"Project X" is about a crazy, off-the-hook party that takes place after three seemingly anonymous high school seniors become hell-bent on putting together a biblical bash. When the night ends with a car in your parents' pool and news helicopters circling overhead, you know your birthday is one for the books.
Birthday boy Thomas, who goes from virtual nobody to big man on campus overnight, is played by the now 20-year-old Thomas Mann, who grew up in Dallas, Texas, and displays no overt criminal tendencies. The affable Mann only had a few acting credits under his belt before "Project X"; we kicked back with the unlikely party animal as he spoke candidly about behind-the-scenes action on "Project X" and his future plans -- party and otherwise.
There was a nationwide casting search for "Project X," but the movie is not your first acting job. How did you get the part of Thomas?
[The filmmakers] did do a nationwide search and that's how they found Jonathan [Daniel Brown], who plays J.B. in the movie. They had people tell an embarrassing story and do a dance or something. I had done a movie previously called "It's Kind of a Funny Story," so they told me that I couldn't audition because I had a previous credit. They were really strict about having unknowns for this found-footage film -- if they had Brad Pitt, it wouldn't work or feel authentic. I went back in seven times to audition. It was pretty brutal.
You, Jonathan Daniel Brown and Oliver Cooper all play characters that are really tight. Did you guys do any bonding before filming?
Yeah! Before we started filming, they asked us what we wanted to do and set up play dates so we would get to know each other. We went to Disneyland and then took a road trip to Big Bear and spent a weekend up there in a cabin. It was really fun, and we got to know each other really well. After a couple of weeks we were just hanging out on our own anyway. We still hang out all the time, so they did a good job casting us.
In the movie, you guys are not the most popular kids in school before you throw this party. In real life, describe yourself in high school.
I was a little bit like my character in the movie. I had friends, for sure, but I wasn't ever seeking out parties or anything. I was pretty reserved and never really drank or anything. I went to parties occasionally, but I wasn't a party monster and was a pretty good kid.
In the movie, your character's family home in Pasadena is destroyed because of your epic birthday party. Did you guys shoot this movie at a real house?
We shot for five weeks from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night, so it's hard to find a neighborhood that would let you do that. We were on the Warner Bros. lot, and they have a little neighborhood set and we kind of shot on that and destroyed it.
Did the shoot have the energy of a real party that was being filmed, or was it a lot of starting and stopping?
Part of why it feels so authentic is that when you see people having fun in the movie, it's because we were having an amazing time. It was a party atmosphere for sure. We had DJ Jesse Marco on set, who is really big in the New York underground scene. He was always playing even when we weren't shooting, just to keep the energy up. That was one of the most helpful things about this movie -- it has energy and is so fast paced. Between takes, extras would keep dancing and it was really fun. A lot of times we would do 20-minute takes of people dancing and we weren't even aware of where the cameras were. They kept bringing the same extras back night after night, so it was a five-week party and a lot of friendships were made.
"Project X" could go down as your generation's "Animal House." Before this movie, what is the most outrageous party you've ever been to in real life?
Parties that I remember going to when I was younger had 30 people in a house playing beer pong and smoking some weed. Nobody has ever been to a party of the magnitude of the one in "Project X," so it is like what happens if all the stars align for a perfect party.
Your favorite hobby is skateboarding. What's the craziest trick you've ever tried to pull off on your board?
I don't get to do it much anymore. I love skating stairs, and the biggest one I ever landed was nine stairs. That was an accomplishment for me. During the film, I borrowed the guy's skateboard who skated off the roof and messed around with it, but they didn't shoot me or anything.
What do you and the Thomas in "Project X" have in common, and how are you different?
We all sort of play a version of ourselves in the movie. I grew up in the suburbs, my parents are still together and I have a dog, so we have a similar background in that way and it mirrors my life. The Thomas in the movie is a younger, shyer version of myself now. Being in this industry, you constantly have to meet people and have a tougher skin. The Thomas in the movie is an innocent, naïve guy, which is why the movie works. If they cast a bunch of cool guys, there is nothing gratifying about that because "Project X" is an underdog story.
You're turning 21 this year. How do you plan to celebrate?
I think maybe Vegas. I've never been there before and, now that I won't be hassled for being too young, it will be fun. Everyone always says that we should go to Vegas, but I don't want to be that guy who can't get into a club and all his friends are in there. I'd like to experience at least once. Maybe I'll hate it. Who knows?
If you were of age, what would be your drink or choice?
Hypothetically speaking, it would be appletinis. [laughs] No, I'm kidding. It would be beer -- a good Corona.
Tell us about your upcoming movie "Fun Size" and your character.
"Fun Size" is directed by Josh Schwartz, the mastermind behind "The O.C." and "Gossip Girl." He's really good at the John Hughes coming-of-age-type stories. No one has really monopolized that genre the way Hughes did, so it's really cool to be a part of his directorial debut. Victoria Justice stars as this girl who loses her little brother on Halloween and the movie takes place over one night -- a mad dash to find this boy before her mom finds out. I play her nerdy friend who has a huge crush on her and, as the night progresses, I hopefully win her over. "Fun Size" comes out in October.
You play Ben in next year's "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunter." Do you think the movie is going for scares or laughs?
Hopefully a little bit of both! It's got a Tarantino-esque vibe where it is fun and fast-paced, but it's really dark as well. The witch costumes are really amazing. The movie takes place 15 years after the original fairy tale, so Hansel and Gretel are grown up. They come to this town with a big witch problem and the town needs someone to take care of it. I play their fanboy, so I'm ecstatic that they're coming to do this and make it my mission to become their sidekick. I've never really worked with well-established actors like Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton before, so it's a different dynamic but a good challenge for me.