Most people would recognize him immediately. He has been in a few of the most talked about recent films (The Social Network, Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) that have distinguished him as one of the most versatile young actors of our time. Jesse Eisenberg's new movie, Now You See Me, opens in theaters next week and features co-stars Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco.
Born in Queens, NY, his family moved to East Brunswick, NJ before he started school. The move may have had zip to do with his success in films, but considering some of the biggest movie stars have hailed from the Garden State, it may not be a coincidence either.
Jesse began in film back in 2001 and quickly found himself cast in such high-brow films as The Emperor’s Club, The Village and The Squid and the Whale. It wasn’t until he starred as Columbus in the cult classic Zombieland that he burst upon the social consciousness. Perhaps it was only fitting that he then was offered the role that has defined his career, up until this point, as Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, in the film The Social Network.
In this new film Jesse lands himself in the lead role once again, this time as Atlas, the de-facto leader of a gang of illusionists who are hired to pull off a trio of highly visible thefts. Jesse was the first actor brought in as the movie’s director believed him to be the core character essential for making the movie flow in the direction necessary for success. After that the producers quickly brought in the other acting heavyweights to bring us a cool and unique film.
I was part of a round table group discussion that would take turns asking the invariable umpteenth time Jesse would be asked questions pertaining to his latest role. I have always wondered how they can stay so cheery and not invoke the Bryce Harper “Clown question, bro” retort. Is it that they (celebrities) are always in character when out doing publicity work or perhaps the movie industry just acts like a lure for these types of individuals? People who not only entertain us, but have the patience of Job when we act like blithering idiots in their presence.
Upon entering the suite I was immediately put at ease by Jesse’s calm demeanor.
In preparing for this role how much preparation did you need to get ready?
Anytime I did anything in the movie (illusion wise) I had to know how I was doing it just because my character (Atlas) knows how’s he doing it and also because he knows the reaction it’s going to get. I was reading a lot about magic and the history of magic and I very quickly realized that was not going to help me, what was going to help me was practicing. My character was doing a lot of sleight of hand magic that I didn’t have a lot of time to learn. I was practicing every day and walking around with a deck of cards in my hand until I became proficient in some slight-of-hand moves. I learned a lot of the basic principles of magic and then we went to see (with David Kwong) a David Copperfield show and David Blaine, Penn and Teller. I learned how they could make a big thing disappear or how to make a motorcycle appear on a table. I had originally wanted to play the role towards a David Blaine where I could be laid back and wear jeans, but Louis really pushed the Copperfield angle because of the flashy showmanship.
Did you have a strong interest in magic going into this?
I saw a little magic growing up because my mother was a birthday party clown who performed at children’s birthday parties, but she didn’t perform at mine because it was a conflict of interest and who would she get paid by? More so that it would be embarrassing (if she performed at mine) as will my friends knew she (the clown) was my mother. So what happened was that she bartered with the local magician who performed at my birthday parties and she performed at his kids’ birthdays. I knew magic, but I was always frustrated with magic because I didn’t know how it worked. That was another reason I liked doing this movie in that I got to see how things (the magic) were done. One of the interesting parts of this movie was Morgan Freeman’s character who is a magic debunker who tells the FBI how we (the four horsemen) pulled off these tricks. It was cool to read the script and get a glimpse behind the curtain on the process.
As the first actor brought in, how did the director (Louis Leterrier) sell you on this role?
When I read the script I thought it was a great opportunity for me because I can play a character who loves performing and I really wanted to do something like that. I really liked how unpredictable the script was as I rarely get sent scripts with complicated plots. They normally send me characters with relationship problems with their mothers. He (the director) didn’t have to push me too hard as I wanted to do it. He just needed to get me comfortable with playing this character who was flashy to get me into my comfort zone.
Was it in your comfort zone to recommend Woody (Harrelson) be brought in?
(Laughs) I loved working with Woody and we were going to do a sequel to Zombieland that I guess ultimately turned into a television series. (That series is now currently on hold) We wanted to work together again and have a similar working style. When they (producers) told me they were considering Woody I thought that was great, especially because the characters in this movie have a different dynamic, we’re kind of like peers and rivals. I think if we had the same relationship that we had in Zombieland it would just be annoying to see us try to hijack this movie with our other funny bit. In this movie I’m condescending to him whereas in the other movie (Zombieland) my character was terrified of him. Our working relationship does allow us to make certain comments and suggestions to each other during the filming that actors generally don’t do with one another.