This week in theaters, Jesse Eisenberg, one of the most serious actor working in comedies, impresses audience once again with his keen wit and layered performance, as he reunites with director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) once again in the fast-paced, easy to watch comedy 30 Minutes or Less. A short while ago we published our interview with him from the set of the film, now that he’s had some distance, an Oscar nod, and some time to reflect, find out what he loves about comedy, how he stays true to his indie roots, and how appreciative he is of everything that he’s worked for…
Two parts I didn’t get, they are in bold. One’s at 5:15. The other at 9:23.
This movie rides on the fact that you believe that you might die at any minute. Why is it important for you to believe that? Why is it important to play serious in a comedy?
Jesse Eisenberg: You just described exactly how I felt of my job. If I take my character’s fright seriously, the movie will end up being funnier because it won’t just be a wacky sketch about a guy with a crazy thing around his body but it will be a story that moves from point to point and progresses and ultimately has a resolution. All that stuff is important for a full story. But I’m not aware of that. I’m aware of playing my role realistically which the only way I know how to do it, I wouldn’t know the sillier version of my character would be. I don’t know how to think of my character’s fright and act in a way that would be more broad comedically, I’m so fortunate to have been asked to be in this movie. I know it’s funny and fast paced and has a unique plot and the attitude to play my role realistically. Often times actors, good actors, trained actors, are asked to compromise what to do, in order to stir a story that’s silly. I wasn’t asked to do that in this movie.
Is that part of working with Ruben and why you think you would keep working with him in the future because he gives you that freedom and challenges you that way?
JE: Yeah that’s exactly right. We did a movie two years ago, Zombieland and it was the same thing. The script was similar to this in that it was framed as a comedy, the characters were funny, but I auditioned for the movie a few times and I just played it dramatically like somebody who was experiencing this real feelings even in the context. I was frankly a bit surprised that they selected me. For this, I auditioned a few times and I played it honestly and surprised again when they hired me. Ruben is such a great director. He’s able to make the movie really funny and fast paced and visually interesting without ever compromising what the actors like to do and that’s rarer in a movie like this.
Are you always surprised when you’re hired or is it in the comedy roles that you’re not expecting?
JE: I’m frequently surprised because the experience an actor has in a role is often not in accordance with the way it’s perceived by an audience. In this movie my character is a much dramatic situation of his life. He’s questioning his own mortality every minute. These are things that would be high stakes in a dramatic movie. The movie plays comedically, so my personal experience with it is not reflected in the final product in the same way I felt it. That’s why I don’t really watch the movies I’ve been in because it’s never reflective on the experience I had.
Did you ever expect coming up that you would be known for being in these comedy films and having that edge as a comedian?
JE: Well my job doesn’t really change. I’m not acting in a different way that I would act in another kind of movie, and the other part of it is, a lot of the dramas that I read don’t feature characters that are as interesting as this one. In this movie the character I play, he thinks of himself as a rogue ascetic but actually he’s just a guy with no friends. He has this delusion of grandeur of being somebody who’s the traditional norm by not getting the job and by not having health care and by smoking weed and doing all this stuff that is actually an embarrassed reaction to not being responsible. That’s an interesting character and I get to do that. And it’s in a movie that’s really funny. Whereas I read these independent dramas that should feature characters above all else because that’s all they have going for them because there are no car chases and they have just cliched independent drama characters. I think a good character will transcend any genre or budget level.
I imagine with The Social Network has opened a lot of doors for you. How do you pick your roles now? Is it an interesting character? Or working with directors? Or what really drives you to make the choices that you make at this point in your career?
JE: Only if I can have an emotional experience that will be satisfying to me, that’s the only thing I consider. I have no idea what directors do technically so to me it doesn’t make a difference who is there. My only interest if the experience will give me an emotional catharsis that will remain interesting over the course of the two months it’s filming. I just finished doing a movie last week and it was a million dollar movie, and it was the only movie I’ve been flagged down to do in the last two years that I remained hung to to because it gave me an emotional experience that was good for me to have. It sounds like so pretentious but the truth is, I could do my job better if I’m in that circumstance.
And what is that film called?
JE: That’s call Predisposed. It’s a mother-son story and it was cathartic in a good way and the more indulgent I’m allowed to be, the better I’ll do.
Is that just once of those films that personally spoke to you and that’s why you personally remained attached to it?
JE: Yeah. I don’t know that it will come out at all in time or ever, but you do it for personal reasons that’s the difference between treating the profession like a job and treating it like I’m some kind of craft or some kind of creative expression.
So now you’re faced with having to make these professional decisions but still look after your craft?
JE: Yeah. The other side of it is that it was able to get mad because I was in things that were popular so you have to be a little bit savvy and not to precious about it because the only way those things can get done, that somebody with two million dollars would give that to make that kind of movie, it only happens because the people in it have been in things that teenagers go to.
Do you feel that you career choices have been influenced by people around you? Or has it been luck, talent, how do you get to where you get at this stage of the game?
JE: I just want to do what I like and then the rest that I would say is luck or the people around you because I didn’t do any kind of better acting job in The Social Network than in any other film but I’m surrounded by a director who’s a masterful director. Same thing with 30 Minutes or Less, the director is really creative at what he’s doing. It brings that attention to me that is not necessarily earned in terms of the amount of effort that I put into it.
What is the thing that you find more at ease when you’re making a film?
JE: The thing I crave most is everyone taking it seriously. Even in a movie like this that is supposed to play comedically, all the actors take it very seriously. The end result is funny, but actually everyone is working hard to make sure that happens. Occasionally, the misconception with a movie like this or with other movies that are kind of pop-y movies is that “it was just a blast to shoot.” Obviously I’m using that kind of sarcastically. But anything that shows up as really fun or as fast-paced or casual, probably takes a lot of work. It’s the stuff that is boring to watch that was easier to do. So you want to be ed people who are taking it as seriously as you want to take it.
What is it about film-making that you can’t live without? What is that keeps you coming back and keeps that love going?
JE: For me, I have a lot of misplaced anxiety and acting can provide a very healthy and creative way to express personal anxieties. This movie that I just finished, I was on set crying every day and emoting in this extreme way, and at the end of the day you feel just weight-lifted you just feel that kind of catharsis. It’s in a kind of safe, prescribed environment.
Check out Jesse Eisenberg in 30 Minutes or Less which hits theaters August 12th.