“My absolute favorite thing to do is to write a play and then, after I finish, do the first reading of it with my friends around the table” – Jesse Eisenberg
Jesse Eisenberg is currently taking over the big screen, starring as the infamous comic book villain, Lex Luthor, in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s probably Eisenberg’s most high profile role to date, though he is also known for playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the 2010 Aaron Sorkin film, The Social Network.
Though Eisenberg undoubtedly has a high profile now, he still prefers to work on the more intimate side of acting; he is just about to star in Louder than Bombs, the English language debut of Norwegian director Joachim Trier. Eisenberg will play Jonah, a new father who is also trying to deal with the loss of his mother and the impact that has on his family.
“What I initially liked was that I thought the character’s behavior was so unusual,” Eisenberg explains when discussing why he took the role. “I loved having the opportunity to play a role that, over the course of the film, you kind of discover, as opposed to this preconceived idea of the character’s behavior presented in an accessible and clearly explicated way.”
Though the character of Jonah has been on a journey through life that is far different to Eisenberg’s own, he says he could still relate; especially to Jonah’s desire to escape the reality of adulthood and responsibility.
“I’m sure I have an unfortunate wealth of relatable experiences by virtue of being an actor in very public things ,” he explains. “I’m thrust into a spotlight that would probably make anyone uncomfortable. Even if the spotlight is shining brightly and seemingly with good intentions, it’s just uncomfortable. It can be easy and tempting to want to reverse back to a kind of infantilization, and that’s what the character’s going through in the movie. I really liked that it was ambiguous enough for me to impose my own personal feelings on it.”
As for Batman v Superman, Eisenberg surely knew when taking the role that he would be under intense scrutiny- playing such an iconic villain and one which has been brought to life by several different actors, all with varying degrees of success. Eisneberg’s Lex Luthor is intense, unhinged, bordering on psychotic, as Lois Lane tells him during the movie, and Eisenberg says it is this that drew him to the role.
“The movie’s writer, Chris Terrio, who’s absolutely brilliant, created a totally fresh take on this movie villain, writing a role that seems like somebody you might know who is troubled, who is charismatic but also disturbed, and that’s what made it so interesting for me as an actor. It was grounded with an emotional reality, with an eccentricity that seems very modern. That’s what made it really fresh. As an actor, you go into it the way you go into anything else. I was shooting Louder Than Bombs simultaneously, and those experiences were similarly fulfilling. I would wake up at 4 in the morning and contemplate grief. In Louder Than Bombs, my character is grieving over the death of his mother under mysterious circumstances, and in Batman v Superman, my character is grieving over his bad childhood and that feeling of powerlessness in this city that he runs. My experiences were similar. Now of course, the final products couldn’t look more different, will be seen by a different amount of people, and play in different spaces, and yet my experience is the same. That’s why I think actors like doing both kinds of movies, because the experiences can be the same and you get to continue doing what it is you like to do.”
Away from movies, Eisenberg is also a keen and impressive theatre actor. In fact, just last week it was announced that Eisenberg will be bringing his hit play, The Spoils, to London’s West End this summer, where he will once again reprise his role of Ben, which garnered favorable reviews when it was staged Off-Broadway in 2015.
“My absolute favorite thing to do is to write a play and then, after I finish, do the first reading of it with my friends around the table. That is the most fulfilling acting experience that I could possibly have, with no one watching, and it becomes increasingly uncomfortable as more and more people know about it. The next thing I’m doing is one of my plays in a 400-seat theater on the West End. I will be terrified every night before the play starts, even if 400 people are seeing it, or especially because 400 people are seeing it. That, to me, is what I’m driven by. It just so happens that with Batman v Superman I got to play one of the most interesting characters I assume I’ll ever get to play, in a movie that is probably bigger in scope than I’ll ever be involved with again. And I really hope to play that part again. So I don’t see that big of a difference in my job except when there’s more scrutiny.”