The busy Jesse Eisenberg takes times out to talk to Paul Byrne. In 2,000 words or less.
Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t like giving interviews. Which is unfortunate, given that the 27-year old native New Yorker keeps making pretty good films. That lots and lots of people want to talk to him about. “I suppose there is a flaw to my plan, isn’t there?” smiles Eisenberg. “In an ideal world, you’d make the movies you want to make, and then just move on to the next one without doing all this promotional stuff.
“I should have been born four decades earlier. In the Seventies, people were fine with the fact that the likes of De Niro and Pacino really didn’t do interviews. It meant they didn’t have any baggage when they took on a character either.” Not that everyone knows Jesse Eisenberg upside down and inside out. Or back to front.
Sure, most people know at least one or two of his movies, from his 2002 breakthrough Roger Dodger to Noah Baumbach’s sublime The Squid And The Whale (’05), Adventureland, Zombieland (both 2009), David Fincher’s Oscar-gobbling The Social Network (2010) and this year’s box-office-pounding animated comedy Rio.
Most would probably guess that Jesse was drawn to acting because of his off-stage shyness, the man himself commenting about his early start at the age of 10, “when playing a role, I would feel more comfortable, as you’re given a prescribed way of feeling”. But more of that later. For now, there’s a new movie for Eisenberg’s to show and tell, ‘30 Minutes Or Less’, which went down a storm at Dublin’s new cinema event Movie Fest last month, reunites the young actor with his Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer. Eisenberg plays pizza delivery schmuck Nick, taken hostage by dimwits Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), kitted out with a bomb vest, and forced to rob a bank. For which he takes along his buddy, Chet (Aziz Ansari). It’s a comedy that is worlds apart from his deadpan role in the Oscar nominated ‘The Social Network’, was it tough changing pace? “You actually have to be pretty smart to do dumb comedies well,” offers Eisenberg. “There’s a genius involved with comedy – when it’s good – that even the best dramatist could never even hope to understand. And I’m happy to give myself over to people like Ruben when it comes to such comedy. Audiences get it, and that’s the most important thing. Right?”
Jesse Eisenberg hasn’t had much time to stand still of late. Alongside his off-Broadway debut ‘Asuncion’ – about two liberal-minded friends having their minds expanded by their eponymous Filipina roommate – Eisenberg has lined up the romantic comedy The Bop Decameron (Woody Allen’s modern-day take on Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron), plus the bank heist thriller Now You See Me (alongside Amanda Seyfried and Mark Ruffalo).
Already in the can is the indie drama Predisposed – in which Eisenberg plays a piano prodigy alongside fellow Oscar nominee Melissa Leo (Frozen River, The Fighter) as his drug addict mum – plus, indie comedy drama Free Samples, co-starring, amongst others, the timeless Tippi Hedren.
“Things have definitely moved up a gear or two since The Social Network,” says Eisenberg. “There’s just a level of interest that gives me this newfound freedom to pick and choose. So, you know, I’m making the most of that. It means that I get to work with people I really want to work with, and to say yes to scripts that I really want to be a part of. That’s pretty much all an actor can hope for…” Talk of The Social Network brings us to the shy and retiring Eisenberg guest-hosting America’s long-running TV variety show Saturday Night Live earlier this year. And getting to share the screen with the man he portrayed in David Fincher’s biting film, Facebook founder Mark Zuckberberg. Who was already a regular subject for SNL regular Andy Samberg. Who also showed up. It played like a really, really awkward first date.
“That was pretty remarkable, getting Mark to come on the show like that,” says Eisenberg. “It proved the guy has a sense of humour, and, hopefully, was more than cool with The Social Network. Having said that, that sense of uncertainty that the two of us were having fun with on-screen wasn’t entirely faked.”
And what of Eisenberg’s self-congratulatory monologue that opened the show? Boasting of being a ladykiller. With sure-fire chat-up lines about women shedding their uterus lining every 28 days. And having strangers ask when he storms through a room, ‘Who was that freight train of confidence?’.
“All true, all true,” laughs Eisenberg. “The whole nervous, ill-at-ease nerd thing, that’s just an act. In real life, I’m far more Dean Martin than Jerry Lewis.
“Of course, my real problem is not about getting other people to believe that. It’s getting myself to believe that…”
Words – Paul Byrne 30 Minutes Or Less hits Irish cinemas Sept 16th