Jesse Eisenberg On OCD & Not Having “Natural” Talent
“I hate watching me. I hate watching me. It just makes me feel awful.” – Jesse Eisenberg
So what’s your mood as we approach Zombieland’s opening day?
My obsessive-compulsive disorder is out of control right now.
How does that manifest itself?
Well, I touch the tips of my fingers in a weird way; I don’t step on cracks; if I’m going onto a new surface — be it carpet to concrete, or concrete to wood, or wood to concrete, any new surface — I have to make sure all parts of my feet touch equally the ground before I touch that new thing. So I’ll often hesitate before walking into a new room. You know what I mean?
That’s just a manifestation of anxiety?
It’s not partially superstition, is it?
No, no. I don’t think anything’s going to happen.
Has that ever been a problem for you on set?
Um…It’s…Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I’ll put my hand down to touch something during a scene. It’s distracting. It’s terrible, just terrible.
Did a director ever point it out to you?
Um…no. I just play anxious people, so it becomes OK.
Can you watch yourself in the films you’ve done? How do you react to yourself?
I hate watching me. I hate watching me. It just makes me feel awful. I think, I look stupid from that angle. I wish I didn’t let them put that shirt on me.
Even after the initial shock wears off, can’t you relax and think, “Wow. I really captured something there?”
No. I think I should have done it better or somebody else should have done it. Yeah, you never feel good. And then the times I feel really good after a scene, then I watch it and I’m like, uh, that was boring. From my acting training, you learn to just remain truthful, under what they call “imaginary circumstances.” And so the time you feel most truthful is often boring. So often the times you really feel good with a scene don’t coincide with the kinds of things one might like as a viewer, you know?
Did you start taking formal acting training after you starred in Rodger Dodger?
No. I was going to Performing Arts School on 48th St. in midtown Manhattan. We had formal acting training there. And I got into that movie because they got me to do a reading of it. The kids in my class were in Raising Victor Vargas, so they were casting for that movie out of our school. So I was studying back then.
It seems like you have trouble, for lack of a better way of putting this, becoming at peace with your craft.
Yeah, that’s why I’m in therapy now. I talk about it every week. How to “make peace with the craft.” That seems so nebulous. It’s like, people who don’t study it can get into movies and plays, and people who do study it quite often can’t. Friends of mine went to Juilliard and can’t get an off-Broadway play, let alone to get a lead role in a movie, and I haven’t studied at Juilliard. I mean, it’s a very kind of disconcerting profession. If you went to Harvard Medical School, chances are you’ll be a doctor at some place. There’s a career trajectory. Acting, there’s nothing. It’s constantly trying to procure jobs — it’s very disconcerting.
Is there a part of you that feels, well, hey, maybe I’m just a natural?
No. Because all “natural” is is basically nothing to fall back on. What is “natural?” It’s a lack of any basis for anything. It’s frightening. It’s really frightening. I always feel like I’m five minutes away from getting kicked out of the hotel room that Sony paid for and having them clear out the minibar because I’m not allowed to take anything else.