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Jesse Eisenberg – The Golden Touch

Following his Oscar-nominated turn in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Jesse Eisenberg has become Hollywood’s hottest property. But as his new comedy HOLY ROLLERS hits cinemas, he reveals why he’s keeping a firm grip on reality…

After a career built on playing awkward adolescents in films like Roger Dodger, The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland, Jesse Eisenberg saw his stock rise dramatically in 2010, after his wonderful turn as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Receiving Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations, it was a status update any actor would envy. With new film Holy Rollers on the way, the 27-year-old New Yorker has become Hollywood’s latest golden boy, whether he likes it or not.

The Social Network put you front and centre in the 2010/11 awards season. How did that feel?
The whole thing is strange! What I feel comfortable doing is performing, and writing stuff. All this other stuff is the necessary by-product to get the things that you’ve done out there. I think the endless promotion and endless lauding and the laurels and the wonderful reception, in some paradoxical way, has a bad effect on the creative process. You lose a sense of perspective. You lose a sense of needing to be creative. You lose a sense of what actual life is like. And you lose a sense of your own abilities. So it’s been a bit jarring.

How did it feel when you won the National Board of Review award for Best Actor for the role?
It’s great. But then I immediately found some reason to be miserable again that night. It’s terrible. Or I felt, ‘Oh, great. I got an award when I’m 27. So I’ve peaked! Even the good things now mean I’ll regret them later.’ So I’m able to manipulate things into being bad, which is not a healthy way to live but that’s where I’m at now.

Have you noticed a change in the type of roles coming to you since playing Mark Zuckerberg?
No, not really. The character I play in The Social Network is so unique it’s hard to see him in any other movie. And if you do, usually the movie is really bad! Like whatever the bad version would be—a computer hacker who is taken in by the FBI! There’s no actual character. So they’d be hoping, if I were to do it, by association I’d add a character where there is none. So you don’t want to do those, because those are awful.

Your latest film, Holy Rollers, sees you play an Orthodox Jewish drug smuggler. What attracted you?
Well, it’s a true story. It’s the strangest story. They’re Hasidic Jews. They live in a very insular world. They’re not exposed to anything. They’re not aware of ecstasy or drugs. And in the late nineties, there were these Israeli gangsters who recruited these young alienated Hasidic Jews to smuggle in ecstasy from Amsterdam and sell it. It was before 9/11, so there was less security anyway, but nobody was checking Hasidic Jews’ suitcases for drugs!

Weren’t they opposed to this operation on religious grounds?
The character I play didn’t know it was drugs. He thought it was medicine. That’s what was told to these kids. Then the operation folded when they got a little greedy, and started mixing in other drugs which the dogs could sense. It’s a cool story. The cast is wonderful. The other actor in it is Justin Bartha, who is one of my best friends. I’d been looking to do something with him for five years and when I got this script, and I thought he was perfect. He’s one of my favourite actors to watch and to work with.

You haven’t done many big-budget commercial movies. Are you opposed to going down that road?
No. When you decide to pursue acting as a career, the actors that can make a living off of acting are few and far between and very, very lucky. So to put down commercial stuff…when I hear actors doing that, I think it’s missing the point a little bit. My friend, who works in theatre for $400 a week, said a funny thing to me. That, as an actor, you can’t make a living but you can make a killing. And it’s true.

How savvy are you when it comes to negotiating contracts and pay for your work?
I’m so naïve when it comes to the business stuff. I don’t think of it, precisely because I don’t know what they’d pay, and I’ve always been wrong. When I read a script, I just have no sense of it. Like when I read Adventureland, I thought, ‘This must be made for $100m. I’ll be so rich.’ And then the movie was made for $7m, which is a tenth of what any other studio movie is made for. So ultimately, it was a low-budget indie. I never select a movie based on what I think I’ll get paid, because I’ve always been wrong.

How did your parents react to you becoming an actor?
I had a lot of friends in acting class, who when they revealed to their parents the tragic news that they’d like to pursue acting as a profession, it got a very bad reaction. But, believe it or not, my mother was a professional clown. So it was great ammo to use in my defence of my chosen profession! And my father is a college professor, so he was not interested in me becoming a businessman. He has an appreciation for the arts as well—he’s a cultured person—so they were OK with it.

Your first major movie was Roger Dodger. Do you remember much about it?
I have a great affection for it. That was the best experience I’ve ever had. I had no expectations. That was the most fun to shoot. It was great. And then the public reception couldn’t have been better. The movie was made for $1m and it received the best possible attention for a movie of that size. Now, having been involved in a few movies that have received a lot of nice attention, you start to have expectations that can lead ultimately into disappointment. •

Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 22 (May/June 2011)

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