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"I did musical theater (early on) to avoid going to school. And to have something to do, because I didn't fit in too much."
"It's a daunting title because it implies that you have to fulfill something."
"I read something like 5 pages of the script and wrote to the director that I would do anything to be in it!"
"I've had opportunities that I've squandered that turned out, in retrospect, to be very good."
"I don't know how people have these kinds of memories!"
"Usually, the better actors are the worst at giving advice!"
Jesse Eisenberg  

Interviewed by Mark Sells
May 2008

Soft spoken and extremely modest, it would be easy to write off Jesse Eisenberg's mannerisms as awkward nerves. But Jesse is not uncomfortable nor is he aloof. Rather, he is nothing short of spry - smart, engaging, and filled with the rapid word play and witticism of a Jon Stewart.

Born in Bayside, Queens and relocating to New Jersey at the age of 16, Jesse Eisenberg first immersed himself in musical theater, becoming a member of the popular youth group, The Broadway Kids. Says Jesse, "I did musical theater (early on) to avoid going to school. And to have something to do, because I didn't fit in too much." After a brief stint on the Fox comedy, "Get Real," and while still in high school, he landed his first big break as the nephew of Campbell Scott's Manhattan bound playboy in "Roger Dodger." The role helped him earn future parts alongside Kevin Kline in "The Emperor's Club" and in director M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" and Wes Craven's "Cursed." All before hitting it out of the park as one of two sons dealing with divorce in Noah Baumbach's touching story, "The Squid and the Whale."

Expertly assuming characters' discomfort and eccentricities, Eisenberg has differentiated himself as a fine, young actor, worthy of the Vail Film Festival's Rising Star Award. His current role, in Sol Tryon's "The Living Wake" is edgy and dark. And he'll soon be accompanied by Kristen Stewart in "Adventureland," directed by Greg Mottola of "Superbad" fame. Not to mention a starring role in Jason Reitman's "The Wedding." With so many terrific opportunities on the horizon, one could only say he was like a bottle of champagne - bubbly, refreshing, and just waiting to pop.

Reel Questions, Reel Answers

What are your thoughts on the Film Festival so far?

It's beautiful. You know, I've only been to a few film festivals so far and they all seem to be dependent on the city they're held in. This is such a wonderful place, of course. And it's nice to be here. But sadly, I haven't done very much so far.

Have you skied or snowboarded?

No, I don't. I can't ski or board. I usually can't walk down stairs or escalators. But I like to watch from my room. It's so beautiful.

You're from Bayside, Queens. Far from Hollywood, USA. How did you first get involved in acting?

I did musical theater. Children's theater. To avoid going to school. And to have something to do, because I didn't fit in too much at school and things like that. And then in high school, I did more adult plays. Like, when I turned 14, we moved to New Jersey and I was able to take the bus into New York so I could be in plays. So, I did some plays in New York and continued doing them as an adult.

What does it mean for you today to be recognized as a Rising Star?

Oh, it's very nice! But it's a daunting title because it implies that you have to fulfill something or that something else is going to happen and I don't feel like that will happen. I feel more like I'm on a downward slope (laughs). And it's rather daunting!

What attracted you to "The Living Wake?" Why should people go see this movie?

The movie is absolutely brilliant and fantastic! At the time I was sent the script, I was sent a lot of movies because I had a movie that was out at the time and it was successful, so that's the time when people send you things. But I was getting sent big budget movies. And here was this tiny movie that had a part in it for me. It was a big role, but not the main character. And it was just so brilliant! I read something like 5 pages of the script and wrote to the director that I would do anything to be in it!

It's such a wonderful movie! And it's the kind of movie that audiences will love because it's so unique. Everything in it is new, original, and fresh. And so, for people who like movies, it's a real treat. (In fact), the film exceeded my expectations of the script, which was already very high.

You've been able to balance some outstanding independent work (Roger Dodger, The Squid and the Whale) with some great mainstream work (The Village, The Emperor's Club). How do you go about choosing roles? What do you look for in a script?

I just try and judge things based on good individual projects. But I have to say, I've made some stupid mistakes. I don't want to name names, of course. But I've had opportunities that I've squandered that turned out, in retrospect, to be very good.

In the end, you can only judge what you know at the time. And then I got lucky that some small movies that I was in did well. And that's a very neat thing for a movie that's made for one million dollars to be successful. To be recognized in certain ways. I got lucky. But I don't feel I have such a great career...

Coming Soon.

Yes, coming soon (laughs).

Early on, you won a spot on the youth singing group, The Broadway Kids.

I wish you didn't do so much research! (laughs).

And since the age of 8, have been playing drums. Are you still singing and playing? And do you have any aspirations to pursue them further?

Oh, I see. Yes, but not for others! (laughs). I did some musicals when I was younger. In New York. But not a lot since. Musicals are a whole different thing. I mean, people that typically do musicals are not the same people you'd see in regular plays in New York City. It's a whole, separate world, I think.

What's it like, having a sister (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) who is also an accomplished actress?

Well, she stopped a few years ago. When she got into it, she was so young. And she liked doing it and my parents were supportive. But it was not really for her. She's going to be a lawyer or something more because she's a very focused, well-rounded person, who has friends and stuff like that. And she likes that but I don't think she's going to continue doing it.

I'll always remember her from those Pepsi commercials.

Oh yeah! She's like 15 years old now. And she still looks very young. And people on the street still recognize her. I mean, I don't know how people have these kinds of memories!

You've worked with some tremendous talent - Campbell Scott, Kevin Kline, Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney. What's the best advice you've been given?

Usually, the better actors are the worst at giving advice!

I did a play for 3 months with Al Pacino. And it's a 3 character play. So, a very intimate experience. We shared a dressing room and in the back of my mind, I thought I was going to learn something. But he's such an eccentric guy. I mean, he's the best actor in the world of course. But he's such a unique kind of eccentric guy, it's hard. It's not like he's going to sit down with you and talk. But you definitely learn by working with him.

And the experience makes you better.

Yes. To work with people who are so much better than you. Of course!

Talk to me about OneUpMe.com. What is it? And what inspired you to create it?

Drugs (laughs). I don't know when you looked at it, but it all changed this past Tuesday.

I think I looked at it two days ago...

Oh, okay. Yeah, it's totally different. So, you probably saw a bad version. My cousin does all the coding because he knows how to do that stuff. And he had an idea to totally revamp it. So, I don't know what he's up to. But it's been up for a year and a half. And will take off in different ways...

We're talking about word puzzles, yes?

Word puzzles. Yeah. I do the creative side. My cousin does all the coding stuff. He's a genius. He works for Apple. He's like some kind of brilliant computer guy!

Apart from "The Living Wake," what's up next for you?

I'm doing a movie starting Monday in Texas called "Kick the Can," about a guy with no left eye who decides to become a pirate to steal busses (laughs). And I think it'll be good. It's a very unique movie. In fact, it's from the same director as "The Living Wake!"

No kidding?

Yeah! For some reason, somebody gave him a lot of money to do it! (laughs).

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