After years of critically
acclaimed performances in movies like The
Squid and the Whale and The Education
of Charlie Banks, Jesse Eisenberg has finally begun working steadily this
year with the release of Adventureland
and, out today, Zombieland.
He also recently earned a place as one of our Best of What's Next
actors. We caught up with Eisenberg and spoke with
him about breaking into acting, how lucky he’s been with his roles, and why he
still likes to work in theater.
Paste: How did you first get into
Jesse Eisenberg: Oh, I did
children’s theater when I was younger with my older sister, and then I
basically continued, I guess to avoid school mostly. And to have an excuse to
not have to make friends at school, cause I’d always have to go somewhere or be
somewhere, so it was mainly that. Then I
got into the first movie I did in my senior year of high school. I was going to a performance arts high school
in New York and decided to pursue it more professionally after that.
Paste: You mentioned how your
sister helped you get into that—is acting a large part of your family?
Eisenberg: Not really. My dad is a teacher; my mom was a
professional birthday-party clown, just in the local New Jersey neighborhoods
and stuff. So she was a performer, but
not like, in movies or theater or anything.
Paste: Adventureland came out earlier this year and now your’re starring
in Zombieland. You’re also rumored to have about a dozen
other projects on the way from IMDb. I’m
curious why this sudden burst in production, since before you’d be in a movie
and then it’d be a couple years before we saw you again.
Eisenberg: Well that’s not my choice, but I also I think
the website is a bit of a liar—I dunno who controls it, but I had to do
interviews yesterday for something and people were listing movies I was not
involved in. I did two movies that are
coming out—one is the zombie movie and I did a movie about this Hasidic Jewish
ecstasy mule, and yeah, I guess some of the other movies are not happening.
Paste: Ecstasy mule?
Eisenberg: Oh, yeah, that’s my
role. It’s called Holy Rollers ‘cause they’re Hasidic Jews and
ecstasy. And that’s a smaller movie, I don’t know when
it’ll come out.
Paste: In your past roles you’ve
kinda played a similar sort of character— they’re comedic, like Adventureland, but not comedies per
looks like it’s more outright, broad comedy.
Is that the sort of role you’re playing?
Eisenberg: The movie’s actually
more dramatic than they’re presenting it.
I think I have more dramatic scenes in that movie than in Adventureland. My sense is that they’ll cut the drama down
because it’s a zombie comedy and I don’t think the movie can sustain that much
heavy drama without boring the young kids who are seeing it. But the movie is primarily very funny and
it’s a little more heightened than Adventureland,
which was supposed to be much more naturalistic comedy, and subtle tone, like
you don’t have to expect a laugh, and can go without something funny for ten
minutes. But Zombieland is much more theatrical, I would say.
Paste: Do you have any ultimate
aspirations for film that you haven’t reached yet?
Eisenberg: No, I’m so shocked
that they put me in movies; every time I get a part in something I can’t
believe it, and then afterwards I feel like I ruined the thing. I’m just so
fortunate to be able to do the things I’ve already done. I can’t ask for more or even consider
Paste: You’ve also worked pretty
heavily as an actor on the stage. Do you
have a preference between that and film?
Eisenberg: Yeah, I ultimately
want to write plays and not even act in them. I’ve written plays and a musical
that’s starting to get off the ground right now. I would prefer to do that, but
it’s so hard, and even when you’re successful as a playwright you don’t make
any money—it’s such a hard part of the industry. I love [movie] acting, but the
theater seems to produce more consistently creative works.
Paste: What’s the stuff you’ve
Eisenberg: I wrote a musical that’s
just starting to get to the early stages of production, which is called Me Time, about modern
self-indulgence. It’s a musical
satire. And then I have a play that’s
actually being turned into a movie script, but that’s also in the early
maybe I shouldn’t say anything about it because not everything is
dotted, I guess.
Paste: Has working so much in the theater
affected the way that you act onscreen, or vice versa? A lot of actors
stop doing theater when they start working in film.
Eisenberg: I really don’t do that many plays,
actually, mostly because they don’t cast me in them. But like you said, most
people stop. I think it’s harder to make a living just doing off-Broadway
theater in New York. I mean it really is almost impossible, things close
so quickly, often. Whereas with a movie, whatever they’re paying you is
guaranteed, whereas some plays could close—I have some friends who get on
Broadway finally or are having a consistent paycheck finally, then the New
York Times doesn’t like it and it closes in a week and they’re out of
work. Happens all the time. But nothing is better practice than
being in a play eight times a week for acting, so then when you’re on a movie
set and you have to act for fourteen hours a day and it’s really grueling, you
have some kind of basis of experience.
Paste: How selective have you
been able to be with either theater or film, now that you’re a bit more
Eisenberg: I’ve been lucky to get
into good movies, but I audition for really shitty movies all the time (not all
the time but sometimes), and then I just got lucky to get in good ones, so then
people assume you’re more selective. But really all the same people are trying
for the same things and some people get in good movies, some people get in bad
movies, and from an outsider it looks like those people are smarter or more
selective or have higher taste, but really everybody knows what movies are
really good and what movies are not so good, but you have to work, so you do