Interview: Hollywood-size learning curve for newbies of 'Project X'

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Oliver Cooper, Thomas Mann and Jonathan Daniel Brown

(Left to right) "Project X" stars Oliver Cooper, Thomas Mann and Jonathan Daniel Brown promote their film at Metro February 23, 2012. (Chris Walker/ Chicago Tribune)

The three stars of big-screen comedy “Project X” don’t exactly scream “Hollywood.”

Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown appeared eager to speak with media outlets about the Todd Phillips-produced “Project X” at The Metro Thursday — and inexperienced and slightly awkward when it came time for photos (typically it’s the opposite for a movie star).

It also should be noted that Mann, who lives with a roommate, Cooper, who lives with his aunt, and Brown, who lives with his parents, hardly had the credits to qualify for an IMDB page before filming this comedy, in theaters Friday, about a high school house party gone wrong.

And yet, the little-known actors had no problem pointing out to each other how “Hollywood” they’ve become, busting each other’s chops during our conversation at Metro Thursday because, well, that’s what guys in their early 20s do.

Q: What sort of feedback have you guys been getting for the film?

Brown: People were screaming stuff at us (after an advance screening at The Vic Theatre) like we were rock stars, like, “Take off your shirt!” It was a validating experience. We must have done something right for everyone to have stuck around.

Mann: It was insane. Everyone was super-wasted by the time we got there. We were way far behind. We’d just gotten off the plane. It totally caught us off guard. But it was fun.

Brown: There were autograph hounds and paparazzi waiting for us at (O’Hare Airport) for the first time in our lives. It was terrifying and weird.

Cooper: There weren’t paparazzi. It was, like, six or seven unemployed people in Chicago who think our autographs will somehow be worth something one day.

Q: Why do you think the film opted to use unknown actors?

Mann: You’re watching (home video) footage, so it lends itself to authenticity. You’re stepping into their lives for this one night. It would have taken you out of the film if you saw a familiar face.

Brown: If Zac Efron was in the movie, any plausible sympathy for the characters would be gone. If there were three established movies stars trying to be nobodies throwing a wild party, people wouldn’t buy it.

Q: What sort of acting experience did you guys have before “Project X”?
Cooper: None. I did a video for my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13. I played myself. My mom really wanted me to do it.

Brown: I was Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” in sixth grade. … I was more interested in a stand-up career. For some reason, I got the urge to audition for “Project X” during (a nationwide) casting call on the Internet, and it all snowballed from there.

Mann: I did one movie (2010’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”). Originally, they told me I had too much experience to audition because they wanted unknowns. But nobody knew who I was. It took some convincing to get that audition.

Cooper: When we shot the scene in (“Project X”) in the grocery store, that was our first real acting day. I remember thinking, “Act like you know what the (heck) you’re doing.” I hadn’t really acted before that.

Q: What has the wait been like for the film to hit theaters?

Cooper: Horrible. After the movie, you’re on a high. All these people are interested in you. And then that dies down and the movie gets lost for a bit before resurfacing. It’s a roller coaster. I moved out (of my aunt’s home) after the movie and I went broke when I didn’t book anything. Right now, I have $400 to my name. I spent all my money on sushi and had to move back in with her.

Brown: We filmed the movie in the summer of 2010 and did re-shoots in 2011. It’s been a weird year of ups and downs, but the next few weeks will get really, really intense for us.

Q: Are you prepared for all the frat guys who will be calling Oliver by his character’s name (Costa) and quoting lines from the film when they run into you five years from now?

Cooper: As long as they really enjoy the movie, I think we’ll be really happy. It’s not like I’ll say ‘I’m an actor, blah blah.’ That’s just the nature of the business.

Brown: “Nature of the business?” Hollywood agent Oliver Cooper over here …

Cooper: Hopefully the movie does well. But I won’t be so quick to move out this time — especially with my (spending habits). As soon as I have money, I’m the kind of guy who is like, “Who wants free drinks?”

Twitter @aboutluisgomez

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