Jesse Eisenberg talks about putting on the magic in ‘Now You See Me’
There’s a big difference between being an actor and being a magician, says Jesse Eisenberg. “An actor goes on stage in character. He’s not pretending to do something else”
If you’re familiar with the internet you’ve likely seen the footage wherein a mischievous Jesse Eisenberg takes a dimwit blogger to task for (a) needing to write ‘What was it like working with Morgan Freeman?’ on her hand and (b) getting Morgan Freeman’s name wrong anyway.
The clip – a viral hit from the promotional trail of new film Now You See Me – is the very definition of gently humorous admonishment. And yet the incident saw Eisenberg, the Oscar-nominated star of The Social Network, branded as a jerk. And that was by the gentile, less potty-mouthed outlets.
The Jesse Eisenberg who turns up in Dublin for the movie couldn’t be more humbly different. A softly spoken, timid creature, one can vaguely recognise him as the talented thespian who animated the awkward heroes of Adventureland and The Social Network. But only just.
“It was interesting for me to play a magician,” Eisenberg says (quietly) of the hit Vegas caper Now You See Me. “I realised very quickly that magicians lie and that I am very uncomfortable lying to people. I had learned tricks to practice on the set. And I would perform tricks for the crew and then reveal immediately how it was done. I just couldn’t go on tricking my friends with a lie.”
So he doesn’t see any overlap between acting and chicanery?
“Hmmm. No. Hmmm.”
(He ‘hmmms’ quite a bit throughout our meeting.)
“A magician goes on stage and they say their name they’ll say ‘I’m about to do this’ and then they’ll do something entirely different. An actor goes on stage in character. He’s not pretending to do something else. The bio and the information are right there in the programme or brochure. And what an actor does is real. Or at least the emotional experience of the character is real. Or should be.”
Onscreen, Eisenberg has brought a bundle of comic neuroses to films such as The Squid and the Whale, Zombieland and Holy Rollers. In the flesh, Eisenberg’s neurotic tendencies are generally not of the comic, outspoken Woody Allen variety. He frequently responds to questions with a furrowed brow as though worried that he’s giving a “wrong” answer.
He visibly frets. A lot.
He’s happy to talk about his vegetarianism, his cycling around New York and his Polish ancestry and family: as we speak he’s en route to Szczecin to meet his grandfather’s first cousin. And yet he’s (apologetically) unwilling to divulge the names of his cats: “My sister asked me not to. She rescues cats and puts them up for adoption in Union Square. I’m sorry. She told me not to tell.”
Growing up in New Jersey, Eisenberg’s mother was a clown and children’s entertainer and his sister Hallie was famous as the child star of a series of Pepsi commercials. Jesse’s path toward acting was rather different.
“I think the arts can provide people with a lot of different therapeutic approaches and cures. For me at least. I had a difficult time when I was at school and acting provided me not only with something to do but it made me force myself to feel a different feeling. And that was really good for me. On Now You See Me, for example, I had to force myself into thinking I was really confident performer and I remember by the end of this movie, I felt fantastic.”