The stars of Project X, Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown, are relatively unknown to mass audiences. That is exactly how Todd Phillips (The Hangover movies) wanted it. “That’s what works about found-footage movies. You don’t want any recognizable faces,” Phillips told Movie Fanatic. “We’re selling a movie that is made by these kids essentially. It lends itself to being all new faces.”
Enter Mann, Cooper and Brown as the trio of actors who portray the three teens central to throwing the most epic party of all time. Project X follows their rarely-seen friend who is filming the guys while celebrating Mann's character's 17th birthday at his house while his parents are away. What happens next will blow the mind of even the most experienced “party movie” fan.
“I think the reason this movie was made is because it's a party that no one has ever seen before,” Mann said in our Movie Fanatic interview. “It's so spontaneous. It happens over one night which is what makes it such a cool victory for the guys. I don't think I remember any parties being like this.”
Mann’s character serves as the lead, and as the film begins, his father coyly tells his mother not to worry about any kind of shenanigans, because “he doesn’t have it in him.” Cooper and Brown, as the friends, were able to be in one mode throughout shooting -- frenzied fun -- while Mann had to tackle many serious scenes amongst the chaos.
“Oliver and I got to have, for the most part, consistent fun or just run around and get involved in all kinds of debauchery and bad juvenile behavior. Thomas had to carry most of the dramatic weight,” Brown said. “He did a fantastic job at that while still managing not to be sappy. The cool thing about this movie is there are a lot of teen party movies like Can't Hardly Wait where there's a side scene with the guy and the girl he likes. Everyone's thinking, 'Alright, can we get back to the party now?' But in this movie it's much more natural and much more comfortable. If anything, the scenes with Thomas (Mann) and Kirby (Bliss Blanton) and Alexis (Alexis Knapp) are almost like a breather. That's saying something because that's a not-calm scene.”
“The energy was always through the roof, but it was hard to play the scenes where I had to be stressed out and worried about my dad calling,” Mann added.
One aspect that makes Project X work is how the extras truly took their roles seriously. You have your main leads and then hundreds of party-goers that were charged with keeping an insane level of intensity up over the two-month shoot. “I met this one extra on set who would do the most extreme sexual grinding that I've ever encountered in my life, just extreme, graphic dancing maneuvers,” Brown recalled. The actor eventually offended the extra when they met later. She took the part of background player to heart in her effort to further her own acting career.
“I saw her at a party, and she was like, 'Oh, hi, remember me?' I said, 'Yeah, totally, you're the girl who does the really great grinding.' She goes, 'I'm an actress!' And then she walked away! I was like, 'Sorry.' She was just in her character and I did not mean to imply that she was of loose morals or anything like that [laughs]. She was very offended.”
The guys all laugh at Brown’s innocent insensitivity and then turn reflective as they realize that it is this type of realism that makes Project X the new standard-bearer of party films. “They were method,” Mann added of the extras.
Mann’s most trying scene, he admitted, was the scene where the object of his lust is actually giving him a chance with her. They begin getting intimate, and the actor found what other performers have described prior: Sex scenes are awkward. “They're tricky. You've got to get to where both people are comfortable and you just have to kind of laugh your way through it. Otherwise it's just too weird and you never know how the other person is feeling about it,” Mann said. “You don't want to seem too into it. The last thing I want her to think is, 'Oh, great. I'm making out with this pervy little kid.’”
As three actors are set to make their unknown monikers disappear with the premiere of Project X, we wondered what their party movie standards are -- now that they have joined that esteemed film genre. “Animal House,” Brown immediately said. “Can’t Hardly Wait was also one I really loved.”
Cooper concurs on Animal House. “I’m a huge fan of John Belushi,” he said.
For Mann, his tastes are more 1980s and 1990s. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused,” he stated.
The trio of soon-to-be stars hope that audiences enjoy the Project X experience for what it is. “There’s an exaggeration to this,” Cooper said. “I don’t think there’s much truth. Every kid in high school has a house party, but no one is going to bring a flame thrower like in ours.”