On June 19, 2014, director Nima Nourizadeh sent good news and a photo through his Instagram account. The photo of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, stars of the New Orleans area-filmed action-comedy “American Ultra,” was accompanied by the message: “Wrapped the #americanultra shoot and leaving New Orleans. Had such a wicked time shooting this movie…”
Watching the film, you can tell how much fun the cast and crew had.
Opening Friday, “American Ultra” stars Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) as Mike Howell, a West Virginia stoner who has no memory of being part of a top-secret CIA program. Stewart (“The Twilight Saga”) co-stars as Phoebe Larson, Mike’s fiercely protective girlfriend.
Despite the extreme yet comic violence in “American Ultra,” the film is a love story at heart. Nourizadeh praised screenwriter Max Landis for creating Mike and Phoebe’s relationship and the crazy world around it.
“It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s violent and scary,” Nourizadeh said of the movie. “Everything is in there. And I love the relationship. That relationship is why this movie stands out from other movies like this.”
Nourizadeh cited a nighttime scene featuring Eisenberg and Stewart talking on the hood of car as especially beautiful writing by Landis, son of director John Landis.
“It’s so real,” Nourizadeh said. “And the two actors are so good. They handle comedy, action and emotional scenes so well.”
The London-born director strives for authenticity in his films. He’s also a perfectionist.
“I obsess over the tiniest details,” he said from a shady spot in his Los Angeles garden. “Actors, they’re the main focus of the scene, but I make my work 10 times harder because I care about the background so much. Everything must look and feel right because every detail adds to every other detail.”
Nourizadeh’s obsession with details, he said, derives from his training at London’s Central St. Martins College of Art & Design. After graduation, he moved from directing low-budget videos for indie music artists to bigger-budgeted music videos for Flight of the Conchords, Chromeo and Lily Allen. His TV commercial work includes the Award-winning “House Party,” an Adidas spot featuring David Beckham, Katy Perry and Missy Elliott.
“American Ultra” is Nourizadeh’s second feature film. It follows his 2012 comedy, “Project X,” about an out-of-control high school birthday party. “American Ultra” is his first Louisiana-shot film.
“All the actors, for the most part, no one was from New Orleans,” he said. “So it was like we were all on a field trip, going to shoot this fun movie. Louisiana is a crazy place in so many ways. We shot where there were little baby alligators right next to us. There’s all the other stuff you’ve got to deal with, too, like the mosquitoes. The crew members were all slapping their heads and faces the whole time.
“There’s a scene with Mike (Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Stewart) talking. I saw a mosquito land on Kristen’s cheek. I had to decide whether to kill the performance for this one mosquito or let it keep going. I kept it going and, honestly, in the next take you see a little red dot on Kristen’s cheek. I just thought that was the right thing to do at the time. And it was a lot of stuff like that. It felt like an adventure every day.”
And he loved staying in New Orleans.
“Visually, it’s so beautiful, the old houses that you see. Sometimes you’re walking the streets and you don’t know what century you’re in. It’s a really beautiful, romantic kind of place.”