani chimed in, “He is very good.”
As for Nanjiani, it was fun for him to go all out, dodging fists and bullets, smashing up clubs and cars. All the while protecting his five-star rating.
“It was [fun],” Nanjiani said. “I’d never done anything like that, so watching Dave I learned a lot. I just want to get good at it. I think people for a long time look at me and they are like, ‘oh, he’s going to play the nerdy guy.’”
And he’s done a good job and made quite a name for himself playing the nerdy guy. But sometimes the nerdy guys are more dangerous than you originally thought.
“I want to do action stuff,” Nanjiani explained. “Doing this movie, I was like, oh, I want to learn to do this type of acting, which is very different from any kind of acting that I have done. I had a great time doing it, and I want to get good at it.”
“That’s where we’re both very similar,” Bautista said. “We really want to be an across the board talent. He comes from more of a comedy background. I come from more of a physical, action background. We learn from each other.”
However, where you look at it as action or comedy, the two actors have a much more basic aim with Stuber.
“This movie is a lot of fun,” Bautista said. “There is a message, but we don’t throw it in your face. We’re trying to make you laugh.”
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 10, 2019.
Photos 1 & 2 © 2019 George Seth Wagner. All rights reserved.
Photos 3 – 6 © 2019. Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.