Exclusive Interview: Zombieland's Jesse Eisenberg
During a press conference between him and his Zombieland co-star Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg was far more likely to answer a question with a sarcastic non-sequtiur or pun than he was to give a thought-out, "actorly" answer. After all, this is a zombie comedy, plus the atmosphere of a press conference lends itself to so many ridiculous questions, you can't actually blame Eisenberg for preferring to make the whole thing hilarious.
Luckily for me, once you sit down with the guy one-on-one, he's as clever and open to talking about anything as he was cagey during the press conference. Though we talked a lot about Zombieland, including what it's like to work with stuntpeople dressed as zombies and the doubts he had about the movie while filming, we spent more time talking about his career, moving between indies and bigger movies like Zombieland, and why you won't see him cast in 2012. We also discussed the key cameo in Zombieland, which you can read all about on Monday. Oh, and to kick things off, we chatted about the politics of my home state South Carolina-- just because our conversation wasn't feeling broad enough.
Read all about it below, and see Eisenberg-- who you may have caught earlier this year in Adventureland, or in various off-Broadway performances all over New York-- in Zombieland starting this weekend.
Is it hard for you to leave the city to film movies while you want to be doing theater?
Oh, it'd be good to stay in New York. The last play I did, I got paid like $400 a week, and it occupies all of your time, weekends included. You do 8 shows a week. So everybody knows it's impossible to make a living off-Broadway. Broadway is mostly for tourists. There are very few good plays on Broadway, maybe three at a time. The other irony, if you're in movies-- I want to be a playwright ultimately, and the main reason people read my plays is because I'm in a zombie comedy, even though they could be the most creatively divergent paths. That's why people read your stuff. You have a better agent because you're in a zombie comedy.
You say zombie comedy, but you've done a lot of smart movies. You're making careful choices. You could be in something like 2012, but you're not.
Oh no, that's just that they don't cast me. Oh, I've auditioned for shit like that. They never choose me. I auditioned for Squid and the Whale like 8 times, and I was auditioning at the same time for like the worst sitcom. I just got lucky. It's pure luck, and I have friends who are in the stupidest movies and are the most brilliant actors, are really bright people. It's kind of arbitrary as to what parts you get. I like those parts, but I'm just lucky that they like me as well.
Do you consider acting as an accidental thing while you work on being a playwright?
Yeah, it feels always accidental. If they didn't make this movie now, I would have been out of work for like a year. The more you're in things, you get sent offers for things, but it's an unreliable profession. I'm trying to graduate college, and I've only been able to go out of college because I'll be out of work for 6 months. It
I assume it's like a ball rolling down the hill. The more movies you make, the more offers you get.
Yeah, it is easier. But a lot of the movies you get offered are just shitty movies that they're making.
Do you feel like you have some choice? You can turn down the teen sex comedy.
I feel more in control than I did 2 years ago.
Are you still getting cast as a teenager?
Yeah. Well, the next part I'm doing, the character spends 4 years from 19 to 23. [He couldn't tell me at the time, but we now know that Eisenberg will be playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network] I think I'm about to probably enter my 20s.
When you're working on a movie like this, with such a wild tone and crazy comedy, do you feel like you know where it's going when you're making it?
Yeah, frankly, I thought the movie would not work. Then I saw it the other night, and I've never been happier after seeing myself in a movie. It's a testament to Ruben and what they did in the editing room. They just found the best moments of the movie and put it together and it works.
Do you often feel when you're working on a movie that it might not come together?
Yeah, sometimes. But because with this, the tone was so weird, the comedy is weird, and it also asks for drama, and it feels like it's going to feel hokey and cheesy if it's dramatic after we're doing these silly things. It doesn't feel like that in the movie, because it's very subtle. People who like movies like this movie.
Is it difficult to reach a level of drama in a comedy?
Yeah, I think actors just get worse, because the more movies you do the more you realize all these things that make you self-conscious. That's the worst thing for an actor. Movie acting, I feel like you just get worse. Abigail Breslin, she's the most amazing actress I've ever seen. She has this scene where she was crying, and she would cry when she was off camera. She's 12 years old.
What's it like working with people who are zombies? Is it different from other actors?
Yeah, they're stuntpeople. It's a totally different personality type. They're like technicians. Some of them get into the characters, but the stuntpeople are very aware of every moment, because they have to account for it physically. Actors, you try to save that spontaneity for when you're filming.
What did you take from them acting-wise?
We do two different things. The stuntpeople are good actors too, a lot of them have to act. But for me it felt like two different things. They're much more physically demanding.
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